Written by Chris Carter
Directed by R.W. Goodwin
In which Cancer Man returns from his exile with a plan to assert control over the Syndicate and trick Mulder into losing the X-Files, while Scully deals with someone from Mulder’s past...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
The fifth season finale had to serve several functions. First and foremost, it had to establish the circumstances that led to the beginning of “Fight the Future”, which required Mulder and Scully to be reassigned off the X-Files. It also had to lay the foundation for the sixth season, particularly in terms of the conflict between Mulder/Spender and Scully/Diana. To that effect, it had to pay off the somewhat haphazard character arcs for Mulder and Scully. Given how much had to be covered in this episode, it’s no wonder that the final product doesn’t quite bring the mythology arc towards the clean finale that was intended.
Keep in mind that this assumes that the original mythology arc, as conceived after the beginning of the third season, was meant to conclude in the feature film. Many comments by Chris Carter and others support this theory. The producers themselves never expected the series to live on past the fifth season, and so the film was supposed to become the launching point for a series of films.
Of course, that didn’t happen, and so the writers and producers had to develop plot threads for the sixth season that would carry forward some of the adjustments to the feature film. Not all of the reshoots were about fixing the plot continuity; some of them were clearly meant to soften moments to allow for future treatment of those plot elements. (More on that in the review for “Fight the Future”.)
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” and “The Red and the Black”, is critical to the analysis of this episode.
There is some debate as to the purpose of Gibson Praise, and why he is the “key to everything in the X-Files”. The answer to that question directly implies the underlying themes within the spiritual war at the heart of the series, though the writers and Chris Carter never seemed to understand just where they were going with it all. Gibson, from the point of view of the overall mythology as outlined in “Herrenvolk”, is a failed “sentinel”. (The “sentinels” are those with most, if not all, of the genetic material that William would ultimately have and was considered to be the perfected human form.)
This is also one of those episodes that solidifies the idea that Cancer Man had an agenda well beyond the considerations and assumptions of the Syndicate. There’s a great deal of evidence in this episode to suggest that he has chosen to undercut the Syndicate and see to that personal agenda to an even greater extent. It’s very interesting that his plan is to control another of his sons and push him into a relationship of sorts with another of his followers.
His plan was devoted to bringing about the future savior of humanity, and that meant keeping Mulder safe and giving him a reason to remain with Scully. Allowing Mulder to work on the X-Files served a dual purpose: a disinformation machine for the conspiracy and a means of educating his favored son in the realities of the conflict. This entire episode is all about Cancer Man’s resumption of power, and that meant delivering two things to the Syndicate to convince them of his continued utility: removing Mulder from the equation and delivering Gibson.
The Syndicate demonstrates a complete lack of awareness when they seek to have Gibson killed. In fact, at no point does anyone in the Syndicate (or otherwise) offer a convincing reason for killing Gibson. It’s not as though he has some piece of information that threatens the Syndicate in a very specific way. Instead, there’s a rather convenient and ephemeral argument that Gibson is a potential threat. Why would that be the case, if he lives in a place so far removed from Syndicate operations?
The answer lies in the threat that Gibson represents to Purity, the power behind the conspiracy and the Syndicate (though they are unaware of the level of manipulation involved). If Gibson is a failed “sentinel”, yet still possessed of some of the active genetic material that marks a “sentinel”, he is a natural defense against Purity itself. (This is far more obvious in “The Beginning”.) Thus Purity could have identified Gibson as a target for assassination.
This would also be a compelling reason for Cancer Man to contrive a reason to keep Gibson alive. Cancer Man wants to understand and identify the specific properties of the future savior of humanity, if he has doubts that Mulder and Scully will have a child together, then he needs to conduct some very quick and targeted research. Gibson embodies that opportunity.
Thus it is relatively clear that Cancer Man already had his endgame in motion by the time Krycek arrived at his safehouse. He had been maneuvering Spender into position ever since “The Red and the Black”, keeping Mulder and Scully off of too many assignments. In fact, he was probably instrumental in assigning the agents to the domestic terrorism detail in previous months (as covered in “The Pine Bluff Variant”). The attempted assassination of Gibson was a signal of sorts: this was the opportunity to make his move, because the Syndicate once again left themselves open to manipulation through their own lack of vision.
It’s clear that Cancer Man was waiting for the right time, because within hours of the incident, Spender is assigned to the investigation into the killing. Cancer Man needs Spender to cast doubt on Mulder’s theories, which he prompts by feeding into Spender’s existing resentment towards Mulder. The idea is to ensure that the official stance is purely mundane, so when Mulder sticks his neck out, there’s sufficient pretext to close down the X-Files and isolate Mulder and Scully to position them for the next move.
Part of the gambit is bringing Diana Fowley back into the picture. If there’s debate over the purpose of Gibson Praise, then there’s little question as to the purpose of Diana. From a plot perspective, she is clearly working for Cancer Man, feeding Mulder’s point of view, using her history with him to drive a wedge between him and Scully. From a thematic point of view, she strikes at the heart of Scully’s doubts and fears, carefully laid out over the past several episodes.
This has been a season of reflecting on loss for Scully. That contemplation has driven her to question her dedication to Mulder and his crusade. The previous episode made it very clear that part of her decision to remain with Mulder has been the unique trust between them. After all, Mulder has told her several times that she’s the only person in the world he can trust. Diana’s very existence challenges her belief in that trust, and it gives her the reason to question her decision to remain at Mulder’s side. This is obviously very important in the context of “Fight the Future”.
It also doesn’t take much to recognize that Diana is not what she seems. In fact, a bit of critical thinking would quickly lead to the assumption that she’s working for Cancer Man, and that she was originally driven into a relationship with Mulder to push him in the right direction back in 1991. Diana would have been Cancer Man’s first attempt to set Mulder up with a potential genetic match for the purposes of breeding humanity’s future savior.
So why wasn’t she still assigned to Mulder by 1992-1993, if she was vital to Cancer Man’s plans to set Mulder up in a safe and useful disinformation machine? Two reasons come to mind. First, Cancer Man could have realized, late in the game, that the genetic match was not as substantial as he had originally thought. Second, he could have come to the conclusion that Mulder needed a period of isolation to become effective, to feed his particular psychosis.
When Cancer Man initially meets with the Syndicate, there’s a basic acknowledgement of divergent agendas. The Elders try to convince Cancer Man that working with them again is a question of mutual interest. This supports the fact that the Syndicate has recognized that Cancer Man is more than just a handler for their assassins. (And given that he was instrumental in the earliest days of the conspiracy, those assumptions were clearly based on years of careful manipulation by Cancer Man himself.)
The interesting thing is that Cancer Man lets Mulder hang himself, as usual. Mulder doesn’t have to bait and insult Spender so often, but he does it with relish. Equally, Mulder doesn’t have to let Diana get under his skin again, in turn snubbing Scully’s role in his life, yet he falls right into the trap. Mulder could easily avoid his own downfall by working with Spender and explaining himself in a more reasonable manner. Similarly, communication with Scully could keep her from being distracted, thus more able to help him keep focus.
Cancer Man doesn’t immediately kill the assassin because it is far more useful to use him against Mulder. Mulder has to believe that the assassin is desperate for protection and willing to cooperate, or he wouldn’t put himself out on a limb in terms of his beliefs. The assassin’s eagerness to survive needed to be genuine.
Diana deftly questions Mulder on his comfort level with Scully, intimating that Scully’s perspective may have been holding him back. She also feeds his desire to have proof for everything that he had been led to question and deny. This strongly affects Scully, who labors to distance herself from situations where Diana is involved. This is exactly what Cancer Man needs for his endgame to be accomplished. It’s no mistake that Cancer Man is there, on site, to remind Spender in the same moment to push back when Mulder advances his agenda.
The conversation between Mulder and Spender is actually rather ironic. Cancer Man is, on a certain level, trying to convince his son to stand on his own. But Spender is just another pawn in the game. Cancer Man is actually manipulating Spender into advancing his agenda, while revealing that his own actions are part of a personal and specific agenda as well. It’s a well-written scene with great importance to the overall mythology.
The revelation that Gibson has activity in the “God Module” seems to come out of left field, but it is one of the key reasons for connecting his abilities to William and the concept of the “sentinels”. In fact, the writers touch on the implications for the spiritual aspect of the mythology. How Mulder makes this leap is unclear, but it strikes at the heart of the conflict within the series, something that would never be fully explored in the context of the series itself.
What it does do, however, is expose Mulder to all of his critics, thus hinging his future on something contrived as a trap. At the same time, Mulder continues to walk into it willingly. His comment about “alien astronauts” (clear meant to tie into “Fight the Future”) comes out of left field with little information or explanation, which is exactly the kind of ammunition Spender needs to bury him. Taken in context with his recent public comments debunking his own previous theories, Mulder sounds like a man with serious psychological issues.
There’s more evidence of Cancer Man’s true intentions in his confrontation with the Well-Manicured Man. The Syndicate clearly believes that Cancer Man intends to kill Gibson and quietly deal with Mulder’s interest. They don’t have a clue about the gambit to discredit Mulder and Scully and take firm control over the investigation into the X-Files.
With Mulder now overextended, Cancer Man completes his gambit. The assassin is killed, and to drive the final wedge between Mulder and Scully, Diana is shot. This has the effect of exposing Mulder’s concern for her and proving out many of Scully’s unspoken worries. As annoying as it is to have the Mulder/Scully/Diana triangle pulled out of nowhere, it makes sense thematically and fulfills the need to generate tension going into the sixth season. Once Mulder is driven to attack Spender physically in plain view, the trap is sprung and Mulder has no chance of victory.
When Cancer Man indicates that his work is just beginning, that is an indication that his true plan has yet to unfold. And in fact, he has arrived at the critical moment in his decades-long effort. He lost control of the situation after “Paper Clip”, when his decision to expose and eliminate Mulder’s allies spiraled into unexpected directions, and it’s taken him three years to regain control over events. Now his goal is to place Mulder and Scully into a situation where he can use them more effectively, by placing Mulder’s crusade in the most threatened position possible and forcing Scully to question her devotions. This makes them vulnerable, and it all comes down to when the next opportunity will present itself (and that happens in short order, of course).
At the same time, Cancer Man must make his victory complete. Mulder’s crusade must transcend the X-Files and turn into something more that Cancer Man can utilize more effective as his effort shift. Thus Mulder’s psychological connection to the physical files must be severed. Mulder’s access is thus restricted to whatever Cancer Man wants him to see in terms of the conspiracy and the bigger picture. That is why the files themselves need to be destroyed, and Spender needs to be placed as an unwitting roadblock to any future access until the situation warrants it. (Keeping in mind, of course, that Cancer Man cannot predict what is coming in “Fight the Future”; he simply uses it to his advantage.)
By the end of this episode, Mulder has been well and truly outmaneuvered. Having already bought into the possibility that his beliefs were predicated on lies and deceit, the restoration of that belief becomes easy to manipulate. This is important, because “Fight the Future” is essentially the culmination of that journey back to pure acceptance. Even now, he cannot be sure that Gibson’s claims were completely genuine.
Scully, on the other hand, finds all of her doubts realized. The final thread keeping her bound to Mulder, the question of singular trust, is broken by the revelation that Mulder once trusted someone else with equal fervor. Scully is also no longer bound to an assignment that requires her to share or consider Mulder’s claims. Scully now has the opportunity to act on those fears of further loss and take her own path, something she considers strongly in “Fight the Future”.
Had the series ended with this episode, giving way to feature film franchise, many of these events might have still been introduced, at least in terms of individuals introduced to bring doubt to Mulder’s faith and Scully’s trust. Both are at the center of “Fight the Future”. Diana might have died, for instance, having fulfilled her function, if a sixth season wasn’t in store. (In fact, as time would demonstrate, Diana and Spender were the wrong choices for foils to Mulder and Scully.)
The point is that the elements introduced to give the sixth season writing staff something to work with also kept the episode from being as tight as it could have been. There’s the obligatory cliffhanger, but it needed to serve two different purposes: leading into a feature film and leading into a sixth season premiere. That had more of a negative effect on “Fight the Future”, which could not be a definitive conclusion, but rather, the second part of a three-part epic. It might have been better if the series came to an effective end with this episode and “Fight the Future”, leaving the sixth season to begin fresh with few if any lingering plot/character threads. (More on this idea will be covered in the reviews for “Fight the Future” and “The Beginning”.)
In the end, however, this is one of the better season finales, because it provides “Fight the Future” with a strong prelude and makes more sense out of the haphazard character arcs for the fifth season. More to the point, like “The Erlenmeyer Flask” before it, this finale shows Cancer Man at the top of his game, proving how well he can manipulate and control others to his own ends. Considering how muddled the rest of the series would be without a clear direction, this is one last look at the series at its high point.
ELDER: “It’s in your interest…as in ours.”
CANCER MAN: “You think you know my interests?”
CANCER MAN: “Control the board. Know which men to sacrifice and when.”
SPENDER: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
CANCER MAN: “Don’t become part of someone else’s cause or crusade. Pursue your own self-interest. Always.”
CANCER MAN: “It’s all a game. You just take their pieces, one by one, until the board is clear.”
Overall, this episode was a very good season finale, making sense of the season’s character arcs while setting the stage for the feature film. While the effect was somewhat mitigated by the fact that the episode also had to set up situations for the sixth season, it highlights Cancer Man’s strategic strengths in a way that previous episodes didn’t fully exploit.
Final Rating: 9/10
X-Files: Fight the Future
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