Written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz
Directed by Kim Manners
In which the conspiracy scrambles to complete their plans to protect themselves and their families from an apparent alien incursion, and Mulder and Scully must work out their own response...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
As many X-Philes might remember, the sweeps period of February 1999 was an important moment in the history of the series. For weeks, the network and producers had been hitting the airwaves and magazine stands with promises of “Full Disclosure”. The mid-point of the sixth season would, according to the promotional materials, explain the mythology and make sense of it all.
Even then, the promise seemed unnecessary, the pomp and circumstance overwrought. After all, that was the supposed function of “Fight the Future”: putting Mulder and the conspiracy into the proper context. Unfortunately, there were other matters left to consider, mostly from the fifth season. Because “Fight the Future” had been written when the series was slated to end with the fifth season, long before the fifth season was actually made, the subsequent decision to continue the series meant that the mythology needed to be further complicated to keep the overall series moving forward.
So elements like the Rebels and the Spenders were completely outside of the context of the mythology as planned at the beginning of the third season. That story culminated in “Fight the Future”. This episode, and the second half that followed, was designed to incorporate the new elements into the mythology while remaining consistent with the film and that original concept. Of course, in the process of laying everything out and trying to tell a story on top of that, the writers exposed most of the holes in their own internal understanding of the mythology they had generated.
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 reviews for “Fight the Future” and “Two Fathers” factors into the interpretation of this episode.
In trying to make sense of this episode (especially in the context of everything that would follow), certain basic truths about “X-Files” should be kept firmly in mind. In short, everyone lies. Motivations are obscured, sources and origins are hidden, and people make assumptions based on limited and manipulated information. Just because Cancer Man sits in a chair and gives a basic explanation for the Syndicate and the Project does not, by any means, lend credibility to what he claims.
If “Two Fathers” was all about the setup, bringing the audience up to speed on what the mythology was supposed to be coming into the sixth season, then this is the incredibly messy attempt to survive the consequences of poorly-informed decisions. There’s still plenty of time for Cancer Man to mess with Mulder’s head and make damn sure he survives the Rebel attack, but even he seems to be flying by the seat of his pants.
Unlike “Two Fathers”, which was a relatively calm recitation of the mythology with a purposeful spin, this episode has a barely-restrained chaos at the core. Scenes smash up against each other, the actors display clear desperation, and the direction is often disconcerting. In terms of communicating a thematic message, the structure of the episode more than succeeds. Yet many consider this episode to be disappointing. It comes down to how the revelations within the episode fit within the mythology. Most of them are a good fit, but it requires keeping that central truth about the “X-Files” in mind. Everyone spins the situation to his or her own benefit.
The opening voiceover makes it very clear that Mulder has accepted Cancer Man’s grand deception. The flashback to 1973 makes it clear that Cancer Man was instrumental in the apparent decision to collaborate in hopes of ensuring the survival of the Syndicate. The Syndicate obviously believed that they were bowing down to a more powerful enemy. Cancer Man’s prominence in the scene, of course, also plays into the idea that he knew the truth about the Colonists. It would have been very easy for Cancer Man to play into that moment, reinforcing the Syndicate members’ beliefs in the impending alien invasion.
The truth is far more complex. Purity’s followers circa 2012 understood that their creation was dependent upon the foundation provided by the State Department projects from 1947-1973, which was ultimately Phase I of the Project. Phase II needed to focus on the biological modifications for humanity, and needed to culminate in natural generation of the near-mindless “drones”, last seen in “Herrenvolk”. 1973 was the pivot point, and one that Cancer Man and Bill Mulder knew was coming.
Cancer Man had convinced the Syndicate to go along with the idea of collaboration because he felt he could control the progress of the Project and use those available resources for his own personal project: bringing about the “future savior” that would ultimately eliminate the threat of Purity. Bill Mulder’s option would not afford him that same latitude.
Many of Cancer Man’s decisions in this episode are hard to fathom, even though his explanations make a certain amount of sense within the context he provides. Seen from the wider perspective of the series’ mythology as a whole, Cancer Man’s actions seem designed to deliver the Syndicate to the Rebels. He was the only person who knew that the Rebels needed Cassandra Spender for their own future plans (part of the basis for creating the “shifters” that would constitute their army), and that the Rebels would be looking to eliminate the Syndicate and its operations. Pushing them to contact the Colonists was a way to get them in one place, along with their families.
Like many of the mythology episodes constructed after the plotting of “Fight the Future”, Mulder is placed in conflict with Scully because of his unjustified trust in Diana Fowley. Simply the fact that Diana was the one who chased down Cassandra Spender should be enough for Mulder to figure out her complicity. Yet he continues to believe in her possible innocence. It’s hard to imagine what power she could have over him, but the writers are using Diana (as they did in “The End”) as a means of placing pressure on Scully. It’s one element of the mythology that doesn’t work very well, because the character was never given a clear and distinct purpose or personality.
But quite clearly, she was instrumental in Cancer Man’s scheme. In keeping with Cancer Man’s use of Scully, she would have been selected based on her genetic code as a match for Mulder. She was placed with Mulder and she helped him “find” the X-Files so that his activities could be purposed for disinformation. When Scully was identified as a better match, she was reassigned to Cancer Man’s international operations, ensuring that the control chip technology was being monitored. There were connections to Strughold and the Phase II reproduction projects. Even if she didn’t understand the context of her actions, it should have been clear to Mulder that she was a part of it all.
The writers get it right when it comes to Scully’s frame of mind. The end of the fifth season made it clear that Scully’s relationship to Mulder was the one reason why she was staying with him on the X-Files. When she was ready to quit, it was Mulder’s dedication to her personal stake in discovering the truth that kept her at his side. If Mulder chooses to ignore her warnings or dismiss her conclusions, then it threatens the bond that keeps her in the game.
For all that, Mulder and Scully are still circling each other’s orbits. Some fans like this episode for nothing more than the shower scene, where Mulder blatantly checks out Naked!Scully (and really, who wouldn’t?) while Scully returns the favor, before remembering that they shouldn’t be having that much interest under the circumstances. Oddly enough, this is one scene that strongly suggests that the relationship between them had not, to this point, reached a physical level. Emotionally, they were very close to overcoming personal issues, but both of them had a lot of ground to cover before things could really heat up.
Marita believes in Cancer Man’s grand deception as much as anyone, and that feeds into the world-view that Cancer Man has cultivated in Mulder since the beginning. Marita tells Mulder exactly what Cancer Man wants him to hear: that the “hybrid” project was all about stalling long enough to develop the vaccine. All of this is something that Mulder should already know, since it’s the same information that Well-Manicured Man supplied him with in “Fight the Future”. And of course, in that situation, the Well-Manicured Man was telling Mulder the “truth” as he understood it.
It’s interesting that Mulder chooses to seek out Diana after Scully makes the more obvious connections between her and Cancer Man. It seems far too coincidental that Cancer Man comes calling at that very moment. It is more reasonable to assume that Cancer Man was waiting for the chance to take the next step in the process of manipulating his son. Having stripped away his support system, Cancer Man had Mulder at a huge disadvantage. It was the culmination of everything Cancer Man had planned for Mulder since “The End”.
Cancer Man plays Mulder beautifully, and his explanation for the events of 1973 is one of the better parts of the story. The fact that it tells the truth within the context of a lie is even more fun. At one point, Mulder accuses Cancer Man of forcing Bill Mulder to give up Samantha, and Cancer Man strongly denies it. Considering that it’s one of the few times that Cancer Man breaks out of his storytelling mode, that strongly suggests that Mulder came too close to the facts for Cancer Man’s comfort. (Indeed, “Demons” made it very clear what really happened.)
While the idea of handing over family members for testing beginning in 1973 fits the overall mythology, the purpose and origin of the alien fetus presents a few problems. Within Cancer Man’s deception, it doesn’t make sense. “The Beginning” demonstrated that the process of gestation for Purity would not produce a fetus, so how could it have been the “alien” genome? And the “alien” DNA was already within Gibson Praise, suggesting that the “sentinels” within the human population were already “hybrids” of a sort. So how does this all make sense?
If Purity wanted Phase II of the project to be biological reproduction of the “drones”, then the fetus would logically be one of the successful “drones” from around 2012, produced to ensure that the Project would proceed with that end goal in mind. In 1973, with the nanotech-modified super-soldiers still under development, it would have taken a long time to get the Project to the point where such a feat was possible.
Gibson’s “hybrid” DNA doesn’t work the same way. The genetic engineering conducted to create the “drones”, essentially biological super-soldiers without higher brain function, was based around the idea of replicating the “perfect” DNA of the “sentinels”. The Rebels would use the work conducted under the Project to achieve that goal. As a result, they wanted both Cassandra (the closest thing to a working “artificial sentinel”) and the fetus (an example of the genetic sequence leading to Purity’s end goal). Between the two, they could work out how to achieve their goal of gaining the “benefits” of Cassandra’s modifications without the downside of low brain function.
The fact that the Rebels would only stage strikes in this part of the “timeline” strongly suggests that they were only taking action in the “present” as needed to support their future initiatives. Logically, this did nothing to halt Purity’s conspiracy, since the Phase II experiments continued without the Syndicate, controlled by the Phase I super-soldiers that had been growing in power behind the scenes, who were in turn controlled to serve Purity’s purposes. As far as the Syndicate was concerned, these attacks fit within the deception that Cancer Man had fed them for decades.
One might be tempted to think that Cancer Man’s explanation to Mulder was perfectly true and that the various attempts to add layers of meaning are unnecessary. However, it should be noted that Cancer Man uses the promise of seeing Samantha again to convince Mulder, and he knew damn well that Samantha was dead in 1979. This makes it hard to imagine that much of what he said was gospel truth, and lends credence to the interpretation of a hidden agenda (which has been demonstrated several times before). Never mind that giving up the families had little meaning, since they were living in the “real world” for decades after the fact. Were those family members treated any differently than the other abductees?
This is further reinforced by the fact that Diana shows up shortly thereafter to ensure that Mulder is willing to believe Cancer Man and take the step towards survival over resistance. This is exactly what Cancer Man had been trying to achieve, after all. It’s also probably that Diana was meant as something of a fallback position. Cancer Man wanted Mulder with Scully, but if it took seduction by Diana to keep him in line, then he would adjust matters accordingly. (Recalling, of course, that Cancer Man had Scully’s genetic profile, and could have ultimately used resources to control her through the implant.)
Cancer Man’s conversation with Cassandra might even be construed as honest and heartfelt, except for the fact that he has never shown any interest in this family previous to hatching his plan to manipulate Mulder by putting Spender up on a pedestal. In fact, he was happy to have Cassandra experimented upon and her memories erased in the most casual manner. Also, why would Cancer Man be deluded enough to believe that Cassandra would want anything to do with him?
The final act is the culmination of Cancer Man’s plan to use the impending destruction of the Syndicate to his own devices. Watching the scene carefully makes it clear that he was prepared to let the Rebels get Cassandra and the Syndicate, along with their families and loved ones. He was hanging back with Diana, prepared to leave while the rest hesitated. But knowing the likely outcome, why would he have gone to El Rico in the first place?
Consider that his plan was to assume control over Mulder’s future choices to ensure that the “future savior” was born. The Syndicate was a means to an end; controlling Mulder over time was the true purpose. He had effectively convinced Mulder that the threat was real and immediate, and that his methods were a means to an end. Krycek was already on board if survival was in the cards, and Diana was another means of controlling Mulder. By having them witness the end of the Syndicate at the hands of the Rebels, Cancer Man could have convinced Mulder to join him in rebuilding the means to resist the “aliens”.
Scully, however, wound up intervening, thanks to Spender’s decision to contact her with Cassandra’s whereabouts. Cancer Man’s best chance of convincing Mulder to follow his lead was tossed to the winds. More to the point, the end of the Syndicate meant that his control over the various aspects of the Project had quickly lessened. Spender completed the job of dashing Cancer Man’s plans by resigning and supporting Mulder and Scully’s reassignment to the X-Files.
It is a little disappointing, however, for it to be that easy, especially since Mulder doesn’t give a clear answer as to how the Syndicate members died. He tosses off vague nonsense, and then Scully supports him for it! Kersh certainly had no reason to approve the reassignment under the circumstances, and Diana was still technically on that assignment. Kersh wasn’t even in a position to place Mulder back on the X-Files. There are a lot of aspects of that plot point that remained unaddressed, especially in terms of what happened to Diana after Spender’s resignation.
The final scene is one last manipulation. Cancer Man knew that Mulder was his son, yet he acts otherwise in explaining to Spender why he was such a disappointment. That’s not why Spender was shot and left for dead, to be used in later experiments by the Rebels. It makes more sense to consider this as Cancer Man’s vengeance against Spender for alerting Scully as to Cassandra’s whereabouts and thus disrupting his plans for Mulder.
“One Son” was the end of the mythology as the audience understood it, and from this point forward, the series would extend the story in fits and starts, with little thought towards making it all fit together. The mythology that would be introduced in “Biogenesis” at the end of the season would thematically link into the plot elements added through the end of the series, but only the mythology arc in the eighth season felt relatively coherent. Still, as a final resolution to the Syndicate arc, stretching back to the end of the second season, this is about as good as they were going to get.
MULDER: “There must be some kind of mistake. I signed up for the aromatherapy treatment…”
SCULLY: “Mulder, this stinks, and not just because I think that woman is a…well, I think you know what I think that woman is.”
MULDER: “No, actually…you hide your feelings very well…”
Overall, this episode was the culmination of the Syndicate arc, bringing the mythology from the past three seasons into something of a resolution. Later additions to the mythology would make these explanations all but moot, but the writers deserve some credit for trying to pull it all together. As usual, Mulder’s characterization with Diana is hard to reconcile. The chaotic nature of the direction, however, appropriate matched the needs of the story.
Final Rating: 7/10
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