The X-Files Newbie Recap: “Avatar”, “Quagmire”, & “Wetwired”
"I was no choirboy. I inhaled."
WHY DID NONE OF YOU WARN ME THERE’D BE AN ACTUAL SKINNER SEX SCENE?
I thought we were friends.
How could you. You’re supposed to be rooting for me. How DARE you.
Oh, and please play “Quagmire” on a loop at my funeral pls tnx bye.
(Caution: some strong language ahead.)
Skinner is framed for the murder of a prostitute by a bunch of twerps who work for the CSM. I’m so done with that arsehole, lads. Fortunately for us, he and his cronies rank without two things: an old lady ghost who may or may not be a succubus (meep) and secondly, the righteous boy scout mentality of one Fox Mulder, who excels at foiling these nefarious schemes even when he isn’t immediately aware he’s dealing with one.
We open with Skinner taking a meeting with his lawyer. He’s getting divorced, apparently, but keeping putting off signing the papers. I’m no psychologist but this would seem to suggest that he doesn’t actually want to get divorced. Could we finally be about to scratch the surface of the unflappably cool Walter Skinner? How deep does this iceberg go? I’m adjusting my spectacles.
He heads to a bar, determined to get wasted in the great historical tradition of all put-upon men, and gets chatting to a woman. Wonderfully, when she mentions that some guy was trying to hit on her and wouldn’t leave her alone, he observes “some people think you owe ’em something just cos you’re out alone”, thusly unwittingly capturing the experience of all women who’ve ever endured street harassment ever. One thing leads to another because alcohol/yerwan is a red-blooded woman who knows a fine thing when she sees it and they head upstairs and …
Shiver me frigging timbers, lads. This is all so tremendously wrong. I feel like I’m surreptitiously perving on the school headmaster through a locked keyhole and yet …
… like …
he really is quite buff and very handsome and whoa whose idea was this [babbles].
UNFORTUNATELY, this beautiful love scene comes to an impromptu conclusion when Skinner wakes up after a nightmare to find his companion’s head twisted 180 degrees around. Talk about a moodkiller.
Skinner’s doubly rattled cos in his dream he saw an old lady parked on his chest shouting something indecipherable. He’s disorientated when detectives arrive the next day and refuses to take a polygraph. (Wtf is with this show and polygraphs? Were these a big thing in the 90s?) Hot on the detectives’ trail is one Fox Mulder—eager as a middle child to prove his worth—who immediately sets about schooling the investigators on what info to collect and who to chat to. They’re not impressed, but I am quietly besotted with Mulder’s instant determination to get his boss off the hook. Say what you will about occasional dickish tendencies, but Mulder is loyal to a fucking fault, and I love him for it.
Scully is informed via telephone and quickly comes down to examine the body. She draws the same conclusion as the coroner: The woman died from a crushed spinal cord, likely inflicted by manual trauma. I don’t think even Ronda could wallop someone that hard so this particular death would seem to have a supernatural influence. When Scully switches off the light to leave the room, she notices a luminous substance around the victim’s nose and mouth and makes a note to have it checked out.
Mulder learns from the detectives that the victim, Carina, was a prostitute. Both he and Scully bristle a bit when they realise that their upstanding AD was with a lady of the night. They go to chat to her, er, employer? I guess that’s the nicest way of putting it. Said employer, Lorraine, has a nice swish apartment and Scully observes that business must be booming. Mulder, ever happy to defuse a sticky situation with inappropriate humour, replies thusly:
Lorraine is relucant to disclose anything about Carina’s clients. The most she’ll reveal is that Carina got a credit card number from her last client the night before, and the name on the card was Walter Skinner. Our heroes are perturbed. Mulder adamantly refuses to believe he could be guilty, but Scully’s concerned cos they don’t actually know that much about him outside of work and besides, Skinner’s behaving a bit erratically.
He’s been released fom custody so they attempt to talk to him, but he keeps saying it’s not their concern. Interestingly, he doesn’t seem to realise that Carina was a prostitute. Then he darts off after seeing the old woman from his dream across the road. When he reaches her however, it’s actually his wife, Sharon. Even more interestingly, Mulder and Scully didn’t know he was married. Sharon says that Mulder was one of the few people he ever mentioned from work and that Skinner seemed to respect him, which is heartening. Then our heroes are summoned to a meeting. A special agent by the name of Bonnecaze is rifling through papers in Skinner’s office. He tells them he’s been appointed to determine if Skinner’s fit to continue as AD (exCUSE u) and orders them both to show up for a hearing the next day.
Scully does some background checks and discovers that Skinner was being treated for a sleep disorder. He has a recurring nightmare about an old woman who confronts him and starts babbling in some incomprehensible language. Mulder wonders if this figure might be a succubus. He grabs a book and tells her that according to Medieval folklore, succubi could become so attached to certain men that they would kill anyone who competed for their affections. One of the book illustrations shows luminous substances on a victim’s face. Scully remembers what she saw in Carina’s autopsy and moves to get the stuff checked out. The only thing she finds in her own analysis is amylase, which is found in saliva, but when she sends it to the lab they tell her the container arrived empty.
Later, Sharon pays Skinner a brief visit in his new abode. He’s still not feeling particularly social. He hits the bottle and gazes sadly at their wedding photo before passing out on the couch with the photo on his chest. How beautifully, melodramatically 90s. I’d also like to take a moment to point out that he doesn’t wear vests under his shirts, and he has hair on his chest. A real man. (Sighs.)
He gets another night time visit from the old lady, who stands screaming in a corner this time. When he wakes up, the detective investigating his case is at the door. Sharon’s car was rammed off the road and they want to bring him into custody. Mulder hurries down to see him. He warns that the police are building a convincing case and wonders why Skinner isn’t doing more to defend himself. Skinner finally explains that he’s been seeing the old woman since his near-death experience in Vietnam. She carried him back from the dead and has been with him ever since. At first he thought she was an hallucination because he, er, “inhaled” (quote: “I was no choirboy”) but she’s never gone away. Mulder suggests she was trying to protect him. Skinner doesn’t know what to believe. Outside, the CSM watches through a window, smoking merrily away. A thousand plagues upon that arsehole’s house. He has a long overdue date with a throat punch.
Scully arrives for the hearing the next day and is steamrolled by Bonnecaze, despite her best efforts to stick up for her boss. Bonnecaze ridicules the X-Files and implies that just as Skinner has stuck his neck out for her and Mulder, now they’re doing the same for him. Mulder never shows up, because as it turns out he’s with Pendrell (heart eyes emoji) getting some actual useful evidence. Using sophisticated 1990s technology, possibly the same technology that enabled us to send a computer virus to an alien mothership, he can generate an imprint of the face of the person who hit Sharon’s car. Mulder believes this man, whoever he is, also hired Carina. He and Scully go to speak to Lorraine again, but she’s taken a swan dive out an upper storey window. They realise what’s going on and grab Lorraine’s secretary, Judy, who confirms the man in Pendrell’s mocked-up image is the one who hired Carina. Judy calls the guy and sets up a meeting, but he and his partner are sitting outside watching them through the window.
Meanwhile, Skinner comes to see Sharon. She’s out of surgery but in a bad way. He unleashes a spiel of feels. He won’t sign the divorce papers. He became quiet and distant at home because he couldn’t reconcile the horrors of the job with his everyday life, but although he couldn’t tell her anything she’s the one thing that got him through the day and up every morning. Take a moment there, lads, it’s alright. Gently dab away the tears. The great unflappable Walter Skinner has finally been…flapped. Suddenly the machine Sharon’s hooked up to starts beeping, and when Skinner goes to grab a doctor he sees the old lady in the bed. She beckons to him. When he comes back inside, it’s Sharon again. She starts saying “listen to me” before we cut back to Mulder and Scully.
They’re at the hotel for the meeting, but no one’s shown up yet. Mulder’s getting fidgety. Scully’s up in the room with Judy and the mark is 15 minutes late. Judy goes to the bathroom and Scully hears a noise. When she comes in after her, the would-be assassin appears from behind the door. He knocks Scully over and draws a gun on Judy, but before he can shoot Skinner appears behind him and takes him out. Glorious. The hero shot.
A little while later, our heroes bring their report to Skinner’s desk. He attempting to put it back together after Bonnecaze destroyed the place. The guy Skinner shot at the hotel has no identity, apparently, and they haven’t been able to find the other guy he was with. Skinner tells them to get whatever forensic evidence they can from the body and then bury it. Mulder asks how he knew to be at the hotel that night. Skinner says what he believes happened has no place on an official report and won’t say anything else. He dismisses our heroes, and just before the episode ends takes his wedding ring out of an envelope and places it back on his finger. Le grotesque ugly sob.
What a great episode. Why can’t they all be Skinner-centric? I’m so happy. Finally getting to see a little more about what makes the man tick is entirely welcome, especially given how central his role has become in our heroes’ continuing quest to blow this government conspiracy wide open. But one thing: did Sharon die? And did the old lady actually kill Carina? I’m guessing the latter one is true, because that was some serious damage for a person to inflict—especially without disturbing Skinner. The CSM’s plan was evidently to discredit him, and when Carina ended up dead they had to clean house.
But I’m not sure whether Sharon died. It looked like the old lady was somehow channeling her to tell Skinner where the assassins were, but I don’t know if this means Sharon passed on or not. I hope not, for both their sakes. It’d be too much for Mulder, Scully, and Skinner to have all lost someone close to them due to their involvement in the X-Files. I also suspect that if she were dead, either Mulder or Scully would have commented on it, so I’m hoping for a small bit of a happy ending to this one. Feel free to enlighten me if I’m wrong!
Or as it should probably be known, the death of Queequeg. :(
Have you ever wanted to go on a series of first dates where you and the person in question travel the country investigating paranormal cases and uncovering major governmental conspiracies about UFOs? Our heroes are locked in a series of them, experiencing in lavish detail the most epic first dates of all time, and they don’t even know it. They have a lengthy conversation in this episode about their philosophical takes on Moby Dick while they’re trapped on a rock in the middle of a lake which may or may not contain a Loch Ness monster-type creature. WHAT MORE COULD YOU WANT IN LIFE, FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE.
So! Mulder, Scully and Queequeg ( :(( ) travel to Heuvelman’s Lake in Georgia. A number of people have gone missing in and around the lake, and Mulder believes a prehistoric monster named Big Blue is responsible. As one does, like. Scully, for her part, spent some time as a youth collecting info on reports of giant ancient creatures living in lakes, but then she grew up and became a scientist. Meaning stfu Mulder, Queequeg and I are trying to work.
Mulder is quite firmly attached to the idea of Big Blue. He cites the discovery of prehistoric shark creatures in lakes and cryptozoologists’ speculation. As they pitstop to pick up a map of the lake, a fisherman comes bursting in after dragging up the lower half of someone’s body in his line. Our heroes examine it and decide it’s the body of a Boy Scout troop leader who went missing a few weeks ago. Scully suggests he probably got drunk and accidentally fell into the lake when he went to relieve himself. She also thinks fish ate the other half, which is stretching credulity even by Mulder’s standards.
Another man gets eaten that night. Mulder starts doing his best impression of Chief Brody and asks the sheriff to close the lake. He refuses, saying the lake is too big and he’d need the national guard. Further down the coastline, something grabs a diver in the lake and returns only a disembodied head. Then a photographer is taken out just as he tries to get a good shot of the monster. It’s all very Lake Placid.
Scully’s still firmly on board with the propeller damage theory. I’m guessing Matt Hooper isn’t on hand anywhere to point out the obvious bitemarks on all these corpses. (Just FYI: Jaws is one of my all-time favourite films.) Unfortunately, it takes the death of Queequeg to change Scully’s mind. She takes the dog for a walk one evening and it chases off after something in the woods. That something snatches and eats her, returning only the torn lead. Scully goes back to Mulder, devastated, and sits staring sadly into the distance while Mulder points out that Big Blue sightings have been getting progressively closer to shore. He somehow persuades her to take a boat out onto the lake at night. Something appears on sonar—hic sunt dracones!—and slams into them, sinking the boat. They take refuge on a nearby rock. This episode is grade A fucking class. I swear to goth I think it might be my favourite of the lot so far.
While stranded on said rock, Mulder asks where she got the name Queequeg from, prompting a fantastically loaded conversation about Moby Dick. Mulder thinks he saw Big Blue while they were scrambling out of the boat. Scully, flustered, likens him to Captain Ahab, so consumed with a personal vendetta that everything in his life takes on a warped significance to “fit his megalomaniacal cosmology.” The truth is as a white whale—impossible to capture and only likely to leave him dead along with everyone he loves. Jesus Christ, Dana, tell us how you really feel. She demands to know why Big Blue is so important to him when it’s basically a folk tale. I don’t know why she’s still asking these questions. Mulder explains that most of the things they chase are intangible, but this creature exists in the “specific earthly confines of the lake” so there’s actually a chance they could find it. He talks about wanting a wooden leg, half-jokingly, saying that if he had a disability then just coping with it and moving through life would be an achievement, but when you’re able-bodied you’re expected to chase something, to make something of yourself. A crude analogy, possibly, but interesting. Mulder encapsulates a very specific ideology in which the real world—such as it is—is never quite enough. There has to be something more, something deeper, to satisfy the endless twisting confines of his imagination. He needs his beliefs, no matter how demented they may seem, almost as much as he needs air because if he has to accept the world at face value its meaning is diminished and with it his life’s work. This conversation is fascinating, and I swear it actually made me a little emotional. They’re both so terrifically intelligent that they use LITERARY METAPHORS to explain how they really feel. It’s even defused with a laugh, when Mulder says his favourite line from MOBY DICK is “hell is an idea first born on an undigested apple dumpling.” Christ, I can’t. Just. Fucking. Date. Already. YOU ARE ON A ROCK IN THE MIDDLE OF LAKE PLACID BEING PURSUED BY NESSIE’S NORTH AMERICAN COUSIN AND YOU’RE USING HERMAN MELVILLE AS FOREPLAY FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE STOP DOING THIS TO ME.
They are eventually interrupted by Faraday, an environmentalist they’d been chatting to earlier. He cheerfully informs them the rock they’re sitting on is actually about ten feet from shore. They sheepishly trudge onto terra firma and ask what he’s doing out there late at night. He’s been releasing frogs bred in captivity into the wild. Their numbers have been declining due to (he believes) human interference, but this piques our heroes’ suspicions. They wonder if there’s been a disturbance in the food chain—the frogs may have been Big Blue’s preferred food, and as their numbers dwindled the creature was forced to turn to alternative food sources, i.e. humans. The sheriff arrives with news of another attack. He himself was dragged into the water earlier and has since closed the lake. A search is underway but he refuses to lock down this specific area, which Mulder and Scully now believe houses Big Blue (or whatever the creature is). However, at Scully’s request, the sheriff does leave two deputies with them to look around.
Faraday is attacked in the distance and our heroes hurry after him. He’s bleeding heavily. Scully stays with him while Mulder runs off into the woods. He sees something charging at him and shoots, but it turns out to be an alligator. (Like I said, Lake Placid! Be fun if the film was partially inspired by this.) To be fair, I share Mulder’s disappointment in this instance. Speaking to Dana later, he says he saw hope in the possibility of Big Blue’s existence. Scully tries to comfort him by saying the reason such myths endure is cos people want to believe. Disappointingly, Queequeg does not come running out of the woods.
Just as they turn their backs and head off, the water parts.
BIG BLUE LIVES. Swimming by completely unnoticed, in what is presumably a beautiful nod to people seeing what they want to when they need to. I’m so happy.
This was such an awesome episode. A really fun and engaging monster story, and one suitably steeped in allegory. I’ll take any monster-of-the-week so long as it comes with that much joy and metaphor and completely unlikely opportunity for character analysis. I just wish Queequeg didn’t have to die for Big Blue to live. :(
(Unless of course it WAS the alligator killing everyone and Big Blue is friendly and peaceful as an aquatic version of Valkor the Luck Dragon. That actually makes more sense. Keep on swimming, Big Blue. You just keep on swimming.)
Who’d have thought a simple tale of subliminal brainwashing could lead down such a contorted rabbit hole?
The first clue as to where this episode is really going comes when Mulder gets a tip off from someone he’s never met before. A Maryland man, Joseph Patnik, has been arrested for multiple killings but the catch is he thought he was murdering the same person over and over again. Mulder and Scully go to interview him. Patnik’s been brought to a psychiatric facility and sedated. As they watch him, he starts freaking out over a news report on a warlord in Yugoslavia.
Our heroes decamp to Patnik’s house to take a look around. Through the window, Mulder spots a cable repairman working on the lines. Scully unearths a pile of videotapes, all of which are marked and dated and appear to be of cable news reports. She speculates about violence on television, showing unlikely support for the popular 90s notion that violence on TV makes people go out and murder one another. Mulder thinks that’s a load of nonsense dreamed up by people who believe Americans are empty vessels just waiting to be programmed with whatever ideas are fed to them through television. To be fair, Cher Horowitz disposed of this argument beautifully. Though she did note that banning violent TV shows achieves nothing when people can still see violence on the news, so maybe her argument actually supports Scully’s contention in this case.
They bring the tapes back to their motel and start scanning through them. Mulder finds nothing of substance and goes to bed. Scully keeps watching, then begins to feel a bit off. She hears Mulder’s voice through the walls, apparently talking to someone on the phone. When she goes to a vending machine, she spots him sitting in a car chatting to the CSM. This is an obvious hallucination. Something is rotten in the Maryland cable, lads.
The next day, a housewife shoots what she believes to be her husband after seeing him canoodling with a blonde in a hammock. It’s not her husband, it’s her neighbour, and the blonde is a Golden Retriever. I’m smelling something seriously off here, peeps. When Scully gets into Mulder’s car to come and check out the crime scene, she looks through the ashtray for any evidence of cigarettes, and starts asking him why the car was in a different place to where it was last night. At the crime scene, they find more dated videotapes. Mulder spots the same cable repairman he saw at Patnik’s house. He chases after the van but loses it, then climbs the telegraph pole to retrieve something from the box. Scully comes out and tells him to take it to Pendrell, but Mulder brings it to the Lone Gunmen. They discover that it’s emitting a signal through television broadcasts, and whatever’s in the signal may be triggering this spate of violent behaviour.
Mulder calls Scully to update her. She’s going full paranoid, and when he says he’d rather not fully discuss the case over the phone she goes berserk and starts tearing the room apart, looking for bugs. When he arrives back to the room, she locks the door. He gets the motel owner to open it, but Scully shoots at them and does a runner out the back door.
Mulder calls Scully’s mum to ask if she’s seen her. I love the way he effectively has her on speed dial. They’re basically in-laws already. Skinner arrives outside, joining a contingent of agents all on the hunt for Scully. Evidently, the FBI doesn’t take kindly to one of its own firing on a fellow agent and innocent civilians. I can’t help but feel they could have marshalled all these forces of darkness when they were looking for Ratboy (is anyone still looking for Ratboy?), but whatever. Skinner advises Mulder to find Scully quickly, lest things get ugly. Mulder heads back to DC and puts an X in his window. While he waits, the Lone Gunmen call. He reluctantly leaves home to meet them in person. They’ve learned that the signal in the cable device induces a specific response in the brain, which can lead to heightened suggestibility. Mulder asks if colour might be a factor, as he’s colour blind and hasn’t been affected by the tapes. Then he gets a call from the Maryland police, asking him to come and ID a body that might be Dana’s. Oh, brother.
Granted, these scenes tend to be somewhat lacking in tension because I already know the core trio will survive til the end of the show (and beyond, given they’re all in the new series). That said, it’s still tough to watch the wrenching horror on Mulder’s face as he gets closer and closer to the morgue. As he’s walking through a carpark, he’s stopped by the guy who tipped him off at the start of the episode. The source warns that “they”, the infamous they, are destroying the evidence and he needs to haul ass or the responsible parties will soon be out of his reach. Mulder goes to the morgue and, to his relief, realises the body isn’t Scully’s. He mentions that someone should call Scully’s mum, but the doctor says she’s not answering her phone. Concerned, Mulder heads over to the house, and finds Mrs Scully attempting to hide a manic Dana from the outside world. She pulls a gun on Mulder, convinced he’s come to kill her and that he’s been in on the plot to abduct her and kill Missy the whole time. Mulder tries to convince her that she’s the only one he trusts, but it takes Mrs S. stepping between them to calm her down.
Scully’s taken to hospital and quickly recovers. Proving that there’s always time for humour, when Scully says she felt like her world was upside down and everything was out to get her, Mulder jovially replies “now you know how I feel most of the time.” Ah stahp. On a more serious note, he says he’s figured out the link between the killings. Patnik was trying to kill what he thought was a modern-day Hitler because his parents were Holocaust survivors. The second killer, the housewife, was scared that her husband—a long distance trucker—was unfaithful to her. Scully was freaked out because she thought Mulder, her closest confidant, was secretly playing her. The cable signal appears to be turning people’s anxieties into full-blown psychosis.
Mulder speaks to the doc treating Scully. Apparently, a spinal tap showed high levels of seratonin in Scully’s brain. Mulder remembers a doctor named Stroman, who had been treating Patnik when they first arrived and who suggested that amphetamine abuse was the culprit. He asks if the behaviour could have been caused by amphetamines, but the doctor says that wouldn’t make sense. Mulder smells something. He calls the psychiatric facility Patnik was in and traces Stroman to their motel. He’s just checked out, so Mulder gets a list of phone calls made from the room. Using this information, he gets an address for a house outside of town.
When he rolls up, the place looks deserted. However, the cable repairman he saw at the crime scenes arrives in shortly after him and goes inside. Mulder watches through a window as the cable guy and Stroman bicker over someone who’s supposed to meet them. There are two gunshots, and when Mulder bursts in he finds them both dead.
Wait for it: the shooter is Mr. X.
BECAUSE OF COURSE IT IS. Is anyone else endlessly fascinated by Mr. X? He’s the most bedazzling conundrum, someone so completely cool with evil things but whose terrible deeds mask some version of a moral compass. Of course, Mulder’s pissed off. He wants to know why Mr. X keeps making him and Scully risk their lives when he never risks his own. Mr. X effectively shakes his head, saying his orders were always to kill these men but he was hoping Mulder would get to them first. To be fair, he’s right. As frustrating as it is, Mulder did get them in time, just not soon enough to step between them and two bullets.
I think half the reason I like Mr. X so much is that he’s straight-talking: He calls it exactly as he sees it and plays things too carefully with Mulder and his employer to let anything go amiss. The last Deep Throat was bumped off early when he got too brazen, and Mr. X has to keep himself in the shadows and keep following orders to preserve his cover and position. It’s not pleasant, and he is spookily comfortable with all the creepy stuff, and there is his well-documented unwillingness to get himself killed over the whole thing, but it makes complete sense. Mulder and Scully may be risking their lives, but they’re out in the open. If Mr. X crosses a line he actually will be killed, and then Mulder would never get anywhere.
Mulder goes back to DC and presents a report to Skinner. The cable repairman has no record and Stroman’s ID was pinched from a doctor who died in 1978. When Skinner asks about the guy who shot them, Mulder begrudgingly admits he remains an unknown subject.
And then, just in case it wasn’t abundantly clear that the CSM has been the one issuing Mr. X orders this whole time, the two of them meet clandestinely in a parked car at night. Mr. X says Mulder still has the cable device but the source (the guy who tipped him off at the start of the episode) has been eliminated. The CSM asks who the source’s source was. Mr X. looks him in the eye, glare cold as ice, and says the person remains unknown. Fade to black.
Holy bejaysus, lads. The CSM totally knows. He knows what Mr. X is doing. He has to. And Mr. X totally knows that he knows and all of this is going to keep getting messier until someone has an excuse to *properly* bump someone off and make it even more kerfuffled. This is the most complex game of wits I’ve ever watched and I don’t even think there’s much in the way of wit about it. It’s all shadows and smokescreens and careful timing and I have to reiterate how much I enjoy Mr. X being such a complete duplicitous mystery. This exchange seems to indicate that he is fundamentally on Mulder’s side, and only selectively reporting back on him, but I still feel like he’s not completely adverse to what the CSM and all these covert agencies are up to.
Well. Til next week, peeps. Oh my gosh, enjoy Star Wars. Let’s all enjoy Star Wars. Find me on Twitter and let’s chat (discreetly, people who spoil are muck) on Thursday :3 Then back to X-Philing next week!
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