Written by Chris Carter, Howard Gordon, and Frank Spotnitz
Directed by David Nutter
In which Mulder becomes aware of the conspiracy’s secret railroad when an “alien autopsy” video surfaces, while Scully unexpectedly discovers a chilling consequence of her abduction experience...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
Having spent a great deal of time jumping around the completely inexplicable timeline between the end of “Paper Clip” and “Oubliette”, exploring spiritual themes underlying the series in the process, the writers turn back to the more material aspect of the mythology. Once again, plans within plans are revealed, and connections appear to be made that both clarify and obfuscate the conspiracy in the same breath.
The events of this episode take place around October 1995, which is relatively soon after the “official” reinstatement for Mulder and Scully. As mentioned in the review for “D.P.O.”, it appears to have taken some time for the bureaucratic process of investigations and red tape to complete itself, and in the meantime, the agents have been involved in cases that the conspiracy likely found to be non-threatening. This time, of course, the situation is very different.
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”, and “Paper Clip” provide the framework.
Based on the timeline given in this episode, the events depicted in the “alien autopsy” video would have taken place within a few weeks after “Paper Clip”. This provides an instant explanation for everything that happens in this episode and “731”. Just as certain individuals and evidence related to Project: Paper Clip were eliminated after Mulder became aware of them, far beyond what Cancer Man had intended, similar experiments conducted by the scientists of Section 731 were also re-evaluated.
As noted in “Paper Clip”, the German and Japanese experiments were related to the pre-1973 phase of the conspiracy, when several methods of creating “super soldiers” were tested and evaluated. The reasoning, of course, was the discovery of the threat posed by the black oil virus, the apparent “alien colonization” plans. The victims found in the train car at the end of “Anasazi” were once human, experimented upon using various methods of genetic manipulation, radiation exposure, surgical modifications, and so on.
Around 1973, related in some way to the intervention of the “Colonists”, the efforts to create super-soldiers were centered on nanotechnology: first through control chip technology, and then through the evolution of an organic analogue to the control chip nanotech. Nearly everything that was supposedly being done to develop a means of surviving future colonization was actually devoted to this purpose.
Following “Paper Clip”, the decision was made to eliminate anything related to the MJ documents, which the conspiracy believed would expose too much of their activities if exposed. This was a direct consequence of Mulder’s survival; as long as the information was accessible, it was a vulnerability. This was not something that Cancer Man would have been trusted with, necessarily, since it was his decision to expose Mulder’s allies that went out of control.
The supposed aliens in this episode were the products of a continued side effort by the scientists from Section 731 to use non-nanotech methods to create humans with the ability to combat the “alien threat”. During the evaluation of current Syndicate activities, these experiments would have come to light, and as a result, the Syndicate would have sent their forces (the same ones shown in “Paper Clip”) to eliminate the evidence and the scientists violating policy.
One of the oddities of this episode is the Sakauri’s presence at Steven Zinnzser’s house. If Sakauri was there to kill Zinnzser, then why would he just happen to be carrying around sensitive information about the entire MUFON group and satellite photos of the Talapus? And if he wasn’t there to kill Zinnzser, why was he there?
There is a consistent answer. The scientists running the non-sanctioned experiments using Syndicate resources would have been aware of the earlier killings. Related killings were also apparently being conducted. Having been involved in the systematic abduction of test subjects for the control chip/genetic experiments, the Japanese scientists would have been able to search various lists of those test subjects for someone with the right credentials. After selecting Zinnzser, various information was leaked to him, including the “alien autopsy” footage, so that the scientists could strike back at the conspiracy before they were all killed.
Sakauri, therefore, didn’t kill Zinnzser. Sakauri arrived on the scene to provide more information for Zinnzser to leak out to the public. When Sakauri found that Zinnzser was dead and then found Mulder on the scene, he probably assumed that Mulder was the assassin sent to kill him. Once it was clear that Mulder didn’t understand what was going on, Sakauri played along, hoping to get to safety before the Syndicate could catch up with him. (It’s not a perfect explanation, but it certainly works better than the complete lack of explanation given in the episode!)
The severity of the situation, and the fact that Mulder is most definitely not supposed to get involved in it, comes through clearly in Skinner’s small but critical part in the story. Skinner may have bluffed Cancer Man well enough, but even he gets the message when it’s communicated in simple terms. The rest of the conspiracy is taking out the Japanese scientists, and if Mulder gets himself in the middle of it, the conspiracy has little reason to spare him.
Informant X, on the other hand, works directly for Cancer Man, who understands that Mulder cannot be harmed. As a result, Cancer Man sends Informant X to stop Mulder when it’s clear that Skinner’s influence isn’t strong enough to override Mulder’s recklessness. Within the bounds of this episode and “731”, the schism between Cancer Man and the rest of the Syndicate is explored, without that schism being mentioned in any detail.
In the meantime, there’s the revelation regarding Scully’s implant and her connection to the various experiments being performed as part of the Project. This is where one function of the control chip is strongly suggested. All of the women in the MUFON group were given the same kind of control chip, which in concert with other functions, regulated the genetic manipulations necessary to prepare the women for egg harvesting.
As would be suggested in later seasons, the implants in the back of the neck are the central control system for the nanotechnology, organic or otherwise, that initiates and regulates the changes to the person implanted. Those changes would be at a basic systemic level, with the nanotechnology maintaining health and survival throughout the process. Once the control chip is disengaged or removed, however, there’s nothing to regulate the nanotech or keep the systemic changes from going out of control.
In the case of the chip being turned off, for all intent purposes, the result is demonstrated in “One Breath”. That episode suggests that Scully’s control chip is one of the most advanced, very close to the organic nanotech that would eventually be perfected in later seasons in the person of Cassandra Spender. This episode, however, shows the effect of removing the control chip: rapid tumor growth, dependent on the severity of the systemic changes controlled by the chip prior to removal.
In terms of Mulder’s plot thread, the implications are communicated from Mulder’s point of view. As far as he’s concerned, the Japanese experiments from the “alien autopsy” and the craft recovered by the Talapus must be connected. And given the evidence, he has every reason to believe it. However, he makes the error of assuming that all of the information carried by Sakauri was part of the same operation; in reality, Sakauri was leaking information from two very different projects.
For the most part, it seems as though Mulder was somehow able to elude the black ops squad sent to capture him and contain the craft recovered by the Talapus. This may not be the case. Just about everyone in the conspiracy ought to know Mulder’s face by now, and the Coast Guard officer that alerted the conspiracy to Mulder’s presence certainly would have mentioned him by name.
So why would the conspiracy let Mulder get away? Mulder’s conversation with Senator Matheson may provide some answers. Matheson clearly suggests that Mulder stop his own investigation and take whatever punishment he’s liable to take. But at the same time, Matheson doesn’t stop Mulder from making the assumption that Japanese scientists were conducted alien autopsies.
Recalling that Mulder’s work on the X-Files is largely used by the conspiracy as a disinformation dump, it’s not hard to believe that they would allow Mulder to focus on the Japanese scientists, already being eliminated along with the evidence of their experiments, rather than the real prize: the recovered UFO. The conspiracy would be able to control Mulder if he comes under the legal microscope, and Mulder wouldn’t be able to prove any of his claims.
The recovered UFO, on the other hand, has nothing to do with the Japanese experiments. If Mulder were to leak information about the UFO, and if further investigation were to reveal the nature of the UFO, then the conspiracy would have something far more complicated than past “Paper Clip”-esque experiments to hide. As later episodes would reveal, the recovered UFO is actually related to the black oil “aliens”, and Mulder’s hasn’t uncovered information about the true source of that technology.
The bottom line is that the conspiracy is willing to use Mulder’s knowledge about the Japanese experiments to distract him from more interesting game. When that doesn’t work, Cancer Man has to act to keep Mulder from doing something foolish. Skinner, Matheson, and Informant X are all attempts to keep Mulder out of danger, since the conspiracy won’t hesitate to kill him should he become enough of a nuisance.
If there’s one weakness to this episode, it’s the surprising lack of depth in terms of what’s revealed. Mulder learns so little and makes such massive assumptions and leaps of logic that any hint of the truth is lost in the translation. Much of the interpretation of this installment of the mythology comes from 20/20 hindsight. At the time the episode aired, so much of the hidden intrigue was completely lost on the viewer, because the depths of internecine struggle within the conspiracy weren’t evident.
For example, Sakauri’s motivations are completely left open to the viewer’s interpretation, because his presence is simply a means to an end. Without Cancer Man on-screen to provide a basis for why Skinner, Matheson, and Informant X are all pressing Mulder so hard to let his investigation go, it’s anyone’s guess why these characters are involved. How Mulder recognizes the Talapus or manages to survive in the freezing Atlantic waters of late fall for hours remain mysteries.
This episode also marks the first time that a mythology episode was explicitly promoted during sweeps as a major series event. Previously, mythology episodes were highlighted, but they were also more organically strewn throughout the first two seasons. Starting with the third season, the mythology episodes were practically following their own timeline, with the rest of the episodes following a more episodic anthology format.
As a result, it takes several episodes before Mulder even mentions the events of “Paper Clip” to Scully, and then only as a passing reference, without any discussion about what those events might have meant to them. These questions of character development only seem to matter during the “mythology events”, and the rest of the episodes are left to establish character traits based on the needs of the plot.
Attempts would be made during the next few seasons to correct this fatal flaw, but it would never be directly addressed, since the problem started at the very top of the 1013 food chain. Chris Carter felt that “X-Files” should be an anthology series above all else. But what Carter failed to realize, to the detriment of future seasons and characters, was that the format of the first two seasons had placed the emphasis on the characters of Mulder and Scully, not the cases themselves.
Had the series always been about the cases instead of the agents investigating them, Carter’s conception might have held water. But then again, without that emphasis on Mulder and Scully, the series would never have found the following that it has. Like most of the early mythology episodes, “Nisei” demonstrates that key principle without question: Mulder’s passion and Scully’s fear highlight this episode.
SCULLY: “Mulder, this is even hokier than the one they aired on the Fox network…”
MULDER: “I got tired of losing my gun!”
MULDER: “Oh, I didn’t get his name…I was too busy getting my ass kicked!”
SCULLY: “What would a Japanese diplomat be doing in that house with a dead man with his head stuffed in a pillowcase?”
MULDER: “Obviously not strengthening international relations…”
Overall, this was an interesting installment of the mythology, but not at the level of the “Anasazi” trilogy. Scully’s scenes are definitely the best part of the episode, and also the most straightforward. Mulder’s search for answers is a muddled mess, and so little is revealed about the intrigues in the episode that important distinctions can’t be made. Granted, this is the first of two parts, but even so, many questions and assumptions are left unaddressed.
Final Rating: 7/10
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