The X-Files Newbie Recap: “Nisei” & “731”
This just went from Mission: Impossible to Mission: In-freakin'-sanity
Hello fellow X-philes and lovely commenters! It’s been a long month without these loopers. Had a wonderful holiday and great trip but am very pleased to be delving back into the world of mischief and wonder. I seem to have picked a fine place to leave it on too, cos I’m starting back with a two-parter in which everything is (again) turned up to 90. As if it ever really goes below 90, I suppose.
Hope you’ve all been well! Without further ado.
These two episodes were so 90s I can’t stand it. That decade was nearly 30 years ago and I’m so old. I felt like I was watching a weird mashup of US Marshals, Outbreak, maybe even Speed. Magical. Welcome back, babies.
OKies, so, all this kicks off when Mulder gets a video of an alien autopsy off the internet. Or possibly from a mail order catalogue, I’m not sure. Scully wryly remarks that it’s not his ~usual choice of entertainment (the running joke continueth) and naturally takes a more laid-back approach to its contents. It purports to show an alien being autopsied by a group of masked doctors (fun fact, apparently it’s widely held that aliens wouldn’t have blood) when a group of soldiers burst in and massacre them all. The alien specimen gets zipped up and taken out in a body bag –
– and Mulder decides to hit the trail. First stop is the person he bought it from, down in Pennsylvania. He and Scully discover the guy dead in his rather ramshackle house, though he’s still warm when they come across the body. There’s a noise in the basement and Mulder takes off after someone while Scully calls it in. He manages to catch the intruder, who appears to be Japanese, and after some impromptu jujitsu (because all Asian characters are automatically martial arts experts) pulls out his gun and arrests him. The suspect was making off with a briefcase, which Mulder spirits away before bringing him in. While they wait for an interpreter to show up, Skinner, my beloved and one and only, emerges from a cloud of smoke in the police station like an angel descending to Earth. God be with us all.
Naturally, Walter comes with ill tidings. Mulder has casually caused an international mess. The man he arrested, Kazuo Sakurai, is a high-ranking diplomat. Mulder resists the impulse to roll his eyes and says they’re investigating a case of video piracy. Skinner, wearied by the ways of this world, sighs heavily and tells him to stop faffing about and haul ass back to DC. He then wanders off, back into the fog from whence he emerged. All my creys go with him.
The briefcase contains a bunch of satellite photos, showing what looks like a ship. It also has a list of UFO Network members who live in the area. The name Betsy Hagopian is circled. Scully sticks around to check out that lead, while Mulder follows orders and goes back to DC. His first pitstop is of course the Lone Gunmen office. He’s wearing a poloneck. It’s faintly alarming. As I said, 90s. The Lone Gunmen recognise the ship as the Talapus. It is alleged to have spent ages looking for a submarine that sank in World War II, and the photos track the ship to a naval port in Virginia. Mulder heads to the coast guard’s office to check it out. He’s informed the ship arrived in from Panama but wasn’t allowed to dock. The DEA prevented her landing, apparently, but never went aboard to investigate and the ship was put back out to sea. Mulder wants to know where she was headed. It had to be somewhere close by given the ship would need to refuel after a journey from Panama. While the harbourmaster heads off to check, he sneaks aboard the ship. Before he can find anything of note, a bunch of cars roll up – the standard CIA fleet sedans we’ve seen before – and out pours a stream of armed guards. Mulder, unwilling to be shot up like the doctors at the autopsy, literally JUMPS OVERBOARD in a feat of brilliance so remarkable it has to be seen to be believed.
I’m crying. I have missed this man so much.
Later, having emerged from the water and presumably freezing his ass off, he crawls along the dock to a warehouse which is all lit up and bustling with activity. Evading the guards and peeking through a window, he sees a suspicious craft ship, covered in plastic and surrounded by figures in hazmat suits. This is about the third time this has happened to him. It should be the screensaver on his phone, you know, when LED displays are invented.
Back at home, he finds his apartment door open. The lights aren’t working. Inside, Skinner chills on the couch, like the thing that goes bump in the night if the bump is the sound of the world adjusting itself around his aura of awesome. He tells Mulder that Sakurai is dead (an earlier scene shows him being strangled) and the Japanese government are looking for the contents of a certain briefcase. Mulder says Scully has the briefcase. Skinner is exasperated, saying the State Department is breathing down his neck and that this is bigger than either of them and the FBI. Walter, honey, it’s ALWAYS bigger than the FBI and the State Department have you on speed dial. The day Mulder works on a simple cross-border kidnapping is the day you can retire to a pleasure craft and Cuban cigars. Skinner tells him he’s on his own – nothing new there either – and flounces out. Oh Walter. Please. You’re like an angry dad who’s always furious yet always insists on being involved. It’s like a car wreck in slow motion; you have to be there and polish your glasses.
Mulder heads to Senator Matheson’s office for more info. The Senator tells him that four prominent doctors were murdered in Tennessee a few weeks back. He can’t confirm if the incident is the same as the one on the tape but says he has the names of those involved in the project. He makes reference to past deeds illuminating present treacheries and monsters begetting monsters because no one in this show can come out and say ‘so this shit happened and then that shit happened and here’s who you’re looking for and have a good one.’ Oy.
Meanwhile, back in Pennsylvania, Scully’s stumbled upon some intrigue of her own. Following up the Betsy Hagopian lead, she arrives at the latter’s house and discovers a group of women who look at her and immediately claim she’s “one of them.” It seems they all had unexplainable events happen to them in the past, during which they were experimented on and had implants placed in their necks. Scully pales. They say their memories were taken away but sometimes they seep back in, and ask her about regression hypnosis. She’s not ready to discuss it, but has momentary flashbacks to being on her back in a room filled with light. There’s some kind of instrument attached to her tummy, which looks massively swollen (or pregnant?!). Feeling her cool begin to subside, she says she’s not a member of any UFO chapter, reiterates that she’s an FBI agent and asks to speak to Betsy. Betsy is apparently down at the hospital suffering from an aggressive and incurable form of cancer. The other women claim this is the result of the experiments and that they’ll all get it eventually. For Dana’s sake, I certainly hope not. All these women have their implants in little vials and Scully’s officially weirded out enough to go back to Mulder, who even on his very worst days never freaks her out to this extent.
I’m a touch spooked by all of that. I don’t want beloved Dana coming down with cancer, though I’m more immediately concerned by her having to deal with unwanted flashbacks and all the grief and trauma it’s going to cause when she finds out what happened to her. Be strong, darling. These things have to get worse before they can get better.
Back in DC, she updates Mulder. He’s annoyingly calm despite her being obviously freaked out and tells her to find out what the implant is. Mulder has a photo of a group of doctors who experimented on humans during WWII. Scully recognises one of them from her flashbacks, but Mulder claims the guy died in 1965. He suspects that some of the other doctors were on the tape and believes they were continuing experiments to create a human/alien hybrid. Scully bristles, saying believing is easy but she wants proof. Mulder scoffs. “You think believing is easy?” Realistically, probably not. Demanding proof is a way of insulating yourself from confronting reality – where reality is too utterly surreal to be understood – but I think Dana’s been through enough for the time being and really needs to build herself up to accepting all of this. At least if there’s proof/evidence/some form of scientific reasoning she can wrap her head around it.
Anyway, Mulder believes the ship he took a flying leap off earlier is the one that pulled a UFO craft out of the ocean back in the day. He thinks trains are being used to carry test subjects and goes to check it out. Scully meanwhile takes her implant to a techie to get it looked at. The tech says it looks like a complex microprocessor, one which puts him in mind of similar chips used to help people with special needs communicate. It could potentially cause direct interference with the cerebral cortex. She goes back to the office and watches the autopsy tape again, seeing the man she recognises from her flashback on it. Mulder calls to check in. He’s in a yard near a train station and has just seen a group of Japanese men put a live test subject into a train car. He plans to follow it. Scully tells him she knows one of the men on the tape, though she can’t say where from.
Mulder discovers the train is headed for Vancouver. He misses it at the next station and has to take drastic measures to catch up. Elsewhere, the assassin who took out Sakurai is following two of the other doctors. He kills one in the station bathroom before heading after the doc from Scully’s flashbacks. Scully herself is headed home when she meets Mr. X in the hallway. He tells her Mulder can’t get on the train and that he’s in danger. She calls Mulder, who’s literally balancing on the edge of a railway bridge preparing to jump on top. Cripes. This is the Mission: Impossible segment of this 90s action movie pastiche. Scully tells him in no uncertain terms not to get on the train, that “they” know where he is and what he’s doing. Mulder ignores her warnings and jumps, landing on top of the train but losing his phone. This man is officially and completely hopeless. I’m at my wit’s end.
And this is where everything gets REALLY loopy. The title, FYI, is a reference to the name of the project the Japanese doctors were working on. You know, *the* project. I don’t think I mentioned that above.
This episode is actually extremely harrowing. There are obvious Holocaust overtones with its depiction of idle slaughter, inhumane treatment, execution squads, mass graves and even something akin to a concentration camp. I don’t in any way want to make that comparison lightly, but certain parts of this episode make for very uncomfortable viewing.
If “Nisei” was a mixture of Mission: Impossible and US Marshals (I’m thinking of that bit where Wesley Snipes swings onto a moving train to evade Tommy Lee Jones), this one is like Under Siege 2 crossed with a bit of Outbreak and I shall refer to Mulder’s entire segment as Strangers on a Train.
/and enough references
Strangers on a Train: When last we saw the tragically idealistic lost soul known as Fox Mulder, he had landed awkwardly on a train possibly containing an alien specimen which was supposedly en route to Vancouver. Having ~mislaid his phone, he climbs down into the carriage and finds a door marked “quarantine.” He accosts a conductor and asks him to open it for him. The conductor, who shall go on to become the unsung hero of this episode, says he doesn’t have access but that there is a doctor on board who was hanging around the quarantined car. He leads Mulder to the doctor’s cabin, where he finds a briefcase containing a wad of files all in Japanese. In one of the characteristically terrible decisions he’s wont to make when aliens are involved, Mulder gives a (non-loaded) gun to the conductor and tells him to hold the doc if he comes back. This innocent conductor man was having a perfectly nice day at work and was probably looking forward to clocking off and having a beer when Fox Mulder, dreamer of dreams and maker of endless questionable professional decisions slammed into his train and started barking orders.
Elsewhere on the train, the doc – Shiro Zama – is being pursued by the assassin who killed Sakurai in the previous episode. This man is not named but looks curiously like Robert Knepper (and were this made today would probably be played by Robert Knepper). He later purports to be from the NSA so I’ll call him NSA Dude for now. He manages to corner Zama in a cabin and kills him while Mulder wanders by right outside. Always the bridesmaid, Mulder. Always. Discovering the body a short while later, Mulder updates the poor conductor and tells him to seal the bathroom and keep the train moving until he’s found the killer. He then notices the door to the quarantine room is open. He goes in and discovers a cell at the back with what looks like an alien creature inside.
NSA Dude appears and proceeds to garotte Mulder, but our hero conductor man arrives in time and points the gun at NSA Dude to call him off. His cool holds for about 4 seconds, after which he swiftly nopes out and locks the two of them in. Bless this conductor man, for he is the only sensible person in the vicinity. Mulder has recovered enough to draw his gun and demand some answers. NSA Dude announces that there is – wait for it – a BOMB ON THE TRAIN. Because of fucking course there is. The car they’re in is wired to explode because, he alleges, Zama would rather kill what’s in the room than allow it to be discovered. He doesn’t know how the bomb’s wired to go off, however, so anything could trigger it. There follows a lengthy bit of jonnicks where he and Mulder and hero conductor man attempt to defuse (chortle) the situation but I’ll come back to this cos we need to check in with Scully before proceeding.
While Mulder’s been doing his best impression of Casey Ryback, Scully’s had the misfortune to discover a latter-day internment camp and some mass graves. This starts off with her taking the implant back to her boffin techie friend. He goes by the name of Agent Pendrell, it seems, but we’ll need a cuter nickname for him cos he’s adorable. He’s able to deduce that the chip in the implant is replicating memory function and mental processes. Scully translates: it’s gathering data on your every thought. However, the chip is so delicate it was effectively destroyed by being investigated. Pendrell found evidence it was manufactured in Japan and has info on one shipment from the manufacturer to a research facility in West Virginia. Awesome. Scully thanks him and, before heading off to follow up the lead, tells him to keep up the good work. She pats him on the arm and it appears to blow his mind, cos he replies “thanks, keep it up yourself!” to audible cringes from everyone in the audience. Indeed, he quietly admonishes himself a moment later.
I love this guy. Seriously, let’s give him a name.
In West Virginia, Scully finds a medical facility which was featured in the opening scene. In that scene, a group of patients were rounded up, taken into the forest nearby and summarily shot by soldiers. The “patients” all had a distinctly alien-like appearance. Scully investigates the perimeter and spots someone running by. She follows them, and finds a group of people hiding beneath a trapdoor. All have facial disfigurements, and it turns out they’re suffering from leprosy. They’ve been at the facility for most of their lives and are hiding from the “death squads”. One of them takes Scully through the woods to where the other patients were shot. En route, she asks why they were all living in a leper colony when the disease is now perfectly treatable. The patient informs her that the severity of their disfigurements forced them into the camp before a treatment was available. However, not everyone at the camp had leprosy. Others began arriving a few years back and were housed separately. These patients had disfigurements as well and were frequently rounded up for treatments, only to return covered in burns and scars. He and Scully then come upon a mass grave. It’s horrific.
The patient tells Scully there are many more pits, all filled with hundreds of bodies. Before they can do anything else, a chopper appears in the sky and armed men start swarming through the woods. They capture Scully and kill the man she was speaking to. She’s led back to the camp, where their leader asks to speak to her alone. He knows her name and, apparently, “everything about” her. She demands answers. He replies by musing none-too-cryptically about monsters and shame and terrible things and effectively says that the people in the camp were victims of an inhuman project which involved their being exposed to terrible things. He says he’ll show her something that will give her answers.
Back to Strangers on a Train.
Mulder is still locked in the booby-trapped car with NSA Dude. Hero conductor man asks if they want the door to be pried open, but NSA Dude says this may set off the bomb. They need a code to get out, but use of the code will most likely set off the bomb. NSA Dude’s phone starts ringing. It’s Scully, looking to speak to Mulder. She quickly brings him up to speed on the experiments at the leper colony. The subjects were human, many homeless or insane, all rounded up and exposed to different diseases and radiation tests. She’s in a train car like the one on the alien autopsy video, and believes she was brought somewhere similar when she was kidnapped and the implant put in. Alien abduction is, she says, a smokescreen created by the government to cover up these experiments. What’s more, there is indeed a bomb on the train, and if it detonates thousands of people will be exposed to hemorrhagic fever.
Seriously, hero conductor man was having SUCH A GOOD DAY til all this landed in his lap.
Mulder, who should really be laughing uproariously at the conspiratorial predictability of all this, tells NSA Dude to open the ventilation grid and check for the bomb there. Lo and behold, they’ve found it. It’s on a timer and they have about an hour and 40 minutes before it goes off. Scully tells him to get the train to stop so everyone can be evacuated. Mulder heartily ignores that advice and hangs up. Hero conductor man tells Mulder the train is currently in Iowa. Mulder instructs the engineer to skip the next stop, find a spot as far away from a populated area as possible and stop the train there. The car with the bomb can then be unhooked and the rest of them can continue on their way. This goes off as planned, leaving Mulder and NSA Dude to their own devices. Mulder calls Scully, who tells her they’re in a non-populated area and the risk of exposure is reduced. Not that he really believes there’s a bomb, of course. It’s all a CONSPIRACY.
Time ticks away and when they’re down to 38 minutes, Mulder asks his compadre about the alien creature in the back. After some death threats and general disagreement, NSA Dude says that the creature is a weapon more valuable than an atomic bomb. Mulder decides this means it’s immune to nuclear weapons. He rants about how Zama was smuggling his successful test subject home and that the government found out and got peeved. He believes the creature is an alien/human hybrid, the first successful creation of its kind. NSA Dude remains unperturbed and laconic and observes, “if that were true, you’d have expected someone would have been here by now to save it, wouldn’t you?”
Scully is at Casa Mulder. She places a call to Senator Matheson’s home address. He’s out of the country. She places an X in the window and then re-watches the alien autopsy video. A few moments later, she calls Mulder and tells him the code to get out of the car may be on the video. Pausing the video and watching it bit by bit, she deduces a code – 101331. There are six minutes on the bomb timer. The code works, but NSA Dude has freed himself and promptly knocks Mulder out. He escapes the car and is promptly shot by Mr. X. Mr. X is SUCH a frigging badass, lads. That Neil Degrasse Tyson meme should have started with him.
There’s a minute left on the timer. Mr. X looks from Mulder, who’s unconscious, to the creature and apparently decides to save Mulder. Cue the heroic walking away from an explosion shot. Poor hybrid. :(
(Although…if it were immune to an atomic bomb surely a simple incendiary device would be no biggie? Hmm.)
Some time later, back in DC, Scully and Mulder discuss the fallout. Nobody knows what happened to the car (I do, it blew up). Matheson is still allegedly out of the country. The journals in Zama’s briefcase have been rewritten and the ones Mulder found earlier are missing. The bodies in the mass graves are gone. Scully sighs, saying “they” got away with it. By “it” she means the government and experiments, for she still doesn’t believe aliens are involved. Mulder naturally feels differently. They argue, and she accuses him of “chasing aliens that aren’t there”, inadvertently helping “them” to cover up the truth. She says apology has become policy. Mulder says he doesn’t care about the fictions they’ve created, he wants “them” held accountable for what did happen. “I want an apology for the truth,” he declares, beautifully, nobly, heroically, the sad doe-eyed misguided loser. Don’t hold your breath.
Meanwhile, the actual documents from the briefcase are being examined in a dark room clouded in smoke while The Fucker Himself keeps watch.
So, that was a rollercoaster to come back on. Yowsa. Hope I picked all that up right!
Some thoughts: I refuse to believe that the entirety of this show’s alien mytharc can be explained away by it being some kind of manufactured virus. I mean, obviously. There’s room for multitudes and I don’t think they’d play their hands that early. It’s very easy to believe that an amoral government sheltered war criminals and sanctioned horrific tests to produce super-soldiers, but that doesn’t mean alien DNA/specimens weren’t involved in some capacity or in use in another test. Frankly, Scully’s refusal to accept that both possibilities exist is a little irksome. I completely get the *psychological* reasons why she’d want to stick to what proof is right in front of her, especially when she seems so unwilling to confront her fractured memories and the implications of all the flashbacks. However, tangible evidence of experiments on people with leprosy and other conditions doesn’t rule out the possibility of alien specimens being used as well. I mean, for heaven’s sake, she opened the frigging Erlenmeyer Flask and saw what was in it herself! The aliens aren’t always a smokescreen, sometimes it is actually just aliens.
At the beginning of the episode, before she starts investigating the chip in the implant, she speaks to Mr. X and demands an explanation. He’s typically reticent, but says that in order to find out who killed Missy and also what’s on the train she has to get to the bottom of the implant. Missy’s murder – mistaken identity as it was – was over the files they found proving aliens had landed in New Mexico. It seems to be a separate issue to what’s going on here. Which to my mind means that actual aliens or alien tissues/samples were involved in the experiments and again that it wasn’t all just a smokescreen. I dunno, either I’m very confused or Scully’s a bit all over the place. Both? Probably both. It’s all such a riddle.
I’d also like to take a moment to commend the show for making Mr. X so interesting. He’s a really intensely alluring character. There’s clear evidence of him being some kind of highly trained operative, what with his reflexes and skill and covert abilities, but there’s also an obvious question mark over his allegiances. On the one hand, he’s saved Mulder several times and feeds him info, but on the other he’s captured scientists and returned them to governmental facilities to be tortured. All part of the day job/cover, presumably, but still enough to keep me looking at him with narrowed eyes. I’m so intrigued. Hope we get to the bottom of that mystery along the way, although then again he may be an enigma best left unsolved.
On a final note, the scenes in the camp are really, really unsettling. The opening couple of minutes are actually quite tough to watch, and the show doesn’t flinch away from showing figures lined up in grey pyjamas being mercilessly gunned down by soldiers. It’s not unusual for the show to be affecting but that sequence, and the discovery of the mass graves, felt more visceral and stark than anything I’ve seen on it before. It’s upsetting in the extreme, underlining exactly where your sympathies should lie as the story continues.
Time for some comfort viewing now, I think.
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 Tumblr or catch her frequent TV liveblogs on Twitter.
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