Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The X-Files - S8:E18 "Vienen"

[ S8:E17 "Empedocles" <<< Season 8 >>> S8:E19 "Alone" ]

Spoiler Warning: Continuing in this season's tradition of serial storytelling, this largely standalone episode does contain some developments in the series' mythology that I'd like to discuss, so expect the following review to contain spoilers.

Even more than Medusa recalled the "bottle episodes" of this season's past, this episode opens very much like a blue-collar version of the "scientists stranded in the middle of nowhere" plotline that goes all the way back to season 1's Ice. The majority of the episode takes place on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico (and, while probably not located in the right body of water, it demonstrates how much difference it makes to film on location). It just so happens that the monster of the week is none other than the Black Oil! And even more exciting is the fact that this appears to be the original Black Oil (complete with radiation flare capabilities) that Mulder encountered all the way back in Piper Maru. In fact, the events of that episode (and its followup, Apocrypha) are referenced directly by Agent Doggett, as he regales Mulder with his superficial knowledge of the X-Files. On the other hand, Mulder is upset because Doggett had overlooked this recent case Mulder links to the Black Oil. I guess his instincts could still use some honing. But, then, he'll never beat Mulder at his own job.

Well, his former job. Sticking his nose in this case involving an oil rig accident actually ends up causing big problems for the company, who want to keep it hush-hush so as not to jeopardize their rights to the property. So, a perturbed Deputy Director Kersh sends Doggett out to the oil rig to investigate, hoping for a speedy resolution. And Mulder - well, Mulder just invites himself. Unfortunately, the two of them end up stranded on the oil rig with an entire crew potentially infected by the Black Oil. Back in the autopsy room, Scully is tasked with finding a cure (an endeavor that took the Syndicate decades), before it's too late (although, if anyone could do it, it would be Scully). And it's really great to see Scully doing science again. I had taken it for granted, but it's an important element of her character, and to her contribution to the work.

I was hoping to learn more about where the Black Oil stands in terms of the aliens' new plan involving body snatching pods (as explored in Deadalive), but all we really get in way of explanation is that the aliens were (maybe) poised to distribute the Black Oil to the world's population via its usage of regular black oil as a power supply. I guess. Anyway, the real villain here is bureaucracy. Kersh provides some well-needed antagonism in this series, even if he sometimes comes off like a cartoon villain. (His concern for the FBI's public image is understandable, but he seems to lack the instinct or empathy that seems critical for one working in law enforcement - he's definitely more of a politician than a policeman). It occurs to me that his character is something of a corporeal distillation of what had long been left vague on this show - the corruption of authority, and its meddling reach - only sometimes represented by the shadowy figure of the Smoking Man (who has been in hibernation this season, presumed dead - for the second time).

In the bittersweet conclusion (following an explosive action setpiece the likes of which we haven't seen for a while), Mulder reveals that his antics on the oil rig are essentially the straw that broke the camel's back - that his job at the FBI has been sacrificed. As Scully warned, Kersh isn't playing around like he was back in season 6. Although, Mulder seems strangely at peace with this turn of events (surely he saw it coming - maybe his heart's not in the work anymore, after all that's changed, or maybe he's just not interested in working for the FBI if he can't be on the X-Files, like Scully threatened in the movie). Whatever the case, he formally hands the reins over to Agent Doggett, finally coming to accept him as his replacement. I don't know if I like the implications of this development for the show, however.

Memorable quotes:

Mulder: We're both in the same boat, Agent Doggett. We're just paddling in different directions.
Doggett: No, we're not going in different directions, here. We're going in one direction - my direction.

Doggett: I never would have believed it - these stories about you.
Mulder: Really, what stories are those?
Doggett: That you could find a conspiracy at a church picnic.
Mulder: (Thinks about it). What church?

(Good answer, Mulder. Good answer).

Kersh: If I didn't know better, I'd say this was a Mulder stunt.

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