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The Mary Sue

The X-Files Newbie Recap: “End Game”, “Fearful Symmetry”, & “Død Kalm”

NO ONE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD IS ACTUALLY NAMED TRONDHEIM though.

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The conclusion of an epic two-parter which does to Mulder’s fragile psyche the kind of damage lately reserved for Scully, and then two episodes so utterly loopy they have to represent an absolute nadir in the imaginations of whoever came up with them.

Chunky walls of text (and, full disclosure, some screenshots of deceased onscreen animals) ahead.

End Game

Or [clears throat], as it’s also known: SKINNERRRR!!!

But we’ll get to that. First things first, a brief flashback to the night the bounty hunter’s plane crashed in the Arctic. An American submarine picks it up on radar and is swiftly ordered to go intercept, despite its being on a cartography mission and thus lacking the equipment and training to do so. They lock torpedoes but the power goes out, and the submarine is left adrift and trapped under 32 feet of glacial ice. Not cool, lads. I’d go as far as to say it’s so not Raven.

Back to the doppelgänger. Scully hangs up on real Mulder and tells fake Mulder it was a wrong number. She manages to pull her gun but he overpowers her and shapeshifts back to his original form, demanding to know where Mulder is. Later, the man himself bursts in with totally-not-Samantha and finds the place all torn up. Samantha insists Scully is alive, saying the bounty hunter will try and use her to make a trade. She also explains that the only way to kill him is by piercing the base of his skull (such is how he’s been bumping off the clones) and that exposure to his blood is fatal for humans.

More shinfo follows (at Mulder’s insistence): the clones are the offspring of the original alien visitors. They believe they are the natural heirs to Earth and have been attempting to establish a colony since the 1940s. However, as they all look identical, they’ve been forced to scatter and are undertaking experiments with human DNA to try and change their appearance. Of late it seems they’ve found a way of doing so, but their experiments weren’t sanctioned back at alien HQ so the bounty hunter has been sent to destroy the colony.

Well firstly: C L A S S. So here for this. Intergalactic fugitive thriller! But here, why can’t the clones shapeshift too? If the bounty hunter is of their species and he can do it, would the trait not be inherent in all the aliens? They could then pass it on to their offspring and, presumably, the clones via copied genetics? No? Is the shapeshifting a special power bestowed upon the assassin by virtue of his job? I’m so intrigued. I might also be fundamentally misunderstanding genetics (I’m a law grad, go easy on me) so please feel free to correct me.

Anytoot, Mulder and not-Samantha regroup back chez lui when the doorbell rings. It’s my beloved Skinner! You have such timing, sir. He looks terse. Mulder is sitting in the dark and attempts to distract him until Samantha confirms he’s the real deal. Skinner must really think Mulder has a screw loose. Imagine him going home to his significant other/house pet/diary and being all “you won’t b e l i e v e what’s he done now” over a glass of wine. He informs Mulder that the clones Scully had locked up have gone missing, just before the lady herself calls to say the bounty hunter has her and that he wants to swap her for Samantha. They’re summoned to a bridge in Bethesda in an hour and Mulder swiftly turns to Skinner for help.

Skinner and pet sniper

Boy, does he follow through. They rock up to the bridge as planned but Skinner’s parked up in the trees with a sniper and a pair of binoculars. I love it. I like to imagine him having a personal task force he calls on in extreme situations, though I don’t think he ever envisaged having to surreptitiously supervise an alien hostage trade. The sniper is instructed to aim for the base of the bounty hunter’s skull and fire when ready but everything goes tits up when Samantha draws a knife of some form. In the ensuing scuffle, she blocks the sniper’s view so his shot goes awry and then both she and bounty hunter go toppling over into the freezing river. Oy vey. Things don’t look promising.

The next morning, divers begin combing the river but nothing turns up. Mulder insists to a gently skeptical Scully that Samantha was actually Samantha, and duly informs both her and Skinner the other dude was an alien before going to tell his dad what’s happened. I reiterate that Papa Mulder seems like a frigid bastard. Mulder all but breaks down in the course of telling him that Samantha’s gone, and all his dad can say is “do you know what this will do to your mother?” Like, dude, I’m pretty sure he knows. He’s feeling it himself. The only person remaining emotionless in this situation is you. Papa Mulder gives him a letter which Samantha had left at the house, containing a card for a reproductive health clinic and instructions to go there should anything happen to her. Mulder heads off but just as he arrives, he gets a call from Scully saying that they’ve found Samantha’s body. Mulder bristles a little, but resolves to keep looking. Shortly after she hangs up, Scully is frantically seized upon by the medics as Samantha’s body dissolves into green goo. Ha! I knew it.

Green goo the second

I mean, obvs.

Over at the clinic, Mulder finds a bunch of Samantha clones, all wearing medical get-up and working with the same containers of green liquid Scully saw before. The clones ask that Mulder protect the original not-Samantha, the one from whom they’re all copied. He refuses but they attempt to manipulate him by claiming that Samantha’s alive, and how else would they know so much about her if that weren’t true? However, the bounty hunter’s on their trail and the clinic swiftly goes up in smoke. He knocks Mulder out before (presumably) killing the others, as the fire crews who rescue Mulder inform him that there’s no one else in the building.

Not actually Samantha

So, bad times all round. Mulder has to accept his sister wasn’t his sister and that he endured the emotive berating of his father for nothing, and things are just getting started. Next, he demands a hasty meet-up with Mr. X, who tells him about the submarine in Alaska. A warning that he’s picking the wrong battles falls on utterly deaf ears as Mulder immediately fecks off to find it, leaving Scully to go to Skinner in search of help. She’s found a message on Mulder’s computer saying that he’s gone and that he doesn’t want her risking her life on a matter that’s personal to him. Skinner refuses to help, despite her pleas for him to go through “unofficial channels” to get information. He says they have a greater duty to the Bureau and that Mulder’s taken one too many risks.

Not one to be dissuaded, Scully manages to summon Mr. X. Unfortunately, he’s unwilling to talk to anyone but Mulder and plays dumb when he sees her. As he’s on the way out, he meets Skinner in the lift and fisticuffs ensue. Fisticuffs in this context is a cheerful euphemism. Lads, I cannot over-emphasise how incredible this brawl was. Headbutts and aggressive barbs are exchanged before Mr. X, who remains a total and rather terrifying badass, pulls a gun on him. Although he threatens that he’s killed men for less, he eventually tells Skinner what he needs to know, enabling the latter to go upstairs and fill Scully in. He’s all covered in blood and his clothes are dishevelled. Babe. Why was Skinner ever taken out of the field? He runs rings round everyone. (A note: Skinner seemed to recognise Mr. X because he asked if Scully had been told “what she needed to know” before any punches were thrown. Intriguing. I assume all these people run in the same veiled circles.)

Fisticuffs

In the meanwhile, Scully’s made an important discovery. Blood samples taken from the late Agent Weiss reveal the presence of a retrovirus which becomes dormant in extreme cold. The medics aren’t able to identify the exact origins of the virus, but Scully deduces that it must have originated with the alien killer. She’ll need this to rescue her poor hapless partner, who’s up on the ice in Alaska.

Mulder has tracked down the submarine and gets in, finding the place mostly deserted. The crew’s bodies are littered across the floor. Only one of them seems to be alive, but naturally he turns out to be the killer in disguise. In fairness to this bounty hunter, Mulder’s not his mission and so he doesn’t overly preoccupy himself with him. The most he does is confirm that Samantha’s alive when Mulder tearfully demands to know, and then he drags him out on the ice. Mulder manages to shoot him but only succeeds in getting himself infected when droplets of alien blood fall onto his face. Leave it out, babe. C’mon. The alien leaves him on the ice and casually makes off with the submarine. Dare I say it? Cool as…ice. [Top Gun music]

We then flash forward to the prologue from “Colony”, where Mulder was being treated in a field hospital. Scully bursts in and tells the doctors to keep him cold or he’ll die. They’re typically recalcitrant and try to kick her out but when Mulder goes into cardiac arrest she takes charge. In the final scenes, we see him come to, as Scully thoughtfully reflects upon the case in a voiceover. She notes that the circumstances of the case suggest paranormal forces were at work, but while she’s seen many things to make her question her “ordered” view of the universe she hasn’t given up on understanding them. After all, she says, it was science that enabled them to isolate the virus and save Mulder’s life. Dana the science fangirl. I adore you.

Mulder wakes up with a very raspy sore throat and the pair of them exchange doe-eyed witticisms. Scully asks if he found what he was looking for, and he replies that he didn’t but he did find something he thought he’d lost: faith to keep looking. Ah lads. Stahp.

This was so amazing.

Wiping away a quick tear before we proceed.

 

Fearful Symmetry

Aliens harvest the embryos of zoo animals.

Genuinely.

I would sit here and narrow my eyes and wail “whyyyy” but I often ask why Scully can’t just have a nice simple day at work and I guess this is as close as she’s gonna get to it.

So, an invisible elephant storms down main street in Fairfield, Idaho and takes out a construction worker before turning up, visible and dying, on a road outside of town. Given multiple witnesses confirm hearing the elephant but not seeing the elephant, and the very tangible trail of carnage in its wake, everyone’s pretty much stumped. Our heroes are called in for a nice easygoing case which thankfully does not involve alien bounty hunters or hypothermia. Their first and most obvious port of call is the local zoo. The elephant is confirmed to be an escapee from the zoo, but the animal wrangler, Meecham, says that her cage was locked when he went to check.

Ganesha

Poor creature.

Mulder and Scully then go to speak to Willa Ambrose, Meecham’s superior. She’s a naturalist, recently hired by the zoo and charged with reversing its fortunes – it’s been losing money and is in danger of closure. It seems that there’s been a number of animal breakouts, most of which have been blamed on a radical animal rights group called the Wild Again Organisation or WAO. Scully and Mulder go to speak to said group, which comprises your average smarmy holier-than-thou types who believe caging animals is always wrong and don’t seem to care if people get killed when they’re busted out. I can sympathise to a point, but it doesn’t do much to endear them to Scully. She takes a particular dislike to them and speculates that they’re the most likely culprits. Mulder is less convinced. It’s revealed that Willa is facing legal troubles herself – she rescued a gorilla named Sophie from Malawi several years back, but now the Malawi government are suing to have her returned. Willa’s also taught Sophie sign language, because whoever wrote this episode had obviously just watched Congo. I think Michael Crichton would actually be proud that they managed to take his particular brand of deliriously enjoyable claptrap and make it even more ridiculous.

Later, after dark, one of the WAO members breaks into the zoo and goes to free a tiger. There’s a signature flash of bright light and the animal disappears from its cage, only to invisibly maul the guy to death while his night vision camera captures the whole thing. Oh, irony. The tiger is later spotted on a construction site and shot by Meecham when it goes to attack Willa. Mulder, whose spooky senses have been tingling since the Lone Gunmen mentioned animal disappearances and UFO sightings in the area, asks Scully and Willa to perform an autopsy on the animals. They learn that the elephant and the tiger were both pregnant, which Willa is confounded by as apparently no animal at the zoo had ever carried a pregnancy to term. Mulder now begins to theorise that aliens are abducting the animals to harvest their embryos. That’s right, when not tearing families apart and attempting to breed hybrids, they’re righteous conservationists. Cool beans.

The zoo is shut down after the incident with the tiger and Willa is ordered to release Sophie into police custody. In desperation, Willa goes to speak to Lang from the WAO, with whom she appears to have history. He initially refuses to help her but later comes looking for her, only to get himself killed by what looks like a falling crate. Scully’s examination suggests he was killed by a cattle prod. She suspects Willa, but Willa blames it on Meecham. Mulder goes looking for Meecham and finds him guarding Sophie in a warehouse. Meecham, who’s a bit of a twit, proceeds to lock Mulder into Sophie’s pen. She knocks him out before being swept up by another flash of bright light. Just before he loses consciousness, Mulder sees her sign a particular phrase. When Scully finds him the next day, he repeats the sign for Willa, who tells him it means “man save man”. A’ight. Sophie is found outside of town by the side of the road and, sadly, dies before anyone can help her. She also turns out to have been pregnant – earlier in the episode Mulder had suggested as much, saying that her fearful behaviour and erratic signing might mean she was scared of someone taking her baby. Sad times, lads. You’d think these aliens with all their wealth of technology would just grow animal embryos some other way and leave the zoo creatures alone. Somehow I think they’ve been through enough.

Sophie

Willa and Meecham are taken into custody over Lang’s death. As the episode ends, Mulder muses by voiceover that aliens may be looking to save the various animal species on Earth before humanity’s reckless behaviour leaves them all extinct. Interesting theory, underwhelming episode. Animals dying onscreen is just too horrid :(

 

Død Kalm

This was the stupidest thing ever. If your inspiration has stooped this low, just take the weekend off, guys. The old-person makeup and acting is just way too unintentionally hilarious for me to take seriously. I felt like I was watching Bad Grandpa. And the most vexing thing about all this is that even when these two believe they’re at death’s actual door and Mulder is unconscious and Scully’s writing poetic odes about Norse gods and wolves at the door THEY DON’T EVEN TAKE THE TIME TO TELL ONE ANOTHER THEY’RE COMPLETELY OBVIOUSLY 400% MAD ABOUT ONE ANOTHER I mean please.

But I digress.

A bunch of crew from the missing USS Ardent are picked up in a particular spot on the Norwegian Sea. All the men appear haggard, despite their being mostly young and hardy types. Only one survives the journey back to the States and when Scully gets in to see him, she’s stunned to find a withered old man in place of a 28-year-old. Mulder has a theory – the Ardent’s last-known location was close to the 65th parallel, a mysterious section of sea which seems basically like a European Bermuda Triangle. Several ships have gone missing in the vicinity and, given the sailors’ aged appearance, Mulder thinks it may be home to a “wrinkle in time”. The area is also alleged to have hosted clandestine US experiments during World War II where the navy attempted to cloak ships so that they were invisible to the enemy.

Haggard indeed

The pair of them head off to Norway. Here’s a fun game, lads: what do you reckon Mulder and Scully do to pass the time on planes? Read? What kinda reading material would they go in for? Movies? Mulder seems to be a fan of classic horror, but I’m not sure what in-flight viewing options were available back in the mid-90s. In any event, they make it to Norway, but meet resistance from the locals when they ask around about the 65th parallel. A would-be Han Solo type named Trondheim (lawlz) (no seriously, they called him Trondheim) makes himself available and they travel to the Ardent’s last-known location. Unfortunately, they also manage to crash right into it. On boarding they find the entire ship to be severely corroded, with the mummified remains of several crew members below decks. The only survivor is the captain, Barclay, who’s taken a liking to whiskey (can’t blame him in the circumstances) and mutters that time got lost after the ship encountered a glowing light in the ocean. Yup, European Bermuda Triangle it is. I’ve definitely read similar stories about Columbus’ crew, though it’s a pity the actual Bermuda Triangle didn’t swallow that arsehole up.

Anytoot, the stakes are heightened when Trondheim’s ship is cut loose, leaving them stranded on the Ardent. The culprit is a Norwegian pirate named Olafsson. They manage to subdue him, but later begin to regard him suspiciously as everyone starts aging while he remains completely untouched. To make a long story short, it turns out that some kind of metallic object in the seawater has released free radicals, which are in turn causing advanced oxidisation and rotting the ship. They’ve also contaminated the ship’s water supply, which is why everyone is dying a death. Olafsson has retained his youthful looks by drinking recycled water and avoiding the ship’s potable supply. Trondheim discovers this first, and goes predictably and annoyingly nuts by locking himself below decks and attempting to keep all the drinkable water for himself. This plan rapidly backfires when the rotted hull starts to give and he ends up drowning in his compartment. He’s also killed Olafsson, so our heroes are left to their geriatric devices.

Old M

The drinkable water has been all but exhausted so Scully is forced to scavenge water for herself and Mulder. She keeps a field journal as she goes, noting that her rudimentary experiments show the contaminated water damaging cells and increasing levels of salt in the body. Mulder is in a particularly bad way as he was quite dehydrated from the journey before they even got to the Ardent. He slips into unconsciousness, and she reflects on the Norse folkloric apocalypse, Ragnarok, before also passing out herself. Apparently snow will cover the land and ice will cover the sea, and at some point a wolf named Skoll will eat the sun and everything will fade to black. Quote: “I think I hear the wolf at the door.” It’s Jacob Black, Scully, and he’s come to put you out of your misery. Not even he could be expected to sit through this.

Anytoot, they are eventually rescued and nursed back to health. When Scully comes to, the doctor tells her that her field notes were pivotal in their being cured. Scully asks if it’s possible to return to the Ardent to conduct more experiments, but is informed the ship’s hull rotted completely and it sank not long after they were rescued.

Good riddance.

This was so bad, but one thing which was interesting to see was Scully’s assertion that they had “nothing to fear” from death. Her experience earlier in the season still plays heavily on her mind, but what she saw on her deathbed has brought her certainty and comfort, in its own way. Scully really does have faith.

As a parting note and to end this tragicomedy with some levity, I’d like to share the following additional sentiments, imparted by my Norwegian BFF and transcribed verbatim for your reading pleasure:

  • “Oh my gods, that episode is legendary to Norwegians”
  • “They had. NO. Clue. What they did. When they researched that thing.”
  • “If I recall correctly, one of the lines of the dudes (“why are you here?”) can roughly be translated as “WHEREFORE BECOMEST YOU HERE”
  • “It’s so bad”
  • “NO ONE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD IS ACTUALLY NAMED TRONDHEIM though”

This friend has actually just been to Trondheim this past weekend and can report that despite its brush with terribly-named fictional characters back in the day it remains lovely.

Til next week, peeps. Stay spooky.

Grace Duffy is a pop culture devotée and sometime film critic currently catching up on her classic sci-fi. You can read more on her blog, Tumblr, or catch her frequent TV liveblogs on Twitter.

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