Written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz
Directed by Kim Manners
In which Mulder and Scully work out the true story behind the crash of Flight 549, and attempt to finish the job that Max Fenig started, an effort that ends where it began...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
Unlike many second parts of the mythology two-part episodes, this installment begins exactly where the previous episode left off. Just as immediately, the tease of a possible UFO for Mulder disappears as he realizes that the bright lights are coming from the military retrieval team sent to take him into custody. Mulder manages to escape in the water, casting off his diving gear in record time despite his complete inexperience, but he’s quickly captured on land.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, the shooting at the Headless Woman’s Pub plays out again, this time in an oddly revised fashion. Instead of taking a single shot to bring down Garrett, the conspiracy assassin, Scully now fires off two rounds. People move differently than they did the first time, giving an already bizarre and unnecessary scene an air of surrealism.
Both scenes set the tone for an episode than seems more about perception than the truth. Continuing the subtle character study for Mulder that began with “Tempus Fugit”, this episode says less about what really happened than how Mulder interprets the evidence. While there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Mulder is largely correct, the details are inevitably supplied by his own internal filters. That makes it impossible to know what really happened, but in this case, that’s not the point. The goal was placing Mulder’s point of view into a new perspective.
The opening act is also a commentary on Scully and the likelihood of her survival. While Pendrell’s death was largely unnecessary, it did give Scully a chance to apply willpower to a life or death situation. She flatly told every single person with the ability to make a difference that Pendrell would live, and yet, for all that, he died. It’s not a mistake that Scully’s cancer finally makes a quick appearance again in the same moment. Scully can tell people she’s fine all she wants, but willpower is not the answer.
Otherwise, things fall into the status quo rather quickly. Mulder runs off on one of his wild goose chases, though more politely than in the past, and gets captured in the process. Nothing, of course, happens to him, once again proving that the conspiracy has some use in mind for him in the future. The conspiracy is all too happy to use its control of the military, at the highest possible levels, to implement a cover-up. The truth is right there, in plain view, but nothing can be done about it.
It’s no wonder that Mulder is beginning to wonder why everyone keeps dying for the same reasons. Faced with an obvious cover-up, he stands in the exact same metaphorical spot that Max Fenig was standing in before he decided to smuggle UFO technology to the FBI. The irony is that Mulder doesn’t ask the most obvious follow-up question: if all these people keep dying in pursuit of the truth, why is he always the one allowed to walk away at the end of the day?
The almost spiritual connection between Mulder and Max is certainly not lost on Scully, who has just enough perspective to realize how similar the two men were. That also reminds the audience that Scully still thinks of herself as someone on the outside looking in, even if she has repeatedly been forced to re-evaluate her state of denial.
As noted in the review for the previous episode, the larger canvas behind the recovered technology is ultimately meaningless within the context of this story. Just like Mulder, Max takes all the raw information at his disposal and reduces it down to the most simple possible form of conspiracy. From his point of view, it’s a question of stealing recovered alien technology from a military hell-bent on developing new applications of it through reverse engineering. The rest is a question of details, and both men are masters of ignoring inconvenient facts.
The writers certainly waste no time making that clear, as they segue directly from Max’s version of the truth behind the stolen technology to Mulder’s version of the crash of Flight 549. Mulder’s right; his theory can’t be disputed by the facts, because the facts are only a minor contributor to his version of the story. The resulting re-enactment is a powerful and often terrifying conglomeration of real world events and modern folklore. This was always at the heart of what Carter and Spotnitz had in mind for the episodes.
Ultimately, as must be the case, “everyday people” like Millar cannot accept that such a thing can be real. Millar operates in service to the truth, but like Scully, he feels an instinctive need to support the truth with observable, scientific data. Mulder’s version of the crash is based entirely on a wealth of anecdotal evidence and the slightest of connections with available discrepancies. At the end of the day, Mulder is forced to carry the burden of proof, so like Max before him, he seeks to bring the evidence forth from the darkness into the light.
And so once again Scully is left to pick up the threads of the mundane, while Mulder chases after the shadows of another man’s legacy. In this case, Scully is more than the metaphorical safety net that she was originally supposed to represent; her protective role is literal. The true source of the radiation on Flight 549 (as problematic as it is to the evidence trotted out in the previous episode) comes in three parts, and two of them have already been recovered. The last falls into Mulder’s possession, and like Max before him, Mulder ignores any thought of personal safety in the hopes of evading pursuit.
This is a classic example of plot dictating a character’s behavior, and it’s the one major flaw of the episode. This is Mulder’s equivalent of Scully’s decision to take Frish into the middle of a public place when trying to keep him out of sight. Mulder decides, just days after dozens of people were killed under similar circumstances, to smuggle a highly radioactive item onto a commercial flight. Mulder is impulsive and obstinate, but he’s not a frickin’ idiot! Obviously, this takes place because the symmetry of the story requires it.
Another flaw, present in both episodes, is the inconsistent depiction of how radioactive the devices stolen by Max and Sharon really are. They can’t be very radioactive if a simple canvas tote bag is a suitable protective container! One would also expect the X-ray machine to act differently when scanning something giving off an even higher particle count. Yet when Max and Sharon are simply carrying the devices, they and others around them suffer the effects of rapid radiation exposure. Either it extremely deadly, requiring a lead briefcase at the very least, or it’s relatively harmless. Make up your mind, 1013!
If Max was the “everyman” version of Mulder, then Garrett was the “everyman” version of the Syndicate. There’s no room for moral ambiguity in Garrett’s world; the goals of the conspiracy are absolutely correct, and any threat to those goals must be dealt with in the most expedient manner available. Garrett also embodies the almost brazen nature of the conspiracy. Far from well-hidden, this is clearly a movement that believes it has won the game long before the final tick of the clock.
The final act is reminiscent of “Deep Throat”, in which Mulder sees something he’s not supposed to see, only to have his memory of it removed. He’s aware that he must have seen something, of course, but he can only speculate what actually happened. One is left to wonder if the events, as depicted, are representative of the “real” events or simply a reflection of what Mulder believes happened in those fateful nine minutes.
One thing that doesn’t happen, and probably should have, is some consequence for Mulder when Skinner and a ton of law enforcement personnel show up for nothing. Considering how often that happens with Mulder, and how often he’s denied resources because of it, one would think that Skinner would at least slap him down after being given a flippant answer to perfectly logical question. Maybe Skinner’s just used to the bitterness and has gotten used to explaining such situations away.
The final scene is perhaps a little too cloying in its praise of Max Fenig. After all, the character showed up exactly once before this story, so it’s not like he was a long-running favorite with the audience. And what about Pendrell, who showed up a lot more and gave his life for nothing? For that matter, the metaphor that Carter and Spotnitz try to generate at the end doesn’t quite fit. Max did nothing to help Mulder and Scully along all these years, and Mulder has yet to make some grand achievement. (Granted, Mulder is eventually at the center of the complete transformation of the entire human race, one way or another, but at this point, he’s just a puppet in Cancer Man’s grand design.)
Also, Mulder gave Scully that keychain before this adventure began. So what’s the real message that he’s trying to send? Scully may not be too far off, even if Mulder doesn’t want to admit it. Mulder might equate his quest for the truth to the quest for an impossible goal, and he could be reminded her that those who didn’t make the journey were still worthy of remembrance. But Mulder could be trying to tell Scully that it’s worth holding on to hope and a dream, because even if that’s not enough on its own, it’s the first step to making the impossible a reality.
That works thematically, because this episode begins with Scully coming to the realization that steadfastly believing that she will survive is not enough. Mulder’s gift reminds her that strength of will and purpose is the beginning of the fight, not the end in and of itself. When Scully doesn’t quite see the message, at least not the full extent of it, Mulder can’t bring himself to say the words behind the gift.
In a season that would be dominated by character considerations more than any other, this was a nice way to continue that tradition while still delivering a big story for the February sweeps period. Without adding much to it, the story fit neatly into the existing mythology, giving the writers the chance to take a rest from the usual “kitchen sink” approach to the sweeps episodes and concentrate on the characters’ psychology. It wasn’t as deep as a Morgan and Wong concept might have been, but it did demonstrate that Carter and Spotnitz understood the characters more than their later episodes would suggest.
MULDER: “You have to admit, the man had an enduring sense of style.”
SCULLY: “Only Max Fenig and you would appreciate living like this…”
MILLAR: “Well, where I come from, that’s what we call a ‘whopper’…”
MULDER: “Do you know where she is?”
SCULLY: “In a mental institution.”
MULDER: “I’d…I’d go with you, but I’m afraid they’d lock me up.”
SCULLY: “Me, too…”
GARRETT: “A man, if he’s any man at all, knows he must be ready to sacrifice himself to that which is greater than he.”
MULDER: “I’m sure all the other passengers on this plane would appreciate dying for your noble philosophy.”
SKINNER: “Would you like to tell me what’s going on here, Agent Mulder?”
MULDER: “I don’t think you want to know the answer…”
Overall, this was another strong episode for the fourth season, living up to the potential of the first half of the story. Like the previous episode, there are some logic problems that originate where the theme takes control of the characters’ choices, but otherwise, there is an amazing amount of character exploration at work.
Final Rating: 7/10
Back to Season 4
Back to Reviews