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The X-Files Newbie Recap: “Firewalker” & “Red Museum”

Disappointingly, "Firewalker" is not a Twin Peaks reference.

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This week, volcanic spores and cultists. Standard!

So, remember Josh Lyman with an Uzi? Now he’s got a headband and gone all Rambo on us. This episode focuses on a volcanic research team who find something they didn’t quite bargain for and end up falling victim to a parasitic spore. Talk about a baptism of fire for Scully’s first case back at work.

Mulder and Scully are asked to help out by a member of the aforementioned research team after satellite video shows one of the crew dead in a volcanic crater. The team has been stationed in an isolated facility at Mount Avalon for eight months, collecting samples and studying the interior of the volcano. The video link showing the dead scientist – Erikson – also revealed a shadow standing over him, leading the others to speculate that one of the team might have gone feral (as it were).

There's Josh

Pierce, the guy who called our heroes, heads up to the crater with them. It’s very remote and they need a helicopter to get there. When they arrive, he goes poking around in the woods while Mulder and Scully head into the facility to see where everyone is. The lights are off and the electricity doesn’t seem to be working. One of the team, Ludwig, appears out of nowhere and tries to take Mulder’s head off with a metal bar. Needless to say, this doesn’t go down well. Mulder wrestles him off and when the air clears, he and the rest of the team (a guy named Tanaka and a graduate student named Jesse) reveal that the group leader – Trepkos, aka Josh Lyman – lost it a while back and destroyed all of their notes and equipment. They managed to send a distress call and all are quite anxious to leave. The implication is that Trepkos killed Erikson in the midst of this psychotic break, but Mulder isn’t so sure. He starts going through the remaining notes and tapes to find out what might have pushed Trepkos over the edge.

Meanwhile, Pierce is still out in the woods when Trepkos finds and kills him. The others find the body and bring it back to the facility for storage. Scully wants to call it in and come back with reinforcements. Mulder is still reluctant to leave. As it happens, Tanaka, who’s been coughing up a storm, falls gravely ill and runs out into the woods before anyone can intervene. Mulder and Ludwig chase after him and find him at the bottom of a hill with some weird mass pulsating in his neck. After a lot of gagging and unpleasant ALIEN flashbacks, an ugly (apologies for this) phallic object rips out through his skin. It’s gross.

This is incredibly unfortunate

Scully does a preliminary autopsy and concludes that the object is the result of a parasitic spore that got lodged in Tanaka’s throat. There, it grew until it reached reproductive maturity and, er, barged out through his skin. Her remarks about damage to Tanaka’s respiratory tract catches Mulder’s eye, as there were traces of sand in his lungs. Based on what he’s read in Trepkos’ notes about samples from the volcano, Mulder suggests that they’re dealing with a new and unidentified silicon-based life form. Scully rejects this, pointing out that carbon is the fundamental building block for every living organism on earth. Mulder counters by outlining the similarities between silicon and carbon. He wants to go and find Trepkos and get to the bottom of the situation. Scully agrees, but stays at the facility to continue conducting tests on the spore. In the meanwhile, Ludwig and Jesse exchange furtive glances and talk discreetly about sticking to a story and remembering what to say. Hmm.

Mulder and Ludwig go out into the crater to look for Trepkos. Ludwig is ostensibly there to act as guide but his input is pretty futile as Trepkos finds them and shoots him in the back with a flare. He then promptly sets fire to the body, saying it’s not Ludwig he’s trying to kill. Mulder is forced to hand over his gun but manages to get some info out of him. Trepkos and Erikson had found what they thought was a strange rock sample and took it back for analysis. Erikson broke it up in the presence of the other scientists, while Trepkos was working in another room. Unfortunately however, pulverising the sample released a spore which was ingested by all present. (This corresponds with what Scully’s initial tests have found – that the spore has to be immediately ingested or inhaled upon release, or it breaks down and becomes harmless.) Trepkos has since been bumping off members of the team to try and contain the pathogen. Grisly, but, in its own way, responsible. I guess.

Absolute state

Mulder, realising that Scully is now alone with an infected Jesse, goes racing back to warn her. Jesse has already fallen ill however, handcuffing herself to Scully and wheezing as the object in her throat starts to bulge out. Scully, ever the quick thinker, manages to shove her into a containment room and close the door on the handcuff chain. The spore explodes through Jesse’s throat but thankfully, it’s contained and Scully is safe.

Mulder, who had earlier called search and rescue and asked them to notify the CDC, calls it in and says there are only two survivors. Trepkos takes Jesse’s body and goes back to the crater. Mulder and Scully are put into quarantine while the military promptly rip up all evidence of anything in the facility. So far, so standard. It’s not clear what happens to Trepkos but I imagine too much exposure to volcanic gases can’t be good for anyone. So long and goodnight to that delicious beard, I guess.

I’ve zipped through this one mainly because the next one seems more important in the overall mythos, but this was enjoyable. A claustrophobic unexplained foe episode up there with “Ice” and even “Darkness Falls”, and the main highlight is Mulder’s continuing concern for Scully. When they’re asked to join the case he suggests it might be too soon for her to be back at work, but she says she’s back and she’s not going anywhere. And thank bejesus for that. Everything was about ready to fall apart without her, babe. You had vampires shaving you and Skinner tearing up your resignation letter. Your concern is noted but Dana needs to never leave you alone again.

Also, the spore in this seems to have made everyone weirdly paranoid, which is something. It’s understandable that they’d all want to get out of there – Jesse says to Scully that at first there was something exciting about working up in the beyond with Trepkos (who was her thesis supervisor, and with whom she was romantically involved) but it’s been eight months and she wants to go home. Evidently they decided to strategically omit mentioning the spore and possible contagion so as to get home to their families, thereby continuing to illustrate that scientists in the world of The X-Files lose all sense of professional resolve and decorum in the face of danger. Cripes.

Oh and one more thing – the military crew who come in to mop up the facility have a strange badge on their arm. Anyone recognise this? Or am I reading too much into it?

Red Museum
Now this episode was rather…meaty. Chortle. It starts off with a story about strange cult vegetarians calling themselves the Red Museum, but turns out to be about our shady governmental friends carrying out experiments on a group of teenagers in Wisconsin using alien DNA. Because obviously.

A bunch of youths in a small Wisconsin town have gone temporarily missing only to later turn up in their underwear with “he/she is one” scrawled on their back. Assault has been ruled out but none of the victims can remember much of what happened. Suspicions are leaning towards the Red Museum cult, which didn’t exactly endear itself to the cattle-farming locals by rocking up and claiming they’re all impure for ingesting other creatures. Mulder and Scully meet the local sheriff and go to take in a Red Museum lecture, which leads Mulder to speculate that they’re “walk-ins” – believers in soul transference. This is apparently some kind of new age notion which holds that people who become too lost and despairing are vulnerable to being inhabited by other spirits. Legend has it that Gorbachev and Lincoln were both walk-ins, so there’s something you’ve learned today.

You're free to leave whenever you want but would you mind telling us why

Anyway, in the course of their visit, another youth is taken. Scully has a chance to examine her and learns that her blood contains high quantities of a controlled hallucinogenic drug. In order to access such a large amount of the drug, one would have to be a doctor or chemist. Mulder’s just discovered that the leader of the Red Museum, Richard Odin, was a doctor but left the AMA after an ethics inquiry. This piques their interest and they bring him in for questioning. The cult holds a protest over his arrest, during which a bystander beckons to Scully and asks her and Mulder to accompany him to a spot outside of town. They head to a pasture field where two men are injecting cows with growth hormone. The bystander, who never identifies himself, says that things have changed of late in the town and that people are becoming more violent. He tells them to look into the growth hormone, believing that it may be responsible for the spike in violent crime rates.

Later that night, a plane crashes in the woods on the outskirts of town. One of the victims is a well-known local doctor, Larson. He was clutching a briefcase full of money and in which Scully finds a vial of an unidentified substance. She sends it off for analysis. Mulder pulls a shipping manifest out of the wreckage and discovers a list of credit card numbers – all of which correspond to the families of the abducted youths. Things are getting just freaky enough when a suspiciously familiar-looking guy shows up and shoots one of the guys who was injecting the cattle. Scully spots him on the road but doesn’t immediately place him (I didn’t either, to my shame), and only later twigs that it’s the guy who shot Deep Throat in “The Erlenmeyer Flask”. Meep!

Thusly, the stakes are seriously upped. Scully and Mulder learn that Larson had been giving a number of local kids shots of what he said were vitamins, but which analysis reveals to be a protein compound of unidentified origin – the same stuff they found in the Erlenmeyer flask in the first season finale. The sheriff’s son has turned up dead, and tensions are going through the roof. Scully tells Mulder where she saw the blonde guy before and he tells her to get the sheriff and gather up the victims’ families, as well as anyone else linked to a credit card number off the shipping manifest. He suspects our friendly neighbourhood government agents have been experimenting on the kids using alien DNA and now the blonde guy is going around mopping up their handiwork. Mulder wants to take him alive.

The kids and their families are brought to the Red Museum’s land. Mulder, meanwhile, goes after the blonde guy (does he have a name in X-Files lore?). He tracks him to a slaughterhouse and finds him preparing to torch the place. He locks Mulder into another room and goes to light a can of gasoline, but at the last minute Scully breaks in with the sheriff. Before they can apprehend him however, the sheriff, thinking he’s about to light the gasoline, shoots him dead. So much for taking him alive.


Scully provides a closing summary by voiceover. They haven’t been able to identify the dead man, and she suspects no one will come forward to claim the body. Further analysis of the substance the kids were being injected with has revealed it to be an unstable antibody of unknown origin. The substance has broken down and can’t be investigated further, and the kids who were injected with it have developed a flu-like illness. However, no one among the Red Museum has contracted it, suggesting that they may have been a control group planted in the area by whoever was carrying out the experiments (I’m guessing Odin was in on it, so?). They’ve attempted to use the shipping manifest to track any meat which may be infected with the substance but they haven’t been able to get very far, so as a precaution a local advisory and quarantine have been put in place. The case remains open and unsolved.

Bong. Ominous! This was awesome. I love the misdirection, and especially the creepy insinuation that the government (or whomever is behind these shady goings-on) would carry out such bizarre experiments on a small-town populace. It’s so insidious and yet so flagrant – almost hiding in plain sight. I guess this helps illustrate how ruthless these crooks are while also suggesting that they know less about extra-terrestrials than they think, or they wouldn’t have to deceive an entire town’s population to do their experiments. Hell, you could probably advertise for volunteers for that kind of thing. Mulder himself might sign up in the name of science. But then you can’t watch how the alien DNA interacts with human DNA as the host develops and grows, interacting normally with its family and environment. Gah. Scully could probably teach an entire college course on weird unexplained pathogenic DNA at this rate.


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 blogTumblr, or catch her frequent TV liveblogs on Twitter.

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