Friday, July 24, 2015

The X-Files S1:E24 "The Erlenmeyer Flask"

[ S1:E23 "Roland" <<< Season 1 >>> S2:E1 "Little Green Men" ]

I'm gonna go ahead and put a spoiler warning on this one, because it's the season finale, and it's not going to be much fun to discuss without talking about what happens.

Spoiler Warning: the following review contains major spoilers!

This is the episode that forever gave special significance (to all us X-Philes, at least) to that otherwise obscure (unless you're a scientist) piece of laboratory equipment - the Erlenmeyer flask. And to show you what kind of a geek I am, for many years I kept the porn on my computer in a folder titled "Purity Control". The episode opens with a harrowing car chase that closes on a fugitive who apparently bleeds green blood. A vague tip from Deep Throat leads Mulder and Scully to a doctor involved in the creation of alien-human hybrids (but figuring this out won't come easy) via an extraterrestrial virus extracted from just the sort of E.B.E.s that were absent from the previous episode of that name.

Indeed, the first half of this episode plays out a lot like that one, with Deep Throat giving our agents the runaround. I've always liked the Deep Throat character, but I'm realizing this time around (perhaps colored by my knowledge of later revelations), how much - to borrow Scully's words - he yanks Mulder's chain, which is kind of annoying. I understand the need for discretion, but he seems to expect unfaltering trust from Mulder, when he surely knows (in his line of business) how hard trust is to come by; and after admitting to Mulder's face that he's lied to him! It makes me want to believe all the more the revelation that will come at the end of the fourth season. (And if I keep mentioning it, it's because it was the biggest "holy shit" moment in the series for me).

But then in the second half of the episode, shit finally gets real. For one thing, Deep Throat starts talking more, when the cleanup operation picks up its pace. Whereas in E.B.E., I could believe the whole time that Deep Throat could have just been playing Mulder, this time he seems to genuinely want Mulder to blow the case wide open. But then Mulder goes and gets himself captured, and the only way to get him back alive is for Scully to infiltrate a high containment facility (in a riveting and highly memorable scene) and steal one of those aforementioned E.B.E.s. Just the sheer fact of it being there, in government possession, and seeing it - and Scully seeing it with her own two eyes - is remarkable! Up until now, there were a lot of questions about what to believe, but after this, the truth is pretty clear. (Now the question is just how to prove it).

And then Deep Throat ends up getting killed in the process of making the exchange for Mulder's life, his last words - "Trust No One" - emblazoned in the opening credits, replacing (for the first time in the series!) the usual "The Truth Is Out There". Deep Throat's fate is sad, but satisfying in a way, because it demonstrates a) that he really was on Mulder's side, and b) that the government has some serious secrets to keep. (Although both of these things are not completely beyond doubt - as nothing is ever completely certain in The X-Files - but in that case it just means that whatever the government is hiding, it's worth killing one of their own for). And the X-Files actually gets shut down this time, as punishment for Mulder and Scully getting too close to the truth!

It's an exciting episode, although I can admit that having a pretty good idea (it has been probably about 15 years since I first watched the series) about the big revelations reduces some of its impact. But this episode is X-Files history. I got a real sense of danger from it - particularly when Mulder is being chased by the cleanup crew. In a lot of episodes, it feels like Mulder is safely one step behind the conspiracy, but here (and in other great mythology-advancing episodes to come), he sees enough to genuinely put his (and Scully's) life in danger (and The X-Files in jeopardy). Plus, we get a sense for the first time that the conspiracy is not just one agency in control of guarding the secrets, but involves counter-operations and power struggles that could, on the one hand, be dangerous to get caught up in the middle of, but on the other hand, indicate that the U.S. government doesn't have total control or immunity over the truth.

Here's what we know (or think we know) at the end of the first season:
* Aliens are visiting the Earth, and like to abduct people, but the government covers up their existence.
* Top secret military aircraft have been created using technology recovered from UFOs.
* Medical experiments have been conducted on humans using tissue samples taken from E.B.E.s, allegedly with the goal of creating alien-human hybrids.
* The government collects evidence relating to these matters and stores it in a high level facility in the Pentagon, which the Smoking Man has access to.

Memorable quotes:

Scully: You know I've always held science as sacred, I've always put my trust in the accepted facts. And what I saw last night, for the first time in my life, I don't know what to believe.
Mulder: Well, whatever it is you do believe, Scully, when you walk into that room, nothing sacred will hold.

Deep Throat: I don't know.
Mulder: I don't believe you.
Deep Throat: There are limits to my knowledge, Mr. Mulder. Inside the intelligence community there are so-called black organizations, groups within groups, conducting covert activities unknown at the highest levels of power.

Deep Throat: Roswell was a smoke screen; we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

Deep Throat: no one.

Mulder: I'm...not gonna give up. I can't give up. Not as long as the truth is out there.

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