Written by Frank Spotnitz
Directed by Brett Dowler
In which Mulder and Scully find themselves involved when several people go missing in a Florida forest, where it seems like the woods themselves come alive...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
With the emphasis on character and conspiracy at the end of the fourth season, the true “monster” episodes took a back seat. This episode was something of a return to the first season concept of updating classic horror themes and creatures, with more than a little self-reference added into the mix. In a lot of ways, this is the perfect episode to set during the early part of the season, since it takes a while for the agents (and the audience) to get back into the rhythm of things after the “Gethsemane” trilogy.
The first third of the season is devoted to either Scully’s recovery or some non-continuity idea. The previous episode didn’t advance the “current” timeline from October/November 1997, where “Redux II” ends. This episode fits comfortably within the November/December timeframe, especially since the Bureau would likely assign Mulder and Scully to something simple like a communication/team-building workshop to get them back on solid footing. Indeed, the real investigations per se make more sense after “Emily”, which is what the timeline suggests.
This isn’t a case file so much as an aside through familiar territory. Regardless, it’s not as if Scully would be likely to sit back and recover on light duty. She was willing to work right up until the apparent end, and with her health restored (presumably by the control chip), she’d be anxious to get back to something approaching normalcy. Thus it doesn’t come as a surprise when she presents little or no resistance to Mulder’s idea of pain avoidance.
The entire episode has a somewhat lighter tone than the “monster” episodes typically have. While the “mothmen” are a threat, they are not quite so lethal as they could be, and it’s clear that they simply fulfill the same role as the creature in “Quagmire”. It’s all about getting the characters to a point where they open up and share their current emotional states. This time, there’s a lot more of the unspoken communication in play, which is very appropriate, given the theme of the episode.
The writers try to inject a certain level of whimsy into this episode, and for the most part, it works. One can assume that Mulder is trying to be more light-hearted to help Scully with the transition back into her old life, rather than being the hard-nosed self-righteous mentor that he decided to be after “Paper Clip”. Then again, Mulder has also been freed, from his point of view, of the need to prove the paranormal. Now it’s just a personal interest and a desire to avoid the utterly mundane, which changes up the motivations a bit.
Nothing exemplifies the change in dynamic more than the scene at the hotel. Mulder and Scully actually joke about fraternization rules, which must have made the shippers’ hearts go all a’flutter. One has to wonder if there were certain concerns about how close Mulder and Scully have gotten over the past few years; certainly, Mulder wasn’t acting like a man solely interested in a partner’s survival. Was the team-building exercise also a chance to give the agents a subtle clue on how partners ought to interact?
And yet for all that they are a bit closer and more aware of their mutual value to each other, some things never change. Mulder is still more than a little willing to run off into speculative territory, while Scully grounds herself in the more conventional realm of thought. One could quibble about whether or not this is consistent with the changes in their characters, but the changes weren’t all that clear in the first place and they weren’t enough to change Mulder and Scully from their own natures.
If there’s a sign that the “mothmen” plot element is largely a device, it’s the general weakness of its treatment. Mulder correctly identifies a human intelligence at work, a desire to divide and conquer, but the group still falls prey to that tactic in short order. It doesn’t quite make sense to allow the enemy to do what they intend to do! It drives home the theme (stolen from “When Animals Attack”, it seems!), but it also makes everyone look stupid in the process.
A lot of time is spent linking the “mothmen” to an actual documented paranormal event, even to the point of thus explaining how the “mothmen” would have been undetected for hundreds of years, but it’s really not necessary for the writers to make the effort. Those details don’t really give the concept any greater degree of viability. The purpose of the “mothmen” is to present a faceless, unseen menace, forcing the agents into isolation, thus forcing them to reveal things about themselves that would otherwise be hidden. Why complicate it with details that ultimately rob the writing staff of seeds for future episodes?
That said, when Mulder, Scully, and Jeff are on the run, it does provide for a nice bit of dramatic tension. The writers do manage to stage the methodical isolation of the agents in a logical manner, consistent with the abilities of the “mothmen”. And it seems clear enough that the “mothmen” are trying to kill anyone encroaching on their territory. This fact is so well established, along the lines of simple predator/prey dynamics, that the eventual discovery of survivors is a bit illogical.
This leads, of course, to the most appreciated scene of the episode: the “Conversation in the Forest”, as some call it. An interesting production tale is brought to mind. Apparently this episode was the victim of the Vancouver weather and the insane production scheduling forced by the feature film’s own production needs. This pivotal scene, central to the tone and theme of the episode, was filmed on a soundstage!
Mulder and Scully’s comfort level with each other, evident in the hotel scene, comes out even more in this scene. Usually Mulder is the only one tossing out suggestive side comments, but this time, Scully matches him blow for blow. It’s as if she’s more in touch with her feelings, and she’s aware of the underlying emotions that drove her to extremes in the fourth season. When else would she joke about identifying with Betty’s bustline?
But unspoken is what she means when she tells Mulder that her cancer taught her that life should have meaning: that the struggle to survive, in and of itself, is that meaning. This is where her faith, and perhaps her growing awareness of Mulder’s role in her life, comes into play. Mulder, on the other hand, continues to play things more flippantly, because he can’t put into words how much of the meaning in his life has been stolen away.
By the time Scully starts singing, with Mulder curled up on her lap, it’s rather clear that this is not the same Mulder and Scully who were rather suspicious of each other in the first season. It may not be what the Bureau considers legitimate behavior between partners in the field, and it’s not exactly professional detachment, but it makes sense for the characters and their journey. It’s played up for all it’s worth, to tease the shippers, but the psychology underneath those human moments betray the fact that these agents are central in each other’s lives.
For all that, this is still not “Quagmire”; so much was already said and covered during the “Gethsemane” trilogy that this is little more than the epilogue to that rollercoaster. “Quagmire” was a necessary step in establishing who Mulder and Scully were after the fallout of Melissa’s death. This episode is not nearly so necessary in the context of the season or series as a whole. It’s good material, and it’s very heartwarming, but it’s also not quite as deep an exploration as one might have hoped for.
With the commentary on unspoken communication done and over with, the episode quickly wraps up: the bodies and survivors are found, one of the “mothmen” is taken down, the agents are rescued rather conveniently, and then there’s the whole Ponce de Leon nonsense. The horror-movie ending is only remarkable for the fact that Scully feels comfortable enough to pack Mulder’s travel bags; one can only speculate as to the contents! Then again, Scully didn’t go running and screaming from Mulder’s porn collection in years past, so it’s unlikely to bother her by now.
In the end, this episode has some rather endearing character moments, but beyond that, there’s not a lot going for it. If anything, it’s a brief respite from the high-concept episodes that surround it. It’s one of the more light-hearted episodes of the season, however, and considering how the series would revel in its popular darkness for much of the time, this is a welcome if ordinary respite.
STONECYPHER: “When I stood on Mike’s shoulders and I put that electric pencil sharpener on top of the pile, we both knew…we could never have done it alone.”
MULDER: “Kill me now.”
KINSLEY: “I couldn’t believe how hard it was not to use the word ‘but’!”
MULDER: “I’m having that problem right now.”
STONECYPHER: “Have you ever been to a team seminar, Agent Mulder?”
MULDER: “No. you know, unfortunately, around this time of year I always develop a severe hemorrhoidal condition…”
SCULLY: “You want me to tell them that you’re not going to make it to this year’s teamwork seminar.”
MULDER: “Yeah, you see that? We don’t need that conference. We have communication like that, unspoken. You know what I’m thinking!”
SCULLY: “Since you won’t be making it to the conference…”
SCULLY: “You know, Mulder, sometimes I think some work on your communication skills wouldn’t be such a bad idea…”
JEFF: “If we become blinded by the beauty of nature, we may fail to see its cruelty and violence.”
SCULLY: “Walt Whitman?”
JEFF: “No…’When Animals Attack’ on the FOX Network…”
MULDER: “I was told once that the best way to regenerate body heat was to crawl naked into a sleeping bag with somebody else who’s already naked.”
SCULLY: “Well, maybe if it rains sleeping bags, you might get lucky…”
MULDER: “I don’t wanna wrestle…”
SCULLY: “Jeremiah was a bullfrog...”
Overall, this episode is a somewhat light-hearted departure from the mythology installments and out-of-continuity flights of fancy that would dominate the early fifth season. While the character-driven moments are a highlight, the actual “case” is far from special, often digressing from its purpose as a trigger for the character work. In the end, it’s fairly average.
Final Rating: 7/10
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