"731"
Written by Frank Spotnitz
Directed by Rob Bowman



In which Mulder puts his life on the line to discover the truth about the Japanese experiments, while Scully is supplied with some answers to her own questions about her abduction...

Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis





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Status Report

After a somewhat muddled set-up in “Nisei”, this episode is all about exploring the depth of what has been revealed. Considering that what was revealed in the previous episode was more or less the continuation of what had been revealed in “Paper Clip”, there’s nothing new here. Motivations are confirmed while some incredibly sinister (and rather misogynist) implications for Scully’s future are outlined.

As with most of the mythology episodes, previous interpretations regarding the goals and policies of the conspiracy and Cancer Man pertain directly to the interpretation of the current episode. Therefore, the speculation and interpretation outlined in previous reviews are assumed to be familiar to the reader. In particular, the reviews for “The Erlenmeyer Flask”, “Colony”, “Endgame”, “Anasazi”, “The Blessing Way”, “Paper Clip”, and “Nisei” provide the framework.

The experimentation that had been secretly continued by the scientists once assigned to Section 731, as suggested in the previous episode, has been ended, with the inevitable consequence for the remaining test subjects. Right from the beginning, the writers reveal that there’s a clear division between the secret tests run by Dr. Zama and the experiments he was conducting for the conspiracy; the test subjects hidden at the leper colony receive a fate akin to Holocaust victims.

Without wasting time, Informant X attempts to walk away, once it’s clear that Mulder has not been prevented from boarding the train with the isolation car. Scully, however, forces the man to give her some kind of answer. Note that Informant X gives an answer that completely contradicts what the conspiracy Elder would later tell her: Informant X actually tells her the absolute truth.

The implant is the key to the entire conspiracy because it represents the end point of an experimental process that was begun in 1947. If Scully were to learn the truth about the intended use of the control chip in her neck, she’d understand what the conspiracy was trying to create and why. Informant X, working for Cancer Man, ties the test subject in the railroad car and Melissa’s murder to the implant as a smokescreen. In the case of the test subject, the experiments were conducted as an alternative and/or response to the success of the control chip technology, while Cancer Man had Melissa killed in a desperate attempt to cover and remediate his mistakes following “Anasazi”.

Mulder’s search for Dr. Zama is somewhat slow and methodical, but it does begin to explain what Zama was trying to accomplish. He was clearly trying to escape the death squads with the most promising test subject from the leper colony, along with a summary of his research to date (which apparently consisted of the same two pages, photocopied a few dozen times). The conspiracy wanted Zama and the research to be destroyed, since it went against the established goals of the Project; Cancer Man, however, wanted to get his hands on the research, especially since Zama’s goals might yield something useful to his own plans for the Project.

Scully’s discussion with Pendrell, a continuation of the discussion they had in “Nisei”, delves into the various functions of the control chip. In this case, it speaks to what the conspiracy thought to gain, at least in part, by abducting Scully. The control chip can record memory formation (using what the conspiracy has learned about non-corporeal intelligence and the mechanism of memory that such an intelligence must necessarily employ), and it’s strongly suggested that it could therefore plant false memories and influence behavior through subliminal commands (hence, “control chip”).

If there is one rather silly element to this episode, it’s the idea that the manufacturer of the chips would actually stamp the damn things with their name! Without it, of course, it would be impossible for Scully to track down Zama’s secret research facility. Well, impossible, except that Informant X or even the conspiracy could have given her the information. In fact, it would have made more sense for the conspiracy Elder to directly provide Scully with the information to prevent her from looking into things on her own.

Of course, the conspiracy might have wanted Scully to see the leper colony, so that she would be more willing to believe that Zama was conducting illegal experiments on his own. The helicopter arrives suspiciously within a couple minutes of Scully seeing the piles of dead test subjects, and only at that point are the remaining lepers put down. It seems designed to put Scully into a state of shock, but at no point does her life really seem in danger. If this was the intent of the script, to demonstrate how clever the conspiracy can be, having the manufacturing stamp the control chip implant undermines the effectiveness of the plot point.

After creeping out a mother and her son by happily covering up Zama’s murder on the train (that is a rather unnerving scene!), Mulder demonstrates his usual discretion by walking right into the “quarantined” train car, without even turning on the lights. Sure, it’s an atmospheric struggle, but really, Mulder should have known he was already an easy target and just hit the lights to give himself a chance! He’s lucky to have survived, which of course means that the assassin was contracted by the conspiracy, not Cancer Man (who would have made sure Mulder would live).

The assassin must be a veteran of the conspiracy, because he does a wonderful job of shading the truth with lies. He tells Mulder that he’s NSA (which he actually might be, given the conspiracy’s reach), and then follows that with general honesty about the bomb and why Zama included a bomb in the first place (with a lie about a deadly disease!). Though it does seem silly for the assassin to claim that Mulder’s gun might set the bomb off from “the slightest concussion”, after making one hell of a racket bouncing Mulder off the walls!

When the Elder tells Scully that he knows almost everything about her, it has several possible meanings. The obvious meaning is that the conspiracy did some serious background checking on her history prior to assigning her to Mulder. It also suggests that her abduction is a part of it, and Scully has to be wondering if the implant was telling them her every thought.

Regardless, the Elder is honest enough about Zama and his role in the experimentation, which automatically should put Scully on guard. After all, why would the Elder give Scully such information openly, if they were hoping to contain the elimination of any non-essential experimentation linked to Section 731 and Project: Paper Clip in the wake of Cancer Man’s debacle? As explained in the review for the previous episode, by placing all the emphasis on Zama’s unauthorized project, attention is diverted from the real prize: the UFO recovered by the Talapus.

Oddly, Scully completely overlooks the fact that she and the women in Allentown were experimented on by Zama, quite apart from the terrible super-soldier experiments. She has it in the back of her mind, and perhaps she has come to the conclusion that her implant and the related cancerous tumors in the other abductees were part of those unauthorized experiments. Maybe it’s the shock of what she’s seen; Scully could simply want to believe that it was Zama behind all of it, and not some ongoing program. Whatever the case, even with a representative of that conspiracy standing right in front of her, she misses a critical connection in her own reasoning.

If the conspiracy was using Scully to convince Mulder to focus on Zama as the mastermind behind much of what has been discovered, it seems to work. Mulder is still not convinced completely, but he doesn’t press the issue, especially with time ticking away on the bomb. A lot of what happens from this point forward is a bit too drawn out, taking some of the tension out of the episode when it should be maintained and even increased.

While the episode drags on with a seemingly unending series of conversations in the train car, the assassin continues to play Mulder like a fiddle. Mulder has yet to become aware of the international Cold War taking place to find a way to resist the black oil virus. Cancer Man and perhaps Strughold are the only two men who understand the true nature of the threat, and they have been keeping it to themselves. So in many ways, Zama was attempting to take his most successful test subject back to Japan so he could continue to experiment with creating modified soldiers capable of resisting the black oil.

But Mulder only knows that there were experiments, genetic and otherwise, conducted in the years after World War II to create “super soldiers”, possibly using alien DNA recovered at Roswell in 1947. He doesn’t know that those experiments were meant to combat a specific threat, and the conspiracy (however uninformed as they might be) knows that Mulder is unaware of the black oil. So the assassin lets Mulder assume that the experiments were an attempt to create soldiers capable of surviving existing weapons technology. He also lets Mulder assume that there is in fact alien DNA, because if Mulder’s gets the story out, it feeds the disinformation machine that serves the conspiracy’s interests.

Scully’s scramble to find some resource to save Mulder is interesting enough, but there’s no question that Informant X is sent by Cancer Man to ensure that Mulder survives and, if possible, retrieve the test subject. Mulder is definitely the priority. As with so many other situations, Cancer Man is aware that Mulder must survive into the future to fulfill his apparent role in defeating the black oil threat. What’s not so clear is why the assassin lets Mulder live, with a scalpel at his disposal. He wasn’t worried about letting Mulder live before, so why worry about it when he clearly intended to leave Mulder for dead anyway?

By the end of the episode, Mulder is back to square one. What the conspiracy didn’t intentionally remove to cover their own interests in the Zama situation, Cancer Man dealt with in his own bid to gather information. Mulder and Scully are completely focused on the injustice of covering up Zama’s experiments, so the gambit to distract them from the UFO recovered by the Talapus worked, at least for the time being.

As conspiracy episodes go, this one suffers from the evolution of the mythology into the suggestion of actual alien incursions. When the episodes actually aired, it was completely plausible for all of the apparent alien activity to be a smokescreen for secret government experimentation. In some ways, this would have been a preferable direction for the mythology, because it would have been a lot easier to consistently maintain over time, and the later complications of the black oil “colonization” might have been avoided.

Even so, “Nisei” and “731” don’t take the mythology much farther than “Paper Clip”, except to demonstrate that the Germans and Japanese were both involved in the “super soldier” experiments prior to 1973. Scully says that the official end to radiation tests on civilians, according to a public apology from the president, ended around 1974. That’s consistent with the complete shift in the priorities of the conspiracy following the fall of 1973, when the efforts of the conspiracy were influenced by direct intervention by black oil colonists.

From a realistic standpoint, it was probably this point in the series when the writers began to recognize that something new needed to be added to the mythology. They had taken the “super soldier” concept to a certain end point, presenting plenty of information about the activities from 1947 through 1973, and the role of Bill Mulder in those activities. What hadn’t been covered in any real detail was the period from 1973 through 1995, and the writers had to start thinking about how the whole bounty hunter/clone concept was supposed to fit into the mess.

It’s at this point that Frank Spotnitz began to demonstrate more and more influence on the direction of the mythology, and along with Chris Carter, that vision would persist until shortly after its culmination in the feature film “Fight the Future”. If there’s any testimony to the lack of consistent direction for the series, it’s the inability of the showrunners post-“One Son” to tie the early “super soldier” mythology into the extension of the same concept (the so-called “replacements” of seasons 8 and 9).

Had those simple and obvious connections had been made, along with a more consistent treatment of the spiritual elements at the heart of the post-“One Son” mythology episodes, the series might have retained many of those frustrated with was often called the “stupid new idea of super soldiers”. Clearly those ideas were not new; they were simply not properly executed. These reviews easily point out that with a little work, the writers could have maintained a largely cohesive mythology.


Memorable Quotes

INFORMANT X: “There are limits to my knowledge.”
SCULLY: “I don’t have time for your convenient ignorance!”

SCULLY: “The implant.”
INFORMANT X: “It holds more than I could ever tell you. Maybe everything you need to know.”

MULDER: “Scully, let me tell you, you haven’t seen America until you’ve seen it from a train…”

MULDER: “As an employee of the National Security Agency, you should know that a gunshot wound to the stomach is probably the most painful and slowest way to die…but I’m not a very good shot, and when I miss…I miss low…”

SCULLY: “I’ve got six minutes left. Is that what you have?”
MULDER: “Let’s hope not…”

SCULLY: “Don’t you see, Mulder? You’re doing their work for them. You’re chasing aliens that aren’t there, helping them to create a story to cover the shameful truth. And what they can’t cover, they apologize for. Apology has become policy.”


Final Analysis

Overall, this episode is a bit of a letdown, especially coming on the heels of a less than perfect effort in “Nisei”. Too much of what happens is a rehash of elements explored in the “Anasazi” trilogy, and so much of what happens in this episode has already been implied by the events of “Nisei”, leaving the real meat of the episode to a relatively dry (and even boring) disinformation effort. Not one of the better mythology installments.

Writing: 1/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 1/4

Final Rating: 6/10




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