Written by Chris Carter and David Duchovny
Directed by R. W. Goodwin
In which Mulder comes into possession of proof of an international conspiracy dating back to World War II, while struggling with an orchestrated attempt to eliminate his supporters...
Synopsis - Analysis - Memorable Quotes - Observations
For a short episode synopsis, please see the one provided at Kevin's X-File Page.
After ending the first season with the excellent “Erlenmeyer Flask”, Chris Carter had his work cut out for him with “Anasazi”. After all, the long plot arc that incorporated the end of the first season added serious complications and connotations to the series mythology, and closing the X-Files project had already been used as a plot device. So what could the writers possibly do to top that?
This episode meets the expectations by delivering another strong episode with several layers of deception along for the ride. Like “Erlenmeyer Flask”, there is a definite difference between what seems to be happening in this episode and the reality that is being obscured, lie after lie. At the end of the first season, Mulder’s lack of support was used to test his informant’s loyalty, resulting in the death of Deep Throat. Because this episode is a more traditional cliffhanger, the end goal of the conspiracy’s plot is almost impossible to deduce from what is shown.
To say that Cancer Man is lying in almost every single scene of this episode is hardly an original statement. However, it’s equally certain that several other characters are lying, or at the very least, purposefully directing events and interpretations. Taken in context of the series as a whole, Albert Hosteen knows far more about Mulder and his situation than meets the eye.
Perhaps this explains why Albert and his people are willing to completely violate some of their most basic taboos. It’s clear that Chris Carter needed to use the Navaho in order to exploit the codetalker history, which is actually not a bad idea. However, the Navaho have some strongly ingrained prohibitions about elders approaching the dead. Albert is arguably a powerful elder or shaman for his people, and as a result, his own family would know better than to bring the remains and deposit them in front of the house!
Rather than see this as a massive research error, it can instead be interpreted as a necessary evil for what Albert knows must be done. As noted in earlier reviews for episodes related to the series mythology, many of the events only make sense if certain individuals are privy to future events. This is certainly true in “Colony” and “Endgame”, and it also goes a long way towards explaining Cancer Man’s insistence that Mulder be kept alive.
This episode exposes, more explicitly than in any earlier episode, the difference between the main conspiracy as a whole and the agenda of Cancer Man. In many places, the MJ documents are referred to as if they were historical documents, long archived and thought hidden away. That is clearly incorrect, since it is a living document; the details of Scully’s abduction are summarized, after all. That strongly suggests that Cancer Man was purposefully keeping the documents up to date on a computer system, something that wouldn’t have been done with secret documents generated prior to the computer age.
The only reason to keep such a document on an accessible database must be for purposes of access. Since other members of the conspiracy were shocked to learn that the documents were on such a database, Cancer Man had a reason for those files to be accessed. The main clue is the timing, which takes place just as Mulder is being manipulated with mind-altering drugs. The release of the MJ documents serves as the perfect catalyst for exposing Mulder’s allies and sources, which has to be the true intent!
It’s quite possible that Cancer Man would have been aware of The Thinker after the events of “One Breath”, and as such, could have been monitoring the hacker’s attempts to access federal servers. How difficult would it be to ensure that The Thinker would get access to the right server and the right files at the right time? Not at all difficult, as this episode demonstrates.
There is one pitfall to such a plan, and that is the information that would be contained within the document itself. One could assume that Cancer Man had some assurance that the Navaho encryption would never be broken. In that case, at least one person was being tested, beyond Mulder and Scully themselves. After all, following the events of “Colony” and “Endgame”, Cancer Man had every reason to consider Bill Mulder a possible security risk.
Keeping in mind that Cancer Man is clearly operating with his own agenda, beyond the conspiracy at large, the accuracy of the MJ documents comes into question. Certainly the files would have contained accurate information as originally written, concerning the early period of the conspiracy, when former Axis scientists were brought onto the Project to use apparently alien DNA to modify human beings through various means of experimentation. But the best lies are veiled within the truth. If Cancer Man knew what the real source of “alien” technology from Roswell might have been, among select others, using the MJ documents as a weapon of disinformation would be a logical ploy to cover the real story.
So the episode begins to make more sense. Seeking to expose possible security risks within the conspiracy and force Mulder into a more manageable situation, Cancer Man intentionally leaks the doctored MJ documents to the Thinker. At the same time, Mulder is pushed towards his breaking point by the secret administration of mind-altering drugs. Cancer Man intentionally warns Bill Mulder about Mulder’s subsequent possession of the MJ documents, to determine if Bill will break his silence and tell Mulder the truth. As soon as that comes about, Cancer Man assigns Krycek to kill Bill Mulder. With Mulder and Scully facing serious allegations regarding possession of the MJ documents and Mulder’s assault on Skinner, Cancer Man would believe that he had Mulder firmly in his control.
However, it has been shown on more than one occasion that there is a power opposing Cancer Man, one of a decidedly spiritual nature. This is where Albert’s violation of Navaho religious tradition comes into play. The fact that Albert is aware of what is coming, from the very beginning, suggests that he is in league with the forces aiding Mulder and Scully. Considering the vital part that the agents play in future events, it is completely reasonable to assume that Albert would be willing to break the traditions of his people if he felt compelled.
Albert’s knowledge of Mulder as an important figure is also evident in the way he directs Mulder where he needs to go. Albert intentionally shifts the word “anasazi”, which is Navaho for “ancient enemy” or “ancient ones”, to mean “ancient alien”. There is no reason to use the more provocative phrase unless Albert knows about Mulder and his beliefs. Albert would also be aware that the Anasazi never in fact “disappeared without a trace”. Instead, he intentionally professes a belief that fits into Mulder’s worldview.
If such an interpretation paints Albert in a somewhat unflattering light, that is a matter of perspective. Mulder, after all, is living within a lie. To steer him towards the truth, Albert must use Mulder’s assumptions to guide him towards the truth. In this way, Albert serves as a opposing yet symmetrical force to Cancer Man, who is using carefully chosen truths to fool Mulder into believing the lie.
This brings an interesting element into the final act of the episode. It’s certainly true that Cancer Man never expected Mulder to actually find the twisted remains of early experiments by the conspiracy, but having leaked the MJ documents to begin with, it had to be a possible consequence. But this is also the second time that one of Cancer Man’s plans has been derailed, at least in part, by the intervention of some unknown agency.
Faced with a situation rapidly moving out of his control, Cancer Man decides to force the situation. Cancer Man knows that Mulder must survive, if he is to be the central figure in the ancient prophecies of the Anasazi, as detailed in later seasons. In desperation, Cancer Man does the one thing he knows must expose Mulder and his unknown allies: threaten Mulder’s life.
As written by Chris Carter and David Duchovny, this episode is about as fast-paced as an episode of the series would ever be. The melding of government conspiracy and possible alien mystery, on more than one level, is well conceived. The revelation that Mulder has been drugged is entirely consistent with his early behavior, and yet it is carefully concealed scene after scene.
There are some minor errors along the way, not counting the more disturbing “error” regarding Navaho tradition. It doesn’t make sense for Cancer Man to leave the Lone Gunmen alive, when just about everyone else involved in the trap ends up in jeopardy. When Scully is brought into Skinner’s office, she is asked three basic questions, and then told that if she is found to be lying, she’ll be disciplined...only to be dismissed immediately after. And despite having no evidence on screen, Mulder manages to identify Krycek as his father’s killer!
Regardless, the episode drives the series into the third season on a high note, providing the perfect platform for the series mythology to expand and grow. While certain aspects of the episode would never get a full explanation, the essentials are the foundation for the conspiracy and Cancer Man’s unique position within it. At the heart of the episode, however, is the question of trust between Mulder and Scully. Even as Mulder accuses Scully of betraying him, her actions demonstrate where her loyalty firmly lies.
Even with its flaws, many fans count this as the best mythology episode of the series. In retrospect, it is the perfect example of a quintessential “X-Files” episode. Plans within plans, personal stakes, mysterious conspiracies, and obscure references to aliens and mind control...all wrapped into a cliffhanger ending that, at the time, was a complete shock. What more could a fan ask for?
MULDER: “Who would follow you?”
BYERS: “Multinational black ops unit. Code name: Garnet.”
LANGLY: “Trained killers. School of the Americas alumni.”
MULDER: “Have you boys been defacing library books again?”
CANCER MAN: “Regret is an inevitable consequence of life.”
BLACK OPS GUY: “No, sir, if he was, he’s vanished without a trace.”
CANCER MAN: “Nothing vanishes without a trace!”
- This episode begins on April 9, 1995. At this point, according to the original timeline, this is roughly 3 years into the working relationship between Mulder and Scully (though, reasonably, more like 2 years)…
- Ah…that wonderfully fake composite shot of the New Mexico background and the painted Vancouver rocks…
- Exactly how did the kid carry that desiccated body on that little bike for such a long distance?
- I guess there’s nothing better to do in Dover, Delaware…
- Interesting that the Axis power diplomats would leave this to the Syndicate alone, as though they had only tangential concern over the revelations detailed within…perhaps because they were unaware that the documents were still open and updated?
- Cops sure show up quickly after that woman shoots her husband in Mulder’s building…obviously plants for the conspiracy…
- Cancer Man says that he “already took care of it”, and the Thinker asks the Gunmen to specifically ask for Mulder to meet him for the handover of the DAT tape. That strongly indicates that the Thinker had already been in the conspiracy’s custody, and helping to ensnare Mulder in Cancer Man’s gambit!
- I’m still trying to figure out where the 4th Commandment and alien “side projects” remotely intersect…
- “Almost 50 years” would fit squarely into the contention that the 1947 Roswell incident marks the beginning of the falsified MJ documentation, since that would have initiated the plan to use former Axis scientist experiments as a cover for research into alien technology!
- Scully has one hell of a memory for languages in this episode…and yet she still forgets half of the evidence for the conspiracy…
- Ah, back when Skinner used to mix it up a little…
- Chris Carter plays one of Scully’s interrogators in Skinner’s office, as most fans already know…and he makes a rather convincing bureaucrat!
- Bill Mulder seems far more concerned about how his role in the early conspiracy will be perceived than the fact that Mulder has the information in hand; Cancer Man acts as though the breech of security were inevitable…all consistent with the idea that the men knew this day was coming…
- This episode is really Cancer Man’s final victory over Bill Mulder, the man he broke in a vain attempt to control the future…
- Love how Mulder’s “illness” brings out his more obsessive and paranoid qualities, yet in ways that are convincingly consistent with his usual characterization!
- Note that Scully gave the Navaho woman a print-out from the DAT tape…something that Skinner would later claim to be impossible!
- From the angle of the gunshot, it couldn’t have grazed that side of Scully’s head and then embedded itself in the opposite wall…unless, of course, it’s a magic bullet…
- So Mulder, barely able to walk, manages to drive several hours in late night traffic from DC to Martha’s Vineyard?
- Bill Mulder had to know that he was under surveillance and about to die…could his timing have been a personal decision to let himself be killed before he could tell his son too much?
- OK, so now Mulder manages to drive from DC to Martha’s Vineyard and back in a single night, all while under the influence of mind-altering drugs…sure, that sounds reasonable…
- As it is, doesn’t the fact that Mulder got his fingerprints all over Krycek’s murder weapon eliminate the value of preventing Mulder from shooting Krycek? Or is it the residue test that Scully is concerned about?
- An open question for debate: if Albert helped “encode the original government documents”, is he the same codetalker who began encoding the MJ documents for the conspiracy?
- Mulder is so gullible…Albert is clearly amused as he tells Mulder about the Anasazi, as if he knows that it’s simply a way to drive Mulder in the necessary direction…
- There’s that terrible painted rock effect again!
- I would love to find out what cellular phone service, circa 1995, managed to give Mulder a signal in the middle of a New Mexico reservation, several feet underground…
- Looking at Cancer Man’s face at the end of the episode, it seems clear that he knows Mulder will somehow survive…it’s just a matter of how!
Overall, this episode is a perfect blend of mythology and character elements, matched with nuanced performances by the entire cast. The pacing of the episode is relentless, providing exactly the tone that the episode requires. While the episode commits a major cultural blunder, the premise makes it work, and this finale stands as perhaps the most iconic mythology episode of the series.
Final Rating: 10/10
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