Written by Chris Carter
Directed by R. W. Goodwin
In In which Mulder comes face to face with aspects of the larger plan as Jeremiah Smith exposes more of the conspiracy, while Scully learns that the population has been catalogued...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
The third season ended on a down note, failing to provide an inconsistent season with a strong cliffhanger. “Talitha Cumi” also placed extreme importance on the person of Jeremiah Smith, suggesting that his willingness to detail the Project to Mulder was a major threat. Chris Carter takes the end of that season finale and casts it in a slightly different light in this episode.
One gets the immediate feeling, upon watching the episode, that Carter had more time to consider the details of the conspiracy that would be revealed in the feature film. Where the third season finale only tangentially touched on elements of the film, “Herronvolk” dumps some of the concepts into the laps of the audience. The goal is so transparent that it’s even easier to recognize why there are differences between the episode and the film: the bee/pollen concept in this episode had to have been the original version of what was intended in “Fight the Future”.
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”, “Piper Maru”, “Apocrypha”, and “Talitha Cumi” provide the framework.
To sum up the basic premise for this conception of the series mythology:
Purity is a malevolent collective of non-corporeal intelligences, effectively the pure energy version of “evil” itself. Purity wants to take dominion over all life, to replace collective diversity and communion with the cold sameness of entropy. In balance with Purity is the benevolent equal but opposite spiritual collective. Together these forces represent the constant struggle between “light” and “darkness”, or in religious terms, the struggle between “God” (non-corporeal) and angels (incarnations), “Satan” (non-corporeal) and demons (incarnations).
These forces have determined that humanity represents a unique opportunity. The species has the latent potential to evolve into a non-corporeal collective. This is the result of manipulation on both sides of the conflict. Purity itself desires a source of physical manifestation, a means of incarnating that will result in a rapid expansion within the material world. The opposite spiritual forces seek to counter that by “seeding” the human race with the potential to become its own collective, adding specific latent genetic material that can be made active at the right time. These “activated” individuals would then become “sentinels” with psychic abilities that allow them to operate on the same playing field as non-corporeal entities.
In the years just before “Colonization” in 2012, three forces emerge to determine the fate of humanity. Purity fosters, through deception, a conspiracy to develop and control the means of artificially evolving humanity to provide the perfect host bodies for physical manifestation. Another group, the so-called “Rebels”, knows the truth about Purity and seeks to use the product of the conspiracy to control the destiny of the human race themselves. The third group is the one led by William, Mulder and Scully’s son, the product of the latent genetic engineering that will allow humanity to evolve more naturally into an enlightened collective, along with the “sentinels”.
Purity controls the conspiracy through the convenient lie that Colonization can be survived through collaboration, and that this Colonization is an “alien invasion”. The true plan is far more complex. Purity can only take physical form through the creation of a host species, something that only humanity can provide. That happens in 2012, as a result of the conspiracy that began with the Roswell incident in 1947.
The Roswell incident involved a craft designed and used by the Rebels. The Rebels were obsessed with the perfect genetic code, the one that expresses the ultimate potential of humanity. That genetic code is imprinted on their technology, and when the wreckage at Roswell was recovered, a select few gained access to the information inscribed there. Cancer Man, in particular, discovered that the genetic code was part of a “prophecy” (really future history) regarding the human being that would be able to bring humanity together to defeat Purity.
Purity itself, in a contained sample of the “black oil”, was on the Rebel craft recovered at Roswell. Under the guise of Project: Paper Clip, Cancer Man and Bill Mulder worked with the early conspiracy to find ways to artificially alter the human genome, to create “super soldiers” that could resist the “black oil” and therefore Purity. A genetic catalogue was made to find people with the latent genetic potential that might match what was on the craft found at Roswell.
At the same time, unknown to Bill Mulder, Cancer Man determined that his own genome matched many elements of the genetic code on the Roswell craft. Obsessed with the idea of secretly fathering the key to humanity’s salvation, Cancer Man used the genetic catalogue to find women that might provide the remaining genetic material. One of those women turned out to be Teena Mulder.
Recovered with the craft at Roswell were clones of modified human beings. The modifications involved a dual circulatory system: the usual red blood and a second system using retroviral elements to control biology on a cellular level. The retrovirus was found to be a kind of organic nanotechnology. However, it was not completely adaptive, since it was paired with normal human biology. The clones understood how to clone themselves to multiply, but they could not provide the technology necessary to modify normal humans to their own biological forms.
Also recovered was self-repair technology within the craft itself. The technology was a kind of nanotechnology of its own, able to take the basic components of all matter and use them to reconstruct whatever they were programmed to maintain. The nanocytes, as they would come to be called, were controlled using “control chips”.
The conspiracy was born out of the understanding that Roswell was the beginning of a planned alien invasion. Cancer Man and Bill Mulder knew the truth, and kept it to themselves. Cancer Man knew more than anyone, and carefully manipulated the Syndicate to his own advantage as the years passed by. Cancer Man understood that the craft was the result of technological advancement, and became convinced that he sent the craft back himself to ensure that he would have the information to bring about humanity’s salvation. Bill Mulder, on the other hand, wanted to get a sample of the black oil and find a way to “vaccinate” the human race against it.
Cancer Man used his personal knowledge of the “foretold” genetic code to identify Teena, and he seduced her, producing two children. Cancer Man used that betrayal to break Bill Mulder, taking firm control of the direction that the conspiracy would take. By 1973, when the future elements of the conspiracy began sending back representatives from the future to ensure that the Syndicate continued on the necessary path, Cancer Man’s suspicions were apparently confirmed.
By 1973, work had begun in earnest to alter or clone humans with the organic nanotech that the recovered clones from Roswell had. But none of the work was successful. The conspiracy was directed to attempt certain experiments. One part of the Project would work on refining the self-repair and control chip nanotechnology. Another part of the Project would attempt to find a means of altering the human genome so that the organic nanotechnology of the Roswell clones would naturally result from human reproduction. The final phase of the Project would involve a delivery system, a means of spreading the viral form of Purity quickly and efficiently to the human population.
Purity’s goal was therefore expressed in a three phase plan. “Phase I” would be the creation of control implants that would release nanotechnology into selected human subjects. Those humans would then become the desired super-soldiers of the conspiracy, the advance teams that would infiltrate the human populace and authority centers. This would allow the conspiracy to take over world governments, aiding in the methodical spread of the implant technology.
“Phase II” involved reproductive experiments aimed at altering existing human embryos, obtained through cloning or the abduction process by which the test subjects for the technology in “Phase I” were obtained. The cloned embryos were used to create more of the same clones recovered at Roswell, or to attempt creation of organic “super soldiers” analogous to the Roswell clones. The “test tube” clones involved the family members of the Syndicate, including Samantha, resulting in “drones” that performed specific tasks as commanded but had no independent intelligence. The final goal of “Phase II” was to determine a means of introducing something into the human populace that would result in “natural” reproduction of drones. Within a generation after “Phase I” was completed, the human race would end and a race perfectly suited for “possession” by Purity.
“Phase III” would be the final moment of “Colonization”. The remaining humans would be infected by the viral form of Purity, and those infected humans would immediately gestate “possessed” host bodies identical to those “naturally” created as drones in “Phase II”. This final phase involved the most damning deception of all: the viral form of Purity is, in fact, a creation of the Syndicate.
Bill Mulder pushed for the Syndicate to create a “vaccine” against Purity. However, Purity is a perfectly adaptive viral agent, the physical manifestation of a non-corporeal intelligence able to alter and control matter and energy on the most minute scale. A vaccine would require an equally adaptive agent to counter the black oil’s effect. As a result, when the Russians create the vaccine to the black oil, they actually create the very thing they seek to destroy. The only difference is whether or not the adaptive viral agent is “possessed” by the intelligence that is Purity.
The series takes place in the years after “Phase I” is completed and “Phase II” is being driven to its inevitable conclusion. The future elements of the conspiracy continue to intervene, posing as “alien Colonists”, to ensure their own creation. The Rebels, on the other hand, are an offshoot of the “Phase II” experiments. In the process of the experiments, someone determined a means of creating the organic “super soldiers” while retaining actual human intelligence. The Rebels, then, seek to foster the conspiracy to the end of “Phase II”, at which point the goal is to derail “Phase III” and take control.
The Roswell crash itself was a deliberate act on the part of the Rebels. The Rebels already knew how Purity would take advantage of the conspiracy that was spawned by the Roswell incident; at the same time, they understood that the conspiracy was necessary to their own goal of artificial human evolution.
Caught in the balance is Fox Mulder. Mulder is protected by his true father, Cancer Man, because he might be the “foretold” savior of mankind. At the same time, Mulder is also aided by the benevolent spiritual intelligences opposed to Purity, who have manipulated the human genome to ensure that Mulder and Scully will birth the actual savior: William. In fact, those same forces take action to protect and guide Mulder, Scully, and their chosen allies towards that end. The series depicts the years during which those individuals were working on the X-Files, and how the complexities of this spiritual struggle unfolded.
Having recapped this concept of the series mythology, “Herronvolk” plays directly into several different aspects of it.
The teaser in particular adds an interesting level of detail to how “Phase II” and “Phase III” intersect. The drones themselves appear to serve a dual purpose: working the pilot program and securing its borders. The bees themselves don’t appear to be overly hostile; if anything, they seem to be directed specifically to sting and thereby eliminate the potential threat. This suggests that the drones control the bees.
This is further evidenced in future episode and “Fight the Future”. The suggestion is that everything involved in the “Phase III” experiments must have been the product of genetic engineering. The cloning experiments themselves would have resulted in some awareness of “shared consciousness”, a by-product of the process. Could the bees and the drones be genetically linked, allowing the drones themselves to control the delivery process?
Considering how much of “Talitha Cumi” was dedicated to the unique properties of a single weapon, this episode seems to run contrary to those claims. Many fans point out that the survival of the “alien bounty hunter” (ABH) stands as a prime example of the series’ lack of consistency. However, it’s easy to see that Mulder stabs the ABH with the weapon in the wrong place; the primary organ that needs to be pierced is closer to the base of the skull. Therefore, the weapon would only momentarily incapacitate the ABH.
Jeremiah addresses the true nature of the conspiracy when he corrects Mulder. Mulder continues to focus on the idea of “colonization”. In essence, this is somewhat true; Purity intends to “colonize” by possessing a genetically engineered race of host bodies, born out of the remains of humanity. But this process, and the means of achieving it, run closer to Jeremiah’s term “hegemony”. More than that, Jeremiah states it plainly: this is all about creating a “new origin of species”. The title also supports this notion: the creation of a master race.
Cancer Man has come under an enormous amount of stress since the end of the second season. His control over the Syndicate has been slipping, thanks to his complete underestimation of the complexity involved in his secret project. Pointing the conspiracy in certain directions was easy in the long-term; now that the crisis point is approaching, he is becoming aware of his growing lack of control.
It’s odd, then, for the Elder to treat Cancer Man’s possible exposure so calmly. Perhaps it’s the fact that Cancer Man appears to be in a compromised position, and the Elder sees no reason to corner Cancer Man further. The fact that it is the Elder, and not the Well-Manicured Man (now gaining control of the direction of the Syndicate), could indicate that Cancer Man is considered to be a useful tool and nothing more. An open question remains: where did the Elder get the photos from? One could guess that Skinner had them, and someone like Blevins discovered them and passed them on.
One of the best aspects of the episode is the mundane nature of Scully’s part in the investigation. Instead of validating whatever Mulder is stirring up in Canada, she is using her scientific background to work out the goal of Jeremiah’s work at the Social Security Administration. Skinner’s involvement speaks to his willingness to back the agents when possible; this is actually one of the better depictions of the character over the years.
It’s Jeremiah’s journey with Mulder, however, that becomes a tour of all the possible ideas Carter had for the feature film. Jeremiah knows that Mulder is aware of Scully’s implants; that’s the evidence of the completed “Phase I”. The pilot program in Alberta, however, is a real-time example of both “Phase II” (the drones) and “Phase III” (the delivery system).
Jeremiah tell Mulder quite plainly that the plants and bees are genetically engineered (even if the suggestion is alien, the end result is the same). The plants are altered to create a pollen toxic to humans, and the bees are altered so that exposure to the pollen alters the sting. In retrospect, the concept is clearly the forerunner for “Fight the Future”, but when the episode first aired, the context was completely missing. (Incidentally…was anyone else reminded of Herbert’s “Hellstrom’s Hive” when watching this episode?)
The drones, on the other hand, are more subtle. Samantha and the other children abducted and used in conspiracy experiments in 1973 were part of “Phase II”. As mentioned earlier, the drones in this episode were the initial product of experiments meant to determine how the human embryo could be altered to product a viable “organic super-soldier”. The conspiracy couldn’t know that the Roswell clones used as a baseline were a step beyond what Purity wanted; at the same time, the Rebels made sure that the process of retaining intelligence within the engineered clones would be kept out of the hands of the conspiracy itself as long as possible.
The various groups of engineered humans with the organic nanotechnology are very hard to pin down. This is because the origin of each group is difficult to determine, and each group is linked to a different stage of “Phase II”, which is ongoing during the course of the series. Some of the groups are easy to identify: the ABHs, ritually mutilated or otherwise, originate with the Rebels. One ABH works with the conspiracy, probably as a double agent. The clones working on the “Phase II” reproductive experiments were serial clones of the original clones recovered at Roswell; they were sent by the Rebels to ensure that they would conduct the necessary work within the conspiracy to ensure their own future existence. The drones, of course, are all the products of the conspiracy.
As mentioned in the review for “Talitha Cumi”, Jeremiah appears to be one of the recovered clones from Roswell, but he is actually far more. He is a manifestation of the benevolent spiritual forces tasked with guiding Mulder and Scully. He infiltrated the Rebels to ensure that he would be present to discover the details of the conspiracy and help Mulder at specifically appointed moments in the timeline.
It’s apparent that Jeremiah intended to bring Mulder to Alberta to see the evidence of the conspiracy’s work for himself. Mulder needed to see something tangible, something more than just shadows of work long since completed. In the early seasons, Mulder is used to promote disinformation; Jeremiah is showing him actual details of the process. Showing him the Samantha drones is intentional; it’s clear that Mulder is meant to digest the information on a personal level.
At the same time, Jeremiah knows that Mulder wants him to heal his mother. Jeremiah pushes Mulder to see as much of the pilot program as possible, precisely because Jeremiah knows that Cancer Man is not going to let Teena die. More to the point, Jeremiah understands that Mulder must see something to help him continue forward. Without that knowledge, it would be too easy for Mulder to give up hope.
It’s great to see Scully confront Informant X again, even if it’s for the last time. In retrospect, it’s easy to see why Informant X tries to direct Scully away from the SEP data. Much of that data was used to find candidates for “Phase I” as well as the concurrent elements of “Phase II”. Scully herself was a part of that program, and Informant X seems to understand from recent experience how facing the truth about her abduction can lead Scully to back off. Informant X doesn’t need that to be done, because he knows that Teena has information on Cancer Man. Keeping her alive as a resource for Mulder would be seen as critical, because Informant X wants to believe that Mulder can uncover a means of survival using that resource.
It’s odd that Jeremiah would worry about Mulder’s safety in the apiary. The Samantha drone is there, after all, and since Mulder wasn’t killed outright upon his arrival at the pilot facility, there’s little chance that the drones would direct the bees to kill Mulder once he openly tries to defend them against the ABH. Of course, Jeremiah knows that Mulder is not immune to the toxin, and he also knows that Mulder must survive.
Like the confusion over the weapon and the ABH’s survival at the beginning of the episode, many fans point to the ABH’s reaction to the bees as another contradiction. Again, this is not the case. Organic “super soldiers” like the ABH are still partially human. The green blood is simply an additional circulatory system; the skin itself can be altered, but on a basic level it remains human biology. As a result, while the organic nanocytes would allow the ABH to heal from the wounds, the toxins would still have a strong effect.
Despite the suspicions of the other agents and directors in the Bureau, Scully’s claims regarding the human inventory program are far from speculative. For once, Mulder and Scully have provided solid evidence of some kind of government population catalogue, and the interpretation is quite beside the point. Scully doesn’t need to be right in her suspicions for the data itself to be a valid concern. Of course, any doubt regarding Scully’s conclusions would be used by the conspiracy to halt any further investigation.
Once Mulder takes the Samantha drone from the pilot facility, two things come to mind. First, it seems odd that the drones wouldn’t try to prevent Mulder from taking one of their own. If the other drones were letting Mulder go because the ABH was a threat, it’s not clear. Second, it’s a given that the ABH will find Mulder and eliminate Jeremiah and the drone. What are the chances that Mulder would ever get to retain anything substantial?
What comes in the wake of all these revelations is grief and despair. All of the psychological ground covered in “Quagmire” becomes vitally important to Mulder’s character. Bringing back Jeremiah to save his mother was a tangible expression of his hope that there might be some way to find his sister. But Jeremiah is lost, and even finding Samantha turns out to be ephemeral. Tellingly, it’s Scully that reminds Mulder that hope remains. For all her criticisms in “Quagmire”, she once again becomes his emotional anchor.
Already more than foreshadowed in “Wetwired”, the fate of Informant X is ultimately no different than anyone who threatens to undermine Cancer Man’s operation. The fact that the Syndicate pushed him into taking action is irrelevant; Cancer Man would have made the same decision in the end. In a nice writing move, even as Informant X dies, he leaves a clue…but not one that Mulder can easily or quickly resolve. It would have been convenient for Mulder to gain a new ally within days, but Carter avoids the easy solution.
Mulder happens upon Marita and the proof regarding the Alberta pilot program, as it should be. He was pointed in the right direction, but his actions could easily be interpreted as normal for one of his investigations. Marita is thereby given the latitude to contact Mulder discretely, under the guise of official policy. At the same time, Mulder is easily duped, yet again, into believing that someone with this much information might be legitimate.
The final scene exposes an important wealth of information. Cancer Man reveals that he is not without compassion. He still has feelings for Teena, if only as the potential mother to a presumed “messiah”. Note that Cancer Man protects Teena up until the point that he determines that Mulder and Scully must father the “foretold” savior. Once Teena is no longer elevated in his mind and his own end is impending, Cancer Man disposes of her.
That doesn’t take away from Cancer Man’s observation that Mulder would only become more dangerous to the Project if he had nothing left to lose. It’s just an obvious lie. Cancer Man expresses how important Mulder is to the conspiracy, but that is never entirely explained. It must be that Mulder performs some future purpose that benefits the conspiracy, beyond the fleeting argument that killing Mulder would turn his obsession into a crusade.
The most satisfying answer is supplied in the final season. The conspiracy believes, thanks to the crash at Roswell, that a future child will be vital to the defeat of Purity, but only as long as that child is raised by the father to that purpose. Keeping Mulder alive is important to the conspiracy until “Existence”; after that, he is expendable. Those forces aiding Mulder, of course, want William to fulfill his destiny.
There remains an interesting question: why do the Rebels want Mulder alive? The Rebels apparently want William on their side, because they believe that intelligent clones are the preferable evolution of the species, artificially achieving what William would naturally be. But Mulder would never agree with that assessment, and if William is meant to save humanity, the Rebels would face a contradiction.
The intriguing solution to this problem resolves the question of who or what founded the Rebel faction in the first place. The Roswell craft had a genetic code inscribed on it, but the recovered wreckage would not have comprised the whole genetic map. Some of the material would have been lost. As a result, Cancer Man would have been trying to achieve a goal that would have been very close to the idealized genetics of the Rebel cult, but not exact.
In other words, the Rebels do not believe that William is the ideal savior of their version of humanity. They do, however, want Purity to believe it, thereby using Cancer Man’s plan against him. The Rebels allow the conspiracy to focus on Mulder, Scully, and William at the most viral stage, completely masking the fact that there must be another child, completely unknown, that fits the genetic code they consider “perfect”.
For that to be the case, this unknown child must also be a product of the same millennia-long genetic manipulation, initiated by the benevolent spiritual forces guiding Mulder and Scully, that resulted in William. This also resolves the question of how William is meant to be the key figure. Not only does William have the ability and resources to defeat Purity through the sponsorship of “God”, but he also must find a way to defeat the Rebels. That must, in turn, mean facing the unknown child meant to lead the Rebels to victory.
This is metaphorically pleasing, because the final resolution of the series mythology involves a dual victory of light over darkness. “God”, though William, defeats “Satan” as Purity. The spiritual conflict is neatly resolved, and the forces of light prevail. But within humanity itself, in the material world, the best of humanity (William) overcomes the worst of humanity (the leader of the Rebels).
One could still ask how it is a sure thing that William prevails; that is something that is ultimately covered in “Fight the Future”, when it is revealed that Purity emerged on the planet long before humanity as the “black oil”. Recalling that Purity only assumes the form of the “black oil” for the first time shortly before “Colonization”, the “black oil” seen in the series and in the film must have been sent back in time. The result is that all of the “black oil” is circular in its own nature, only able to exist because it was in fact thwarted.
This episode in particular excels as both a precursor to “Fight the Future” and as the source of deeper speculation into the series mythology. Unlike most of the mythology episodes, Mulder and Scully actually get their hands on solid evidence, and that is highly satisfying. More than that, the end of the episode seems to state that this season will be about testing Cancer Man’s observation about Mulder. Scully’s cancer threatens to steal away something of vital importance in Mulder’s life, and how that changes him is the season’s mission statement.
MULDER: “You mean colonization.”
JEREMIAH: “Hegemony, Mr. Mulder. A new origin of species.”
INFORMANT X: “Don’t unlock doors you’re not prepared to go through, Agent Scully.”
SCULLY: “Nothing happens in contradiction to nature, only in contradiction to what we know of it. And that’s a place to start…that’s where the hope is.”
CANCER MAN: “You see…the fiercest enemy is the man who has nothing left to lose…”
Overall, this is another strong season premiere, far exceeding the episode that came before it. Mulder and Scully finally see the conspiracy at work, uncovering aspects of it that speak to their individual strengths. Many important concepts are introduced in this episode, building the case for the feature film and giving hope to the audience that there’s a point to it all.
Final Rating: 9/10
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