“Well, then why do it? I mean, why meet me?” — Dana Scully
“Because you can reach Mulder. Mulder needs to know what I know or he may have no future. Perhaps no one will.” — Shadow Man
When a mysterious stranger offers information about the super soldiers, Scully sees this as an opportunity for Mulder to come home. This being The X-Files, the truth is much more complicated…
Max: “Trust No 1” is an episode that wants to do so many things right by the mythology, the characters, and the audience that it actually ends up letting all of the above down at least a little. The writers (particularly Chris Carter, who penned the episode himself) I feel wanted to refocus the mythology and bring it back to a place that it was during the salad days of Vancouver. The episode’s motif of constant surveillance — in the new age of the internet — was meant to hammer home this point. However, I believe notions of surveillance were better explored back when our heroes were searching for and coming across bugs in pens and wall outlets as opposed to the more obvious approach of closed circuit feeds.
Things begin, as they are wont to do in the land of the extraterrestrial and paranormal, with Scully dealing with two separate issues that turn out to be the same issue about halfway through the episode’s running time. Doggett and Reyes come to her at Quantico with news that a shadowy informant is reaching out for Mulder so that he may tell him vital information about the so-called super soldiers that have surfaced since last season. Meanwhile, Scully takes it upon herself to help out a troubled woman and her child from what appears to be a strained relationship with the father. When Scully sees Patti (the woman she is helping) taking an unusual interest in baby William, we the viewers know that things have hit the proverbial fan. Turns out, the father works for the mysterious man who wants to talk to Mulder, and their child allegedly displays the same kind of unusual abilities that William displayed back in the two-part premiere.
After an initial meeting with this Shadow Man that has Scully take multiple cars all around the city and to a disused quarry, she decides to take a risk and send for Mulder to come back home via a predetermined train route. Even when Doggett comes to her with reservations that he and Reyes may have been used to flush Mulder out into the open, Scully expresses the desire to see Mulder again despite the risk, given how much current circumstances have hurt her. Unfortunately for her, things go to hell very quickly, as the father and the Shadow Man engage with gunfire on the train platform, and when the Shadow Man expresses his true desire to have Mulder and William killed, it takes Doggett showing up at the right time to keep Scully alive. Confronting the Shadow Man — who is revealed to be a super soldier himself — at the quarry, a shaken Scully demands answers, that is until proximal contact with a kind of iron ore disables and eventually destroys the Shadow Man.
One thing I couldn’t shake from watching this episode is that Scully sure does have a blind spot for mothers in need, to the point that it overrides her abilities as an investigator. At the very least, Scully should have known from her experiences back in “Per Manum” that helping out strangers that approach her only leads to some bad places. I don’t know, it just seems to me that this, coupled with her fears about baby William are the writers new crutch for the character, much like all the times she was captured and held captive in seasons past. It also is hard to watch her go through the wringer yet again, begging for answers yet coming up short.
If there is one thing that comes out of this episode, it is the discovery of a weakness for the super soldiers, their Kryptonite, if you will. The iron ore Scully writes of will be known to Philes as magnetite, a substance that detrimentally interacts with the biological structure of the super soldiers in a way that — quite graphically as we have seen in this episode — obliterates them to dust. Much hay has been made of the late-period mythology (including a funny moment at a panel where Gillian is flummoxed by the mention of this substance), and you can see where people have a point here. At this point you can say “they’re watching” all you want, but it has weakened the show to not have tangible adversaries like the CSM and the Syndicate.
Radhika: This episode certainly tries to reinsert some depth to the mythology and if we’re talking about it strictly from a myth perspective… I don’t entirely hate it. I know that’s not exactly strong praise. But while there are redeeming elements, I — like Max — feel as though the tangible adversaries are gone from The X-Files at this point. The Shadow Man (played by the perpetually resurrected/reincarnated Terry O’Quinn) is like a shadow indeed of stronger mysterious characters like the Cigarette Smoking Man or Well Manicured Man, though at least this shadowy figure is a bit creepy with his knowledge of Scully’s “true hair color… ATM pin number, favorite charities, pet peeves” and more. But he’s also possibly the “best” The X-Files has at this point in the season, and that really isn’t saying much.
The one thing I absolutely do hate about this episode are the schlocky emails exchanged between Mulder and “Dearest Dana.” It’s not that flowery prose has never had its place on this program — in fact, it often has, thanks to our intrepid saint of overwriting, Chris Carter. But we have now hit a new low as we watch Scully exchange emails with Mulder, using the hokiest “inside-joke” type of email addresses they possibly could (Trust_No1@mail.com and Queequeg0925@hotmail.com). Of course, this was an era when people didn’t use their real names for non-work email addresses the same way they do now, and with Mulder being on the lam, he can’t really use his name. But I’d figure the two of them are capable of using better monikers than this.
And then of course, there’s the content of the emails themselves, where I guess I can understand the general emotions, but just can’t understand how they’re supposed to reflect the voices of two beloved characters we’ve known for years. I know I generally had a “no romance” stance on the show; I never wanted to see an active relationship between the two characters and thankfully, we didn’t see much even when a relationship was hinted at well before the show actually ended. And this is part of the reason why I was against an explicit romance: The characters seem to have lost much of what made their identities appealing. They talk like characters in bad fan fiction and they’ve lost the spark that made them who they are. Frankly, it seems like the writers no longer knew how to write Mulder and Scully beyond that “lonely night” where Scully invited Mulder to her bed. Because of this, along with a focus on new characters and the actual lack of Mulder on the show, it seems the writing became increasingly forced for those characters in season nine. At this point, I’d rather not have Mulder mentioned if it means avoiding such dreck.
I’m also going to add that I basically hate the opening montage of Mulder and Scully scenes in the beginning — the effects (dissolves, color choices and freeze frames) are painful to watch. While much of the show became sleeker and prettier right around the time of Fight the Future, it seems that season nine relied even more on “fancy” effects from time to time, distracting me as a viewer — and ultimately making things look even more dated than the earlier seasons did.
YES, IT’S THOSE LADIES
Allison Smith – The actress playing Patti is familiar to viewers of The West Wing as Mallory O’Brien, daughter of the Chief of Staff. She got her start on television as a teenager in Kate & Allie, and later guest starred on shows like CSI, Party of Five, Providence, House M.D., ER, and Nip/Tuck.
Kathryn Joosten – Another alum of The West Wing (who played Mrs. Landingham, the President’s secretary) is in this episode as well, as the lab tech who analyzed Scully’s clothes for Doggett. She later went on to have a role in Desperate Housewives, and guested on Grey’s Anatomy, Everwood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Murphy Brown, and Frasier.
Traditionally, the credits end on a shot with the words “THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE.” However, in some instances new text emerges.
Apt for an episode all about it, “They’re Watching” perfectly sums up the kind of oppressive scrutiny our heroes are under, underscoring the danger that kept Mulder underground. The events of this episode will now undoubtedly drive him further into hiding, away from the people he cares about, while the threat the super soldiers pose grows ever greater.