"The Red and the Black"
Written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz
Directed by Chris Carter
In which Scully’s experience at Ruskin Dam forces her and Mulder to reconsider their personal beliefs, while the Syndicate debates the implication of the Rebels and their stolen vaccine...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
Much like the first half of this mythology two-part story, the effectiveness of the story is hampered by the need to extend an arc in its final days beyond its intended life span. In this case, the story revolves strongly around the nature of the Faceless Rebels, the true identity of Jeffrey Spender, and the truth about what happened at Ruskin Dam. None of these items are particularly meaningful in terms of the mythology as envisioned during the third season and developed for “Fight the Future”, however, and as it would turn out, there was little conception as to how they would be used during the rest of the series’ run.
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”, as well as the review for “Patient X”, is critical to the analysis of this episode.
Cancer Man’s letter in the teaser is clearly meant to suggest that he wants something of his son. Equally clear is the implication that the audience should assume the son in question is Mulder. The fact that it is Spender places the experiences of Jeffrey and Cassandra in a very different light, because once that connection is recognized, it’s clear that Jeffrey and Cassandra are remembering real experiences of abductions and tests, filtered through erasure of memory and “insertion” of false memories.
So why does Cancer Man want to restore his relationship with Spender now? The answer is likely related to the reports he has heard regarding Mulder. Cancer Man had staged Mulder in the position to be his main operative, the advocate of his plans. Mulder refused to play along, and so Cancer Man has to work through other channels. Spender is something of a “safety valve”; Cancer Man needs to position Spender to implement the tasks, one way or another, that Mulder will not.
Of course, the situation is somewhat more complex. Mulder has a role to play, and as seen in “Fight the Future”, that role is manipulated by Cancer Man through indirect means. That being the case, one must wonder why Spender is so important at this stage of the game. It comes down to manipulation of the Syndicate. Cancer Man had convinced the Syndicate that Mulder was useful as a source of easy disinformation; now, that’s no longer the case.
Mulder is useful, so long as his beliefs are not revived. There was little reason to get in Mulder’s way once he was no longer trying to fight his crusade. He was a non-entity as far as the Syndicate was concerned. Now, of course, that is changing again. With the Syndicate feeling threatened by the appearance of the Rebels, they cannot afford interference from Mulder and his investigation of the X-Files. Therefore, Mulder is most useful to Cancer Man outside of the scope of the X-Files. Spender is more useful in Mulder’s old role than Mulder, in terms of Cancer Man’s plans.
All of this is completely outside of the scope of the episode itself, which is why this episode’s explanations sound good until one begins to consider how it’s all supposed to fit together. Motivations that are assigned to characters and groups in this episode are somewhat vague and unsatisfying. Like so many mythology episodes, this is a chronicle of a journey through pieces of a much larger, far more complicated whole. Information is revealed through revelation of assumption.
The aftermath of Ruskin Dam is one of the strongest moments of the fifth season. The use of one of the more powerful musical themes created for the “Fight the Future” score, previewed in this episode as a subtle connective thread, is a masterstroke. No matter what else might be happening between them, Mulder needs Scully and the possibility of her death is almost unthinkable, especially on the heels of “Redux II”.
As already noted in “Patient X”, the Syndicate’s version of the vaccine against Purity is seen as ineffective. One could question why Marita is left comatose while Dmitri was not, but Marita’s situation is actually closer to the established continuity. Purity in “Tunguska”, from the same source, was not strong enough to do anything more than leave its host in a comatose state.
It’s rather interesting to see Spender coming after Mulder for his mother’s latest abduction. Whatever Mulder’s reputation, he’s already made it clear that he’s not involved and that he wanted nothing to do with Cassandra’s case. Spender goes from someone with a legitimate concern in the previous episode to a complete jerk here. But that kind of whiplash character “development” is in step with what the writers did with Mulder, so perhaps it’s all part of the same problem.
The conversation between the Well-Manicured Man and Krycek is a great example of a dialogue rife with assumption and hidden agendas. Krycek didn’t infect Dmitri to ensure that others would be infected. He did it because Cancer Man wanted the Syndicate to know that the Russian vaccine was effective and that required a test subject. Marita was an unfortunate victim of her own personal agenda. Since it all placed the Syndicate in the same position, it was worth it for Krycek to let the Well-Manicured Man continue to believe in his own assumptions.
As with so many scenes with crashing UFOs, it doesn’t make much sense. What would cause the UFO to crash? One could assume that it’s a by-product of the “war in heaven”, but that may not be the case. What if the Rebels, coming from some point about 20 years in the future, have not perfected the technology allowing it? Loss of control of the UFO could simply be part of the process, which only an augmented human like the “shifters” could survive. As it is, it’s a deadly prospect, and as of this episode, the conspiracy has its hands on Rebel technology. (That’s important in terms of how the conspiracy advances its own UFO tech.)
Mulder is correct in believing that the control chip in Scully’s neck is central to the overall conspiracy. Not only was it key to the conspiracy’s plan to prepare the populace for migration to “lighthouses” in 2012, but it was also key to the completion of Phase II (direct biological reproduction of “shifter” drones). The control chip is just a nanotech analogue of the organ in the back of the neck of every “shifter”.
But Scully now has reason to believe that her memories are the only source of reliable information, even if those memories are suspect. Mulder is right to question his own memories, since his own inability to pinpoint the events of his sister’s abduction strongly suggests memory implantation. But Scully is right to believe that her own recollection, if it can be found past the barriers of her own filters and the control chip’s influence, could give them both a sense of direction.
Taking a step back to the “bad assumption” topic, there’s the Syndicate meeting, during which many viewers were probably under the impression that a ton of information was finally revealed. But that’s simply not the case; only the assumptions of the Syndicate were revealed. They assume that the “facial scarring” is self-protection, but they overlook the fact that “shifters” wouldn’t need to do something so primitive, and that Purity can get through a containment suit, never mind rough stitching.
The allusion to “the weapons and the magic” speaks to the connections between Navaho folklore and the overall mythology itself, but it brings up another interesting point. Cancer Man speaks of “twin brothers” who bring the “weapons and magic” to their father to “eliminate the monsters of the world”. He says this to Spender, in the hopes of reconciliation. But who are the “twin brothers”?
One is led to believe that it must be Mulder and Spender, but Krycek is the one who fulfills Cancer Man’s bidding more completely in this episode. Mulder also slips into his appointed role. As the series itself would seem to suggest on many occasions, the “twin brothers” could, in fact, be Mulder and Krycek. (This would fit within the theory that Krycek, like Mulder and Spender, are products of Cancer Man’s personal mission to sire humanity’s “future savior”.)
At any rate, the Syndicate betrays their own ignorance. Even the Well-Manicured Man doesn’t seem to recognize that the Rebels are far from the best ally. Part of that is the simple fact that the Rebels have been hidden from them until now, so the obvious connections between the “clones” used by the Colonists/Purity and the Rebel “shifters” aren’t in mind. But they don’t have a clue about how they have been used. In many respects, in the struggle for control over humanity’s evolution, the Syndicate is powerless.
The heart of this episode is Scully’s hypnosis session. Beyond being perhaps the most orgasmic experience for Scully on the series until “all things”, it’s also one of the most revealing moments. Mulder is forced to recognize that much of his newfound belief is ephemeral; a lot of his bluster was his own attempt to convince himself.
But her memories also provide a sense of how the war between Purity and the Rebels has been waged. Purity’s weapons seem designed to set the Rebels on fire, which is the same basic method used to kill those with control chips. This suggests a common weakness. Besides being very cheap relative to other more obvious effects, the lights suggest a very focused burst of some form of energy, probably microwave or magnetic in nature.
Mulder knows better than to think that this is all “typical abduction lore”, but he’s fighting his own realization that a military conspiracy can’t explain everything that he’s seen and experienced. It simply took Scully’s experience to get him to understand that.
Within the Syndicate, the decision to cut Cancer Man out of the game is finally leading to a lack of clear leadership. The Well-Manicured Man always wanted to do things his way, but his desire to resist Purity is not shared by those too concerned with their own survival to see the big picture. Regardless, this is another example of the weakness of the Syndicate.
The conversation between Krycek and Mulder is not unlike the conversation between Krycek and the Well-Manicured Man. It’s about managing beliefs. Cancer Man needs Mulder to believe again, just when the Syndicate can’t afford it, thus making Mulder a more dangerous and effective tool. Krycek therefore frames the truth within the lie that Cancer Man has propagated since the beginning.
That scene also helps to explain some of the dynamics in “Fight the Future”. The implication is that the Well-Manicured Man wanted help to prevent the loss of the captured Rebel, and so he turned to Mulder. That sets a precedent for the Well-Manicured Man to turn to Mulder when he has disagreement with the Syndicate. Cancer Man, of course, can use that, so it works out for everyone. (This assumes that Krycek is in contact with Cancer Man, but as “The End” would indicate, that was clearly the case.)
All of this comes together in a scene which threatens to unravel the intelligence of the episode as a whole. The writers had to leave some things open to interpretation, because they weren’t sure how the whole Rebel plot thread would unfold. Unfortunately, they decided to stage the scene so that not one person can possibly figure out what happened. It’s definitely an example of Carter choosing a “cool” moment over clear storytelling.
Here’s how it seems to be. The Syndicate sent their own “bounty hunter”, the “shifter” working for them in “Talitha Cumi” and “Herrenvolk”, to eliminate the Rebel. That suggests that the Syndicate was aware, to some extent, of the similarity between the “shifters” on both sides. Regardless, Mulder is there to stop this, or so one would assume.
Things get far more complicated (and needlessly so) when the Rebels arrive themselves to save their cohort. All well and good, except Mulder starts shooting for no apparent reason. Who he’s shooting at is a complete mystery, and no matter how one interprets it, it’s a stupid move. Yet Mulder gets away without a scratch (and certainly no effect from the “shifter” retrovirus) and there’s no sign as to what happened. The implication is that the bounty hunter was killed by the Rebels, but there’s no reason to believe it.
The point is that this ending takes all the wonderful intrigue and character work earlier in the episode and nearly derails it with a cheap and unnecessary ending. Sure, there’s the interesting information about Spender and his parentage, and all the implications thereof, but that resolution to the Rebel and his fate is horrible. It’s as if the writers had no idea how to make the scene work, so they just tossed things together.
More to the point, this problematic ending is linked to elements introduced to the mythology that add nothing to the intended resolution of the arc, which comes with “Fight the Future”. The Rebels are a complication that could and should have been avoided. The writers obviously had no idea what to do with them or how they fit into the big picture. Sticking with the vaccine question and the “lighthouses” would have been better, and while the Rebels were attached to those concepts in this two-part story, there could have been other ways to handle it.
SPENDER: “I heard about this office. Really is in the basement…”
SCULLY: “I appreciate your opinion, Agent Spender, but I don’t have a mother feeding me abduction stories.”
SPENDER: “You’ve got Agent Mulder, don’t you?”
KRYCEK: “You must be losing it, Mulder. I could beat you with one hand.”
MULDER: “Isn’t that how you like to beat yourself?”
Overall, this episode is a satisfying enough resolution to the first half of the story, but the ending leaves much to be desired. Like the previous episode, the need to add to the mythology for the sake of future seasons got in the way of paving the way for the feature film, and much of the intrigue is hard to unveil without proper context. Even so, there are some great moments in the episode, and from a character perspective, this is an important step.
Final Rating: 7/10
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