Written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz
Directed by Kim Manners
In which Mulder races against the conspiracy to locate Krycek and determine the truth about the black oil entity, while Scully tracks down the man responsible for her sister’s death...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
The previous episode introduced the “black oil”, the centerpiece of the elaborate series mythology that would dominate most of the “sweeps period” episodes for the remainder of the series’ run. Unlike many of the later episodes, however, this is a relatively straightforward (if misleading) tale, exploring the idea that the conspiracy’s crimes go unpunished.
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”, “731”, and “Piper Maru” provide the framework.
The episode begins in 1953, and what is suggested in the teaser deepens the mystery of when the conspiracy was formed and how much the principals knew about the true nature of the “alien” threat. As always, the two keys players appear to be Bill Mulder and Cancer Man. The teaser demonstrates that the two of them were well-versed in the situation by 1953, and that they were working together to build the future Syndicate (the third man looks like a very confused young First Elder).
As presented, the basic premise of the 1953 incident seems to be that a UFO crashed, and when the conspiracy sent the Zeus Faber to recover it, the men were exposed to the “black oil”, which was apparently trying to find its way back to the UFO. There’s only one problem with that scenario. If Purity was already at the location, and had come with the UFO in the first place, why would it need the Zeus Faber to find the UFO again? And what about the fighter squadron that was lost in the exact same area a few years earlier?
The most reasonable explanation is that the UFO didn’t crash in the Pacific, but rather, arrived at another location. As discussed in the review for the previous episode, the characteristics of Purity seen here suggest that the “black oil virus” was still in the mid-stage of development. The UFO recovered also seems to be more advanced, analogous to the “rebel” UFOs with the Navaho script.
The recovered UFO, then, had to have come from a point later in the timeline, between 2002 and 2012, and crashed between July 1947 and 1953 following an unsuccessful test of the Purity/UFO interaction. That UFO would have been captured by the conspiracy, and consequently escorted to an unknown location in the Pacific.
This detail is important, because there has to be an explanation for the fighter escort of the cargo plane carrying the UFO, and in a separate “container”, the black oil. The only reasonable explanation is that the Japanese scientists that would eventually come to the United States from Project 731 were still operating testing facilities in Japan. The conspiracy wanted to conduct tests with the black oil on human subjects, and that would mean relocating the relevant items to the existing facilities.
Following the crash of the cargo plane (which might have happened when the UFO nanotech began repairing the vessel), everything was lost. The black oil ended up too far from the UFO itself to get there on its own. Thus, it needed a human host, and managed to get into the Zeus Faber when the United States made the necessary effort to recover the lost materials.
This is consistent with everything known by the beginning of the episode, and with everything else revealed, taking into account spin and assumptions of the part of certain characters. One thing is very clear: Bill Mulder and Cancer Man were aware of the black oil prior to 1953, and had to have been aware of Purity probably as early as the crash at Roswell in July 1947.
Just as in the previous episode, it seems very likely that Skinner’s shooting was staged so that Cardinal’s eventual capture and elimination would seem plausible. Killing Skinner would have eliminated a possible asset, and Cancer Man isn’t ready to do that. He is, however, willing to use Skinner to send a message. Having done that, he has also effectively set up Cardinal to be identified and captured. In the process, Scully gets enough information to stop looking where her attention isn’t wanted, while Cancer Man can be sure that the message concerning the untouchable nature of the conspiracy is communicated.
When the assassins sent for Krycek come back burned, Cancer Man knows that Purity has taken Krycek over. Krycek has too much information about what Cancer Man knows about the true nature of the future “colonization”, and so it’s very clear that Krycek must be dealt with in a way that prevents Purity (or this version of it) from returning to its proper point in the timeline. If Purity managed to return to the future, then Cancer Man’s secret efforts to undermine the creation of Purity would be revealed.
As a result, when Purity comes to him in Krycek’s body, he sees a solution to two problems: Purity must be prevented from using the UFO to return to the future, and Krycek must be kept from leaking more secrets to agencies that shouldn’t know too much. By placing the UFO in the missile silo in North Dakota, Cancer Man makes the only move he can reasonably make.
This was the first episode to have DVD commentary as a part of the season sets, and so Chris Carter reveals some interesting information that isn’t all that obvious when watching the show. Perhaps the most interesting piece of information is how often the shooting schedule forced the writers to split up Mulder and Scully, just so all the scenes could be finished in time.
It’s often a criticism that the two characters aren’t on-screen together enough, especially since it suggests a rift between them. The scene in the hospital, for instance, is so important because it demonstrates how much they care for one another, even if they are more at odds following Melissa’s death and Scully’s subsequent rejection of many “extreme possibilities”.
Just as interesting is the observation by Carter that this two-episode arc was the underlying basis for “Fight the Future”. Indeed, in retrospect, it seems very likely that Carter and Spotnitz broke down the basic elements and general resolution to the mythology to be included in the feature film within weeks of completing this episode. Note the similarities in tone and how characters and situations important in this episode, yet less important in the fifth season, suddenly resurge in applicability during the film.
Taken in that context, the mythology could have been far less complicated. Without the mythology episodes in the fourth and fifth seasons, “Fight the Future” still works as the end of a discernable arc. It’s easy to see that the film was seen as the culmination of the story, perhaps the end cap for the series itself. For all that several unnecessary complication were added to the mythology before “Fight the Future”, they were all more or less resolved by the middle of the sixth season. Without something like the film to provide the writers with a goal to reach, with the answers more or less already given in the early stages of the screenplay, the later seasons suffered from a lack of vision.
Even so, this episode works both as intended and as it stands now, with the extra baggage of the complicated extensions and retroactive continuity. No matter which interpretation is followed, there is still a huge rift between Cancer Man (the one member of the Syndicate aware of the true nature of Purity’s origins) and the rest of the conspiracy (more and more, led by the Well-Manicured Man). Cancer Man, in his need to control events without tipping his own hand in the process, seems to be having difficulty keeping the conspiracy under his thumb.
As crazy as Mulder sounds, he’s completely right about the nature of the “black oil entity”. He just doesn’t know enough to recognize that the intelligence behind the entity isn’t alien in the way he thinks it would be. Not enough has happened for him to make the necessary leap, to logically accept that any intelligence able to move from body to body in such a fashion must be, by definition, non-corporeal and therefore spiritual.
Having made his move to contain Purity and Krycek, Cancer Man must then find a way to make his case to the rest of the Syndicate, all while ensuring that they continue to believe the convenient lie that Purity is actually alien. He cannot explain that the leak is due to Krycek, based on the events of “Paper Clip”. He also has to deal with the fact that his efforts to keep Skinner under control are so public, but that is all part of his strategy. By diverting the Syndicate towards trivial matters, less time is spent on why the UFO was sent to North Dakota.
The Well-Manicured Man isn’t stupid, and he has a sincere desire to save the world for the sake of his grandchildren, as seen in “Fight the Future”. Because of his belief in the project, especially in terms of preventing colonization, he takes chances with Mulder. The Well-Manicured Man becomes Cancer Man’s most formidable opponent, because of all the people likely to undermine the success of his master plan, the Well-Manicured Man has the resources to do it.
The irony is that the Well-Manicured Man, in divulging certain information to Mulder, continually provides Mulder with Cancer Man’s disinformation. So while it’s true that the object recovered in the Pacific by the Talapus was a UFO, it wasn’t downed by pilots in World War II. Mulder, on the other hand, tells the Well-Manicured Man something vital: that Krycek is the one selling secrets. The Well-Manicured Man is therefore armed with information that Cancer Man didn’t want him to know, and in the end, he wonders what else Mulder can tell him.
It’s too easy to think that Skinner’s life is really in jeopardy. The agents assigned to help Scully are so obvious in their lack of concern that it makes her look silly when Mulder needs to tell her to keep checking. What was she waiting for, a neon sign explaining that they’re working for the conspiracy? As it is, Scully gets the hint and catches up, just in time for Cancer Man’s true intentions: to make damn sure that Luis Cardinal is either captured or, more conveniently, killed.
The scene where Scully runs down Cardinal is easily the most intense of the episode. Gillian Anderson really pulls off a terrific performance in this mini-arc, selling the idea that Scully has been suffering for months while her sister’s assassin has been running free. At the same time, it highlights one of the major flaws of the season and the series itself: those underlying emotions should have been evident throughout the entire run of episodes, not just for “sweeps” events.
The rest of the episode is a confirmation that Cancer Man’s containment plan has worked, at least temporarily; Purity is contained, and Krycek is left for dead. It’s quite possible, even probably, that Cancer Man intended for Cardinal to use Krycek’s location as a bargaining chip. By bringing Mulder and Scully to the site, and making sure they don’t see anything, he proves his point to the rest of the conspiracy, derailing any efforts to make his activities look like a liability.
In the end, Skinner seems to have gotten the message. Even when attempting to chip away at the conspiracy for something as minor as the identity of Scully’s killer, the information comes with a price. He makes it very clear to Mulder that he’s not willing to put his life on the line for Mulder’s cause. It takes something away from Skinner’s act of defiance in “Paper Clip”, but that would be a long-standing criticism of Skinner’s characterization.
The final scene delves into Carter’s idea that conscience is really the collective voice of those who have died, crying out for justice or something similar. In some respects, the two episodes do touch on that idea, and as such, it plays into the spiritual elements of the mythology. Melissa was brought over to the spiritual world intact, through the efforts of Albert Hosteen, and she does influence Scully on more than one occasion. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for Scully, even subconsciously in her psychic way, to pick up on something Melissa was trying to communicate.
This episode, like the one before it, works to provide a basis for the experimentation by the conspiracy revealed to this point. The extent of the experiments had been more or less covered, although the details of why and how were still left for the future. These two episodes explain what the experiments were meant to combat, even if that connection isn’t obvious. One can’t help but wonder if Carter and Spotnitz really did know where they wanted the mythology to end in the film. It certainly seems plausible, because one can see how they took specific pieces of the puzzle (elements of the film’s resolution of the main arc) and tried to build mythology episodes around discovering those pieces…only, because they had to be clever enough to make sure Mulder and Scully couldn’t fit the pieces together, the writers stumbled into errors in judgment.
The result is the pattern that fans of the series are all too familiar with: five seasons of relatively consistent quality and strong characterization, followed by two seasons without direction, followed by two seasons of half-hearted redefinition. Imagine how things might have been. Had the series ended after the first five seasons, only to be followed by a redefined series focusing on new agents (instead of waiting until the last possible moment), an “X-Files” franchise could have been borne. Instead, all the work to make the series relatively consistent for the first five seasons was wasted through indecision and lack of clear vision. Episodes like “Apocrypha” remind the fans of a time when the series was at the top of its game.
CANCER MAN: “You can trust all of us.”
DOCTOR: “But sir...these men aren’t dead yet!”
CANCER MAN: “Isn’t that the prognosis?”
MULDER: “It look great on me at the store...”
SCULLY: “I’ve seen stranger things, believe me.”
MAN: “I believe she has...”
MULDER: “I didn’t sign any disarmament treaty...”
Overall, this episode continues the interesting tensions within the conspiracy and provides a strong foundation for the eventual feature film. Gillian Anderson continues to grow and prosper in the role of Dana Scully, delivering one of her best performances. There are some clever plans at work within the episode itself, especially when it comes to Cancer Man and his version of “damage control”.
Final Rating: 8/10
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