Written by Chris Carter and Howard Gordon
Directed by Rob Bowman
In which Mulder and Scully face an outbreak of a deadly contagion following a prison break, and in the process, uncover the true source of the contagion and the insidious rationale behind it...
Synopsis - Analysis - Memorable Quotes - Observations
For a short episode synopsis, please see the one provided at Kevin's X-File Page.
Written around the time that the movie “Outbreak” was capitalizing on the national panic regarding super-viruses and drug-resistant bacteria, this episode seems almost a little too familiar and formulaic. More than that, there are certain aspects that seem to highlight a lack of thorough research into medical practices. The result is an episode that can be reduced to a very simple conclusion: this outbreak, even when manufactured, is largely the result of stupidity.
Granted, there are some interesting ideas at the heart of this episode. Underneath the trappings of the outbreak is the question of ethics in pharmaceutical research. Companies are always trying to find that next blockbuster drug, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think that the usual quid-pro-quo could result in covert government backing of illegal drug experimentation.
In order to insert Mulder and Scully into the outbreak scenario, of course, there is the inevitable lapse of logic. The plan appears to be rather simple, such as it is. Once two possibly infected prisoners escape and enter the main population, the easiest way to contain the truth is to assign the agents to the manhunt, without telling them what is really happening. So, when the agents do work it out, they are in a position to keep the truth hidden from the public, just like everyone else assigned to the containment.
And of course, as part and parcel to that, Mulder and Scully were specifically chosen so that they can be taught a lesson. In the wake of the “Endgame” situation, where they were beginning to influence Skinner too much and make headway against the conspiracy, Cancer Man apparently decided that Mulder had to be dealt with again. Scully’s abduction, after all, was meant to keep him in line, and the fact that he was used so easily during the incident with the bounty hunter demonstrated to the conspiracy how little the abduction changed Mulder’s tactics.
The events of this episode serve to remind the audience of the reality behind the X-Files. Mulder was permitted to open those cases and conduct his own special project because it was a convenient means for the conspiracy to monitor his activities and use him as a means of spreading disinformation. This episode exposes another aspect of that reality: cases in which the agents are allowed to hang themselves by openly aiding a cause they would normally wish to uncover.
However, there are aspects of the episode that don’t quite add up. For instance, what are the realistic chances that Pinck Pharmaceuticals is going to have a field biologist with the same name as an inmate in a maximum security prison? The odds are pretty low, even accounting for long-term planning. Never mind the fact that the biologist was only infected because he suddenly became stupid enough to burst an unknown boil without adequate protection!
Also, it seems rather cavalier for the conspiracy to specifically engineer the prison escape so that they would have an excuse to assign Mulder and Scully to the manhunt. It’s not explained as an intentional escape, but given the facility in question, there’s little doubt that this entire situation was designed to underscore a point for Mulder. The end of the episode backs that theory: failing to learn the lesson from this incident is simply an invitation for future lessons.
It’s very unclear from the descriptions in this episode how long the parasitic larvae can live to infest a host, but that period of time can’t be very long. After all, most of the victims were stupid enough to just sit there and stare at the exploding ball of pus. Perhaps that explains why Scully was so concerned about being infected herself, despite the complete lack of any symptoms: she was stupid enough to play with one of the boils herself, and apparently lost any rational sense of analytical method.
Once again, however, Mulder’s tunnel vision is exposed for what it is. Instead of concerning himself with how far the infection might have spread, or considering for one moment the ramifications of breaking the story about the outbreak to the media, Mulder is concerned about the truth behind the incident. It’s not a matter of saving lives, but exposing lies. If not for Scully, Mulder might not understand that the conspiracy is way ahead of him in this instance. The process has worked, previously and in this case, because the conspiracy knows how to manipulate the outcome.
Once the episode is distilled down to its core concepts, the final conclusion can only be that this is mostly intended to remind the audience that the conspiracy hasn’t forgotten about how dangerous Mulder and Scully can be when they are allowed to run around without boundaries. At this stage of the game, the stakes can only escalate, and the conspiracy has to recognize that using Mulder during the incident with the bounty hunter would only embolden him.
This is also why Skinner is used as the conduit for this assignment, rather than some outside source. By forcing Skinner to assign the agents to the case under false pretenses, the conspiracy reaffirms their control of the department and chastises Skinner for the aid he provided in the incident with the bounty hunter. Thus begins a trend that would continue for the rest of the series: Skinner’s constant balancing act between outright supporter of Mulder’s cause and questionable ally within the conspiracy.
The conspiracy knows that Mulder is necessary for the future, or at least, Cancer Man is aware of this truth. That being the case, Mulder can only be controlled as long as he allows himself to be controlled. The conspiracy’s main weapon is the fact that Mulder is unaware of his own importance. With the agents once again stepping out of the desired boundaries, it is only a matter of time before the conspiracy begins ripping away the agents’ support system.
TAPIA: “I’m in charge here!”
MULDER: “Apparently not, or you’d know why our involvement was requested…”
SCULLY: “Where are you going?”
MULDER: “To see if I can get in the way…”
MULDER: “You can’t protect the public by lying to them.”
CANCER MAN: “It’s done every day.”
MULDER: “I won’t be a party to it!”
CANCER MAN: “You’re a party to it already…”
MULDER: “They knew all along…so that even if we succeeded in finding the truth, we’d be discredited as part of it. Am I right?”
SKINNER: “You never had a chance, Agent Mulder. For every step you take, they’re three steps ahead.”
MULDER: “Well, what about you? Where do you stand?”
SKINNER: “I stand right on the line that you keep crossing.”
- What kind of idiot doesn’t wear a protective face shield while taking samples of an unknown biological substance?
- And then licks obviously lethal and infected pus off his lips?
- That scene of the rain forest at night looked like the worst matte painting ever created...
- I’m glad that the doctor declared the pustules “fairly uniform” when there are three of obviously different size plainly visible!
- Given the vector of infection, how did the other inmates get infected? They should have been well out of range, unless they were also intentionally exposed...
- Why on Earth would Scully walk into a possibly contaminated area without even the slightest bit of precaution? Like, say, protective clothing, since that’s what every other person is wearing?
- If you’ve just escaped from prison, how stupid do you have to be to immediately contact the first person the authorities are going to suspect you would contact?
- I can’t help but wonder how some of those federal marshals have survived to this point, considering their terrible search technique in that trailer and gas station...
- They must have had only so many suits, because there’s no other reason for just one guy to be wearing a full blue suit and everyone else to be wearing a cheaper white suit!
- Oh, yeah, I’d bring the guy with boils all over his face into the house with the son I’ve never seen...
- When Scully reaches for the emerging beetle, her mask is hanging around her neck...yet when she brings the beetle up to (unprotected) eye level, the mask is in place...something that one cannot do properly with one hand!
- An interesting possibility: could the conspiracy have been using the illegal field study and research by Pinck Pharmaceuticals as a part of the development process for the Purity vaccine?
- Damn...even Mulder has trouble with those stupid retractable seat belts...
- So Scully only wears the protective glasses when dealing with the blood samples that can’t hurt her?
- Nice bit with her hesitation before looking at the sample, though!
- That pustule on Paul’s face was about to explode...it should have still done so, regardless of whether or not Paul was shot in the head...
- How would this little illegal enterprise have done anything to shorten the FDA filing, submission, and approval time?
Overall, this episode was a bit of a disappointment. For something tied directly to the conspiracy’s attempts to control Mulder and his activities, the methods are simple and straightforward. Add to that some of Scully’s odd lapses in simple medical precautions, and this episode doesn’t quite make the grade.
I give it a 6/10.
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