"Paper Clip"
Written by Chris Carter
Directed by Rob Bowman

In which Mulder and Scully race against time to uncover the truth about Bill Mulder’s involvement with the conspiracy, while Cancer Man finds himself losing control of his own game...

Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis


Status Report

If “Anasazi” was the systematic attempt by Cancer Man to flush out Mulder’s allies as a means of gaining more control, and “The Blessing Way” was the subsequent attempt to determine if his own allies were helping Mulder’s cause, then this episode is the inevitable moment when Cancer Man’s bluff is called. Making that case is far from simple, however, since this episode is also a perfect example of how Chris Carter would slowly undermine the mythology of the series in favor of “cool” ideas.

Before getting into the meat of the episode, some basic concepts should be discussed. It goes without saying that the series failed to present a consistent mythology, especially as the writing staff changed and the series became bigger than Chris Carter could handle. However, in the course of watching the episodes again and again, one begins to wonder if a framework can be conceived to bring the entire mythology into consistency, by changing the perspective and meaning of certain scenes within the boundaries of what has been established.

Creating such a framework immediately requires the existence of a “duex ex machina” or two. One can take the similarities between the “aliens” on the series and develop a timeline for how human genetic engineering and experimentation could have led to those forms: nanotechnology (super-soldiers) to organic analogues of that technology (shape-shifters) to a corrupted non-corporeal intelligence (black oil virus). Likewise, one can demonstrate that Cancer Man knew that the black oil threat came out of a future time, based on the so-called “prophecies” from the writing on the Roswell UFO about a man with specific DNA that would eventually defeat the “aliens”. These changes to the mythology are relatively simple and make even the most obvious mytharc elements seem more intriguing.

Likewise, it can be theorized from what has been shown that there is an active spiritual force aiding Mulder and Scully on their crusade, manipulating events over a long period of time to ensure that Mulder and Scully survive under the right conditions to produce the child that Cancer Man knows will be born: William. This is where the deux ex machina comes into play, because in many cases, the only explanation for Carter’s “cool” ideas is this outside intervention.

This episode is filled with “cool” moments that don’t make sense based on the eventual rationale given for the mythology. Throughout the episode, for instance, Cancer Man shows none of the command or control over events that he is supposed to have, if the sixth season is to be believed. And much of what happens at the Strughold Mining Company makes no sense at all, regardless of interpretation. Many scenes are strong on their own, yet don’t hold water when placed in context.

And so it is acknowledged, from the onset of this review, that much of what is to follow is based within the speculative and perhaps contrived basis broadly described above. Clearly, one can watch the episode and come to completely different conclusions; however, as a personal exercise in solving what is essentially a problem with no solution, this is the interpretation of the episode within that speculated context.

(As an aside…the broad concepts described above have been fleshed out in far more detail and in less dry form in a series of “fanfic” stories set during and after the final season of the series. Those stories, written by Entil’zha, are available on the archive website.)

Building on the events of “One Breath”, it’s clear that this trilogy of mythology episodes acknowledges that there is an active force striving for universal balance. In simple terms, Mulder and Scully are caught at the center of a spiritual battle between order and chaos, light and darkness, good and evil. To once again apply the basic principles of the hero’s journey to Mulder, as the hero, he is aided by the benevolent aspect of that universal balance.

As in classical mythology, this “divine power” comes in many different forms. Whereas “evil” seeks to corrupt the human spirit, expressed in terms of a direct “alien colonization”, the divine power attempting to maintain balance seeks to motivate the right people to take the right actions. In more immediate terms, this is through visions of various forms or the intercession of a mystic or shaman. In this episode, both common archetypes are represented.

In the teaser, Albert (the shaman in communion with the spirits aiding Mulder) describes how a “white buffalo woman came down from the heavens and taught the Indians how to lead virtuous lives” and how she would “return one day”. This is perhaps meant to be taken metaphorically, since Carter is using the White Buffalo lore to his own ends, but in the context of the series, this can be taken more literally.

The later seasons make a link between psychic ability and genetics, suggesting that there is a genetic component to the ability to perceive beyond the material and commune with the universal consciousness of the spiritual world. This genetic predisposition is also linked to a natural immunity to the artificially created black oil virus in “Vienen”. Albert’s tale is evocative of that spiritual force taking human form, perhaps many, in order to guide those with the genetic ability (likely introduced for the very purpose of opposing the coming “viral apocalypse”, which these groups foretell).

This places Albert’s actions in this trilogy of episodes in a clear context. Albert is acting out of a granted knowledge that Mulder must be saved and directed farther on his path. Mulder is obviously “chosen”, as the hero typically would be, as the prime mover of the action that will prevent humanity from becoming Purity. Albert becomes an instrument of Mulder’s change.

In the same sense, Albert is directed to help Melissa in her transition, as the necessary sacrifice to preserve Scully for her role in the future. It’s unclear whether or not this would have been Cancer Man’s intention or the will of the spirits, but Albert is not there to save Melissa, but rather, to ease her passing. Considering that Melissa was attuned to the spiritual world and related to the equally talented Scully, it makes sense that the spirits aiding Mulder and Scully would seek to keep her psyche “intact” by allowing her physical body to die peacefully.

This is an important concept, because it ties into the depiction of Bill Mulder and Deep Throat in “The Blessing Way”. One could say that a violent death makes it far more difficult to retain a cohesive psyche following death, unless there is intercession on the spiritual level. Bill Mulder, as he was, would likely have been more honest with Mulder. But what Mulder saw was not simply Bill Mulder; it was the fragmented psyche of Bill Mulder, augmented and given purpose by the universal consciousness.

That vast consciousness, benevolent as it might be, also has a clear agenda: to place Mulder on the path. The fact that the same divine power transformed Samantha to pure consciousness to prevent a violent death, preserved for some unknown purpose, speaks to the fact that this same divine power is willing to do some terrible things to make certain of the desired outcome of the conflict. Mulder needed the driving obsession of his sister’s fate; more to the point, Samantha isn’t dead in the way that Bill Mulder is.

Letting Melissa die, whether directly or not, is equally questionable from a human moral view. But it clearly serves a future purpose, since Melissa guides Scully on more than one occasion where she needs to go (notably “Christmas Carol”). The source of Albert’s mission with Melissa is clear from his vague comments about being asked to come to the hospital, never saying who made the request.

The bulk of the episode, however, centers on the history of the conspiracy and Cancer Man’s role in it. Coming to terms with the actions of the conspiracy in this episode requires a somewhat convoluted consideration of carefully compartmentalized information. The question is: who knows the truth behind the conspiracy, and to what degree?

Based on the series as a whole, one can only assume that Cancer Man knows more than anyone else in the conspiracy about the true origins of the “alien colonization”. The obvious questions would be whether or not Cancer Man is the only person with that knowledge and how he came in possession of it. The second question is easier to answer than the first, since Cancer Man could only have learned about the future from the Roswell incident.

From the explanation given in this episode, it would seem that the conspiracy began with the Roswell incident, when a UFO crashed and “alien” technology and tissue were acquired. Based on the later seasons, it would seem that the UFO that crashed was covered with the same information that was present on the UFOs as seen in “Exogenesis” and “The Sixth Extinction”: a collection of science, religion, and specific DNA information. The UFO materials recovered at Roswell, however, were incomplete. The assumption, then, is that the DNA information was likewise incomplete.

Cancer Man was presumably at Roswell after the crash. The theory, then, is that Cancer Man, Bill Mulder, and Konrad Strughold came into possession of information that was then immediately covered up: the context of the genetic information with regard to the salvation of humanity and the fact that this information was from the future. If Cancer Man was aware of the nature of the black oil, then this would also be the source of that information; however, it works better if Cancer Man simply knows that the black oil is a future threat of humanity’s own making.

The three men would have been forced to make terrible choices. One can easily conceive that many assumed that the UFO was of alien origin, not considering that the technology and remains could possibly be human, based on the science of the time. But these three men would have been at the heart of Operation: Paper Clip, a program ideally suited to taking the recovered technology and biology and explore the uses of it.

As established in the first season, several programs run by the conspiracy prior to 1973 were devoted to the creation of super-soldiers, through the various experiments of Paper Clip to primitive implants based on nanotechnology. It makes sense that at the same time, the conspiracy widened, and the three men at the center of the conspiracy developed a ruse by which to control the others: that the continued visitations by UFOs were in fact the hallmarks of an impending alien colonization.

A single crash wouldn’t have required such a ruse; only continued incursions would. Imagine, then, a rising power in humanity’s future, Purity, ensuring its own creation by driving the conspiracy in the “right” direction. For the most part, the conspiracy would have no reason to believe that aliens weren’t planning colonization, and that they were engaged in an ongoing holding action to survive it. Strughold, as one of the key financial resources out of Operation: Paper Clip, would have a vested interest in controlling the conspiracy and fostering that lie.

Cancer Man and Bill Mulder, of course, would have known the truth: that the conspiracy existed for the purpose of finding a way to “fight the future”. While the conspiracy collected tons of genetic information for the purposes of the hybrid program, Cancer Man and Bill Mulder would have been seeking a match with the DNA sequences recovered from the Roswell crash.

Imagine also the source of the conflict between Cancer Man and Bill Mulder, which came to a head in 1973. It was a question of whether feigned collaboration or active resistance would preserve humanity’s future. The fact that Cancer Man won the struggle is perhaps evidence that he was the one who identified the partial match to the vital DNA: himself. Armed with that knowledge, Cancer Man would have used the resources of the conspiracy to find women with possible genetic codes statistically favorable to producing a child with the “correct” DNA code.

The probably scenario is that Cancer Man birthed many children, and seduced Teena Mulder when he learned that her DNA was a match. Fox Mulder was the son that eventually gave Cancer Man the most hope, and as a result, Cancer Man continued to seduce Teena, and they had Samantha. Caught in the growing tragedy was Bill Mulder, unaware that he was rapidly losing ground, perhaps focused on developing a vaccine instead of creating a future savior.

The details of the final betrayal aren’t important to this episode; only the final outcome is. Perhaps Cancer Man believed that Samantha was the answer, the mother to the final step in the breeding program that would produce the destined hero, only to learn by 1973 that Fox would have to father the child with another woman. Whatever the case, Cancer Man knew enough to drive Bill into submission and take control of the direction of the conspiracy. Bill was left a ruined man, aware of the future but unable to control it.

Jumping forward more than twenty years, it’s easy to see how this constant game of deception and plans within plans would leave Cancer Man in a delicate position. The momentum of the conspiracy would eventually lead to the creation of the black oil and the very threat that Cancer Man had done everything to prevent. At the same time, he had to maintain his own inner circle to lead Mulder towards a knowledge of the future threat, all the while searching for the woman Mulder apparently needed. Suddenly Diana Fowley’s work with Mulder in the early 1990s fits into a larger scheme, as does the conscious decision by Cancer Man to place Scully into Mulder’s orbit.

Cancer Man’s decisions regarding Mulder make sense from this point of view. But more to the point, it explains why Cancer Man would have tempted fate by telling the conspiracy that Mulder was dead and the tape was recovered. Cancer Man is unaware that Mulder is aided by a divine power, and the natural assumption is that Mulder has other allies…allies that could unintentionally derail Cancer Man’s grand scheme.

This episode is the first time that Cancer Man’s control of the conspiracy appears to erode. Well-Manicured Man was efficiently identified as a potential leak in the previous episode, but Cancer Man overplays his bluff by continuing to be evasive about the tape. Cancer Man is likely unsure what to do, having expected Mulder to turn up alive, which doesn’t appear to happen quickly enough. This gives Well-Manicured Man an opening, something that reveals to Cancer Man that he has made an error.

His decision to continue claiming that Mulder is dead and the tape is secure works, however, because the conspiracy isn’t aware of the true nature of the tape. The tape is the documented “cover story”, effectively useless unless someone knows where the truth is hidden in the lies. A cursory examination of the contents would reveal disinformation; but Cancer Man knows that long-term possession of the information could still be damaging.

What works for Cancer Man is that the others in the conspiracy reveal that they have been lining up their own resources. Unlike the black ops personnel employed by Cancer Man, the hit squad in this episode actually ties to kill Mulder. Prior to this episode, the “men who don’t make mistakes” clearly take measures to convince Mulder that his life is in danger without actually making it so.

This would be bad enough, but then Cancer Man is hit with another unexpected setback. Skinner has attempted to stand up to Cancer Man before, only to find himself back under the heel. In this situation, Skinner unknowingly preys on Cancer Man’s fear that the information on the DAT tape will escape his control. Between the shifting of the conspiracy and Skinner’s apparent mutiny, Cancer Man is beginning to pay for attempting to flush out deception with deception.

If Cancer Man is unable to predict that the conspiracy has assets to send against Mulder, someone else is. How else to explain the completely inexplicable timing of the UFO appearing over the mine, or the supposed “hybrids” that rush past Scully, showing her the way out? Some agency must have wanted Scully to know that escape route, so she and Mulder could get away.

The obvious answer is that the divine power once again took physical form, tailoring that form to ensure that Mulder and Scully pay attention. That works well enough for the “hybrids”, but it doesn’t quite work for the UFO. The UFO isn’t related to the appearance of the conspiracy’s hit squad, either. The design of the UFO is different from the design of the “rebel” UFOs, like the one that crashed at Roswell. The timing suggests some visitor with prior knowledge of the events taking place that night, but the exact nature of the visitor remains difficult to pin down.

That bizarre scene at the Strughold mine begins a rapid decline into more and more illogical writing choices. Mulder and Scully suddenly forget what they learned about the recent references to Scully from the printout of the DAT tape documents; either of them should have been able to make the connection between Scully’s abduction, the files, and the MJ document.

Even more bizarre is the sudden inability to copy the tape or simply print it out, something that Scully was able to do in “Anasazi” without any difficulty. This is nothing more than a specious justification to have the “cool” ending with Skinner and Albert, especially since it would be far easier to blackmail Cancer Man with a hard copy than Navaho oral tradition. But that wouldn’t have generated tension once Skinner was assaulted, would it?

Cancer Man could have been attempting to use Krycek’s murder as a means of regaining the confidence of the other Elders of the conspiracy. By ordering Krycek to take the tape and keep it on his person, he could ensure that the tape is destroyed along with the man apparently responsible for the death of an “innocent woman”. Still, it seems like a contrived way to ensure that Krycek is running around with the stolen tape, to keep that information in play.

Beyond learning about the resources held by the conspiracy, perhaps within the CIA, Cancer Man also learns that Well-Manicured Man believes in his ruse about the impending alien invasion. That much is still secure in his mind. But just as importantly, Cancer Man is aware that Well-Manicured Man is displeased with the direction that the conspiracy has taken. It seems as though Well-Manicured Man might have been a secret supporter of Bill Mulder’s stance, considering that he goes to a lot of trouble to give Mulder information.

Cancer Man finds himself outmaneuvered by Skinner at the end, but this actually provides him with a way to convince the conspiracy to allow Mulder and Scully to return to their jobs and previous status. His real problem is the uncertainty that he has introduced, perhaps for the first time, into his own plans. By overreaching with his deceptions, Cancer Man has left himself out of favor with the conspiracy and unable to fully control Skinner, therefore making his control over Mulder and Scully even more tenuous.

If anything, the first half of this episode states the case for a more serialized third season. Many of the poor writing choices in the second half of the episode are consequences of attempting to pull all of the plot threads towards some kind of conclusion by the end of the episode. The result works from scene to scene, but as a whole, it screams for stronger resolution.

Memorable Quotes

MULDER: “I was a dead man. Now I’m back.” (Worst back-from-the-dead one-liner ever!)

MULDER: “You’re going to have to wait a little longer for my video collection, Frohike…”

CANCER MAN: “There was a mistake. It will be rectified.”
WELL-MANICURED MAN: “By whom? By whom will this be rectified? Your ridiculously ineffectual assassins?”
CANCER MAN: “These men are professionals.”
WELL-MANICURED MAN: “This is not a profession for men who make mistakes. My God, you presume to make us believe you can simply fix it with enough bullets?”

MULDER: “Lots of files.”
SCULLY: “Lots and lots of files…”

CANCER MAN: “What is this?”
SKINNER: “This is where you pucker up and kiss my ass!”

SKINNER: “Welcome to the wonderful world of high technology…”

Final Analysis

Overall, this episode was a rousing if perplexing resolution to the “Anasazi” trilogy. The episode suffered from a need to tie up as many loose ends as possible by the end of the hour, rather than letting consequences unfold over time. The cast makes the most of the material, even when the director doesn’t seem to know how to handle some of the more obscure moments.

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

Final Rating: 8/10

Next Episode

Back to Season 3

Back to Reviews

Email: entil2001@yahoo.com