Written by Chris Carter
Directed by Kim Manners
In which Mulder and Scully deal with the destruction of the X-Files and their adventure in the Antarctic, which is complicated when their reassignment to the department is questioned...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
At the beginning of the sixth season, the series and franchise were in a delicate position. The feature film “Fight the Future” answered a number of questions about the series mythology, but the producers and writing staff couldn’t make the assumption that the television audience had seen the film. Thus the series had to recap the major plot points of the film while justifying its own existence by wrapping up the plot threads originated in “The End”, which were generally ignored by the film. It was hardly a simple task.
There were also considerations related to the cast and production. During the fifth season, there were difficulties in bringing David Duchovny back to the series following the film. As part of the deal cut to keep him on the show, the production was moved from Vancouver to Los Angeles. This resulted in a significant change to the tone and appearance of the series as a whole, something which has been cited by some fans as one of the death knells of the series.
Additionally, this episode introduces a notion that was never fully realized until Duchovny’s decision to leave the series at the end of the seventh season: new agents working on the X-Files. As originally conceived, the characters created to take over the X-Files were supposed to be involved on a much more significant basis. The fact that this did not happen left the changes introduced in the sixth season toothless at best.
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 provided and given in the review for “Fight the Future” factors into the interpretation of this episode.
Since the sixth season premiere needed to incorporate the key elements of the film into the series as if they had happened “off screen”, assuming that the audience was jumping in from the fifth season without any knowledge of the film at all, the entire episode feels like a bit of a retread. The writers do what they can to expand on concepts from the film with new connections to the series’ mythology minutia, since that was impossible in “Fight the Future”, but in some ways it feels like wrapping up the same gift in shiny paper.
Considering how much of the lethal Purity was recovered in Blackwood County in the film, it makes sense that the material would need to be tested. What doesn’t make sense, especially considering the fact that the Syndicate and Cancer Man both took great pains in the film to preserve deniability, is the idea of analyzing that version of Purity in such a hot part of the country. They know that everything related to Purity thrives on heat!
Tying the analysis to Roush Technologies is a nice link to the organization referenced in “Redux”, which was clearly a front for conspiracy activities. It’s never explained how one of the researchers at Roush came to be infected by Purity, but considering that it can get through just about anything (including containment suits, as seen in “Tunguska”), it’s not a major issue. More questionable is the idea that the Syndicate wouldn’t have this research and personnel under heavy security while the threat was analyzed and contained.
The first real problem of the episode, however, comes with the lack of follow-through for one of the better ideas in “The End”. Destroying the X-Files and forcing the investigations to take place through deeper inquiry into unusual circumstances could have been the perfect reboot to the series as a whole. Add to that the opportunity to assign new agents to the task, who would presumably investigate such occurrences with a more conventional eye, would provide Mulder and Scully with a very different dynamic.
Unfortunately, the writers decided to have the direct burning of the X-Files reversed through a means of recovering the documentation. Thus the whole idea of eliminating the X-Files is rendered moot. The question becomes, instead, who gets to recover the files and continue trying to solve the cases. As far as that goes, the idea was quite interesting and should have worked. It’s just that the writers didn’t fully commit to the idea of a series with a larger ensemble.
For all that, the OPR Committee meeting does a nice job of tying the end of the film to the events of the episode. It’s all rehashing and recapping, a way to deliver exposition with the least bit of damage, but it’s done in a way that actually moves the story forward at the same time. The more ridiculous aspects of the mythology in “Fight the Future” are outlined, which serves to explain what the film covered and, for those confused by the film, how it was all supposed to work.
Unfortunately, this leads into what many would consider a betrayal of one of the film’s strongest themes. Mulder and Scully were supposed to be reinvested in the crusade and each other, yet in the very next instance, Scully is backing off of the firm position she presented in the final OPR scene of “Fight the Future”.
There is a certain point to that exercise. Many of the events in the film were designed as if it were the end of a saga, not a middle chapter. The series had to continue with something less definitive. So Scully’s data, which admittedly didn’t prove very much in the film, turns out to be less than revelatory when push comes to shove.
The episode also tackles the aftermath of Cancer Man’s resurgence of authority over the direction of the Syndicate’s activities. With the Well-Manicured Man out of the picture, Cancer Man’s desire to control events is given scope and opportunity. As in earlier seasons, he chooses to let the Syndicate believe that he serves their purpose. As such, when another incident threatens to reveal the conspiracy in the wake of the virulent Purity’s “discovery”, he places himself in a position to control events.
Cancer Man is obviously behind the decision to keep Mulder and Scully off the X-Files, especially since Spender and Fowley (both Cancer Man lackeys, to one degree or another) are the agents assigned to the file recovery. Mulder, of course, sees it as a betrayal by Fowley, and in fact, that’s exactly what it is. As known from subsequent episodes, though it was hardly a surprise, Diana was brought back to manipulate Mulder into thinking that he might have an ally against Spender, when Diana is just there to ensure that Mulder is managed from another angle.
While Mulder is managed and prodded in the direction that Cancer Man wants him to go, especially in terms of how far he’ll sidestep his own morality, he decides to use Gibson as a “Purity Detector”. By this point, a few months after “The End”, Cancer Man has had enough time to discover the genetic evidence linking Gibson to Purity and the inactive portions of the human genome.
This particular detail is very important to the mythology, since it lends a great deal of support to the idea that Purity is an extension of human genetic engineering efforts under the conspiracy’s watch. There is also the indication that a certain part of Gibson’s brain is structurally different from the normal human brain, thanks to the activation of his abilities. This becomes the foundation for the ideas that drive the mythology in the sixth and seventh season finales.
What Gibson knows, however, speaks to unspoken motivations. Mulder and Scully investigate the scene of the latest “alien” emergence and debate interpretations (with Scully slipping back into the usual “denial as coping mechanism” stance), just as Cancer Man brings Gibson to the scene. Gibson is aware that Mulder and Scully are inside, and so he must also be aware that Cancer Man has designs against the agents. Gibson makes the conscious choice to protect Mulder and Scully from Cancer Man.
As someone with partial abilities of a “sentinel”, those with the abilities similar to those engineered into the human genome by the “angelics” for the purpose of creating William, Gibson is both vitally important and terribly dangerous to Cancer Man’s endgame. Cancer Man wants to bring someone like Gibson about, but he is continually unable to allow events to unfold as they must. This desire to force the leap to someone like William becomes the impetus for his decisions through the next two seasons.
The Mulder and Scully scenes continue with the process of bringing forward elements of “Fight the Future” so they can inform the series, while also serving the purpose of softening their shared purpose from the end of the film. As a result, when Scully repeats everything that Mulder said to her in the film, it’s a bit annoying and feels intrusive. Scully is right: Mulder did, in fact, tell her that her science kept him honest. But in this case, Scully is forced into a position where her science represents dishonesty, since the development to the character from the film is all but removed.
The plot takes a turn for the worse when the gestated entity somehow manages to get itself into a nuclear power facility without being detected, despite having to cross 60 miles of desert in the process. In today’s world, just thinking about that kind of lax security is ludicrous enough. Also impossible to dismiss is the idea that the entity would then manage to hide in the facility after an apparent murder has taken place.
Mulder clearly recognizes, based on Diana’s explanation for what happened to Homer, that she’s compromised. This is an important point, because if his allegiances to Scully were cemented in the film, his judgment regarding Diana shouldn’t be clouded by past collusion. In this scene, it’s not hard to recognize that Mulder feels betrayed. That only makes the rest of the episode harder to reconcile.
Getting Gibson in the agents’ hands is important. Part of Cancer Man’s goal is to push Mulder (and if possible, Scully) into a position where he must begin making decisions as he would. Gibson is not just a victim of the conspiracy, but also an asset that could, in the wrong hands, be exploited. Initially, at least, Scully treats Gibson in a way that reminds the audience of her interaction with Emily. She feels a need to protect him and take care of him.
Gibson is also there to point out that Scully is once again living in denial. Mulder, on the other hand, has been pushed into exactly the kind of position that Cancer Man desires. His concern for Gibson is overwhelmed by his desire to use the boy for his own devices. Scully agrees that Gibson is important to Mulder’s future, but she also recognizes that Gibson must be treated like a person, not an object.
Once Diana reappears in the plot, however, things just get more inconsistent with the film. One could interpret Mulder’s decision to leave Gibson with Scully and go to the nuclear facility as another example of how Cancer Man’s manipulation is working. After all, driving Mulder and Scully apart was one of the goals, if only so far as to keep them from working as efficiently as they could. But the actual scenes make it look as though Mulder trusts Diana, almost blindly, and that doesn’t match scenes earlier in the episode.
It’s a given that Diana was ordered to place Mulder in this compromised position. At the same time, why would the “angelics”, the spiritual forces aiding and planning for the defeat of Purity, allow Gibson to suffer as he does? It may be as simple as testing Mulder and Scully to determine if they are ready for the next step. Gibson takes Scully to task for seeing him as an object, “a very special lab rat”, instead of just a victim, and he’s absolutely right for doing so.
Mulder has some convenient lapses in memory, especially when it comes to touching what could be something alien and related to the virus that nearly killed Scully. He can’t be aware of his immunity (thanks to “Tunguska”), and he can’t know that the retrovirus that nearly killed him in “Endgame” was present, either. So what kind of idiot uses his bare hands to grab something that is definitely related to something he knows to be lethal?
Of course, Mulder gets to see something, but not the actual entity, and Diana turns on him in a second. Even after Diana’s report (as Cancer Man intended) forces OPR to reassign Mulder and Scully under Kersh (as Cancer Man Intended), he still somehow manages to defend Diana’s actions. This is clearly an example of a character acting in deference to plot demands, rather than in a manner consistent with recent character development. The Mulder in “Fight the Future” would never overlook Diana’s betrayal in such a blasé manner.
The scene between Cancer Man and Spender reinforces what is already quite obvious: Cancer Man has used the events of recent months, going back to “The End”, to take control over the “investigation” of the X-Files. His explanations to Spender are, of course, not entirely true, since it’s meant to persuade Spender of a certain truth. At the same time, Cancer Man is trying to break Mulder’s spirit, at least so far as it will convince Mulder that the only way to win is to join him.
Mulder’s “choice” is in direct conflict with his words and deeds in the film, and for that reason alone, the episode reveals how the writers struggled with the concept of how to generate drama in the post-“Fight the Future” seasons. There’s no reason why Mulder has to be so aggressive, and no reason why Scully can’t just get to the point. After all, she has the scientific evidence that he was looking for, something that Diana couldn’t provide. Why not start with that and then question Diana’s intentions?
The genetic evidence provides the important link between Gibson’s “sentinel” abilities, Purity’s genetic origins, and the fact that the seeds for both are present in normal human DNA. It paints a fairly obvious picture: one has the potential, one has realized potential, and one has an artificial perversion of that potential.
Whatever the case, there’s probably a reason why Gibson wasn’t killed by the entity. There’s evidence that Gibson was holding back in terms of the extent of his abilities, and if the entity was connected to the malevolent spiritual forces behind the consciousness of Purity, it would have recognized that Gibson was stronger than he seemed. After all, how else would Gibson have known how to track the entity over such a massive distance?
So it stands to reason that Gibson was aware of what was happening, able to heal on his own relatively well (he doesn’t have prominent scars in the eighth season, after all), and he’s not frightened of the entity. Thus he is probably immune to Purity (as all “sentinels” would be), and waiting around to gather information on the development of the host bodies for Purity. This information would, presumably, be important for Mulder and his allies after the series finale.
In terms of the development of the entity, this answers some questions about the goal of “Colonization”. Phase III of the conspiracy is all about using the biologically developed drones, the result of Phase II, to create a new race of host bodies for the “currently” non-corporeal intelligence that is Purity. Since the Purity recovered in Blackwood County and researched by Roush is the Purity that was supposed to be used during “Colonization”, it is representative of the process that would have taken place if William was never born.
The initial stage of development involves the savage form in “Fight the Future”, which then sheds its skin when it’s ready to move into its base form, the Colonist. The Colonist, as later revealed, is the base form for the shape-shifters. This makes complete sense, given that the biological nanotech used to create the shape-shifting clones was specifically designed to lead into the biological changes that would lead to the birth of the drones.
There’s little doubt that this episode was hampered by several plot requirements. Not only did it have to cover the material of the film while relying only on the fifth season finale as a predecessor, but it had to set the stage for “Two Fathers”/”One Son” and “Biogenesis”. There’s little time left for the episode to shine on its own. Add to that the production challenges presented by a new crew and production location, and it’s a shock that this episode works at all. As it stands, it is a flawed beginning to a season that would struggle to find a consistent direction.
One of the biggest problems is the use of Spender and Fowley as adversaries for Mulder and Scully. Both characters were designed for specific plot purposes, and as such, they don’t have distinct and compelling personalities of their own. One never truly believes that Mulder and Scully will remain off the X-Files, and the writers never utilize Spender or Diana as if they were to be taken seriously.
As the season marches along, of course, it becomes a lot more evident that the writers have fallen into a rut with Mulder and Scully. Even David and Gillian seem less than inspired as time marches on, which is even more evident in the seventh season. Considering how the eighth season was enlivened (and perhaps even saved) by the introduction of John Doggett, a full-fledged character with actual motivations and personality, wouldn’t it have been better to introduce characters like Doggett and Reyes in place of the extremely limited Spender and Fowley? If the series shifted to a more ensemble format, it could have prevented a number of the creative issues over the next two seasons.
AD #1: “I see your renowned arrogance has been left quite intact.”
AD #1: “You’re here to justify your reassignment to the X-Files with little more than a rattletrap account of high adventure in the Antarctic.”
AD #2: “Not to mention some very questionable travel expenses…”
SKINNER: “When will you accept that no amount of pressure or reason will bring to heel a conspiracy whose members walk these halls with absolute impunity?”
MULDER: “Diana, back on your feet. I guess that’s the only way you could stab me in the back…”
MULDER: “I hope you know what you’re doing, Diana. I hope you know whose errand you’re running.”
DIANA: “I think I do.”
SCULLY: “You’re a very special boy, Gibson. You know that yourself.”
GIBSON: “I’m a very special lab rat.”
CANCER MAN: “You can kill a man, but you can’t kill what he stands for. Not unless you first break his spirit. That’s a beautiful thing to see.”
SCULLY: “I don’t doubt what you saw, Mulder. I don’t doubt you. I’m willing to believe, but not in a lie, and not in the opposite of what I can prove. It comes down to a matter of trust. I guess it always has.”
MULDER: “You asking me to make a choice?”
SCULLY: “I’m asking you to trust my judgment. To trust me.”
Overall, this episode is the unfortunate victim of several writing and production challenges, many of which were nearly impossible to overcome. While the idea of new agents assigned to the X-Files was quite good, it was never realized to the extent that it should have been. Add to that the need to recap far too many plot points from the film, and this becomes one of the weakest season premieres of the series.
Final Rating: 5/10
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