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The X-Files – Apocrypha (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Eyes are a major recurring motif in Apocrypha.

To be fair, eyes were a frequently recurring motif throughout The X-Files. Rob Bowman managed a couple of beautiful shots of reflections and peeping in 731, for example. It makes sense that The X-Files should place such emphasis on eyes – it is a saga about truth and belief and faith, all of which must be explored through perception. “I want to believe,” Mulder’s iconic poster proclaims. As the cliché goes, seeing is believing.

Iconic Mulder/Scully pose!

Iconic Mulder/Scully pose!

That is definitely the case here, with Apocrypha built to a climax where both the audience and the characters are explicitly refused the opportunity to see key moments. Mulder and Scully are escorted out of the North Dakota silo before they can see anything incriminating. The audience doesn’t even get to see the space ship taking off. Even the death of Luis Cardinal takes place off-screen, with Mulder revealing it in a throwaway line in the show’s penultimate scene.

With all of this going on, it makes sense that so much of the imagery in Apocrypha should be built around eyes – with the black oil infection manifesting in its hosts’ eyes, the shooting of the silo as a giant eye staring into space, and even the design of the alien space ship evoking the Eye of Providence.

Up in the sky!

Up in the sky!

The most obvious eye imagery in Apocrypha comes from the black oil, the most substantial addition that this two-parter makes to the show’s larger mythos. The black oil is an interesting creation, and one of the most iconic aspects of The X-Files. It is no surprise that the black oil (or “the black cancer”) would become not only the focus of the first mythology two-parter of the fourth season (Tunguska and Terma), but also of The X-Files: Fight the Future, the franchise’s first big screen adventure.

Bodily possession is not a new trope – whether in science-fiction or horror. The idea of a hostile organism controlling a human body and imitating a regular person is something of a genre staple. However, even considering the weight and influence of science-fiction classics like The Puppet Masters or The Body Snatchers. These sorts of stories were particularly popular during the Cold War, reflecting anxieties about the enemy within.

The Cigarette-Smoking Man sure hangs around with some sketchy characters...

The Cigarette-Smoking Man sure hangs around with some sketchy characters…

However, the black oil never feels like a generic example of alien possession. A large part of that is down to the iconography. The liquid oozes into and out of its victims in a manner that is visually striking and memorable – the most iconic shots of Apocrypha feature the oil pouring out of its bodies, ready to move on to another host at another time. There is also the eyes, the murky darkness visible in each possessed host – a quick signifier that the person you are dealing with is not the person you think that you are dealing with.

Of course, the black oil is very much a Chris Carter plot element. It is corruption and evil represented as an infectious and noxious black ooze. While Grotesque had rejected the idea of evil that infects and spreads physically, the black oil is very much that concept. It is toxic evil that passes from person-to-person, much like the evil in Empedocles would. It is a concept that fits very comfortably with Carter’s belief as good and evil as forces acting upon the world – a theme that would become more pronounced on Millennium.

Well suited to the case...

Well suited to the case…

Appropriately enough, the organism moves through oil. As Stephen J. Randall notes in United States Foreign Oil Policy Since World War I, oil was a major part of what set the agenda of American foreign policy in the wake of the Second World War:

As the war in Europe drew to a close and the uneasy wartime alliance began to unravel, both company and government officials focused their attention on questions of postwar reconstruction, on regaining control of properties under enemy control during the war, and on attempting to reverse the losses to prewar nationalism. These efforts concentrated on several areas and developments. One was the fate of American oil enterprise in Eastern Europe. A second was the continuing effort to regain a place in Mexico and to prevent other producing nations in Latin America from following the Mexican example to nationalisation. A third pivoted on Middle Eastern developments, including an East-West crisis over Iran in 1945-6, debate over the restructuring of the long-standing Red Line Agreement, the status of Palestine, and debate over the construction of a trans-Arabian pipeline. In each instance, the onset of Cold War and the need for European economic recovery provided the context in which policy evolved.

The third season of The X-Files has been fascinated with the aftermath of the Second World War, so having this corruption move through oil feels like a wry commentary on American foreign policy.

A well-oiled machine...

A well-oiled machine…

Although oil has been presented as a driving force in American foreign intervention and diplomacy in the new millennium, it has been a major part of American foreign policy for decades. The United States began importing oil in large quantities after the Second World War. However, the extent of this reliance and dependency on foreign oil became clear during the seventies:

At the beginning of World War II, the United States supplied about 63 percent of the world’s oil and Texas was the global supplier of last resort. The Arabian Peninsula, Iran and Iraq together produced less than 5 percent. But in 1960, new discoveries encouraged Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and Venezuela to band together to form the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Over the next decade, Middle Eastern and North African countries ramped up production by 13 million barrels per day, and OPEC members began to claim a bigger share of profits from Western oil companies operating on their territory. Qatar, Indonesia, Algeria, Libya, the United Arab Emirates and Nigeria joined the cartel.

Then came the tipping point. In March 1971, Texas reached maximum productive capacity. Over the next five years, U.S. oil imports nearly doubled and other producers gained critical market power. The Yom Kippur War in October 1973 triggered the OPEC oil embargo and the market distortions we’ve lived with ever since. That’s when access to foreign oil became a central preoccupation of U.S. foreign and security policy.

The X-Files is a show very much rooted in seventies anxieties and uncertainties – from Watergate to Vietnam. It makes sense that this concern over oil as a dictator of government policy should find expression in the show’s mythology. Here, the oil is explicitly corrupting and infectious.

Let's see what notable guest stars Bublé to the surface...

Let’s see what notable guest stars Bublé to the surface…

It is worth noting that the black oil is not simply an organism that possesses its host – at least not at this early stage of its life-cycle. As with so many elements of the show’s expansive mythology, the black oil would get reworked and reinvented and reimagined quite a bit over the course the series’ nine-year run. Episodes like The Beginning would turn the black oil into something completely different from what it is in Piper Maru and Apocrypha. Still, the black oil as introduced in Apocrypha is absolutely fascinating.

After all, the oil itself isn’t alien. The oil, as Mulder tells Scully, is “the same oil that was used during World War II submarines and on P-51 Mustangs”, only “its composition has been altered by exposure to radiation.” The oil itself is not the alien, Mulder speculates, “it’s a medium, a medium being used by some kind of alien creature that uses it to… body jump.” There’s a subtle – but important – distinction there, suggesting that the alien is not a physical thing, but a force that acts on physical things.

The key to the conspiracy...

The key to the conspiracy…

This implies that the black oil is a particularly “alien” alien, unlike the generic greys that appeared in shows like Duane Barry or Paper Clip. Mulder’s analysis suggests that this creature is something that doesn’t conform to life as we understand it – something that is able to turn diesel oil into a medium through which it can act on this plane of existence. The X-Files was a show that had a lot of fun with the idea of the “alien”, wondering what the concept actually meant.

The X-Files would frequently hint at the possibility that there was something divine about the aliens at the centre of its mythos. The descriptor “fallen angel” was used to refer to crashed space ships. Aliens seem to fall to Earth more often than they landed. The “walk-ins” discussed in Red Museum seem more like angels than aliens. The show would embrace this link between the alien and the divine in Sein und Ziet and Closure. Episodes like Biogenesis would suggest that aliens had actually created life on Earth, furthering the link with the divine.

The show's DNA really shines through...

The show’s DNA really shines through…

Even Apocrypha touches on this, allowing us our most thorough glimpse to date of an alien craft, as Krycek spews up the black oil so it can return home. The craft is consistent with the shapes glimpse from below in earlier episodes like Deep Throat or Paper Clip. However, Apocrypha gives us our first real look at the UFO’s associated with the show’s mythology. Continuing the eye theme running through the episode, the design of the ship cannot help but evoke the Eye of Providence – with the black oil entering through a circle at the centre of the pyramid shape.

The Eye of Providence is an important symbol associated both with Freemasonry and with decades of conspiracy theories in the United States. Within Freemasonry, it represents “the Grand Architect of the Universe”, the Freemason concept of the divine. It is an eye that watches over all of creation, making it an appropriate choice for the design of these weird alien space craft. Once again, the show links the alien and the divine; here through the image of an eye.

All good on the hood...

All good on the hood…

The Eye of Providence is an intriguing piece of iconography, not least because it is both ubiquitous and shrouded in mystery at the same time. As Albert Potts reflects in The World’s Eye, there is no clear history of the symbol:

However, it one looks for an account of the origin of the symbol or the rationale behind it one finds very little information indeed. Descriptions of its occurrence abound in the German literature under Auge Gottes, but there are no accompanying descriptions of significance or background.

There are a lot of reasonable grounds for speculation and theorising, but very little concrete evidence to be found. So there is something disconcerting about how frequently the Eye of Providence recurs. It stares at people from out of the United States’ dollar bill, making it an essential and inescapable part of American life.

Taking the matter in hand...

Taking the matter in hand…

In The Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories, James McConnachie and Robin Tudge suggest that the Eye of Providence has a very strong resonance for the United States as a nation:

As for the pyramid, those versed in Masonic lore believe it represents the unfinished Jerusalem Temple, begun by the legendary ancestors of the Masons. Or as Henry Agard Wallace, vice president to Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II and 32nd-degree Mason, wrote in his 1934 work Statesmanship and Religion: “It will take a more definite recognition of the Grand Architect of the Universe before the apex stone is finally fitted into place and this nation in the full strength of its power is in position to assume leadership among the nations in inaugorating ‘the New Order of the Ages’.” It was Wallace who took the decision to put the Seal on the dollar bill – by his own account at the prompting of Roosevelt himself, a fellow Mason.

As such, it serves as an effective and powerful metaphor for the country’s increasing importance on the world stage, roughly coinciding with the decision to incorporate the symbol on the dollar bill as part of the Great Seal of the United States. Given the themes of The X-Files, its fascination with America’s place in the post-Cold War world, this imagery seems appropriate and bitterly ironic.

Cardinal sins...

Cardinal sins…

The top of the Jersualem Temple – “the apex stone” – that serves to inaugorate the “New Order of the Ages” is ultimately an acknowledgement that there are stronger forces at work in the universe. It is a force to which the United States government ultimately abdicates and surrenders. The “New Order of the Ages” that the temple has been building towards is colonisation and extinction at the hands of a more powerful force.

Apocrypha also plays into the recurring idea that humanity itself might be the aliens. Anasazi and Nisei suggested that the traditional aliens were really just victims of inhuman testing. Anasazi had demonstrated that the European settlers were themselves “aliens” in a strange land. At the end of the show’s second episode, Mulder’s government contact very ambiguously assured our lead that the aliens were not simply here, but “they have been here for a long, long time.” What if mankind itself is the alien?

"Thank goodness these barrels were here to stop our crash..."

“Thank goodness these barrels were here to stop our crash…”

Apocrypha touches on this idea, albeit fleetingly. The shots of the black oil floating in the eyes of the host and entering the spaceship through the “eye” at the centre of the triangle are juxtaposed against the shots of Mulder and Scully searching the silos, as if wandering in a pupil staring up at space. This clever juxtaposition taps into the theory that humanity itself could be an “alien” lifeform, an offshoot of the “panspermia” school of biological though that would gain major traction in the nineties.

“Panspermia” theorises that life may have been brought to Earth by an asteroid or other body – suggesting that life as we know it is not native to this planet. The theory gained a lot of credibility in the late eighties and nineties – one can see evidence of it in Glen Morgan and James Wong’s work on Space: Above and Beyond. The biggest revelations came after Apocrypha aired, with NASA’s announcement in August 1996 that it had found evidence of life on a Mars asteroid. This was such a profound revelation that President Clinton addressed the nation on the topic.

Holding it together...

Holding it together…

However, as fascinating as all this is, the black oil is also a rather troublesome piece of The X-Files mythos. Fairly or unfairly, for better or worse, the iconic alien entity has come to represent the excessively convoluted nature of the show’s mythology. Stephen King included the black oil in his explanation for the show’s decline:

There was no real closure (as opposed to The Fugitive, for example, when Dr. Richard Kimble finally caught up with the one-armed man in the show’s superb two-part conclusion); minus the continuing presence of David Duchovny, X-Files blundered off into a swamp of black oil, and in that swamp it died. I could have throttled the executives at Fox for doing that, and Chris Carter for letting it happen.

The introduction of the black oil in Piper Maru and Apocrypha paved the way for the introduction of more and more outlandish and seemingly disconnected elements, inviting the show’s central conspiracy to become more and more sprawling as it drew in killer bees and farms of clones and nanobots and supersoldiers and vaccines.

There's a leak!

There’s a leak!

In defense of the mythology, Carter and his writers managed to tie most of it together really well – better than most people will allow. The problem is that the mythology ballooned very rapidly, to the point where tying most of it together required turning the show’s last episode into a two-hour court-room info-dump. There was a sense that the mythology had expanded too fast, more interested in throwing new and crazy ideas out there than playing with the toys that had already been established.

After all, the black oil itself became a somewhat hazily-defined concept in later years. In Apocrypha, it is suggested that the organism is moving through the oil because it was the most convenient medium at hand. Later shows suggest that the organism permanently and exclusively resides in oil. Apocrypha suggests that it uses hosts as temporary mechanisms – objects that allow it to get closer to home. The Beginning will reveal a completely different relationship between the black oil and its host.

Pencil pushing...

Pencil pushing…

This isn’t to argue that any of these changes represent continuity errors or directly conflict with anything seen in Apocrypha. One of the great things about Carter’s rather loose approach to providing concrete information is that there’s generally enough room to fit anything together, if the viewer is willing to suspend belief enough. Something doesn’t line up with what a character said earlier? No problem, they were either lying or making an ill-informed guess.

The problem isn’t that later episodes override or re-write Apocrypha, the problem is that Apocrypha seems to have been written with no idea of where the show was meant to go from here. This isn’t just obvious with the black oil, but also with Krycek. Apocrypha ends with Krycek buried alive in an abandoned missile silo. However, the show is too fond of Nicholas Lea to let him go, so he returns early in the fourth season with a rather half-hearted explanation of how the two stories sync up. Around this point, the mythology feels more about cool concepts than a cohesive narrative.

We have top men working on it...

We have top men working on it…

The sequence featuring the Lone Gunmen picking up the tape is arguably indicative of what the show’s conspiracy becomes – a show about watching our heroes jump through hoops in search of something they will never actually get to hold. Despite the cute sequence of out three supporting characters in the field, proof escapes Mulder’s grasp once again. All he gets is another breadcrumb that moves the plot forward inches without any real sense of forward movement. (Although one wonders why Mulder wants the tape so badly. Surely he could just ask Albert Hosteen about it?)

To be fair, Apocrypha seems to acknowledge this. The show is written in such a way as to explicitly avoid closure. Mulder and Scully are escorted out of the silo in North Dakota without seeing the alien craft. Mulder does not get the tape. Scully brings Cardinal to justice, but he murdered in his cell shortly thereafter. The script even teases the audience about all this, refusing to show the alien craft taking off and killing Cardinal off-screen before the penultimate scene. There is a sense that Carter is affectionately teasing the audience, emphasising the lack of resolution.

Conspiracy '96...

Conspiracy ’96…

This is not a bad thing. After all, questions and possibilities serve to draw the audience in. The show’s central mythology grabbed the public’s attention, and they were largely intrigued by all the mysteries. It is easy to understand why the show did not want to resolve too many of those. However, whereas past mythology episodes had balanced questions and answers reasonably well, Piper Maru and Apocrypha mark a point where the show just keeps piling more and more mysteries and twists on top of each other, rather than exploring the existing ones.

It should be noted that the introduction of the black oil is no more radical than the introduction of the clones or the shape-shifting alien bounty-hunter in Colony and End Game. Those were similarly game-changing concepts that radically expanded and redefined the show’s mythology – suggesting that the story happening on Earth was just one very insignificant part of much larger and more epic story. Comparatively, Piper Maru and Apocrypha represent a much smaller leap in credibility or plausibility.

Putting the matter to bed...

Putting the matter to bed…

The problem is that the show had spent quite a bit of time since Colony and End Game trying to ground the mythology – to anchor it in terms that Scully could understand. There’s a very plausible argument to be made that Scully skepticism became broken the first time she encountered a shape-shifting bounty-hunter wearing Mulder’s face, but episodes like Paper Clip and Nisei had worked hard to create a plausible alternative narrative.

Piper Maru and Apocrypha represent the point where the show throws all that out the window and completely embraces convoluted plans of body-hopping ancient extraterrestrial colonists. The mythology episodes from here through to the end of the fourth season push that train of thought along – expanding the show’s mythology without pausing to consolidate it. Piper Maru and Apocrypha are a crossing of the Rubicon to which the next bunch of mythology shows commit.

Ship shape...

Ship shape…

Getheseme, Redux I and Redux II may have worked bridging the fourth and fifth seasons of the show, but they become implausible following on from mythology episodes like Piper Maru/ApocryphaTalitha Cumi/Herrenvolk and Tunguska/Terma. Introducing the body-hopping, radiation-spewing black oil, Piper Maru and Apocrypha represent a clear shift in the show’s approach towards its mythology. For better or for worse.

There are other interesting touches. Apocrypha continues its exploration of the show’s core themes. The opening features a secret buried since the end of the Second World War that returns to haunt the present, as a sailor recalls a horrific choice made on a dangerous mission. It was a decision that cost countless lives. “Johansen did what he had to,” the survivor explains. “That’s war. Some are sacrificed so that others can live.”

Corridors of power...

Corridors of power…

This is a recurring motif throughout The X-Files. In one form or another, the conspirators all seek to bargain using lives – they are willing to make “sacrifices” in pursuit of what they deem to be “the greater good.” The majority of the syndicate are willing to sacrifice the rest of humanity so that they may live, and to sacrifice their loved ones to buy precious time. Even borderline sympathetic members of the conspiracy like Bill Mulder or the Well-Manicured Man are willing to make sacrifices for their own less overtly selfish agendas.

The X-Files suggests over and over again that such decisions seldom have the desired result. Lives cannot be measured out like that, they cannot be weighed against each other like elements in some grotesque mathematical equation. The X-Files emphatically rejects the idea that any such “sacrifice” of innocent people can have a beneficial effect or make the world a better place. After all, all Johansen manages to so is to leave the creature dormant at the bottom of the ocean for fifty years before it makes another (lethal) escape attempt.

Triggering her anger...

Triggering her anger…

Apocrypha also continues on the meditations about truth and justice that informed a lot of The Blessing Way and Piper Maru. Scully reflects on whether the death of Luis Cardinal can bring her closure or satisfaction. Even after the attempt on his life, Skinner is unapologetic about his attempts to secure some form of justice for Melissa Scully. “A woman was murdered,” he reflects. “I mistakenly thought that we could bring the man who committed that crime to justice.”

There’s a romantic idealism that we rarely see from no-nonsense Skinner, but on which fits quite comfortably with the idea of Skinner as a Vietnam veteran who volunteered to serve his country. Skinner serves as an effective mirror to the Cigarette-Smoking Man. Skinner is a man who works in what he genuinely believes to be the best interest of his country, instead of masking his self-interest behind patriotic platitudes.

Burnt by the government...

Burnt by the government…

It is also worth noting that Apocrypha explicitly identified Luis Cardinal as a mercenary rather than a government employee. He is a graduate of the “School of the Americas”, a privateer with connections to the United States military. Once again, it feels like The X-Files is very much in touch with the political sensibilities of the nineties. The X-Files is a show set in the wake of the Cold War, where America has vanquished its chief political rivals, and the world is enjoying a period of relative stability. What happens to soldiers in this context?

The nineties saw a massive growth in the private military trade, perhaps prompted by international disarmament and a sense that state military organisations were no longer as well-funded or viewed as essential as they had been before that point. Executive Outcomes had been founded in South Africa in 1989, recruiting many former members of the South African Defense forces who had been let go with the end of apartheid. Blackwater was founded in 1997, “to do for the national security apparatus what FedEx did for the Postal Service.”

Krycek coughs it up...

Krycek coughs it up…

In the United States, mercenaries and private defense contractors became more popular in the wake of the first Gulf War:

The push to privatize war got its start during the administration of the elder President Bush. After the Gulf War ended, the Pentagon, then headed by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, paid a Halliburton subsidiary called Brown & Root Services nearly $9 million to study how private military companies could provide support for American soldiers in combat zones. Cheney went on to serve as CEO of Halliburton — and Brown & Root, now known as Halliburton KBR, has since been awarded at least $2.5 billion to construct and run military bases, some in secret locations, as part of the Army’s Logistics Civil Augmentation Program.

Halliburton was quite involved in Gulf War, with the company even fighting oil field fires during the conflict.

A smoking gun?

A smoking gun?

In many respects, the growth of the mercenary movement – of the idea of soldiers becoming a private commodity – stemmed from the end of the Cold War. Soldiers who had been trained for combat were frequently idle, and there was a sense that a large standing army was a luxury that the major powers found harder to justify in light of a more peaceful global political climate. It was inevitable that companies would work to balance the surplus supply and demand.

The emergence of these private contractors raises all sorts of ethical and philosophical issues about the boundaries between the state and the private sector. Is it appropriate for a private company to recruit and train a standing army that is used to fill many of the functions of a country’s national army, but without the same democratic oversight and moral authority? Is it simply the ultimate expression of capitalism, demonstrating that private companies are frequently much more efficient at organisation than national governments?

Mulder crashes, but doesn't burn yet...

Mulder crashes, but doesn’t burn yet…

Whatever the truth, private sector defense contracting is a lucrative business – largely thanks to the United States government. As Jonathan Phillips notes in Mercenaries, PMCs, and Non-Traditional Forces, the nineties were a boom time:

The US government has shown little official public support for the emergence of combat-ready firms (those that can provide fully operation combat units) but has supported the growth of the greater PMC phenomenon. American use of PMCs, by some estimates, has increased one thousand percent since the Gulf War in 1991. As Peter Singer noted, largely driven by the urge to “outsource”, the US Department of Defense awarded over 3,000 contracts between 1994 and 2002 with a value surpassing $300 billion.

In light of this, it seems perfectly reasonable that the Cigarette-Smoking Man should hire out his shady dealings, that the conspiracy should feature private defense contractors as much as government troops. It is a little touch, but one which seems to capture a bit of the mood of the time.

Surviving by the Skinner of his teeth...

Surviving by the Skinner of his teeth…

The X-Files brushed up against the idea of private industry relatively rarely, touching on the idea of sinister corporations in shows like Tempus Fugit, Max, Redux I and Redux II. One imagines that, were the show produced today, it would likely be more interested in private enterprise and the complex and controversial entanglement that frequently exists between government officials and private limited companies. The Cigarette-Smoking Man would likely have a cushy consulting job lined up for him after all this was done.

Apocrypha also marks the return of the Well-Manicured Man for the first time since Paper Clip. John Neville, one of the show’s unsung assets, is absolutely wonderful. As with Paper Clip, there’s a sense that the Well-Manicured Man is more “reasonable” than the Cigarette-Smoking Man. However, there is still an element of ruthlessness to his character. When Mulder reaches his private members’ club, the Well-Manicured Man is considerate and polite – before firmly ordering an underling to disconnect the line.

Underground operatives...

Underground operatives…

The conversation between the Well-Manicured Man and Mulder in Central Park is a wonderful little scene. Neville plays the Well-Manicured Man as a character who is very good at getting what he wants – who knows that a smile and a wry wit will get him further than a gun and a thinly-veiled threat. During the sequence, he gently but effectively coaxes a lot of information out of Mulder. Indeed, he gains a lot more from Mulder than Mulder does from him, and it takes Mulder quite a bit of time to figure this out. “You haven’t told me anything I didn’t already know,” he realises.

It is also worth noting that Skinner’s near-death experience here represents something of a baptism of fire. Both Mulder and Scully have undergone their own near-death experiences in pursuit of the truth. As such, this feels like the point at which Skinner is well and truly confirmed as an ally of Mulder and Scully – the point at which he moves beyond question, and his commitment to their quest becomes absolute.

All that work down the drain...

All that work down the drain…

Even more than Paper Clip, where Skinner was a partner-in-crime, Apocrypha lays the groundwork for stories like Avatar, stories which requires absolute trust between Skinner and his two agents. This near-death-and-recovery represents something of a rebirth for Skinner. He is no longer a grumpy superior or a reluctant ally. Skinner is one of the gang; albeit one separated from Mulder and Scully by billing in the credits.

Apocrypha also cements its connections back to the third season’s arc with its opening scene, featuring an interview with a sailor witnessed an incident on board a submarine towards the end of the Second World War. However, the twist is that the sailor is relating his story to Mulder and the Cigarette-Smoking Man – explicit confirmation that William Mulder was complicit in the covering up of these sorts of conspiracies.

Where there's smoke...

Where there’s smoke…

Interestingly enough, that aborted forties salvage mission ties together Mulder and Scully, albeit indirectly, years before they were born. William Scully served on the base with the man who oversaw the mission; William Mulder met with survivors to help hush it up. It is interesting to wonder if William Scully was ever actively complicit in these sorts of shady dealings, or how much he knew about what was going on. The show wisely avoids digging too deep – Mulder’s family connection to the conspiracy feels contrived enough – but it broaches the topic gently.

The idea that those two could be so close to this sort of incident – albeit indirectly and in different ways – adds a nice layer to the series’ mythology. It demonstrates that nobody is ever completely separate or removed from the arc of history, and that perhaps everybody is implicated in some way with this sort of culture. It ties Scully’s family into the conspiracy in a way that feels less overt than the revelations about Mulder’s family in Anasazi.

(The opening scene is also note-worthy for another reason. Having yet to recruit Chris Owens to play the younger C.G.B. Spender, the teaser features an anonymous extra as the younger version of the Cigarette-Smoking Man. The scene even dubs sixty-year-old William B. Davis’ voice over the thirty-year-old cigarette-smoking extra. It feels like a rather wry public safety announcement: Kids, don’t smoke! This guy has the face of a thirty-year-old, but the vocal chords of a sixty-year-old!)

Piper Maru and Apocrypha don’t work quite as well as Nisei and 731, but the show is still at the point where it can make the conspiracy episodes work on a relatively consistent basis. It is packed with interesting ideas, even if the execution is occasionally a little muddled.

You might be interested in our other reviews of the third season of The X-Files:

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