Featuring a bunch of “rugged manly men in the full bloom of their manhood” (thanks Mulder) going missing in the woods and being gobbled up by mutant fireflies. Whoever was trying to argue this was a horror show, I owe you a pint.
The aforementioned group of burly men are from a logging company, and they go missing along with a group sent to rescue them in the dense forests of Washington. Mulder has X-Files on similar disappearances in the region (for the record: he doesn’t think it’s Bigfoot), so he and Scully head up to take a look. They’re accompanied by a security agent from the logging company, Humphreys, and an official named Larry from the Federal Forest Service. The scene that awaits them is not good. On reaching the cabin the men were based out of, they find abandoned meals and sabotaged vehicles. Out in the woods, they cut down a strange white mass that looks like a giant spider’s web, but which turns out to be a cocoon enclosing the skeletal remains of a man inside. Even Doctor Dana’s upchoke reflex is tested by this one. When they get back to the cabin they find a survivor who turns out to be a noted eco-terrorist named Spinney. The logging company had been the target of a sabotage campaign by two “monkey wrenchers”–saboteurs–determined to prevent the forest from being cut down. Spinney is all aflutter and tells them about some force which comes down from the sky, sweeps men off their feet, and devours them alive. He claims this is what got the others and that “it” only comes out at night because it’s afraid of the light. Standard, really, but for once Scully isn’t even the most skeptical person there. Humphreys thinks this is all part of the saboteurs’ plans and refuses to be taken in. Later, of course, he’s taken in by being ingested, but his skeptic credentials remain solid until the end.
Before this happens, the team finds a strange mark in the rings of a tree which had been cut down. Larry is quite miffed to discover that the tree is a protected one, but Humphreys claims Spinney and his pals probably marked it to make the company look bad. He then fecks off, never to return. At this juncture, I’d like to point out that he actually heads off to hike down to Larry’s truck, which the team abandoned on their way up after the tyres were taken out by one of the saboteurs’ booby traps. The truck was a four-four DRIVE away, never mind hike. That’s one side of Ireland to the other. What was wrong with this eejit?
Larry’s taken a sample from the tree so they head back to the cabin to take a look. He discovers that it contains moving bug creature things. Mulder theorizes that, as tree rings are essentially a historical record of climate and rainfall patterns, a major climactic event could have caused a mutation which in turn resulted in the bugs. A volcanic eruption, in particular, would have released huge amounts of radiation and could have either mutated an existing species or released something long dormant from within the Earth. Spinney backs him up, saying no one was attacked til the tree was cut down.
The four of them manage to survive the night in the cabin. The next day, Mulder catches Spinney preparing to do a runner and confronts him. Spinney says he wants to get to his two friends, whose generator was almost out of juice when last he saw them and who could have been attacked in the interim. He says they have a jeep he can use to come back up and get them so they can all make it out of bugsville. Mulder lets him go, because sometimes he’s just too willing to believe. No one’s impressed. Scully makes a remark about how she wouldn’t have made a unilaterial decision on something which affects the group, which pisses her partner off. Larry is more peeved because Spinney made off with their last tank of fuel and the generator mightn’t last til morning, in which case they’re all toast. They nervously set about boarding up the cabin. Personally, I’m mystified as to why there are no air reinforcements. (They’ve no juice for the radio to call for back-up, but again, why would you not at least send a helicopter to scout? Or was your pilot The Rock in San Andreas, recklessly abandoning his post and his duties to the good people of Nevada to make off with a government aircraft and rescue his needlessly imperiled wife and daughter?)
Cabin fever sets in. Scully kills time by sciencing and theorizes that the bugs may be oxidizing enzymes, like fireflies, which would explain the cocoons–they can use them to oxidize proteins from fluids in the body. The bugs actually get into the cabin during the night, causing some alarm, but they don’t attack because the lights are on. The generator heroically holds out til dawn and then Mulder, Scully, and Larry hit the road at full pelt. They make it to their own truck and find the cocooned Humphreys inside. Spinney makes an eleventh hour appearance in his jeep, justifying Mulder’s faith in him, but the tyres are punctured by his own booby traps. Horrific, horrific irony. He’s then swallowed up by the bugs, while the others cower in the jeep and eventually get set upon themselves.
They’re found the next day by authorities, all wrapped up in cocoons. Yikes. Scully’s life must have been so pedestrian before she took this job. She and the others are immediately taken to a medical facility and thawed out but they only just survive. In the final scenes, Mulder walks about weakly, clutching his drip, and asks anxiously about Scully and Larry – who are still out. He worriedly asks the doctor if containment procedures have been put into effect. The doc replies that they have, and failure is not an option. That sounds… foreboding. Will they torch the forest, or try and harvest the bugs? I bet you feel weirdly itchy now, don’t you?
Anyhoo, this was an excellent episode. Atmospheric and claustrophobic, and their characters show consistent strength – Mulder the earnest believer, even in the good nature of others, and Scully’s professional tenacity just about holds out against her fears. The setting was also rather memorable. In a pre-Twilight era, this actually makes the great cloaking forests of Washington state (in reality, presumably the great cloaking forests of Canada) look very creepy indeed, and convincingly suggests that they could be hiding age-old secrets.
Or: MITCH PILEGGI!!!!
Which is just as well because Eugene Tooms makes an unwelcome return this episode. Ugh. I don’t like this guy. We’ve established this. But still. I don’t like this guy.
So Tooms, last seen being locked up and planning his inevitable escape, is actually released the old-fashioned, lawful way when his psychologists inexplicably deem him ready for reintegration to society. Mulder makes a highly impassioned speech in court arguing against this because he’s wonderful and righteous, but it doesn’t work. Starting to think courtrooms and Mulder don’t mix. Then again, when you use words like “genetic mutation” and “elongating his body” it’s probably par for the course.
Meanwhile, Scully has been summoned to Assistant Director Skinner’s office. Heart-eyes emoji at the ready, Pileggi’s in the house. Also the Cigarette-Smoking Man. Neither of them are happy about her field reports. Skinner, in particular, is game for a delightful and increasingly heated back-and-forth in which he tells Scully her mind may have become “too open” while she retorts that she and Mulder have a case solution or conviction rate of 75%, which is well above Bureau standard. She doesn’t Z-snap, but she’s thinking about it. Skinner tells her to ensure future cases are solved “by the book” with conventional investigation techniques. She accepts his remarks but counters, “conventional investigation may decrease the rate of success.” Gosh, I love her. Fiercely loyal, sticks to her guns, and in one short season has already warmed to Mulder’s way of thinking. Her rational ways have not deserted her but she won’t dismiss him outright, because she has conviction and so does he. One suspects the higher-ups are still trying to shut them down (see the shenanigans following “Fallen Angel”) but are finding Scully to be a tougher egg than they anticipated. She’s only a newbie and she already has more backbone than the rest of them put together. By the way, where’s Deep Throat these days? Haven’t seen him since he wandered off at the end of “E.B.E”, Casablanca-style. Are you out there, friend? Did they get you?
Anytoot, Skinner’s orders come into play as Mulder attempts to keep an eye on Tooms. Needless to say, when Tooms is released he vows not to take his eyes off him. Scully warns that such methods (i.e. round the clock surveillance) would not be orthodox. M, well aware she was summoned to the headmaster’s office, is unimpressed and says if she’s bending to bureaucratic pressure then she’s already been “skinned”. Is that a thing? Skinner the… skinner? Hmm.
Anyway, M holds good to his promise and essentially follows Tooms everywhere. He cuts him off from more than one potential victim and saves a few lives in the process, though his methods are indeed a little reactionary. Further evidence of his willingness to throw the rulebook out the window when he wants to keep people safe, but he could do with having some regard for his own safety. As the episode goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that Tooms intends to get back at him in a far more targeted and personal way.
While her partner’s burning the midnight oil, Scully goes to see the retired detective, Briggs, who helped them put away Tooms the last time. Mulder (bless him) thinks it may help their case if they can tie Tooms to the murders from 1933 and 1963. As it happens, the fifth victim in 1933 was never found (to recap: Tooms murders five people at a time every 30 years, eats their livers and then hibernates in a nest made of rags and bile). Briggs has long suspected that this missing victim was buried under the foundations of a chemical plant, as they found a token belonging to the victim there. He believes the body, unlike any of the others, was disposed of as something about it could tie it to Tooms. Scully and Briggs head to the plant and do some digging, and lo, a body is discovered buried in the concrete. They exhume it and take it to a lab for examination. The medical examiner finds gnawing on the ribs (aiiii) but reckons that they’d need more of the remains to confirm murder as the cause of death. However, skull measurements are consistent with a photo of the victim, which is a start.
Scully brings the update to Mulder, who’s staking out Tooms’ house. The ensuing exchange is honestly a little too much for my fragile fangirl heart. [deep breath] Scully says he needs to go home and get some rest. They can’t call for back-up (as Mulder’s operating off the grid), so she offers to stick around and continue the surveillance while he sleeps. Mulder says their superiors have it in for the X-Files and if she helps him out on this, she might be reprimanded. He doesn’t want her getting a black mark on her personnel file because of him, but Scully replies that she wouldn’t put herself on the line for anyone but him. STOP IT, YOU TWO. STOP IT. (The very fact he’s thinking of her career at this moment, and not making some misguided insinuation that she shouldn’t stay out because it’s too dangerous, is very important.) Sigh. Anyway, he heads home, and Scully takes point. But Tooms has slipped into the boot of Mulder’s car. Way to ruin a beautiful moment.
Creepily, Tooms breaks into Mulder’s house when he’s asleep (in front of a horror movie, fittingly enough) and proceeds to… beat himself up. The next day, Mulder’s arrested on suspicion of attacking Tooms, prompting Scully to give him a false alibi. Skinner is not impressed. (Will Skinner ever be impressed?) He knows she’s lying, but lets her go and speaks to Mulder alone. He reiterates what everyone’s been saying all along – that Mulder was A Big Deal at the academy and he may be wasted on the X-Files, but more importantly if the stress of the cases is such that it’s leading not only him but his partner astray, he should step away. Mulder is forbidden to go anywhere near Tooms and warned that should something like this happen again, “a thousand friends at the Capitol won’t be able to help you.” So Deep Throat is still out there! Somewhere, in the fog of memory. Although no, wait, Mulder alluded to having friends in Congress way back in episode 1. So maybe this wasn’t a reference to Deep Throat. Whichever. The rabbit hole is long and winding.
The case wraps up shortly thereafter, but not before Tooms claims another victim. Scully and the medical examiner manage to match the bite marks on the body to Tooms, by way of the latter’s dental records. She and Mulder go to arrest him, but he’s killed his psychologist. Mulder twigs that this was his fifth victim in the current cycle (going off the spree they stopped back in episode 3) and they start searching for his hibernation nest. The building he used to be based in is now a shopping mall of some kind, and they find the nest in an air shaft under an escalator. Tooms grabs Mulder while he’s looking it over and almost carries him off, but Scully manages to pull him out. He hits the button to start up the escalator and Tooms is promptly pancaked in a suitably unpleasant but thankfully off-screen manner.
Thusly, the X-File on Tooms is closed for good. Skinner and the Cigarette-Smoking Man have a terse chat whereupon the latter affirms that “of course” he believes Mulder and Scully’s reports, while our heroes themselves gaze at a cocoon hanging off a tree (too soon after their escapades last episode?) and Mulder announces that change is coming for them. Well, let’s not get too worked up. Caterpillars use cocoons to blossom into beautiful things, babe. Right?
(OOF, one more thing: Scully calls Mulder “Fox” during their exchange in the car, which makes him laugh because he knows how ridiculous it sounds. Apparently he even asked his parents to call him Mulder. He’s one of those single-moniker people, like Prince or Cher. Wunnerful.)
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