Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The X-Files - S4:E9 "Terma"

[ S4:E8 "Tunguska" <<< Season 4 >>> S4:E10 "Paper Hearts" ]

Spoiler Warning: The following review contains spoilers.

Well, this episode kind of flips everything from the last episode around, taking us from Tunguska, Russia, all the way back to North Dakota - to a town called Terma. You kind of get the feeling that Chris Carter enjoys asking questions more than he does answering them. I must say, putting together these mythology episodes is like trying to work a puzzle. I can't blame people for getting frustrated with them, but I do like working puzzles. The feeling of finally finding a solution - disentangling the knot and creating order from chaos - is thrilling. That is, of course, assuming there is a tidy solution, and you're not just making a futile effort...

The episode opens with what appears to be a non sequitur - an old woman engaging in assisted suicide at a Florida convalescent home - until after her death the Black Oil starts seeping out of her. Its connection to the rest of the events of this and the previous episode will be made a bit later, but has to do with government tests to create an inoculation against the Black Oil. The virologist working on this is in with the Well-Manicured Man (personally, I don't find the scenes with the Syndicate members in these two episodes as compelling as they have been in past episodes), and she's the one the diplomatic pouch containing the meteorite fragment was supposed to be delivered to.

Enter the Russians, who are working on their own inoculation for what they call "the black cancer". Lucky for Mulder, he got one just before they pumped him full of Black Oil, so he came out okay. He also manages to escape the Russian prison camp, and make his way back to the United States, to relieve the pressure on Scully to rat out his location to the Senate Subcommittee (but not before she spends a day in confinement).

But also traveling from Russia to America is a retired KGB assassin tasked with putting a wrench in the works of the Americans' inoculation efforts. (Apparently, the Cold War isn't over). He kills the virologist, the NASA scientist who identified the meteorite, steals said meteorite, and kills all the test subjects at the Florida convalescent home. Then he buries the meteorite just across the Canadian border using an explosive that Krycek allegedly supplied (although I don't know why he didn't just take it back to Russia).

Did I mention that we learn that this whole thing was a setup, and Krycek has been working with the Russians, under the alias Comrade Arntzen, all along? He wasn't actually rescued from the missile silo by the revolutionaries, but by some unknown person, probably in cahoots with the Russians. Krycek, however, after escaping from the prison camp, winds up in the hands of a group of renegades who believe in cutting their left arms off rather than be submitted to the Russians' inoculation trials (which they tend to push until the subject dies). Krycek loses his arm.

I must have gotten my chronology mixed up, because even though I remember Krycek being in these episodes, I had been under the mistaken impression that the last we saw of him on the series was him being trapped in that missile silo at the end of Apocrypha. I guess it just goes to show what a memorable end for him that was. At this point, though, I don't recall for sure when or if he turns up again, although I suspect that he does - and certainly, the ending of this episode seems to suggest that. It will be exciting to find out if he does.

It makes you wonder how long Krycek has been in with the Russians (he seems to speak their language well enough). Has it just been since he was rescued from the missile silo, perhaps as part of some deal for saving his life? Or has he been a Russian spy all along? This Krycek certainly feels different from the green Krycek we saw in season 2, who was originally the Smoking Man's patsy. A major lingering question is who rescued him from that missile silo?

The Black Oil behaves differently, too, than what we saw in Piper Maru/Apocrypha - it's more like a disease (or, in Scully's words, a paralyzing toxin) than a sentient organism this time around. I wonder if that's because, as a sample from a meteorite that crashed almost a hundred years ago, from a rock that could be over 4 billion years old, it's a different, more primitive form of the Black Oil. Or perhaps I'm trying too hard to iron out the inconsistencies of the show's mythology.

For example, Talitha Cumi/Herrenvolk brought back the Alien Bounty Hunter and clones from Colony/End Game, but seemed to change up the rules a little bit. These episodes do the same thing for the Black Oil. Is there some way to resolve these contradictions, or are the writers just taking the bits and pieces they like from previous episodes and rewriting them for the stories they want to tell? Perhaps a more detailed analysis will answer that question, but for the time being, I'll just take things at face value. Suffice to say, the mythology is already becoming convoluted and less satisfying here in season 4.

By the way, this episode features yet another replacement for the phrase "The Truth Is Out There" in the opening credits. This time it's "E Pur Si Muove", which a cursory perusal of Wikipedia leads me to believe is Italian for "And Yet It Moves", which has some connection to Galileo, and is probably a reference to the evidence presented in this episode as to the existence of life on other planets in our solar system, in the face of obstinate disbelief by a governing tribunal (the Senate Subcommittee).

Memorable quotes:

Mulder: I'm not gonna die.
Prisoner: No? Why not?
Mulder: I have to live long enough to kill that man Krycek.

Prisoner: It is wonderful, the persistence of life.

Smoking Man: Wake the Russian bear and it may find we've stolen its honey.

Senator Sorenson: What evidence are you then presenting with us today?
Scully: Documents and interviews in support of a wide-ranging conspiracy to control a lethal biotoxin that is, in fact, extraterrestrial.
Senator Sorenson (incredulous): Are we talking about little green men here?
Scully: No, sir, not at all --
Mulder: Why is this so hard to believe? When the accepted discovery of life off this planet is on the front page of every newspaper around the world? When even the most conservative scientists and science journals are calling for the exploration of Mars and Jupiter? With every reason to believe that life and the persistence of it is thriving outside our own terrestrial sphere? If you cannot get past this, then I suggest that this whole committee be held in contempt, for ignoring evidence that cannot be refuted.

(I dunno, I'm starting to think the mythology was more compelling - and less confounding - when it was little green men we were talking about here).

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