Thursday, October 22, 2015

The X-Files - S5:E14 "The Red and the Black"

[ S5:E13 "Patient X" <<< Season 5 >>> S5:E15 "Travelers" ]

Spoiler Warning: This mythology episode picks up from the last one. Expect spoilers.

This episode (not only co-written with Frank Spotnitz as many mythology episodes are, is notably also directed by Chris Carter himself) takes a little while to resolve the last one's primary cliffhanger (but when it does, man...). We return to the bridge where the abductees had met, but it is the morning after, and all that's left is charred bodies strewn everywhere (the media is reporting it as a cult suicide). The carnage is uniquely horrifying. Mulder and Skinner convene on the wreckage, and find Scully hurt - but mercifully alive. Agent Spender is there, too, but his mother cannot be found. While Scully is recovering in the hospital and lamenting her total lack of memory about what happened the night before, the other threads of last episode's cliffhanger are addressed. Marita Covarrubias is indeed infected with the Black Oil, and back in the hands of the Syndicate, who are administering treatment (in spite of her betrayal - I think WMM may be sweet on her) - but to no avail. The Well-Manicured Man has Krycek locked up, and is desperate for the Russian vaccine, which he deduces from Krycek's actions will most likely work better than their own.

After quite a sensational UFO crash - the best one we've seen in this series so far (I guess that's one thing a growing budget is good for) - the Syndicate gets its hands on one of the Alien Bounty Hunters. They determine that its facial scarring is the result of self-mutilation, done for protection against the Black Oil. From this, the Well-Manicured Man comes to the conclusion that he is an alien rebel - a resistance fighter against the alien colonists (which, interestingly, dovetails more or less with the explanation that Samantha-clone gave Mulder in End Game, indicating that maybe that Alien Bounty Hunter and this one are of a kind, separate from the one we saw in Talitha Cumi/Herrenvolk, which turns up later in this episode). This fact gives the Well-Manicured Man hope for a resistance against the alien colonists, but the Elder wishes to play it safe and turn the rebel over.

Gotta say, this is one of the most thrilling - and revealing - conversations the Syndicate has had on this show yet! It's felt like the mythology has been pussy-footing around for quite some time, but now, things are finally starting to get real! What if the members of the Syndicate are not truly evil after all, but are doing what they're doing only because they're under pressure by a malevolent and all-powerful alien race? As much as I've enjoyed the government conspiracy angle (and I have), I really like the idea that this series' ultimate villain could turn out to be - not some shady man in a business suit - but some kind of alien overlord! In any case, they try the Russian vaccine on Marita, to see if it works. It's not immediately successful, and the Elder goes ahead and gives up the alien rebel to its enemy, against the Well-Manicured Man's wishes. Later, though, I think we see Marita recover (I guess it just takes time).

While all of this is going on, Mulder and Scully seem to be coming to a breaking point. Mulder no longer has the one thing that's kept him going all these years - his belief that his sister was abducted by aliens - and the one thing that justified Scully being subjected to so much (her abduction, her cancer, her infertility) in the pursuit of answers. You can't blame them for wondering what any of it is for anymore, beside the rather mundane desire to uncover the atrocities the U.S. government is committing on its own citizens. All of this leads to Scully agreeing to be hypnotized by Dr. Werber, to find out what happened on that bridge. And it is a much more thrilling (and revealing!) hypnosis session than her last one (in The Blessing Way). She reveals that the faceless men had attacked the group, but then were in turn obliterated by another UFO, which then took Cassandra.

Disillusioned as he is with Dr. Werber's methods, Mulder's not buying Scully's story, though. At this point, it really feels like Mulder is pushing the skepticism angle too hard. He's gone from being the rational guy who takes the most likely explanation - no matter how bizarre - to the conspiracy nut who stubbornly insists upon his preconceived notion (in this case, his belief in a fabricated hoax), no matter what evidence is thrown at him. (A big ol' "hell yeah!" to Skinner calling Mulder out on this). But then we get an excellent and thoroughly satisfying confrontation between Mulder and Krycek, now on the loose (presumably after giving the Syndicate the Russian vaccine). Like, how could we go through a Krycek episode without having him interact with Mulder, right? And Krycek totally lays the smackdown on him, with the whole alien business (his words, for once - "Resist or Serve" - are emblazoned in the opening credits). It almost hurts - it shows how far Mulder has fallen in his campaign of disbelief, that, of all people, Krycek is the one who has to pull his head out of the sand.

Agent Spender (who's being a bit of a bitch, accusing Mulder of things based solely on his reputation, that he's not even doing because of his recent change of mind) visits Scully to try and dissuade her from believing her own hypnosis story. He reveals that he underwent hypnosis as a child, and told stories about aliens, but believes they were fabricated by his mother, told to him so often that he began to believe they were the truth (not that this necessarily disproves such stories). He says his mother went insane as a result of his dad leaving the family. Scully's almost convinced, just as Krycek's desperate sincerity almost has Mulder swayed, in a tragically comic scene where each of them tries to reach a reconciliation with the other's point of view, only to find that the other has switched over to their previous point of view.

Thankfully, this isn't pressed too hard, and the two of them let the action do the talking, as they follow up on Krycek's lead (could he be working with the Well-Manicured Man now, even against the rest of the Syndicate's wishes?) in rescuing the alien rebel, which could mean the possibility of a resistance against colonization. The two agents infiltrate a military base, but the shape-shifting Alien Bounty Hunter - who I presume is with the colonists, and probably of a kind with the one we saw in Talitha Cumi/Herrenvolk - arrives to spirit away the rebel. Mulder jumps the army truck where the rebel is held captive and, just before confronting the shape-shifter (as a side note, I wonder if the rebel's facial scarring prevents him from being able to shape-shift), who is about to kill the rebel, the truck has a close encounter with a bright light, and another faceless man with one of those torch wands boards the truck.

Mulder shouts "no!" and fires off a shot (like he tried to do in Little Green Men), but I'm not sure what he was trying to accomplish. He was supposed to be helping the rebel, no? If the newest arrival was indeed a rebel, as he appeared to be (the reason they scar their faces is to avoid infection by the Black Oil, which is presumably something only a rebel would need to protect itself from), then surely he had come to rescue the rebel against the colonist (the shape-shifter), right? Maybe Mulder just hadn't caught on to the whole facial scarring = rebel fact, which I've been taking for granted, being privy (as Mulder is most decidedly not) to the Syndicate's conversations. Or maybe Mulder just wanted the rebel for himself, for questioning or whatever, and fired at whoever was going to try to take him away, colonist or otherwise. Still, he should know better at that point, even in spite of his skepticism, from direct experience, that firing a gun could kill him, what with the toxic, green blood, and not even accomplish the intended effect of killing or stopping the target. That's true even if the new arrival was a colonist after all, outnumbering the rebel.

Regardless, Mulder's a bit confused after the fact. I don't know if he's going to start believing in aliens again just yet, but I think he's definitely moving in that direction. The episode closes on a rather startling revelation, that's a bit detached from the rest of the events of this episode, but resolves the mystery that was hinted at in the episode's opener. Skinner informs Spender that he has an unidentified but highly influential patron outside the offices of the FBI. I think we're meant to assume this is the man who wrote the letter that Spender then receives - a letter written from an estranged father to his son. But the shocking revelation is that that man is the Smoking Man - alive and well! (To his credit, Spender returns the letter to the sender). I suspect that his death was deliberately staged, but I wonder about the details.

How many people know? Was his assassin in on it? The Elder, who directed the assassin? Did he go underground in order to join the resistance? I wouldn't peg him as a resister, but otherwise I would have thought he'd be in league with the Elder, unlike the Well-Manicured Man, who wants to resist. Frankly, I don't know where the Smoking Man's loyalties lie (apart from with himself). He was trying to recruit Mulder to the dark side before he got "shot". For all I know, he just wanted a break from the business. A vacation, and time to rethink the direction of his life. That would fit with his attempt to reconnect with his "son" (if they really are related). I dunno, those answers will have to be left open for the time being.

In conclusion, I don't know if I'd call this set of mythology episodes the best in the series, but it's a great, all-around example of the show's mythology. It's got drama, action, but above all, something that not every mythology episode has enough of - a sense that the mythology is actually going somewhere, with a coherent goal in mind, and that we're advancing towards it. I can't tell you how exciting that feeling is.

Memorable quotes:

Mulder: It all comes down to a question, Scully. One that hasn't been answered, or...I don't even think honestly addressed: who made that chip in your neck? That chip was found in a military research facility. Our government made that chip, implanted it in your neck as part of a secret military project to develop a biochemical weapon, to monitor your immunity, or to destroy you like a lab rat, if the truth were to be exposed. And your cancer, your cure, everything that's happening to you now - it all points to that chip. The truth I've been searching for? That truth is in you.

Scully: I didn't believe you, but I followed you, on nothing more than your faith that the truth was out there.

Well-Manicured Man: You see what this means? Resistance is possible!

Skinner: Over the past five years I've doubted you, only to be persuaded by the power of your belief in extraterrestrial phenomena. And I'm doubting you now, not because of that belief, but...because extraterrestrial phenomena is frankly the more plausible explanation.

(Fuck yeah, Skinner! You're saying what we're all thinking).

Agent Spender: I think the process is bogus. Dr. Werber and his whole regression of memory is BS. It's like...having a dream and then pretending it's real.

(This is another case of, "in the real world I would agree with you, but not on The X-Files.")

Krycek: You must be losing it, Mulder. I can beat you with one hand.
Mulder: Is that how you like to beat yourself?
Krycek: (cocks gun).
Mulder: If those are my last words, I can do better.

Krycek: Hear this, Agent Mulder. And listen very carefully, because what I am telling you is deadly serious. There is a war raging. And unless you pull your head out of the sand, you and I, and about five billion other people, are gonna go the way of the dinosaur. I'm talking planned invasion. The colonization of this planet by an extraterrestrial race.
Mulder: (laughs) I thought you were serious!

Krycek: Right now, a battle's being waged. A struggle, for heaven and earth. Where there is one law: fight, or die. And one rule: resist, or serve.
Mulder: Serve who?
Krycek: No, not who. What.

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