"Patient X"
Written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz
Directed by Kim Manners

In which a woman named Cassandra Spender emerges with a message about the aliens and their agenda, while a strange new enemy arrives, killing abductees without warning...

Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis


Status Report

When an episode begins with a ponderous voiceover, that’s usually a sign that the events will be deeply entrenched in the series mythology. This is certainly such a case, and representing the last true opportunity to touch on the plot threads before “Fight the Future”, the weighty tone of the proceedings makes sense. At the same time, this is an episode that represents two very different sides of the mythology coin: the culmination of the plans pulled together after the second season and the attempt to give the mythology somewhere to go in the sixth season.

For quite some time, the producers had been under the impression that the series would wear out its welcome by the end of the fifth season. It certainly would have been convenient to David Duchovny, who had a number of concerns regarding the series’ future and his desire to work in Los Angeles rather than Vancouver. Also, many of the long-range ideas for the series were designed to end with the feature film.

But the network had many other ideas. The series was incredibly popular, and even if patience was running out among those not used to long-term plot arcs with questionable structure, there was a hunger for more. FOX didn’t really have anything else to hang their hat on, and the attempts to generate another cult series had foundered. Of course, that meant that the writers had to begin establishing the probably plot threads for the sixth season mythology, because that was an element now inherent to the series as a whole.

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 “Herronvolk” is critical to the analysis of this episode.

One can easily see which elements were dumped into the mythology in this episode. Rather than focusing on simply getting the “black oil” elements in place for the film, which meant little more than getting Krycek to hand the Russian vaccine from “Tunguska” to the Syndicate and giving Mulder reason to doubt his recent denial of alien existence, the writers added several new elements to the mix. Perhaps the most annoying element, based on the lack of follow-through, were the Rebels.

However, this review concerns only the elements present in “Patient X”, and in this case, the Rebels are largely kept in the background as a largely unseen menace. Their role is covered more by exposition than anything else. Because of the divergent requirements on the two-part story, this first half tends to come across as a laundry list of sorts. Scene after scene strikes the tone of someone methodically placing chess pieces on the board.

The voiceover sets the tone. Instead of dealing specifically with a single “colonization” effort, the story evolves into two (or more) non-human agencies vying over control of the human race and its future. As much as this helps to retroactively explain a number of mythology elements in the past, it’s an unnecessary complication at this stage of the game. It wasn’t needed for the film, and by this point, that had been long since locked down.

That said, this is where the mythology was taken, and while it makes things a lot more complex, it can be made sensible by reading between the lines. The outline of the mythology given in the review for “Herrenvolk” provides the basic outline. In short, all mythology elements must be considered from the perspective that three major groups of non-human nature are directing events to their own best interests.

Those three groups have already been hinted at; this episode merely begins to flesh them out. The first group is the most obvious: the Colonists, otherwise known as Purity. They are the ones driving the Syndicate and essentially making certain that, at the appointed time, the human race will be subsumed by the malevolent non-corporeal consciousness known as Purity. Most of the efforts of Purity and its engineered conspiracy are devoted to preparing the human race for “colonization” by this malevolent intelligence.

The second group, more or less introduced in this episode, is the Rebel faction. Many of the comments in this mini-arc are contrary to the logic behind the Rebels and their nature. The Rebels are essentially dedicated to the purpose of gaining all the “advantages” of Purity’s artificial evolution program while avoiding and preventing the successful “colonization”. In other words, the Rebels want to foster some aspects of the conspiracy but eliminate others.

The third group is more ephemeral. This would be the “angelic”, benevolent intelligence that often aids and protects the agents over the course of the series. Episodes like “One Breath” and “Christmas Carol” involve this power, and they are dedicated to preventing the success of both Purity and the Rebels. This power is behind the creation of William and the evolution of humanity into a more collective and enlightened state.

As per the review for “Herrenvolk”, this episode can be seen as a series of events that propagate from the unseen struggles between these three groups for the future of humanity. The characters in this mini-arc all make assumptions based on limited evidence regarding these powers, including assumptions about how they are related and what their goals might be. The key to this episode is not taking anything at face value, because characters make false assumptions.

One important element concerns the loyalties of Marita and Krycek. Krycek has been shown, on more than one occasion, to be aligned with Cancer Man. But if anything, it’s an alliance of survival. In this case, Krycek’s actions must be taken into consideration in terms of what Cancer Man is trying to do behind the scenes. In essence, Cancer Man has lost control of the Syndicate, but he needs the Syndicate to continue working his own agenda: finding a way to prevent Purity from gaining control while fostering the creation of the child destined to save humanity.

The Russians don’t have the ability to properly test and implement the vaccine they’ve created. The Syndicate has the infrastructure, but no successful vaccine. Cancer Man therefore needs someone on the Russian side to get the vaccine and proof of its utility to the Syndicate without tipping Cancer Man’s hand. It’s not hard to see how this will give Cancer Man the chance to prove his usefulness to Strughold, who has been financing the Syndicate efforts unseen (and probably knows more than the rest of the Syndicate as a result).

Therefore everything that happens with Krycek and Marita must be seen through that filter. Krycek must present his actions as a personal act of survival. Marita must help manage the response by the Syndicate. All of this is driven by the open actions of the Rebels, who are making a bid to disrupt the Syndicate’s efforts. Cancer Man clearly expected this and understood what must be done with the vaccine in response.

Cassandra Spender is the pivot point; much of the nature of the mythology is dependent upon careful understanding of what she has experienced. Key to this is the realization that Purity and the Rebels are vying to control past events from a future time prior to “colonization”. Understanding this, it’s clear that Purity would be trying to advance their agenda as seen later in the series: taking over key aspects of government and using the control chip technology to evolve the human race into giving birth to drones for “colonization” by Purity. Cassandra would not see this as a good thing.

At the same time, the Rebels use similar technology and also utilize clones as workers for their own agenda. In many respects, the Rebels operate with the intention of mirroring the conspiracy in the hopes of efficiently preventing the conspiracy’s success through surgical strikes late in the game. The Rebels would know that Cassandra Spender will become the successful endpoint of the process to create a biological super-soldier; they would do everything possible to convince her that they were behind the tests and that she was part of something meant to advance human enlightenment.

The concept of “lighthouses” is particular to the plans of all three warring groups. These would be areas where the barriers between the physical and spiritual worlds are easier to penetrate. Thus, Purity, as an invading malevolent consciousness, would want to direct those with the control chips to those locations for ease of “colonization”. The Rebels would be able to use those programmed instructions to wipe out as many of the controlled as possible, once their own goals were assured. The sentinels like William, the product of the “angelics”, would be able to gather in these locations to prevent the entry of Purity.

If the Rebels are artificially evolved humans, engineered in an attempt to replicate the genetic advancements evident in the sentinels of the “angelics”, then they would certainly see normal humans as their subjects in some coming kingdom. Purity would see them as only experimental means to their end. The point is this: the Rebels clearly use the same test subjects as the conspiracy to ensure that their own efforts to perfect and ensure their future existence are preserved. From the point of view of the abductees like Cassandra, it’s all part of one group’s intention.

One major issue with this episode is Mulder’s extreme attitude against the idea of aliens. While he’s correct in a sense, he still has a lot of the details wrong, and he’s way over the top in his aggressiveness of tone. If this had been Mulder’s attitude for the entire season since “Redux II”, it might have worked better. However, that aspect of Mulder’s personality wasn’t established nearly enough to be credible at this stage of the game.

This is one thing that the fifth season didn’t accomplish. The fourth season had distinct character arcs, and with the endpoint firmly established in “Fight the Future”, the fifth season had a beginning and end already in place. What falls between, however, doesn’t come together as a cohesive character journey. Mulder’s attitude is particularly hard to reconcile when he comes off as such a jerk.

The ironic thing is that Mulder should question his memories of Samantha’s abduction. Clearly the conspiracy acted to alter his memories (Jeffrey Spender’s scenes later in the episode provide more evidence of how well this works). In fact, a lot of the “recovered memories” in this series have to be questioned through the filter of whether those memories serve a purpose. Given that Mulder was supposed to remember the abduction, since Cancer Man had future plans for him related to his current role, it makes it very plausible that Werber’s role is exactly what Mulder suspects in this episode: an unwitting advocate of multiple layers of deception.

This episode continues to give evidence that Mulder’s exploits are purposefully leaked to the press. Established early in “Fallen Angel”, the Syndicate’s use of Mulder’s “crusade” as a key component in their disinformation campaign has been an important element in his overall survival. This is also something that is never fully addressed once the Syndicate is out of commission; the utility of the X-Files department should have been a lot harder to reconcile.

Cassandra refers to the fact that she has been abducted for more than 30 years. Since this episode takes place in late February/early March 1998, that would mean that Cassandra was being abducted before 1968. That fits the overall timeline rather well, especially if Cancer Man believed that Cassandra was the one who might bear him the “future savior” he was looking for.

Jeffrey Spender (referred to simply as “Spender” point forward) also points out an important date. Approximately 20 years earlier, something happens that Spender says caused “a lot of pain”. That would have been around 1978. Looking back on “Closure”, Samantha’s disappearance from the Spender home would have taken place in 1979. Spender later recalls that this incident involved the end of their tenure at a UFO cult. This all fits the concept that the Spenders underwent a final extensive memory replacement following Samantha’s unexpected disappearance.

Cassandra’s scene with Mulder is a good example of how complex issues are given a difference spin when seen and discussed through the filter of what Cassandra has seen and been told. She believes that the “alien nations” are at war, and that the “good aliens” are having their desires thwarted by “other forces at work”. And of course, Mulder is at the center of it all. Of course he is, since all three major powers in this struggle all have made efforts to use Mulder and his unique place in the scheme of things to their own advantage.

The weapons of the Rebels would have been primarily useful in destroying the body and its control chip. This suggests that the design (from a future point in the timeline) was intended to be used against the nanotech super-soldiers and their more protected control chips, housed in the metallic vertebrae. As the Syndicate indicates, these group abductions weren’t expected until just before “colonization”, a sign that the Rebels are engaging in a pre-emptive strike.

Krycek’s discussion with the Syndicate and his demands don’t really make sense. Knowing about the Rebels really has nothing to do with the vaccine. In fact, it makes more sense for Krycek to say whatever it takes to get the boy in the Syndicate’s hands and ensure that they back the Rebels. The vaccine, after all, is what eventually becomes the medium for Purity, since a fully adaptable virus can only be countered by something exactly like itself.

So what is the point? Cancer Man doesn’t know that his efforts and the vaccine will ultimately lead to the very thing he hopes to avoid or overcome. So his goal is to get the vaccine in place by providing the Syndicate with a test subject. The boy fits the bill. Krycek does whatever it takes to get their interest, but he also seems to be playing his own game. It’s all so confused and cryptic that several agendas seem to be overlapping all at once.

Of course, that brings up one of the fundamental flaws of the Rebels and Krycek’s gambit. Krycek sews up the orifices (one presumes all of them!) of the boy to ensure that the black oil cannot escape. But this is the same black oil that could infiltrate a containment suit in “Tunguska”. Closing up the orifices is completely meaningless. At the same time, Krycek knows about the Rebels and their appearance, and might assume that it is meant to keep the black oil out.

Logically, that makes no sense. So what really happens? It seems clear, by the boy’s actions, that the weakened Purity is playing along until it gets the chance to escape and find a more viable host. Krycek would be a bad choice because of the circumstances. Krycek thinks that the whole scheme works because that’s exactly what Purity would want him to think.

On the other side of it, the Rebels are related to the shifters, like the “alien bounty hunter”. The Rebels should therefore have no need of body modification to prevent “colonization” by Purity, especially since these are the “perfected” shifters with even better control of their biology. Their senses don’t seem to be effected, so the appearance of the Rebels is purely cosmetic. This suggests something of a purposefully symbolic action, perhaps pseudo-religious in origin.

While the extreme Mulder snarkiness continues (even to the point of being suddenly abusive with Scully over the whole thing), the Rebels continue to use the control chip technology to command those with implants to gather in neatly convenient groups for mass immolation. It’s a little surprising that Mulder doesn’t accuse the government of trying to destroy evidence right from the beginning, especially since he wastes time denying a link to previous abductions, which aren’t even something he denies take place. Mulder’s reaction only makes sense from a writing perspective; since Scully begins suspecting something abduction-related, Mulder must deny that as well.

For Scully’s part, this confirms one of the more subtle points of the mythology from earlier seasons. Not only was the control chip meant to change body chemistry for the reproductive experiments, it was also meant to record and control Scully. This is invaluable to the conspiracy, but also puts her right in the crosshairs of the Rebel efforts.

The scene between Marita and Krycek does much to explain their motivations. Their actions suggest that they work for Cancer Man, but as seen many times after, they are also involved in trying to work their own agenda. This is just an example of how it doesn’t work out so well for them, largely because they are also working against each other when necessary. With so many people trying to advance their own interests, it makes things rather complicated.

Eventually Mulder catches up with the abduction connection, but for plot purposes, this happens after Scully comes to believe that Cassandra may be right. Mulder’s slow uptake also forces Scully to act on her own, thus placing herself in immediate danger. At the same time, Purity acts in accordance with the goals outlined above, taking Marita as a more useful host. All of this leads into the cliffhanger.

All of these shifting motivations and agendas continue to spiral into a new and contradictory context in the second half of the story. Ultimately, this is still a satisfying story, even if it’s hard not to look back on it as an unnecessarily complicated new extension of an already muddled but concluding mythology arc. This is really the beginning of the end for the more coherent aspects of the mythology, because from this point forward, the writers were making it up from segment to segment, trying to build beyond the confines defined by “Fight the Future”.

Memorable Quotes

WOMAN: “Are you discounting any belief in the existence of extraterrestrials?”
MULDER: “No…I just question mindless belief.”

SPENDER: “I’d like to build a reputation here…not be given one.”
SCULLY: “I think I understand.”

MULDER: “Do I look like I’m having fun, Scully?”
SCULLY: “You look constipated, actually.”

SCULLY: “You’ve come a long way, Mulder.”

SCULLY: “It says here that she has an implant…in the base of my neck.”
MULDER: “Where the government no doubt removed her brain…”

Final Analysis

Overall, this episode is an interesting if fragmented installment of the mythology. Caught between the need to bring the story in line with the film and yet give the series legs in the sixth season, this story is also a forced attempt to place Mulder and Scully in unlikely opposite corners. Untangling the plot elements is a difficult proposition, but once it is given careful consideration, the scope of the mythology becomes a lot more clear.

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

Final Rating: 8/10

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