"Terma"
Written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz
Directed by Rob Bowman



In which Mulder struggles to escape his captivity at Tunguska and Scully tracks down the nature of the unknown toxin, while a former Russian assassin eliminates the evidence...

Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis





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Status Report

The first part of this mythology arc was a strong introduction of several themes related to the feature film. Unfortunately, this episode faltered in terms of bringing those themes to a momentary conclusion. The writers seem more interested in drawing comparisons and suggesting connections that actually making them. Given how quickly some of those connections would be dropped or modified over the course of the season, the episode becomes an exercise in frustration.

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” and the further commentary in the review for “Tunguska” are critical to the analysis of this episode.

The opening scene is an example of the lack of forethought given to the plot. The previous episode spent a great deal of time suggesting that the Western conspiracy did not have access to the version of Purity that the Russians had found in Tunguska. Despite this fact, experiments are clearly being conducted on American soil using the “docile” Purity. The source of this Purity is never explained, nor is it explained how the old woman would maintain such clarity while infected.

One could easily assume from this episode that the Western conspiracy had a similar version of Purity at their disposal, but “Fight the Future” clearly demonstrates that this is not the case. Cancer Man has been hiding the truth from the rest of the Syndicate for decades, shipping those exposed to the “gestating” Purity to the remains of the “mother ship” in Antarctica. One can only assume that the writers either hadn’t worked out how Purity would work in the film or they simply forgot to explain how the Western conspiracy gained previous access to the “docile” Purity.

If there is one plot element that is maintained, at least for a little while, it’s Krycek’s connections to the Russian conspiracy. Supporting the idea that Krycek was working within the Russian conspiracy before his tenure under Cancer Man, “Comrade Arntzen” has considerable pull within the Russian intelligence community. Not only that, but Krycek sends the seasoned agent Peskow to eliminate any trace of the “docile” Purity and the expert who knows the most about it. Krycek cannot be working for Cancer Man based on these decisions; Cancer Man would have the most to gain from competition between the two sides.

This episode introduces the idea of a vaccine to Purity, a concept that stands at the center of the series mythology. As discussed in the review for “Herrenvolk”, development of the vaccine was actually a critical part of Purity’s master plan. Developing a vaccine for something infinitely adaptive would result in the creation of the very thing one is trying to vaccinate against. The vaccine under development, after all, only works for a limited period of time. The more effective it becomes, the further along it gets on the road to its final form.

The Russian tests use a primitive form of the vaccine, one that is administered before a host is infected with the “docile” Purity. This connects rather well with the idea that there are people immune to Purity on a genetic level; the vaccine itself could use minute levels of “docile” Purity, combined with a person’s genetic code, to develop an antibody. This is important because it speaks to another aspect of the mythology: both conspiracies are not just looking for a vaccine, but also for a means of survival through genetic manipulation.

Also very interesting is the fact that the “docile” Purity vermiforms attach themselves to the pineal gland. While this gland is not part of the brain and would not generally aid in the control of a person’s motor functions, there is a significant amount of folklore connecting the pineal gland to the “third eye”. The pineal gland is actually structured like a sensory organ, and as such, some have concluded that the pineal functions as a “psychic” organ. If Purity is seeking to co-opt a person’s spirit through a kind of possession, then taking control of the pineal gland would serve that function well.

The murder of Bonita Charne-Sayre neatly foreshadows the personal concerns of the Well-Manicured Man that would ultimately prove to be his downfall. As seen in the film, his familial concerns are the source of his Syndicate activities, and they are also his greatest weakness. In terms of the plot, the effect on the Well-Manicured Man is not the purpose of the murder. Dr. Charne-Sayre is also a key figure in the Western conspiracy’s attempt to create a vaccine for Purity. Eliminating her places the Russian conspiracy back in control in terms of survival, and that’s what Krycek wants.

Charne-Sayre was also an expert on variola viruses, specifically smallpox. Given the fact that the smallpox vaccination program was being used by the conspiracy to compile a genetic database for selecting test subjects, Charne-Sayre was probably all too aware of the extent of the conspiracy. If the vaccine works by matching the genetic tag within the smallpox vaccination scar with some amount of “docile” Purity, then Charne-Sayre would have the medical knowledge to determine the link between the smallpox genetic code and the functionality of Purity itself.

If the use of the “docile” Purity among the elderly in the teaser can be explained, however loosely, then Mulder’s escape from the gulag at Tunguska is the first major incidence of plot convenience in the episode. At it happens, it is also the beginning of a series of bizarre and poorly explained plot conveniences, all centering around Mulder’s return to America. The writers wanted to get Mulder to Tunguska to reveal the Russian tests and link them to the “real world” incident at that location; getting him out of that trap proved to be too difficult for the writers to achieve intelligently.

There is, however, some reason to think that Mulder’s escape was somewhat explained. During his conversation with the Well-Manicured Man, Cancer Man indicates that he already knows that Mulder escaped. Considering that Krycek had no intention of going with Mulder, someone else in the facility must have been working with Cancer Man. That same person would have allowed Mulder to undergo the test, since Cancer Man would want that information as well. Mulder would be allowed to escape, because Cancer Man has a vested interest in keeping Mulder alive.

Cancer Man uses the murder of Charne-Sayre and Mulder’s escape from the Russian conspiracy to get himself back in good graces with the Well-Manicured Man. Cancer Man has to be aware that he’s still on thin ice, and he is the last person who should be lecturing anyone on letting personal concerns get in the way. But this demonstrates how Cancer Man was prepared to take advantage of the situation when it arose.

At this point, the episode catches up with the opening scene of “Tunguska”, placing that original scene in context. Scully is well aware of the fact that the Senate subcommittee has been brought together to locate Mulder, not determine the reasons behind the murder at Skinner’s apartment. What Scully doesn’t know yet is that the Well-Manicured Man is attempting to find Mulder to discover what he’s learned about the Russian vaccine.

Once Mulder and Krycek escape into the Russian wilderness, their experiences are incredibly vague and confusing. It’s very clear that many in the region cut off their own left arms to prevent the Russian conspiracy from using them in the vaccine experiments. What is not explained is why this should make any difference. Mulder brings up the smallpox vaccination scar and the identification markers, but without more information, it’s impossible to see how that relates to the vaccine experiments overall. As stated earlier, the identification markers within the smallpox vaccination scars are used to specify genetic information, which is needed to determine how the vaccine works for different people and what genetic modifications are necessary to preserve certain populations.

The writers make a point of giving Mulder absolutely no reason to retain his arm, especially since they go so far as to take away Krycek’s! That little plot twist was one of the most shocking developments of the season, but it was tainted by the lack of explanations. One can assume that Cancer Man’s agent must be the driver, but that’s not at all certain, and so the fact that Mulder remains whole is a major cheat by the writers.

One interesting piece of information does emerge about the structure of the Syndicate and the Western conspiracy. Only six people within the Western conspiracy were aware of the experiments taking place in Boca Raton, according to the Well-Manicured Man. If that includes himself, Cancer Man, and Charne-Sayre, then who were the other three? Certainly Bill Mulder at one point, and then possibly Strughold, and that leaves one other.

That points to the fact that subgroups within the conspiracy are not talking to one another, and that is clearly reflected in the events that take place after “One Son”. In the last three seasons, it becomes very clear that there were elements of the conspiracy that were acting with a degree of autonomy, to the point that the Syndicate had no idea that the nanotech experiments had continued to evolve.

Cancer Man is well aware of the fact that Mulder is delivered safe and sound to America, and he is also well aware that Mulder has a vested interest in tracking down Peskow and the evidence from Tunguska. It’s interesting that he doesn’t warn the Well-Manicured Man about Mulder’s return; if he had, Sorenson wouldn’t have been surprised to see Mulder walk into the proceedings.

As odd as Mulder’s arrival might have been (why the subcommittee didn’t object is unclear), the fact that Scully is so happy to see him says a lot about how important they are becoming to each other. It took the process of moving past Melissa’s death for Scully to be open to her feelings, and with his sister’s fate in doubt, Mulder only has Scully left to turn to.

One can imagine that the elderly under Charne-Sayre’s care were being infected with the “docile” Purity and then given various solid dosage forms of prospective treatments and vaccination agents. Whatever the case may be, it makes sense that Peskow would eliminate all of them. At the same time, Peskow becomes aware of the fact that Mulder and Scully know about the vaccination experiments, yet he lets them live. It’s an unexplained contradiction, unless Krycek specifically told Peskow to keep Mulder and Scully alive.

The agents’ conversation with Mayhew is revealing for several reasons. For one thing, it speaks to Krycek’s part of the game. As mentioned in the review for “Tunguska”, Krycek had to have planned this operation for months, including the contingency that the “second device” represents. That said, why would he use his Russian name under such circumstances? As another way to convince Mulder that he had some connection to Russia? If so, it wouldn’t have worked; “Arntzen” is hardly a common Russian surname.

The most interesting revelation, of course, is the fact that the “black cancer” was used against US troops during the Persian Gulf Conflict. It’s not often referenced in the series, but there are indications that the conflict was staged. More than once, Saddam Hussein is referred to as an actor working for the conspiracy, and it’s quite clear from the later seasons that the nano-engineered super-soldiers were tested in combat at the same time. Is it any less probable that the soldiers were also purposefully exposed to a limited supply of “docile” Purity, which was then the source of the unidentified “Gulf War Syndrome”?

Considering that two episodes build to the final confrontation at the old refinery in Terma, the set piece is remarkably underwhelming. It’s quite clear that Mulder and Scully are going to survive and that the evidence will be destroyed. Peskow just gets away, putting the lie to Cancer Man’s assurances to the Well-Manicured Man. In fact, the scene is only notable for the unforgettable image of Scully dragging Mulder across the ground.

With the evidence destroyed and the Western conspiracy’s efforts to create a vaccine for Purity crippled, there is little else to do but determine how much Mulder and Scully know and bury the rest. Krycek is still alive, of course, though missing his left arm, and he seems as firmly entrenched in the Russian conspiracy as he could be. Sorenson, up to this point working for the Syndicate, is revealed as yet another of Cancer Man’s agents. Cancer Man reviews Scully’s reports, and then destroys them, as he apparently does with every report she submits.

Unlike “Tunguska”, which introduced a number of important and interesting aspects of the mythology, “Terma” seems to barely hang together, glossing over inconvenient plot points and doing everything possible to make it look credible at the end. As with so much of the series mythology, a much wider speculative explanation is needed to give the various plot contrivances context. This episode is a perfect example of that problem.

If there is one strength, it is the bond that is now obvious between Mulder and Scully. Ever since Scully’s abduction, they have been growing apart, as Scully’s denial forced her to distance herself emotionally from Mulder and his need to validate the unexplained. Mulder’s crumbling faith in Samantha’s fate left him even more dependent on Scully, and at the same time, she had finally come to terms with Melissa’s death. Scully is ready now, in her own way, to explore the consequences of her abduction, and of all the people in her life, Mulder is the one she knows will listen to her and support her efforts. This would become all important in the months to come, as both characters find themselves losing everything they hold dear.


Memorable Quotes

CANCER MAN: “Oh, you need me now, a man of my capabilities…is that it?”

CANCER MAN: “Call off this congressional investigation.”
WELL-MANICURED MAN: “I can’t. But Senator Sorenson is an honorable man. They are all honorable…these honorable men…”


Final Analysis

Overall, this episode is a disappointing conclusion to the previous episode. The writers try very hard to gloss over important plot points, perhaps all too aware that they had no idea how to explain what happened. The characters continue to grow closer and more dependent on one another, something that would only continue as the series progressed.

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

Final Rating: 6/10




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