Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The X-Files - S4:E8 "Tunguska"

[ S4:E7 "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man" <<< Season 4 >>> S4:E9 "Terma" ]

Spoiler Warning: And, we're headed right into a full-on mythology two-parter! So don your tin foil hats, because there be spoilers ahead!

Tunguska opens with a familiar situation - Mulder is AWOL, and the authorities are pressing Scully for his whereabouts - but presents it in an entirely fresh and original context: a Senate Subcommittee, which has all the atmosphere of a big deal. With Scully's refusal to give up Mulder's location risking her being found in contempt of Congress, the situation feels more dire than usual. Not since Colony has a mid-season mythology two-parter opened with such gravitas! This episode is as thrilling as last season's early mythology two-part opener, Nisei, but draws at least as many parallels to Piper Maru/Apocrypha, because it marks the return of Alex Krycek and the Black Oil.

But it's not the same Black Oil. Having been rescued from the abandoned missile silo by terrorist revolutionaries scavenging for military munitions, Krycek reunites with Mulder (granted, there's no love lost between those two) on a fringe hope of bringing the man who tried to kill him - the Smoking Man - to justice. I certainly can't blame Mulder for his hatred of the rat bastard (although Nicholas Lea is fantastic in this episode, and Krycek gets a great conversation with Mulder and Scully), but I'm glad that the only good that's in him - his hatred of the Smoking Man, which was temporarily absent while he was possessed by the Black Oil in Apocrypha - is back, leading to an unlikely (and understandably reluctant on Mulder's part) alliance, for great justice (not that Krycek is half the idealist that Mulder is).

Krycek tips Mulder and Scully off to a Russian diplomat carrying a strange rock into the country. Now, as an aside, you can sort of feel that the show's budget is expanding, because instead of Georgetown University's microbiology department (consulted in The Erlenmeyer Flask), the agents head straight to NASA itself (the Goddard Space Flight Center) to have the rock analyzed. And it is, indeed, a piece of meteorite, allegedly over 4 billion years old, from Mars. Unfortunately for the scientist examining it, though, it contains some of the Black Oil, which escapes when the scientist attempts to take a core sample. He becomes infected (in spite of his containment suit). But unlike in Piper Maru, the Black Oil doesn't so much possess him as put him into some kind of strange coma.

Anyway, while Scully (and Skinner, who got roped into all this, as usual) are dealing with the bureaucratic fallout of their having intercepted a very important diplomatic package, Mulder consults his new informant (albeit one that has the air of a potential Bond-like romance, as opposed to the fatherly figure and bad cop routine we saw from Deep Throat and X, respectively), Marita Covarrubias, and deduces that the meteorite fragment came from Tunguska, in remote Siberia, Russia. (At this point, it would be prudent to mention the real life Tunguska event, which occurred in 1908, and involved an explosion more powerful than the atomic bomb). And off he goes! With Krycek in tow, only because Krycek happens to speak Russian (lucky for Krycek).

With all the international intrigue in this episode, this really feels like The X-Files writ large. And it ends on a particularly frustrating cliffhanger, after Mulder and Krycek are captured by Russian slavers, and thrown in a dungeon - indeed, a Gulag - near the Tunguska impact site, where Mulder is subjected to human experiments involving the Black Oil. No, he can't be infected! What are you doing, Chris Carter (and/or Frank Spotnitz)? We'll have to wait to find out next week.

To be continued...

Memorable quotes:

Scully: What I am saying is that there is a culture of lawlessness that has prevented me from doing my job. That the real target of this committee's investigation should be the men who are beyond prosecution and punishment - the men whose secret policies are behind the crimes that you are investigating.

Krycek: Hey, if you go underground, you gotta learn to live with the rats.

Mulder: You're full of crap, Krycek. You're an invertebrate scumsucker whose moral dipstick's about two drops short of bone dry.

Scully: You want this man brought to justice?
Krycek (incredulous): You can't bring these men to justice. They're protected. The laws of this country protect these men under the name of National Security. They know no law.
Mulder: Then why don't you put a bullet in his head, like you did that man out there?
Krycek: These men, they fear one thing: exposure. You expose him, expose his crimes, you destroy the destroyer's ability to destroy.
Mulder: The only thing that will destroy this man is the truth.
Krycek (mocking): The truth, the truth - there's no truth! These men, they just make it up as they go along.

(Lol, I bet a lot of people would say the same thing about Chris Carter and his co-conspirators behind the scenes of the X-Files' mythology).

Smoking Man: As a friend, I should advise you, Mr. Skinner, that withholding information on matters of National Security is punishable under this country's laws of treason and sedition.
Skinner (terse): Thank you. I'll consider myself advised. As a friend.

Mulder: What is this place?
Prisoner: This place - a Gulag. A place where the guilty rule the innocent.

Senator Sorenson: Are you familiar with the penalties for obstruction of justice?
Scully: Is that a rhetorical question, sir?

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