The X-Files Newbie Recap: “Ice,” “Space”
A thing that’s not The Thing, and Mulder was a space nerd as a child. Whodathunkit.
We open in a facility in the Arctic, where a team of scientists have gone postal on each other. One guy rambles, disorientated, past the bodies of his colleagues and sits down to record a video message saying, “We’re not… who we are. It goes a lot further than this. It stops right here, right now.” Kinda off, but fairly standard for this show. He’s interrupted by another slightly unhinged survivor, and the two of them face off against one another in what may as well be called Toxic Masculinity: the Reckoning. One of them looks like Michael Biehn but, disappointingly, is not Michael Biehn. After a lot of huffing and shoving they come to and seem to make some kind of mutual wordless decision to kill themselves, after which we find ourselves back in Washington.
That team of scientists looks like something out of a Jim Cameron movie. Anyone else getting shades of The Abyss from this?
It turns out that the men from the opening scenes were part of the Arctic Ice Core project. They were stationed at a remote facility and attempting to tunnel through an ice sheet to recover anthropological data. Everything had been going swimmingly until just now, when contact was lost with the team and the strange video from the opening scene was recovered. Mulder and Scully are carted off to investigate, but have only a three-day window in which to do so – inclement weather has prevented anyone getting in or out until now, and there’s another storm on the horizon. Oddly, there’s no real reference to an X-File at this juncture (unless I’m very much mistaken). It’s not until they reach the base that Mulder’s spooky sense is properly activated.
They’re joined at the airport by a geology professor (Murphy), a medical doctor (Hodge), and a toxicologist (Da Silva). Amusingly, Hodge jokes that Mulder and Scully probably know more about what’s going on than all of them given their position with the Bureau. Mulder looks almost offended at the insinuation – obviously, he doesn’t have the monopoly on conspiracy theories, but the idea of anyone being more cynical than him seems to take him by complete surprise. They’re flown up to the base by a typically grizzled pilot named Bear (because of course he’s named Bear) who looks like something out of Point Break and gruffly declares that he was only pilot willing to fly them when Hodge asks for his credentials. This episode is so ’90s and pastiche, I kinda have to love it. I don’t think it does much for the overall mythos of the show but it’s such a snapshot of a particular time in pop culture history.
The gang arrive, of course, to chaos. Or the aftermath of chaos, to be more precise. The base is littered with the bodies of the team and their work seems to be in ruins. Mulder swings into action and reminds everyone that the scene has to be thoroughly documented before they can touch anything; however, the research team’s dog puts a slight downer on this by leaping out of the next room and attacking him. Bear tries to intervene, but the dog attacks him too and bites him. They manage to tranquilize it, but on further inspection discover a number of black nodules on its skin and swollen lymph notes. Da Silva points out that these are symptoms of the bubonic plague and everyone bristles a little, but it’s nothing compared to the hubbub when they see something moving under the dog’s skin. Later, while cleaning himself up in the bathroom, Bear discovers the same black nodules forming on his skin and does a very poor job of not freaking the hell out.
Scully carries out autopsies on the dead men and concludes that they all killed each other. She discovers toxins in one of the blood samples and later spots a larval creature under the microscope. Murphy, meanwhile, has examined some of the research team’s images of the ice sheet and discovered that it’s twice the depth indicated by initial satellite readings. All of this starts to get to people, and science is the first casualty. Seriously, the speed with which these supposed professionals throw reason to the wind is staggering. I’m thinking the claustrophobia and isolation and uncertainty of the whole situation would get to most people, but I’m rather disappointed at their lack of professionalism. Mulder attempts to be the voice of reason (Lord help us) and reminds them that quarantine procedures should be observed as they may be in the presence of an unknown pathogen. To allay the nerves, Scully suggests examining everyone to check for signs of infection.
Unfortunately, Bear isn’t feeling cooperative. After a scuffle (during which Scully, boss-like, rugby tackles him), they manage to restrain him but spot something moving under his skin. Hodge quickly moves to cut it out. Scully’s face at this point speaks for all of us.
It turns out to be an ugly worm-like creature and everyone, quite understandably, looks like they’re going to be sick. Mulder seals it in a jar and races to the radio room to call for help. Bad news – there’s a storm incoming, and if they don’t get out in an hour they’ll be trapped for the next few days. Mulder goes to ask if Bear can fly, but Scully grimly informs him that he’s dead.
There follows an extremely unpleasant night for all concerned. Murphy bites the dust and Mulder finds his body in a fridge. Naturally, everyone assumes he’s the culprit and that he’s infected with the pathogen. Everyone but Scully, that is, though even she acknowledges the necessity of locking him up just in case. “Mulder, you may not be who you are,” she says, gun trained in his direction and something very close to a tear in her eye. This comes not long after a heated argument as to what to do with the worm creature they cut out of Bear. Scully thinks it should be incinerated, along with the bodies, to prevent any further infection. She found the same worm in the hypothalami (I had to look up the plural of hypothalamus) of each of the dead men.
Hodge notes that the hypothalamus secretes a hormone which causes violent behaviour, leading him to speculate that this caused all the men to kill each other. Mulder is strongly against destroying it. He points to the extremely high levels of ammonia in the ice samples and the fact that it survived there for thousands of years. The ammonia levels are too high to be accounted for by Earthen geology alone, so he suggests the worm may have come from another planet. I really hope his and Scully’s disagreements never get old, because I’m so into them. She’s so practical and professional while he’s like the embodiment of the wide-eyed child in all of us. The slightly weird wide-eyed child who sat at the back of the class whispering “aliens” under his breath, but nevertheless. He dreams of infinite possibility, though in this case it may be slightly ill-advised given the adverse health effects.
After Mulder’s locked away, Scully immediately sets about trying to defuse the situation. She discovers that when two worms are placed side by side, they try to attack each other. This leads her to conclude that a worm can be killed by introducing another one to a body that’s already infected. She and Hodge successfully test this theory on the dog before deciding to try it on Mulder. Before doing anything however, Scully insists on speaking to him alone as she has to be “sure” he’s infected. She explains to him that she’s found a way to kill it. Mulder doesn’t trust Hodge but says he wants to trust her, so they examine one another to ensure there are no signs of infection. Eep. The air is just a tad charged during this exchange. It’s brief but there’s just enough of a hint of intimacy to give it weight. I may come back to this scene someday and sigh.
It subsequently emerges that Da Silva is the one infected, and presumably responsible for killing Murphy. When Mulder and Scully come back in, Hodge and Da Silva attack them and try to drop the worm into Mulder’s ear. At the last minute, Hodge notices something moving under Da Silva’s skin and realises she’s the infected one, which makes complete sense as she’s done precious little this episode but rail around and scream. They manage to get the worm into her and neutralise the infection, and are rescued shortly thereafter. Mulder is adamant that he’s going back to investigate the site with proper equipment, but the place is torched 45 minutes after they’re evacuated. Such is life in the world of The X–Files, alas. He looks devastated, but Scully is very ready to go home for some cocoa.
In general, an entertaining episode for the change of scenery and whodunnit, but the most illuminating aspect seems to be that scene where our heroes examine one another. Is this going to be another Josh and Donna from The West Wing with the seven-season wait for the OTP to become canon? I’m hoisting my ship colours right now.
They’re really not ones for the imaginative titles. And the best thing about this is the Mulder thumbs-up, though I’m very partial to space as a setting and source of infinite terror.
Our opening scene takes place in NASA, where scientists are celebrating the transmission of photos of Mars from the Viking spacecraft. One of the more disconcerting features in the photos is a giant land formation that almost looks like a human face. It’s totally not evidence of an alien civilisation and definitely just a trick of the light.
Later, one of the scientists working on the mission examines the photo. He seems a bit jittery and, when he goes to sleep that night, has a strange dream (presumably a flashback) of some indistinct thing coming at an astronaut during a space walk. When he wakes up, he sees the same face-like shape from the photo on the ceiling above him. It plummets down and seems to absorb him. I don’t like that. I read a lot of those creepy sub-Reddits where people talk about paranormal experiences they’ve had (think of how much a modern-day Mulder would mine those threads) and there’s always some reference to a hag face people see when they get sleep paralysis. No me gusta.
Mulder and Scully are consulted after an aborted launch mission in Houston. They receive an anonymous note and later meet Michelle Generoo, the communications commander for the space shuttle programme. The official reason for the aborted launch was simple mechanical failure, but she’s received an x-ray in the post showing significant scorch damage to an auxiliary power unit. The only problem is, such damage could only have been caused by extreme heat, the kind that no one could have mustered undetected. She believes there’s a saboteur at work inside NASA and asks for their help, as her fiancé is the shuttle commander on the next launch.
They head off to Texas with her. En route, Mulder brings Scully up to speed with a particular conspiracy theory positing that the government is deliberately sabotaging certain space programmes to conceal evidence of alien civilisation. Seriously, in this day and age, Mulder would live on Reddit. The head honcho in Houston is Colonel Marcus Aurelius Belt (there’s a name), who turns out to be the guy who saw the face in the opening scene. Mulder is a big fan. Apparently he sat up all night when he was 14 to watch Belt’s space walk on the Gemini 8 mission. Belt also nearly died on that mission, which will presumably account for the dreams and hallucinations. He is polite but not exactly cordial to our heroes, saying there’s no reason to suspect sabotage. He also refuses to postpone the next shuttle launch, saying he has a payload to deliver. There’s a lot of references to payloads in this episode. I’m guessing it’s a military thing, because at one stage we see a satellite-type craft being ejected from the shuttle and taking up orbit.
With the launch going ahead as planned, Mulder asks if he and Scully can watch liftoff from mission control. He’s like a child on Christmas morning and, following a successful take-off, everyone gets a thumbs up. Look at this. It’s like watching the dog from Up:
Naturally, the mission encounters problems almost immediately. Communications go down and, after hurrying to get Mulder and Scully, Michelle crashes her car when the face comes flying at her out of a fog. The shuttle loses manoeuvring capabilities, leaving it stranded against the heat of the sun. Houston can’t override the system and take control because there’s some interference at their own end. Belt cuts off ground control and the astronauts manage to secure control of the shuttle again, but at a press conference the next day he makes no mention of the incident. Mulder’s hero worship starts to crack before our very eyes.
Belt isn’t having an easy time of it, mind. He’s fidgety and clearly disturbed, and when he goes home that night starts mainlining vodka straight from his freezer. A thought for your liver, sir. The flashback returns and a green foggy thing emerges out of him, floating up and away along with the face. I’m going to have to write “the face” a lot in this recap, so to break things up a little I’ll hyperlink to this and see who gets it.
The next day, the shuttle starts losing oxygen. Terrific. Mulder and Scully have to go and retrieve Belt, who’s 90 minutes late to the office. He tells the astronauts to get into their space suits and vent the CO2 buildup in the shuttle, then use their emergency oxygen to deliver the payload. Yikes. Michelle isn’t impressed, and storms out when Belt tells her she’s letting her ~emotions get in the way. Scully is now fully convinced that Belt is behind the sabotage. She and Mulder start scanning previous launch records to look for evidence. Mulder finds a copy of the x-ray sent to Michelle. It’s from the Challenger, dated one week before it blew up. He notices that Belt was the one who ordered it and decides something weird is going on. You don’t say, babe.
In the meanwhile, Belt’s disappeared. They find him cowering under the desk in his office and call an ambulance, only for him to start wailing that “they’re” tearing him apart and that the shuttle won’t survive re-entry. Mulder presses him for more info and he whimpers that he “couldn’t stop them” and that they “don’t want us to know”. So, evidently, there is some truth to those conspiracy theories about concealed alien civilisations – the fingers are just pointed in the wrong direction.
Belt suffers a cardiac arrest and has to be revived, but he comes to for long enough to advise them to alter the shuttle’s re-entry trajectory by 35 degrees. This will save them from burning up. They get a message to the shuttle astronauts just as communications are lost, but the shuttle makes it and touches down safely in Albuquerque. Unfortunately, it doesn’t save Belt as he gets another visit from the face in hospital and throws himself out the window.
It’s a very downbeat but strangely thought-provoking ending – while discussing his death, Scully reveals that Belt had been suffering from dementia, but Mulder insists that he must have sent the x-rays to Michelle without knowing why. He wanted to save the astronauts, and jumped from the hospital window because it was the only way to stop whatever was haunting him. Mulder observes, quite soberly, that “We send those men up into space to unlock the doors of the universe, and we don’t even know what’s behind them.” That’s poetic. And chilling. Are outer space episodes a common thing in this series? Because I’m rather partial to the questions raised by this one. It even ends on a close-up of the stars on the U.S. flag at Belt’s funeral. Be mindful, friends – they may be watching back.
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