"Little Green Men"
Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong
Directed by David Nutter
In which Mulder, no longer working on the X-Files, is led to an observatory where Contact has supposed been made...
Synopsis - Analysis - Memorable Quotes - Observations
As the episode begins, Mulder ponders the Voyager probes, two satellites sent into space in August/September 1977. Each satellite carries a message of welcome and basic information about the people of Earth. He also ponders how in 1992, NASA began a high resolution microwave search of the skies for signals from extraterrestrial sources. But less than a year later, a first-term Senator was successful in shutting the program down. And now that the X-Files have been closed down, yet another avenue for seeking the truth is gone.
But in the abandoned control room at the Arecibo Ionospheric Observatory in Puerto Rico, even though the power has been turned off, instruments suddenly begin recording a message…the information sent with Voyager almost 20 years earlier.
Meanwhile, Mulder continues working on the wiretap case to which he has been assigned. For several weeks now, ever since the X-Files were shut down, he has been shut up in a dark room recording chatter, transcribing every word. At the same time, at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Scully has resumed her instruction in the world of forensic study.
Shortly afterward, Scully passes Mulder in the hallway at the Hoover building, but he pretends not to hear her greeting. When he gets to his desk, his picture of Samantha is face down. He stares at the picture for a moment, deep in thought.
Later that night, Mulder meets Scully in the parking garage for the Watergate. Scully was the one to move his picture, requesting a meeting. Mulder is angry when Scully tells him she doesn’t have anything new to tell him, that she just wanted to know how he’s holding up.
He’s not holding up well. Despite his vow to keep pressing forward, searching for the truth, his lack of resources has taken away much of his resolve. He’s not even sure if his memories of Samantha’s abduction are real, or just some figment of his imagination. He tells her how George Hale was inspired to build the world’s largest telescope when he thought an elf climbed through his window and told him to do it, and wonders if his quest was begun by little green men. Scully reminds him that whatever the case, Hale succeeded in his goal.
That night, Mulder falls asleep on his couch, and dreams of the night of November 27, 1973. He and Samantha were home alone; their parents were supposedly next door with the neighbors. They argue about what to watch on television, and Mulder tells Samantha to get out of his life. Suddenly, the lights go out, and there are flashing colored lights from outside. Samantha is pulled off the ground, unable to move, and as the lights go blindingly bright outside, the front door opens and a tall, inhumanly thin figure is revealed.
Mulder wakes with a start, and stumbles over to his window to close the shade. Just at that moment, his front door opens. A man stands in the doorway, ordering Mulder to come with him to the Hill. The man takes Mulder to see Senator Richard Matheson, one of Mulder’s congressional sponsors (as referenced in “Pilot”).
Matheson makes a point to play Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #2. Not only was it the first musical selection sent on Voyager, but the music masks their conversation from whomever might be listening. Matheson reminds Mulder of the aborted microwave survey project, and tells him that he needs to get to Arecibo in Puerto Rico as soon as possible. He figures Mulder will have 24 hours to investigate. He hands Mulder a sheet of paper, which matches the printouts that were being spontaneously generated at the Arecibo control room. According to Matheson, Mulder has a unique chance to investigate a legitimate Contact.
The next morning, in Assistant Director Walter Skinner’s office, he and the cigarette-smoking man listen to a taped conversation between Skinner and Scully. It’s clear that Scully doesn’t know where Mulder is, but the mysterious man is sure that Scully is the one who will find him.
In Puerto Rico, Mulder gets a ride to the gate for the Arecibo facility, and manages to trek through the undergrowth and tropical jungle to the observatory. He finds the control room, which is secured with a chain on the outside of the door. There is no evidence of disturbance. Mulder breaks into the control room, and finds that the instruments and recorders are all powered, despite the main power being down. There is also no evidence of recent activity in the space.
Meanwhile, Scully begins her own search for Mulder, even though she’s not officially assigned to the task. She goes to his apartment and winds up accessing the computer, after a few attempts at getting through the password protection. She immediately finds a file with the information provided by Senator Matheson, and prints it out.
Just then, however, two men enter the room and question her. They claim Mulder’s apartment is under surveillance. Scully claims to be feeding the fish. The men dismiss the printout, tossing it in the garbage. Scully feigns an accident with the fish food, and uses the printout to clean it up, thereby allowing herself to get away with the data.
At Arecibo, Mulder walks into the restroom, and finds a terrified man hiding inside. The man, Jorge, cannot speak English, but he tells Mulder as best he can that he was trapped in the room by “men who were not men”. He draws a picture for Mulder, and the shape looks like an alien head.
Scully takes the printout to an analyst at the US Naval Observatory. The analyst recognizes the data on the printout as raw radio telescope receiver data, identical to the WOW signal detected in August 1977. Only this time, the signal is much stronger. The analyst informs Scully that the WOW signal stands as the best evidence to date of extraterrestrial intelligence, and that the data could only have come from a few places in the world.
Using that information, Scully searches through passenger manifests to see if there’s any trace of Mulder’s travel plans for the night before. On a passenger manifest for a flight to San Juan, she finds a passenger under the name of George Hale. Recalling her conversation with Mulder, she recognizes that it must have been him.
Meanwhile, at Arecibo, a terrible storm rolls through, darkening the daytime sky. Jorge is still terrified, especially when the instruments begin flipping out again. Mulder realizes, based on the local printouts, that the strength of the signal points to a transmission point only miles away. Jorge can’t take it anymore, and he runs out into the storm. Mulder runs after him, and after some searching, finds Jorge slumped down against a tree trunk, his hands lifted in defense, his expression horrified. The man is dead.
At the Miami International Airport, Scully find herself under surveillance as she tries to schedule a flight to San Juan. Knowing that Mulder’s phone is probably tapped, she leaves a semi-cryptic message on his answering machine, indicating a flight to St. Croix. The surveillance team takes the bait, and she manages to schedule her flight without interference.
Back at Arecibo, Mulder begins a preliminary examination of Jorge’s body. There are no signs of any typical abduction marks; indeed, the man appears to have died from fear. But rigor mortis had already set in, less than an hour after death. He doubts what he has seen, thinking that it could have been an elaborate set-up, meant to deceive him and his allies.
But even as he laments losing Scully, wondering what he would do if he did encounter those who took his sister, the building begins to shake and the instruments begin to activate. The old tape recorder plays back his own words, distorted, as well as sounds that cannot be identified. The door slams open, and Mulder runs forward, shutting it, locking it, and barricading it.
It’s not enough. The barricade is tossed aside by some unseen power, and then the door unlocks itself. As bright lights pierce the darkness of the room, Mulder scrambles back as far as he can, drawing his gun. He tries to fire, but the gun simply won’t operate. He sees a figure in the doorway, tall and inhumanly thin, and then everything is washed away by the light.
He awakens to Scully’s voice. He tells her that Samantha’s abductors were there, but Scully still isn’t sure what Mulder has actually seen. He wants to gather up all of the evidence: Jorge, printouts, recordings. But a “crash retrieval squad” is on the way, and they don’t have time. Mulder manages to grab the old tape reel from its recorder as they rush to the car. They leave just in time, as the retrieval squad fires on them. Mulder’s driving gets them past the attempts to block the roads, and they appear to get away.
Of course, back in Washington, Skinner reads Mulder the riot act for abandoning his assigned duties, while the cigarette-smoking man watches. Mulder counters that he’s had more than enough evidence to convict, but he’s been kept on the assignment anyway. When he mentions how his phones were tapped, Skinner understands that more is going on than he believes. He orders the cigarette-smoking man out of his office, and then promptly puts Mulder back on the wiretapping assignment.
Back on the job, Scully listens as Mulder plays the tape reel from Arecibo. There’s nothing on the recording. Regardless, he’s reinvested in his crusade, and he knows that Scully is willing to help him. And when Scully leaves to her own assignment, Mulder continues to listen to the Arecibo tape, for any trace of the evidence he longs for.
As an episode exploring Mulder’s frame of mind following the closing of the X-Files, this episode covers most of the necessary territory. As a follow-up to “The Erlenmeyer Flask”, however, this episode stands as a complete disappointment.
The first season ended with an episode in which events and consequences spiraled out of control at a blistering pace. Concepts and long-term aspects of the mythology were laid into place, and with all of the plot threads dangling out begging to be picked up in the second season premiere, expectations were high. The episode itself, however, failed to even address most of what had happened, and even after everything that the agents had experienced, Mulder somehow begins to doubt his own senses.
If this episode had been seen as a second chance to provide the audience with a mission statement, then some of the plot choices make a little more sense. As it is, there is still relatively little plot to speak of. Mulder is sent off on his quest for personal re-validation without much explanation, and the events that take place are a jumble of suggestion and broken imagery that never quite comes together.
Even from the standpoint of the underlying conspiracy, there’s not much reason for Mulder to be tested. And for all intent purposes, this is a test of Mulder’s resolve. Time has certainly passed, and with the X-Files well and truly shelved, perhaps the conspiracy wanted to see what would happen if Mulder was presented with a chance to give his cause credence. The same test, of course, would determine whether or not Scully was still willing to risk her life and career for Mulder.
It would be easy to assume that the alien visitation in this episode is a real phenomenon, and that this episode (like “Conduit” before it) speaks to a mythology that was largely abandoned in later seasons. However, there are certain aspects of the situation that suggest a more mundane explanation. Too many events happen just at the right time.
Later seasons demonstrate that the abduction of Samantha was staged by the conspiracy. Senator Matheson conveniently contacts Mulder about Contact, and sends him to a remote area where there’s supposed to be little to no human activity. Just as scheduled, the apparent aliens appear, with some kind of mental abilities and control physical objects that defy explanation. And just like clockwork, the special forces under the command of the conspiracy arrive 24 hours later.
It’s also shown in later seasons that at least one of the “alien bounty hunters” was working for the conspiracy, and in “The Unnatural”, it is revealed that the bounty hunters have a base form that is very similar to the figure seen in this episode. It would be reasonable to assume that if the aliens were looking for a way to use Mulder’s own predispositions against him, this could be one way to do it.
There are some inconsistencies. Certainly the bounty hunters have never shown an ability to manipulate physical objects at will, at least not on the scale seen here. It’s also interesting that the building had been carefully locked before Mulder’s arrival, which had the side effect of locking Jorge inside. Also, Jorge mentioned that there was more than one attacker.
The condition of the building and equipment could fit the conspiracy, but the other aspects of the encounter seem to indicate something more. It’s possible that this was an early visit by the Rebels, or the related group that began abducting people at the end of the seventh season. They might have been attempting to erase evidence of their presence, which Arecibo might have unknowingly intercepted. In this case, the test for Mulder and Scully was something unplanned.
This could work, given that the methods used against Mulder and Scully were incredibly sloppy. Far from being “the best”, much of the activity was blatant, amateur-hour fare. It smacks of poor planning, and even at the end, the attempt to intercept the agents felt half-hearted. Of course, the object didn’t seem to be capture, so much as staging a believable attempt, and that would fit the ongoing theme of keeping Mulder alive for some unknown future purpose.
The failing of this episode is that it remains so undefined, even now that the series has been completed and the answers are more or less available. The events simply don’t fit into any simple theory, and then raise uncomfortable questions about motivations when an attempt is made to place them into a larger context.
All of which would be simpler if the episode had been more careful to keep to the continuity of the series. The writers depict a completely different version of Samantha’s abduction in this episode, ignoring the version that had been discussed early in the first season. Given the underlying theme of self-doubt, it could be argued that Mulder is dreaming about the events, allowing his subconscious to recreate the abduction in a different context.
At the same time, the events are laid out as a flashback outside of the context of Mulder’s dreaming, which would make this version of the abduction correct. This wouldn’t be the first or last time that the circumstances of the abduction would be modified, and in the end, it ties into the larger mythology. Taken as it is, it simply questions Mulder’s ability to accurately remember what happened when his sister disappeared.
Even Skinner’s first steps on the road to self-enlightenment regarding the conspiracy don’t quite measure up. Spearheading a campaign to shut down an entire department based on the questionable advisement of a nameless government figure carries with it a certain acceptance of illegality. It’s a strain to think that Skinner would be so blind to the implications of his actions, and the aims of his benefactors, that he would be stricken at the thought of an illegal wiretap.
All of these factors take away from the impact of the episode, which should have been much stronger after the excellent season finale that came before it. Instead, the episode feels thin in comparison.
STUDENT: “Are you OK, Agent Scully? You kinda sounded a little…spooky.”
SCULLY: “And you’re worried that all your life, you’ve been seeing elves?”
MULDER: “In my case, little green men.”
WOMAN: “Mulder…you hounded me to have lunch with you today, and then you don’t show. You’re a pig.”
MULDER: “No, Jorge! Don’t touch that red button! No-ho on the rojo!”
MULDER: “Again, Scully, nothing but evidence…and again, no evidence at all…”
- Ah…the first of the uninspired monologue readings by David Duchovny…
- I have to admit, there’s a certain romantic quality to using the Voyager probes as a basis for alien Contact!
- Even in the early 1990s, there had to be better recording technology than old tape reels…
- Nice use of “spooky” to suggest how Scully has begun her journey towards believer, however slightly at this stage of the game!
- There’s an awful lot of horrible stock footage used in this episode…
- How could Mulder have attended Deep Throat’s funeral if he didn’t know who the man was?
- Fox and Samantha are some seriously annoying children…
- The effect of Samantha being pulled through the window is oddly unimpressive…
- Anyone else wonder what those letters in the gun case might have been about?
- Cool scene with Matheson’s aide in the doorway, especially in context with the previous scene and the connections between Matheson and the conspiracy…
- Why didn’t Mulder consider that his presence in Matheson’s office after hours would have been enough, if he and Matheson were being listened to by another party?
- If Mulder had the tools to break into the control room, why didn’t he use them to break the chains on the gate?
- Wonder what Scully thought of the message on Mulder’s answering machine!
- Ah, the old DOS operating system…how I remember it with loathing…
- How exactly did Mulder wind up with a copy of the information Matheson gave him on his computer? It doesn’t make sense for him to have the time to find a way to scan it!
- Great job, Scully, let the fish starve!
- Why did Jorge stay in the unlocked restroom, when Mulder was making all that noise in the control room?
- If the WOW signal was detected in August 1977, when the first Voyager probe was sent into space, could the conspiracy have used Voyager 1 to fabricate a signal? It wouldn’t have been very far from Earth at that point…
- What the hell was Jorge doing there in the first place?
- Twenty cents for a pay phone call…how time flies…
- Is it me, or does that guy in the background at the airport look an awful lot like Chris Carter?
- When the doors blow open, where did the printouts flying around outside come from?
- If the conspiracy was really interested in stopping Mulder and Scully, wouldn’t they have made it impossible for them to get off Puerto Rico undetected?
- Why would Mulder’s absence for one day have eliminated all the previously gathered evidence on his case?
- Way to blow your cover, Cancer Man…
Overall, this episode fails to address the majority of the issues and questions raised in the first season finale. More than that, but the plot is thin, and Mulder should have seen that there was something wrong with the entire situation from the beginning.
I give it a 5/10.
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