"Tunguska"
Written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz
Directed by Kim Manners



In which an encounter with Krycek leads a series of unfortunate events, culminating in uncomfortable legal questions for Scully and Skinner and a bad trip to Russia for Mulder...

Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis





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Status Report

The fourth season began with a mythology episode that might as well have been a primer for the early draft of the feature film. In keeping with that philosophy, the writers constructed the next mythology two-parter as an introduction to a few other aspects of the story, building the circumstantial evidence that would be the foundation for the events of the film. Along the way, of course, there are inconsistencies, largely in terms of how the “black oil” affects people.

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 summary of the mythology given in the review for “Herrenvolk” is critical to the analysis of this episode.

There are two goals to this episode and its second part: the karmic comeuppance of Alex Krycek and the exploration of the Russian side of the conspiracy. In both respects, the goal was met, even if the information communicated is far from clear. The stage is set very well by this episode, but as the review for “Terma” will outline, the writers made several mistakes in the effort to bring the plot threads to a momentary conclusion.

“Tunguska” is a powerfully written mission statement, a promise to the fandom that the mythology is not going to lose its teeth, despite the weaknesses of the third season. It begins with one of the best confrontation scenes in the history of the series, with Scully facing down a Congressional Committee with accusations of lawlessness among power brokers. It’s all about protecting Mulder, something that Scully might not have done so stridently before “Herrenvolk”.

Every scene is an exercise in building a tapestry of plans within plans. At first glance, one can assume that the contents of the diplomatic pouches are meant for the Syndicate. If that were the case, of course, one would have expected the process to go far more smoothly. Why would the Western conspiracy fail to take measures to ensure that the soil samples from Tunguska would remain intact and secure? The answer is simple: that was not the intent of those sending the samples.

The very next scene provides the central link to all of the events of the episode: Alex Krycek. There’s little doubt that Krycek was, in fact, “rescued” by the domestic terrorists. Once the Purity UFO found its way out of the missile silo in “Apocrypha” (which it would have done rather quickly, one would think), Krycek would have been able to escape. Linking up with domestic terrorists would give him an instant cover story, something to mask his true intentions.

It should be remembered that Krycek had the digital tape of the MJ-12 documents, and he was able to decode the documents well enough to sell the secrets to foreign governments. As previously indicated in the reviews for the “Anasazi” trilogy, Cancer Man tends to bury elements of the truth within the lies, and the MJ-12 documents were no different. While everything within those documents pointed to the “alien invasion” disinformation, it’s clear from comments made by Krycek in future episodes that he became aware of Mulder’s importance.

As revealed in more detail in “Terma”, Krycek had connections to the Russian side of the conspiracy. There are two options as to when Krycek would have become involved with the Russian conspiracy: prior to working with Cancer Man, or after his flight into the underground after “Paper Clip”. The former explanation is far more satisfying, and actually speaks to how Cancer Man’s convoluted planning works against his long-term success.

One of the important elements of the mythology is Cancer Man’s search for the woman with the right DNA profile, the one woman who can help him father humanity’s future savior. Cancer Man used the conspiracy’s genetic database to identify the women in secret, and one has to believe that he also managed to gain information on the Russian genetic database as well. After all, Cancer Man has his own organization, quite apart from the Western conspiracy, and foreign interests are a part of that organization.

Krycek could very well be one of Cancer Man’s children, another failed product of his lifelong search for a “worthy” son. In Krycek’s case, he would have been far enough removed from the correct genetic profile to remain outside the tests conducted on children like Jeffrey Spender and Samantha Mulder; instead, Cancer Man could have ensured that he would be trained within the Russian conspiracy as an inside agent.

Imagine, then, the possibility that Krycek was originally working for Cancer Man as a contact within the Russian conspiracy. Krycek is then pulled out of Russia to work under his father. Like so many of the children that didn’t pass muster, Krycek is only useful as long as he serves his father’s purpose. So Krycek protects Mulder while implementing Scully’s abduction, and then becomes a target himself when Cancer Man struggles to correct his own mistakes in “Paper Clip”.

Krycek would have needed resources to decode the MJ-12 documents, and he also would have needed resources to sell that information to the right people in the French government. The Russian conspiracy could have given him those contacts. Krycek could have easily convinced the Russian conspiracy that he was really working undercover within the Western conspiracy, playing both sides in the effort to stay alive long enough to reap the rewards of Mulder’s presumed success.

If Krycek had given his loyalty to the Russian conspiracy, however temporarily, then he would have a vested interest in the experiments being conducted at Tunguska. He would have been aware of the progress with the Western conspiracy’s work on a vaccine to Purity, and he would have been aware of Mulder’s possible utility in those experiments. The trick, of course, would be to convince Mulder that it was in his best interest to look into the situation at Tunguska, to lure him into the trap.

To this end, Krycek works with the domestic terrorists and waits, gathering evidence to feed to Mulder. Since Krycek can’t simply admit that he knows Mulder is “special”, since it would give away what he really knows, he has to smuggle the recovered Purity from Tunguska. Once he received word that the samples were on their way, presumably through the machinations of his lover Marita, Krycek began sending Mulder the information on the domestic terrorists and set the wheels in motion.

If there is one thing that is very clear when it comes to Alex Krycek, it is his clear-cut sense of personal survival. The man knows that it sometimes requires a bit of physical pain to get the desired outcome. He knows damned well that Mulder and Skinner won’t kill him, just as he knows that he won’t be killed at Tunguska. Getting the crap kicked out of him is another story. Krycek uses the morality and assumptions of his enemies against them, time and time again.

By the time Krycek is getting beaten down by a half-naked Skinner, he already knows that the seeds are planted in Mulder’s mind. All he has to do is survive long enough to make sure Mulder goes to Tunguska. So he acts like he’s surprised about the contents of the pouch; he has to make sure that someone takes a look at it, so there can be exposure. Scully has to do the science to push Mulder in the right direction.

The origin of the rock is an interesting matter of debate. Obviously, both the soil samples and the meteor rock are from the Tunguska site, since they both contain the same version of Purity. There is a definite attempt to connect the idea of meteors from Mars with alien bacteria to Purity, but there is an important difference. For one thing, the face that the rock is billions of years old doesn’t necessarily require that Purity itself be that old, or even indigenous to the rock itself. All it means is that the meteor rock recovered at Tunguska has been “inhabited” by Purity, which is also clearly in the surrounding soil in great abundance.

What this does mean, however, is that there must be a linkage between the creation of Purity and Mars rock billions of years old. The key lies in the mention of very similar rocks from Mars recovered in Antarctica. The so-called “mother ship” was also located in Antarctica, and it was also clearly an advanced design; within this conception of the mythology, that craft has to have originated in some form in the future, probably very close to the date of “Colonization”. The design of the “mother ship” strongly suggests that it was originally created with liquid transfer in mind; there are cavities that are also open to the environment. The massive interior space could have housed equipment and materials that were later utilized to create the stasis pods used to contain “infected” humans.

The point is that the “mother ship”, while designed to move on its own, also had a design that would not work on its own in the vacuum of space. It would work far better as a vessel contained within another structure: for instance, underground. It’s established in more than one episode that the conspiracy and the Rebels travel in “deep space”, and that could easily mean the space between Earth and Mars. The suggestion, then, is that the “mother ship” was originally a secret base of operations either on Mars or within an asteroid comprised of Martian rock ejected into space billions of years earlier.

The “mother ship” was at the Antarctica site for quite some time, buried there for at least hundreds of thousands of years. That being the case, the “mother ship” was probably sent back into the past during the final conflict that marked “colonization”. If the “mother ship” was surrounded by old Martian rock, the process of going back in time could have stripped the rock away, sending it into different time periods. If the “mother ship” was damaged at the same time, Purity within the vessel could have also been ejected.

This would have been the cause of the 1908 Tunguska incident: the arrival of a chunk of the rock surrounding the “mother ship” as it raced back through time more than a million years. Laced with Purity that had not yet been “possessed” by the malevolent spiritual forces that fostered its creation, the rock would have scattered the “black oil” all over the area. That Purity would be genetically programmed to take control of a human host, but it wouldn’t have an associated intelligence available to control the host or begin the gestation process.

The conspiracy, of course, would want to have access to this version of Purity. They were working on the vaccine themselves, after all, but working on the version of Purity that ultimately took root in the oil fields in the Western hemisphere, programmed to instantly take possession of a host and begin gestation of the “Colonist” bioform. Every failure within the Syndicate’s vaccine program would leave the test subject infected with the gestational version of Purity, and that meant another possible source of exposure. Considering the number of people in stasis in the remains of the “mother ship”, those tests were extensive and not going well. It doesn’t help that Cancer Man was keeping the details from the rest of the group, since it would lead to very uncomfortable questions.

Even excluding the additional level of concern that Cancer Man would have, the Syndicate would want the Russian version of Purity simply to work with the same materials, to have the same level of information. This aspect of the story speaks to one of the more interesting levels of the conspiracy as a whole: the concept that the Cold War was really a pretext, a cover story for the real work, which was a competition between two world powers to survive an assumed future alien invasion by developing a vaccine to the invasive agent.

One could wonder why Krycek would kill the second courier, and why he would look so unnerved at the man’s arrival. This plays once again into the idea that Krycek cannot allow himself to be exposed. The courier doesn’t know that Krycek was the one behind the entire plot, nor can Krycek allow the courier to kill him through that ignorance. Krycek kills the courier out of self-defense, but also because it plays to his advantage, putting Skinner in a bind.

Scully’s comment that the rock contains fossils believed to be alien bacteria is astounding. Maybe she’s more comfortable with the idea since it’s a question within the scientific community, but it’s still something that Scully would never have mentioned in any serious context in the first season. This says a lot about how far Scully is permitting herself to go, mentally, to aid Mulder in his quest for the truth. The advocacy that she adopted in “Herronvolk” is on display here.

Mulder, on the other hand, finally recognizes that there has to be more to it. Even if neither of them know that it’s something related to the “black oil” they encountered earlier in the year, they know that it has something to do with a possible alien toxin. But if that were the only aspect of the case, why would the conspiracy want it? Krycek has already toyed with Mulder by suggesting that the contents of the rock will help expose Cancer Man. It doesn’t take much to realize that the toxin itself is not the issue, or even Cancer Man’s response…it’s the context within which both pieces of the puzzle fit. (Mulder might even be thinking back on the alien toxin he found out about in “Herrenvolk”.)

The “infestation” of Dr. Sacks reveals much about Purity’s apparent form. For one thing, the vermiform Purity seems designed for multiple vectors of attack, to prevent a victim from avoiding every possible chance of infection. Regardless of how far Purity can break down within the “black oil” form, it’s simply a medium, and Purity can alter matter when necessary. Having Purity slip past the containment suit is a writing blunder, but it does speak to the fact that Purity can go anywhere once the instinctual drive to take possession of a host is involved.

Considering their relationship, Krycek would know that Marita was Mulder’s most recent informant. As such, Marita would be waiting to aid Mulder in his plans to travel to Russia. In a certain sense, “Teliko” set the stage for this possibility. Marita admits in that episode that dangerous materials are passed over borders every day, and she in fact knows about much of it. It’s quite possible that this was an intentional bit of foreshadowing, hinting at the fact that Marita was putting the thought into Mulder’s mind for this very moment. (This goes a long way towards explaining how Marita managed to create the necessary documents for Mulder’s little trip in less than three minutes!)

Note that when Mulder tries to leave him behind, Krycek intentionally tosses out some choice Russian expletives. If Krycek wasn’t behind the entire plot, it would be an incredibly bad example of plot convenience. It’s far more likely that Krycek intentionally spoke Russian to get Mulder to agree to take him along, which was clearly the point. If Krycek were left, he would be taken into custody in the matter of the courier’s death, and he can’t risk that.

The conversation between Cancer Man and the Well-Manicured Man is interesting for several reasons. Cancer Man cannot help but acknowledge that he has lost face with the Syndicate, and that the Well-Manicured Man has effectively taken control of that element of the conspiracy. It’s this scene that establishes that the courier was bringing the materials to the Syndicate as part of Krycek’s plan. But just as importantly, Cancer Man is forced to admit that Mulder is once again doing something unforeseen. By going to the Well-Manicured Man with this matter, he essentially ensures that Mulder will survive; the Well-Manicured Man has already demonstrated a distaste for killing.

The answer, it seems, was to mobilize the members of Congress under the thumb of the Syndicate, prompting a full investigation into the incident at Skinner’s apartment and the whereabouts of Agent Mulder. This would have the effect of either halting Mulder in his tracks or discrediting his activities, both of which resolve the conspiracy’s liability.

Krycek follows Mulder right to the Tunguska facility, where the Russians have been gathering soil and rock saturated with Purity. The prisoners are apparently Russian test subjects, chosen for the genetic profile information gathered during smallpox vaccination activities. This makes perfect sense; as tests are performed, the Russians determine which genetic markers are most effective in terms of resisting Purity when the vaccine is administered. It seems that the vaccine works to some extent, but it takes a terrible toll on the people using it. Either that, or the process of infection and restoration is too traumatic.

Whatever the case, Krycek waits for the perfect opportunity to report his true purpose to the facility supervisor, leaving Mulder to be placed in the test program. This had to be Krycek’s purpose all along, to see what would happen if Mulder is infected with Purity and given the vaccine. This advances Krycek’s plan for survival, because as things stand at the end of the episode, Krycek is in the best position possible.

The episode manages to provide strong drama without dragging everything down with needless exposition. There are plenty of moves and countermoves by several people with differing loyalties, with Alex Krycek in the middle holding most of the cards. Skinner is in a terrible position, likely to lose regardless of which choice he makes. For her part, Scully doesn’t really know where Mulder is, but trying to explain collusion with Krycek would only end everyone’s career.

As far the Western conspiracy goes, Cancer Man is once again in a position of weakness, forced to use his resources to protect Mulder if possible and still determine what the real game is. He clearly has no idea that Krycek is involved, and Mulder’s sudden appearance on the scene is completely unexpected. Not only does it threaten to expose a hidden layer of the Cold War, the loss of the Purity samples from Tunguska places the Syndicate in a losing proposition.

Like many multi-part mythology episodes, the writers manage to set up the conflicts and necessary plot elements very well. The problem comes when they attempt to resolve the open questions while still leaving the bulk of the mystery open for the feature film. The results are often jumbled and dissatisfying, as “Terma” would shortly demonstrate.


Memorable Quotes

SORENSON: “Are you tendering your resignation, Ms. Scully? Is that what you’re trying to say?”
SCULLY: “No, sir. What I am saying is that there is a culture of lawlessness that has prevented me from doing my job.”

KRYCEK: “Hey, you go underground, you gotta learn to live with the rats…”

MULDER: “You’re full of crap, Krycek. You’re an invertebrate scum-sucker whose moral dipstick in about two drops short of bone dry!”

KRYCEK: “You expose him, you expose his crimes, you destroy the destroyer’s ability to destroy.”
MULDER: “The only thing that will destroy this man is the truth.”
KRYCEK: “The truth, the truth, there’s no truth! These men, they make it up as they go along. They’re the engineers of the future.”

MULDER: “What did you get for Halloween, Charlie Brown?”

KRYCEK: “You can’t…you can’t leave me out here, I’m going to freeze to death!”
SKINNER: “Just think warm thoughts…”

MULDER: “Stupid ass haircut!”

KRYCEK: “You’re going to keep me in the dark?”
MULDER: (whack!) “Yeah…”


Final Analysis

Overall, this was another strong mythology episode for the season, introducing the hidden truth behind the Cold War and the continuing intrigues within the conspiracy. Despite the fact that the writers don’t seem to have considered such an interpretation, this episode is ultimately all about Krycek making his move. The episode never loses momentum, and even though the second part of the story falters, this beginning is as solid as it gets.

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 3/4

Final Rating: 9/10




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