"Piper Maru"
Written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz
Directed by Rob Bowman

In which an incident on a French salvage vessel prompts Mulder to investigate, as something living in black oil moves from person to person, just as it did decades earlier...

Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis


Status Report

With this episode, the next stage in the series mythology begins, transitioning out of the “clean-up” activities following the events of the “Anasazi” trilogy into hints of the larger scope of the conspiracy itself. In the process of taking certain concepts and classic science fiction elements and applying them to the existing mythology, questions are raised that don’t have easy answers, especially in the first part of a two-episode arc.

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”, “Nisei”, and “731” provide the framework.

The teaser itself has a major flaw, in terms of overall continuity. It makes sense that the French government would take their limited amount of information about the conspiracy and attempt to capitalize on a lead by checking out the area where the Talapus salvaged “something”. In this case, the French are playing catch-up, and they stumble on something that the conspiracy itself knew better than to disturb.

It’s the shot of the man trapped in the wreckage of the plane, presumably alive for the past 50 years, that doesn’t make sense. It’s easy to see that the writers thought it would make for “cool” imagery, but it’s never clear how the man was supposed to have lived that long. From the following episode, “Apocrypha”, it’s established that the events depicted on the Zeus Faber took place in 1953. The wreckage of the P51 Mustang would go back to around 1945!

The answer is relatively simple, knowing the black oil virus and its properties from later seasons. This particular incarnation of Purity would have been present at the bottom of the Pacific beginning in 1953 or so. It would have needed a human host to move around, based on the events of this episode and “Apocrypha”. At the same time, the human hosts are obviously modified as needed by the black oil virus, so the obvious question is this: if the virus could regenerate the remains of the P51 Mustang pilot to lure Gauthier close enough to be infected, why couldn’t the virus use the regenerated body to get to the surface?

The mystery lies within the nature of Purity itself. Purity is a non-corporeal intelligence, using the virus (and the medium of the black oil) as a physical means of spreading its influence. In order to use such a medium, Purity must have enough control over matter and energy to do effectively whatever the hell it wants. Creating a body for itself would take time, but not much, since it’s an organic analogue to the rather efficient nanotech seen in episodes like “Existence”.

It’s that development process that might explain the limitations of this version of Purity. Just as it took years to develop the initial nanotech super-soldier, and then even longer to create the organic nanotech that led to the “bounty hunter” version of the super-soldiers, there had to be a development process for Purity. The final version of Purity, as seen in “Fight the Future”, would have been the culmination of the Project, circa 2012. Before that, there would have been less effective versions with limited resources.

The earliest stages of Purity development would have involved a virus with the potential to take control of a host, but without the necessary functionality to allow a non-corporeal consciousness to use that host (“Tunguska”). The middle stages would have involved limited control by non-corporeal intelligence, such as the ability to access host memory and eventually temporarily modify the host as needed for travel and defense (this episode). The final stages would have allowed a non-corporeal intelligence to use the infected host as a “gateway” into the physical world; able to use the infected host to create a new form as desired (“Fight the Future”).

So the basic logic becomes this: at some point between 2002 and 2012, the conspiracy manages to modify Purity to such a degree that it is on the cusp of becoming the ideal version seen in “Fight the Future”. That version ends up in the past, looking for a way back to its original time. To that effect, it has inhabited hosts as needed. Trapped at the bottom of the ocean in 1953, it has awaited the chance to take control of another viable host in order to continue its plan to return “home”. Gauthier provides the perfect host, able to make the ascent without physical damage.

Another continuity error, this time much harder to explain, crops up in the next scene. Skinner says that after five months, the investigation into Melissa’s death is to be closed. Of course, the problem is that the shooting took place in May 1995, and this episode is at least late January 1996. That’s more like eight months!

This is one of the earlier examples of a truly annoying 1013 practice: sliding the timeline of the series in relation to the air date of the episodes being referenced. As such, even though the events of “Anasazi”, “The Blessing Way”, and “Paper Clip” all take place within a couple weeks, the air dates are May 1995 and September 1995, depending on the episode. Since “Paper Clip” aired in September 1995, the time frame becomes five months instead of the more logical eight months.

Regardless, the intent is clear. The conspiracy is tying up all the loose ends from the mess in “Paper Clip”, and that means the investigation into Melissa’s death has to be quietly closed. Skinner, of course, becomes a problem because he chooses to fight on Scully’s behalf. This is not the message that the agents are meant to receive.

The radiation burns are an interesting touch, and one that would be as inconsistently applied as the nature of Purity’s self-awareness. The radiation flash is a means of self-defense, to be sure, but it’s also an obvious weapon against anyone not part of the conspiracy’s endgame. The super-soldiers (regardless of which phase) and anyone “possessed” by Purity would be able to survive; normal human beings would not.

It seems a bit of a coincidence that Scully’s old acquaintance should just happen to be a survivor of the Zeus Faber mission. But it does give an interesting look at the timeline of events circa 1953. At some point between 1947 and the mission of the Zeus Faber, something was being shipped over the Pacific in a B-20. The cover story was that the B-20 was carrying an atomic bomb; the true explanation would not be apparent until “Apocrypha”.

The implication is that the Zeus Faber was sent to look for what was lost when the B-20 went down on the way to Japan, and that the captain of the submarine was “possessed” by the version of Purity seen in this episode. Purity then attempted to force the crew to stay in the area in order to find the UFO that was later recovered by the Talapus in October 1995. Only a mutiny on the Zeus Faber prevented Purity from achieving its goal.

Far more interesting is the implication of Krycek’s involvement. In terms of this episode, it seems as though Krycek is selling secrets from the MJ documents recovered from the digital tape. It’s this implication that makes the nature of the information on the digital tape so hard to pin down. In the “Anasazi” trilogy, the information seemed to be correct and up to date, but written in terms of the deception that Cancer Man had created to hide the truth behind the goals of the conspiracy.

The downside of that gambit, of course, was that it was factual enough to be dangerous in the wrong hands. At this point, Krycek seems to be working on his own, but the truth is far more complex, as seen in later episodes. Krycek’s time with Cancer Man gave him enough information to put the pieces together, when combined with the intelligence gathered by his allies in the Russian analogue to the conspiracy.

The Russians would have a vested interest in hiding their attempts to gain possession of technology desired by the conspiracy. This fits within the concept of the “vaccine cold war” of later episodes. The Russians would have known, based on the information hidden within the MJ documents, that there was something useful to their research at the bottom of the Pacific. The French, through the middle men at Kallenchuk Salvage, would have been unwitting pawns, and they come after Krycek when things obviously go very wrong.

Purity, of course, knows about the Kallenchuk connection and assumes that the easiest way to find the recovered UFO would be to find the source of the information that Gauthier and his team possessed. Using Gauthier’s very attractive wife, Purity follows the trail (and for that matter, Mulder) to the man with the most knowledge: Krycek. And since Krycek has already begun playing all sides in his bid for self-preservation, having learned the truth about the future, Purity has all the information it needs to get what it wants.

One final mystery of the episode is the incident at Chadwick’s. The assassin’s involvement certainly looks staged, especially since Skinner refused to take the warning given by the men working for the conspiracy earlier in the episode. But it seems curious that the conspiracy would send the same man that killed Melissa to shoot Skinner.

The goal, of course, might have been to expose the assassin. This could have been a requirement of the conspiracy in terms of their plan to deal with Cancer Man’s mess. Cardinale is ordered to shoot Skinner but leave him alive, effectively allowing Skinner to identify Cardinale after the fact. As seen in “Apocrypha”, this allows the conspiracy to eliminate Cardinale without making an overt move or exposing their own part in it.

Unlike “Nisei” and “731”, episodes that re-hashed elements of the mythology revealed in “Paper Clip”, this episode charts relatively new territory. Once again, Mulder and Scully are working on different aspects of the same situation, and those aspects of the case play to their own expectations. The difference is that the connections between the previous mythology installments and this two-episode arc are more subtle than one would aspect, something that comes out between the lines in “Apocrypha”.

Similarly, Mulder’s aspect of the case is more visceral, dealing with the physical realities of the conspiracy and what the present situation reveals about past events. Scully’s aspect once again deals with the emotional and spiritual ramifications of the conspiracy’s Project. This is fairly basic writing; Mulder is more passionate and emotional in his approach to the truth, so he ends up uncovering facts and dates. Scully is more scientific and rational, so she explores the emotional price. Nothing new or groundbreaking there.

The most impressive element of the episode has to be the visuals. From Scully to Joan Gauthier, there is beauty in this episode, serving as a nice contrast to the darkness of the office in Hong Kong or the unsettling movement of the black oil across the eyes. The shot of Krycek walking into the camera, his eyes going black, is one of the best shots ever done for the series, and easily one of the most memorable. Granted, that shot of the Zeus Faber should never have seen airtime, but that’s a minor glitch.

This episode worked much better when it first aired because none of the overly complicated contradictions of the “black oil” aspect of the series mythology had been introduced. In retrospect, it’s hard to fully rationalize the black oil seen in this episode against the black oil in “Fight the Future”. However, it can be done, if one suspends a sizable chunk of disbelief.

Memorable Quotes

SKINNER: “I don’t think this has anything to do with interest.”
SCULLY: “If I may say so, sir, it has everything to do with interest. Just not yours, and not mine.”

SCULLY: “You’re in the basement because they’re afraid of you, of your relentlessness and because they know that they could drop you in the middle of the desert, and tell you the truth is out there, and you would ask them for a shovel!”
MULDER: “Is that what you think of me?”
SCULLY: “Well, maybe not a shovel. Maybe a backhoe...”

MULDER: “Looks like the fuselage of a plane.”
SCULLY: “It’s a North American P51 Mustang.”
MULDER: “I just got very turned on...”

JOHANSEN: “We bury our dead alive, don’t we?”
SCULLY: “I don’t know if I understand.”
JOHANSEN: “We hear them everyday...they talk to us, they haunt us, they beg us for meaning. Conscience...it’s just the voices of the dead, trying to save us from our own damnation...”

SKINNER: “Who are you guys?”
AGENT: “We work with the intelligence community.”
SKINNER: “Remind me not to move there.”

Final Analysis

Overall, this episode is a good introduction to the black oil virus, providing a bridge from the mythology elements earlier in the season to the larger scope of the conspiracy to be revealed. Some plot elements seem a bit too coincidental, but overall, this is all about revealing the scope of the formative years of the conspiracy, as would be seen in the episode that follows.

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

Final Rating: 8/10

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