Written by Chris Carter
Directed by Daniel Sackheim
In which Mulder is assigned to a murder case in New Jersey that takes a rather bizarre turn, as someone within the FBI informs him that he has a friend...
Synopsis - Analysis - Memorable Quotes - Observations
As the episode begins, on a Russian freighter two miles off the coast of New Jersey, a young man named Dmitri is badgered into clearing out a blockage in the sewage tank. The engineer cannot purge the tanks until the blockage is removed. Dmitri begins the job, but as he leans into the tank, something grabs him by the neck. He is pulled into the tank before anyone can save him, and the engineer desperately orders the tank to be flushed.
Sometime later, Mulder continues his work on the wiretap assignment. His boredom has risen as his morale has plummeted. Without warning, he is informed that another agent will be taking over the assignment. Mulder has been assigned by Skinner to a murder case in Newark, New Jersey.
When Mulder arrives, the body is still down in the sewers where it was discovered. The body is badly decomposed, with the entire front of the body missing. Mulder, disgusted by the circumstances of the case, tells the local detective to ship the body to the FBI, care of Assistant Director Skinner.
Back in Washington, Mulder demands to meet with Skinner, and winds up complaining about being assigned to “meaningless assignments”…right in front of one of Skinner’s board meetings. Skinner openly chastises Mulder for questioning his assignments, and makes it clear that Mulder is trying his patience.
Shortly after, Scully finds Mulder sitting on a park bench, still fuming. News of Mulder’s error has already spread around. Mulder confesses to Scully that he’s been thinking about leaving, which Scully finds hard to believe. Trying to get him to reconsider, even for a little while, Scully offers to take a look at the body from Newark. Mulder is sure that it’s a waste of time, but he agrees.
Scully begins the autopsy. The body is badly decomposed, but she finds Cyrillic letters tattooed on the man’s arm. When she opens the ribcage to examine the chest cavity, everything looks as it should. That is, until a large, grayish worm slides into view. Shocked, Scully grabs hold with some forceps and pulls it out.
Meanwhile, in Newark, two workmen descend into the sewer system to fix a broken section of screen. As one of the workmen tries to free some debris, he is pulled under the water. His friend manages to pull him out of the water after more than one attack. The attacked workman, however, has a large wound on his back.
Shortly, the workman is taken to a nearby hospital, where the doctor gives him a tetanus shot. The workman complains about a nasty taste in his mouth, but the doctor brushes that off. Mulder arrives and talks to the doctor, who mentions the odd wound on his back. When Mulder speaks to the workman, the injured man can only speculate that it was a python. The doctor, however, notes that the wound looks like some kind of strange bite.
Mulder gets a call on his cell phone, and it’s Scully. She mentions the parasite in the murder victim, and tells him that she’ll call again when she knows more. Just after that, he gets another call…only it’s not Scully. An unknown man informs Mulder that he has a friend at the FBI, and then hangs up, leaving Mulder confused. With nothing more to learn from the attacked workman, Mulder gives the doctor leave to release him.
Mulder visits Scully at her office at Quantico, and she shows him the information on the parasite. It turns out to be a flukeworm, feeding off bile in the liver. The worms are endemic to sewage systems, and millions of people are unknowingly infected by them. When Scully notes that they attach themselves to the liver using a scolex, he recognizes the bite mark from the injured workman in Newark. She doubts that the bite could have come from a giant flukeworm. Before he leaves, he chides Scully on talking about his personal doubts, but she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He’s left wondering why someone would contact him otherwise.
That night, as the injured workman prepares for bed, he frantically tries to remove the terrible taste in his mouth by brushing his teeth, and then just shooting the paste into his mouth. He winds up spitting out the mess, along with some blood. Shocked, he decides that he just needs to take a shower. Soon he’s choking on blood rushing out of his throat, followed by a very mobile and large flukeworm, which slides down the drain.
Mulder gets a tour of Newark’s sewage processing plant, and asks the foreman if he’s ever seen something like the flukeworm in the sewage system. Moments later, one of the workers hears something in one of the processing tanks, and the foreman backflushes the contents through the lines. They find a spot where the lines are clogged, and inside of a clear tube is a man-size flukeworm with a roughly humanoid body and a scolex for a mouth.
Back at FBI headquarters, Scully is writing up her report of the autopsy, when someone slips a tabloid under her door. When she opens the door, there is nobody in sight. She finds an article in the tabloid about a mysterious accident on a Russian ship, and she realizes that it connects with the Cyrillic tattoo she discovered on the body. Seconds later, Mulder calls her with the news about the giant fluke-man.
Scully meets Mulder at Middlesex County Psychiatric Hospital, where the fluke-man has been detained. Mulder notes that the creature is genderless, as Scully stands amazed. Mulder wonders how the body in the sewers might connect to the creature, but Scully produces the tabloid and the connection. She notes that someone unknown slipped it under her door, and also notes that she would find it personally disappointing if he chose to leave the FBI.
Skinner’s response to Mulder’s subsequent report appears almost disinterested, which confuses Mulder. When Skinner reveals to Mulder that his report would be reviewed in terms of evaluating his work, Mulder angrily notes that there had been two agents assigned to deal with exactly that kind of situation. Skinner agrees…but also makes it clear that some authority figures believe otherwise.
Meanwhile, that night, as the fluke-man is taken into federal custody by transport, it attacks the men in the vehicle and escapes into a campground. It takes refuge in a portable toilet, apparently waiting for the opportunity to attack another victim. Unfortunately for him, a sewage removal truck stops at the site and sucks him into the tanker.
When Mulder arrives on the scene, his attempts to control the search for the fluke-man are interrupted by a cell phone call from his unknown friend in the FBI. The strange man doesn’t identify himself, but insists that Mulder must succeed in his current assignment. Reinstatement of the X-Files, the man says, must be undeniable. The man hangs up, leaving Mulder confused. But he does realize, when the fluke-man’s trail runs cold, that it must have been taken away by the tanker truck.
Mulder races back to the processing plant, where the workers try to find evidence that the fluke-man has been caught in one of the screens. Scully calls with a theory that the flukeworm inside the Russian corpse was actually an incubating larva, and that the fluke-man is biting people in order to reproduce. Just then, one of the workers spots something unusual in a pipe close to the part of the system where the most recent victim was attacked. That spot is part of the overflow system, which would give the fluke-man access back to the sea.
Mulder and the plant foreman investigate, and the foreman is attacked while in the water. Mulder tries to pull him out, but the fluke-man is too strong. The foreman manages to get free, and Mulder sees the fluke-man trying to escape through a pipe. Mulder grabs the lever for the gate valve on the pipe, and it slams shut, slicing the fluke-man in half.
Sometime later, Mulder and Scully meet near the Lincoln Memorial. He tells her about the mysterious call about the X-Files. Almost as if in response, Scully reveals that the extracted larva exhibited signs of some kind of odd hybrid between flukeworm and primate genetics. The Russian freighter where the creature originated was transporting salvage material from Chernobyl. The radioactive soup somehow created the fluke-man. It makes Mulder wonder how many new species are being created without anyone knowing about it.
Later, one night in Newark, a fluke-man emerges within the sewer system, fully intact and alive.
After beginning the season with a lackluster reinvention of the character mythology for Mulder, as well as some odd contradictions in terms of the overall mythology, this episode settles back into the business of simply telling scary stories. Along the way, there are some scenes that connect with the issues from the end of the first season, which actually gives the episode some larger relevance.
Many fans consider the case study aspects of the episode to be one of the classic efforts of the series, but there are a number of flaws in the story. The most basic flaw is common to most of Chris Carter’s efforts: a lack of resolution. One cannot help but think that if the agents knew that there would be more of these creatures in the sewers of Newark, there would be some kind of effort to eliminate them as a serious danger to the population. Instead, the creature is simply left “out there”.
There are also some odd problems with locations in the episode. For instance, there is no Newark County in the state of New Jersey. Newark is located in Essex County. So where exactly was this sewage processing plant supposed to be? Even worse, the workman is attacked in Newark, where there are more than a few hospitals, and yet he is examined a hospital at least two hours away from the site of the attack! Never mind the silliness of confining the fluke-man in a psychiatric hospital that is also a good distance from Newark.
It’s also hard to reconcile that the nuclear accident at Chernobyl could simply spawn a hybrid between a flukeworm and a human being. Granted, this is a series that often veers into ridiculous territory, but there was really no need for an explanation for the origins of the fluke-man. When presenting a situation so outlandish, it’s probably best to simply jump into the concept with both feet and throw away any attempts at rationalization.
That said, there are plenty of other things happening in this episode that bear closer examination. Although it is not seen in this episode, and wouldn’t be proven until the end of the third season, fans know that the mysterious man that calls Mulder is working for the cigarette-smoking man. That doesn’t appear to make much sense at first glance, since that same man was the one who engineered the shutdown of the X-Files in the first place.
Of course, there were logical reasons for that decision, so something must have changed in the meantime. Since this episode takes place shortly after “Little Green Men”, the conspiracy has evidence that Mulder and Scully are going to work together regardless of the attempts to keep them separated. It’s also obvious that Mulder is not going to bow out quietly.
The conspiracy still finds Mulder to be useful, or they wouldn’t have assigned him to a case that they knew would turn out to have such obvious paranormal overtones. Skinner’s lack of surprise indicates that those giving him his orders must have prepared him for something just as shocking. Mulder is being pulled back into his former role, probably because it has been decided that he can be controlled more effectively in that position.
Of course, Mulder was given a certain amount of confidence when Scully began coming over to his point of view, so it makes sense that Scully would be dealt with, just as Mulder believes that is going to get what he wants. But that is getting ahead of the game.
In that respect, this is one of the greatest strengths of the second season. Until the second half of the eighth season, there would never be such a strong sense of plot continuity in terms of character and conspiracy. Several more attempts would be made, but not nearly so well realized. That also exposes the greatest weakness of this season, because that cohesion exposes some of the plotting conveniences that are made to keep the series moving forward.
As successful as it turns out to be over the next couple years, the introduction of “X” is so heavy-handed that it feels like a deliberate retread of “Deep Throat”. Considering that Mulder had reason to believe that his former informant was working for the conspiracy, he ought to be a little more paranoid about this sudden change of fortune. Then again, Mulder may be so conflicted about his future in the FBI that he has lost that much-needed sense of self-preservation.
It also doesn’t quite make sense for Mulder to still be working out his issues with his place in the FBI. Wasn’t that the point of “Little Green Men”, to give Mulder back some investment in his quest? Maybe it did, but only in the respect of his personal investment. He might still consider his work within the FBI to run counter to those goals, and his doubts may be confined to his ability to use his position in the Bureau to further those goals. That’s interesting, especially in light of how many times Mulder badgers Scully into staying in the Bureau every other time they get shut down!
One can’t help but wonder if Chris Carter felt that the larger issues of plot cohesion were simply too difficult to maintain, considering his lack of real ability with it in this episode, and how quickly that strong sense of continuity is abandoned later in the season. Whatever the case, as fun as this episode can be, there are some places were it just doesn’t quite add up.
MULDER: “It’s kind of hard to make an appointment when you’re up to your ass in raw sewage…”
MULDER: “You know, sometimes, it just gets really hard to smile through it when they ask you to bend down and grab your ankles!”
MULDER: “Well, that’s good. I didn’t want to have to tell Skinner that his suspect was a giant, blood-sucking worm…”
SKINNER: “We all take our orders from someone, Agent Mulder…”
- How could they suddenly flush the tanks when Dmitri was sucked into it, when they couldn’t do it before? It’s not like he actually unplugged anything!
- That’s an awful lot of sunflower seeds…
- Where exactly is that room in the hotel? Some basement closet or something? I hope it’s not one of the rooms!
- Mulder should be glad Skinner’s not really rubbing his nose in this one…
- Why wouldn’t Scully have recognized Cyrillic characters? I recognized them, and I’m a civilian!
- Wouldn’t you love to watch someone reviewing some of Scully’s autopsy tapes? Just the expressions that some of these descriptions must generate…
- Why wouldn’t the doctor have been just a little more concerned about the huge chunk taken out of the workman’s back?
- I’m sorry, but if I started spitting up gobs of blood, I think I’d call 911 before jumping in the shower…
- So what exactly would a sewage processing plant need a transparent tube for?
- Interesting how no one is particularly freaked out by the fluke-man…
- Also interesting that Mulder would note the lack of sexual organs…
- Scully’s hair color changes at least four times in this episode!
- What, Mulder, no pictures in your report? How boring is that?
- I’d love to know what idiot thought they could give the fluke-man a “psychiatric evaluation”…
- How exactly did the fluke-man fit down in one of those portable toilets? It’s not like they’re all that deep!
Overall, while this episode is regarded as a classic, there are certainly some flaws with the plotting and overall execution. Some of the plot points that become important later in the season don’t quite add up, and there is an odd lack of reaction to something obviously outside the norm.
I give it a 6/10.
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