Written by John Shiban and Frank Spotnitz
Directed by William Graham
In which Mulder, early in his career with the Bureau, investigates a case where the suspect mentioned his name at a murder scene, leading him to possible revelations about his father...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
This is a difficult episode, if only because it does not fit within the continuity of the fifth season and continues to tease the audience with the possibility of a very different Mulder, pre-X-Files. More than that, it is clearly a stop-gap solution to one of the ongoing problems with the fifth season in general: time and attention had to be devoted to the feature film, which meant cast absences at inconvenient times.
In this case, Gillian Anderson was not available, and David Duchonvy had only limited ability to jump between tasks. The result is an episode that is meant, on some level, to be a self-contained examination of Bill Mulder’s early years in the conspiracy. In that sense, it paints a picture of a man with a conscience, forced by events to allow horrible things to happen in the name of a project that eventually broke him.
There are certain elements that work very well. For instance, it makes perfect sense that the conspiracy would initially use the anti-Communism fervor of the late 1940s and 1950s as a smokescreen for its activities. The nature of the experiments is in keeping with the basic timeline of the conspiracy itself. That early in the process, according to previous episodes, the conspiracy was focusing on physical alteration and rudimentary genetic manipulation.
It’s unlikely that the creature grafted into Skur was alien in origin, given the nature of the mythology, but it was something discovered or created by the scientists of Project: Paper Clip. Why the conspiracy would think that such a modification would be useful in the battle against Purity is another question, and one that does not have a satisfactory answer.
By framing the events of this episode as a recollection, the writers attempt something that is only partially accomplished. In essence, the events of this episode are not necessarily “true”. Some elements are likely to have taken place as described, but motivations are entirely open to interpretation, since they are seen through the eyes of someone quite disillusioned by events of the past.
As such, some things may be accurate: how the X-Files were created, the use of the Red Scare to cover up conspiracy initiatives, Mulder’s involvement as a reluctant member of that conspiracy. Yet it doesn’t agree nearly enough with the established continuity, in that Bill Mulder never would have betrayed the conspiracy so early in the game. Nor would he have let something so dangerous run free simply on principle.
There’s also the small matter of Mulder’s wedding ring, once again circa 1990 (pre-Fowley), not to mention the smoking habit. Speculation would suggest, as mentioned here and there in earlier episodes, that Mulder was once a very different man. Mulder was never married, so what’s the story of the ring? Perhaps the smoking is a clue.
By 1990, Bill Mulder would have been a bitter man with little love for children that weren’t his to begin with (and he would have known that), an estranged wife, and dreams that his “son” would do everything he never had the courage to do. But clearly, Fox Mulder was not getting along with his father, possibly because of the separation. Was that ring Bill’s wedding ring, worn by Mulder as a reminder? Was the smoking a hint that Mulder was trying to be his father, a man he really didn’t know?
These questions are just a small indication of the continuity mess created by this episode. For instance, if Mulder had heard about his father’s involvement in the Skur experiments as early as 1952, then why would he be so shocked to discover the truth about his father in previous episodes? Or did Mulder not believe Dales, thinking his father incapable of such a choice? And what about the hint that Bill Mulder had a family in 1952, when that was far too early in the timeline?
Most, if not all, of the continuity issues can be attributed to the “point of view” theory, but others are too far outside the basic framework of the mythology to ignore. It almost helps to consider this entire episode as a stand-alone exercise outside of the main continuity. This approach is not as satisfying, but it does work within a particular interpretation of the series itself.
One could almost look at the series as a collection of tales about Mulder, Scully, and those helping them during a very important time in human history. Perhaps it comes from a time not far in the future, soon after Colonization is thwarted, for instance. This could simply be another apocryphal tale of Mulder’s early adventures, a retelling of a recounting. Again, this is not the most satisfying way to dismiss continuity concerns, since it is not an on-screen conceit of the series, but it does allow for more leeway.
Another drawback of the episode is the use (or lack of use) of Darrin McGavin. It’s impossible to escape the relevant history: Chris Carter was strongly influenced by his memories of “Kolchak: The Night Stalker”, which starred Darrin McGavin, and so this was like coming full circle. (That has taken a much more well-publicized turn in 2005 with the arrival of ‘Night Stalker”, a new incarnation created by “X-Files” alumni Frank Spotnitz.) Surely there was a better use of the actor and his character!
The fact remains that many of these concerns are related to the expectations created by the continuity of the series as a whole. They don’t necessarily pertain to the episode as a stand-alone concept. While it doesn’t make sense for Skur to murmur the name “Mulder” so many years after his “escape”, just about everything else is an interesting idea with a neatly stylized execution. There are some intriguing moments throughout that work very well on their own. It’s simply the intersection with continuity that becomes an issue.
In the end, “Travelers” is an episode that was created to serve the purposes of limited cast availability, and while there were still some interesting elements that came out of that need, it wasn’t something that was necessary to the season arc or the development of the series as a whole. It highlights the central flaw of the series itself: the loose structure of the series, with little to no conception of an overall scope, made it far too easy to contradict details that the audience was compelled to consider.
I got nothin’.
Overall, this episode is an odd divergence from the normal series format, prompted by the production schedule for the feature film. The writers have a difficult time remaining within continuity, and the conceit used to smooth that over highlights some poor writing choices. Acceptable as a stand-alone episode, it simply doesn’t fit within the overall scope of the series, and that makes it hard to judge objectively.
Final Rating: 5/10
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