The X-Files Newbie Recap: “Sanguinarium”, “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man”, & “Tunguska”
STUPID. ASS. HAIRCUT.
Deep Throat once shot an alien in the face, but the CSM shot JFK. Where is your god now?
A fairly standard monster-of-the-week which pales in comparison to the two episodes which follow. I think it’s the Charmed fan in me, but this sort of depiction of witchcraft just seems underwhelming.
In this episode, a spate of deeply unfortunate incidents at a plastic surgery practice prompts Mulder to speculate about witchcraft. Several surgeons seem to lose the run of themselves and kill patients during routine liposuctions, face peels, and rhinoplasties. Scully reckons the doctors were probably overworked and made a mistake, especially as many were on prescriptions for sleeping pills and antacids. Mulder, noticing marks consistent with pentagrams in the operating rooms, discovers the antacids contain belladonna and dons his witchhunting hat.
The surgeons convene around a boardroom table and talk about being burned at the stake. This part actually did remind me of Charmed but only in how 90s it is: well-dressed middle class types, one of whom may or may not be a demon, hold civilised meetings in conference rooms to discuss infernal plans. Mulder and Scully later discover that there was a similar series of killings at the same hospital several years earlier. Those deaths weren’t properly investigated because the plastic surgery industry was too lucrative for the hospital. All of the victims were born on dates corresponding to witch sabbaths, except for one – a doctor who effectively worked himself to death and then was presumed to have committed suicide.
One nurse, Rebecca, was working at the hospital during the previous incidents. She also attended some of the new victims. When Mulder and Scully go to her house to speak to her, they find a ritualistic set up, black cat and a broom. She herself is not there however, as she’s hanging out in a bathtub of blood at one of the doctors’ houses. This doc – Franklin – comes home to find Latin scrawled on his mirror before Rebecca leaps out of the tub and tries to kill him. He overpowers her, but as she’s being hauled away by police she starts coughing up blood and pins. She tells Mulder and Scully she tried to stop “it” but it’s too powerful. Scully goes with her to the hospital while Mulder has a look around. After everyone leaves, Franklin lies down on his bed and begins to levitate. As one does.
Rebecca dies from severe hemorrhaging. When Scully comes to inform Mulder, she finds him poring over an encyclopedia of witchcraft taken from Rebecca’s home. The pentagram, he says, is a protective symbol. What happened to Rebecca is consistent with historical reports of foreign objects inexplicably appearing in people’s stomachs. He’s curious about the doctor who killed himself after the original slew of killings. They find a picture of him and use visualisation software to change his appearance, discovering that the dead doc is actually Franklin. Connecting the dots, Mulder decides that Franklin kills victims born on Sabbath dates to gain the ability to change his appearance.
Another doctor, Shannon, finds and confronts Franklin before our heroes do. He uses some magical jiggery-pokery to lodge surgical instruments in her intestines, cos he’s nice like that. She’s found and rushed to surgery. Scully goes to supervise, while Mulder attempts to find Franklin. However, in the interim, he’s managed to change his face and disappear. Shannon is saved, but they don’t catch their guy. In the final scene, Franklin – now going under the name Hartman, and with a different appearance – interviews at an LA plastic surgery clinic. They praise his impeccable credentials and welcome him aboard. Unpleasant things lie ahead there.
Overall, this was a decent but fairly benign episode. It doesn’t seem to add much to the overall storyline, so let’s keep on trucking.
Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man
Now THIS was something different. A little bit of background and insight on the much-maligned CSM, though I’m not sure how much it succeeds because I highly doubt any of this is entirely true. There’s a recurring depiction of the CSM writing stories based on his day-to-day experiences as a clandestine operative, which is interesting but leads me to wonder how much of what we see actually happened. I wonder if the details were embellished or even fabricated by the CSM himself as a means of tailoring his history and retrospectively justifying the terrible things he’s done. It’s an interesting meta-commentary on the way he’s written and shaped world history, relying as much on assassination and espionage as a typewriter.
The episode is told in four parts, all flashing back to key points in the CSM’s career. (Career seems like a weird word for a life of cold-blooded killing but let’s roll with it.) These vignettes are juxtaposed with shots of the CSM in the present day, listening in on a meeting between Mulder and the Lone Gunmen. Frohike’s discovered a story in one of his subscription magazines which, be believes, explains more about the CSM and why he’s the most dangerous man alive. Honestly, most of this made me think of The Winter Soldier and Alexander Pierce. That probably makes me a bad person but I think some of the effect has been lost in a post-MCU world.
Part 1 takes place at Fort Bragg in 1962. The youthful CSM, reading “The Manchurian Candidate”, says he’d rather read the worst book ever written than sit through the best film ever made. This goes to show he’s a snob as well as a killer. He chats briefly to youthful Bill Mulder, who reveals his son’s first words – “JFK”, apparently, and sharpen that laugh track – before being called into a meeting. The notion that Mulder’s first words were JFK is effing hysterical. Not least because the CSM is ordered to kill JFK at aforementioned meeting. One of the most powerful and enduring conspiracy theories of all time and Mulder’s fate was locked to it right from the off, when his nemesis was ordered to shoot his first discernible utterance from the grassy knoll. (Well, he shoots from a sewer, but semantics.)
Some brief background: the CSM’s father was executed for being a communist spy and his mother died from cancer. He initially abhorred smoking but took it up as his career progressed, possibly imitating one of the shady government types who gives him his first assignment. His life is, evidently, a series of toxic patterns condemned to repeat themselves over time. Despite his dad’s dodgy history, his superiors see potential in him and dispatch him to Texas to deal with the commander-in-chief who messed up so royally in Cuba. The CSM obliges and frames Lee Harvey Oswald for the killing. All in a day’s work.
His next test comes in the late 1960s. The picture switches to black and white, while the CSM sits working on a novel under the pen name Raul Bloodworth. On the radio, Martin Luther King is speaking. He decries the US’s actions in Vietnam and the CSM bristles, interrupting his creative stupor to meet more shady types and plan King’s assassination. Interestingly, the CSM shows some support for civil rights. However, he can’t allow King to talk African-Americans out of fighting in Vietnam as that would cost the US the war. The CSM shoots King himself, saying he has “too much respect” for the man to let anyone else do it, but then his novel is rejected by a publishing house. It’s tough out there for a bastard.
Part 3 takes place in 1991. It’s Christmas Eve and the CSM is meeting with a more contemporary band of shady types to discuss ongoing riggings and deals. They’ve been brokering unrest over Anita Hill and Rodney King, and are preparing to orchestrate the outcome of the Oscars. The CSM doesn’t want the Buffalo Bills winning the Super Bowl. He has a machine which intercepts calls from Saddam Hussein. Then Gorbachev resigns, and he announces to the table that they have no enemy left to fight. (Do you want to insert The Simpsons‘ stonecutter song here, or should I?)
He gives the men at the table gifts for Christmas, but declines an invitation to join them and their families in Virginia. Instead, he returns to his apartment – rambling past Mulder’s office as he goes – and keeps working on his novel. In it, he writes that he believes in sacrifice but sometimes longs for a second chance (well, his character does, but let’s call a self-insert fic what it is). Then he gets a call from Deep Throat. An alien craft has been downed and a living being has been pulled from it. They discuss truth, subterfuge and the American way and the CSM describes them as being the men “in the shadows” changing the course of world history. This is everything that’s wrong with world history in a nutshell, really. White men in the shadows fixing everything out of a misplaced sense of self-importance. Although Deep Throat thinks the living alien being could advance Bill Mulder’s work by decades (eep), the CSM is adamant that it be killed. They flip a coin and Deep Throat loses. He goes in and shoots the alien. I wonder if it’s at this point Deep throat decided to drop Mulder a line sometime.
The final part of the episode takes place in 1994, when wonderful newborn baby Dana Scully was first summoned to an FBI office to talk about one Fox Mulder and The X-Files. The brightness in her eyes is killing me, everyone. She was so innocent. The CSM listens to her and Mulder’s first conversation, grinning in spite of himself because he, too, is a shipper. Then he receives a letter from a publishing house offering to print his novel. He’s thrilled and calls them back to learn that it’ll be serialised in a publication called Roman a Clef (hi Frohike!). Excitedly typing up a resignation letter, he picks up a box of cigarettes and crushes it in his hand, evidently deciding his nascent second chance at life will be cancer and emphysema-free. Unfortunately, when he goes to get Roman a Clef at the newsstand, he discovers it’s an adult magazine. Though to be fair, this part doesn’t faze him that much. It’s when he opens the magazine and realises the editors changed the ending of his story that he snaps. “This isn’t the ending I wrote!” he cries to himself in dismay, presumably foreshadowing his inevitable downfall. He buys the magazine nevertheless, and a pack of cigarettes, and sits quoting Forrest Gump on a bench with a homeless man for a while. Taking it all as a grim sign, he tears up his resignation letter, abandons the magazine, and returns to the office.
In the final scene, he watches through a gun’s sights as Frohike leaves the Lone Gunmen office. Although he has a clear shot, the CSM decides not to take it. He says “I can kill you whenever I please, but not today”, echoing a line he wrote into his story. And thus the curtain falls.
So! I don’t believe for a second that the CSM is, in Frohike’s words, the most dangerous man alive, but this does make him seem a bit more human. I highly doubt he was that heavily involved in that many conspiracies, but then I wonder if that’s the point. He seems to get more engrossed in his creative endeavours as time goes on, leading me to conclude that perhaps he’s checked out of a lot of reality and chooses to only see the stories which suit his internal narrative. He may well have been involved in the assassination of JFK and Martin Luther King, but rigging football matches and Oscar ceremonies seems ridiculously frivolous by comparison. I wonder if he became disillusioned with his (admittedly terrible) work as time went on, losing his conviction and strength of belief and retreating into a part-fantasy world where he’s still involved in high-end conspiracies and decision-making but not at the level he wants. The game has changed and the enemies are different. Instead of protecting America from communism and domestic disturbers, he’s now dealing with aliens and truth-seekers. I expect this would seem pretty low-brow to someone used to making decisions which actually changed the shape of history. Now, the events he rigs are as clandestine as the work that goes into them. The men he works with exchange Christmas presents and hang out with their families, a far cry from the gravelly seriousness that underlined his early meetings with operatives. I’m of two minds. I like the meta aspects of this, but it’s also a little frustrating to have the episode turn the CSM into an even more elusive and quasi-mythical figure. Or, is his becoming an urban myth actually fitting given every major incident he set up birthed persistent conspiracy theories?
Bleurgh. My head hurts. I did very much enjoy this one, though the next episode is this week’s highlight by far.
This episode was *glorious*. So glorious I watched it twice and could easily have done the entire recap in .gif form. Plus, it’s a cliffhanger! So all the shenanigans are set to continue for at least another 40 minutes. Craic.
We return to our overall mytharc to talk alien goo of a different kind and little maggoty space rocks. Krycek returns, having finally been sprung from his underground prison, and as predicted earlier joins forces with Mulder in an uneasy truce/punching bag arrangement to sniff out THE TRUTH. Or at least, a different shade of the truth. The truth itself is a complicated and mysterious recipe, the ingredients to which we’ll probably never fully discover. Don yer spectacles and let’s get stuck in.
A diplomatic official returning from Russia is asked to undergo a random customs search. He’s deeply unimpressed but officials insist. They find a tube of black goo in his bag and, despite his vocal dismay, open it, unleashing a splatter of black maggot things which seep into and apparently possess one of the officials. It’s gross. Elsewhere, Mulder, Scully and several large guns are waiting to intercept a van full of bomb ingredients. Someone’s been leaking receipts and other info to Mulder and he’s worried about another Oklahoma. When the FBI moves in, the source is revealed to be none other than Alex “Ratboy” Krycek. He was liberated from his subterranean hellhole by this band of “false revolutionaries” during a salvage raid. Mulder greets him with the first of multiple punches. Honestly, I don’t know how Krycek doesn’t end up with a concussion after all the wallops he gets this episode. Mulder also tells him he’s an “invertebrate scumsucker whose moral dipstick is about two drops short of bone dry”, in what is a powerful and riveting analogy to come up with on command. Alex says he loves America (golden eagle glistening just off-camera) and just wants to get the men who tried to kill him. The same men, if you recall, murdered Mulder’s father (cos Alex wasn’t involved in that at all) and killed Scully’s sister (he knows nothing about this either). He and Mulder simmer at one another, Alex talks about the various “bombs” he’s sitting on, and the air becomes so charged with sexual tension that Scully has to stand back and frown like the agitated kindergarten teacher doomed to keep separating these two in the playground.
Oh, Alex also offers this explanation of his nickname:
My heart bleeds for this beautiful tropical fish.
Krycek (soz, will use his first and last name interchangeably here) leads them to the airport. Another official is trekking home from Russia with some kind of suspicious artifact. Said official spots them in the arrivals hall and escapes, despite Scully and Mulder’s best efforts to corner him. (Mulder takes the time to handcuff Krycek to the railing first, because #priorities.) The diplomatic pouch contains a lump of rock. No one’s impressed until our heroes take it for analysis at a NASA facility and are informed it may have come from Mars.
Mulder, begrudgingly accepting that Krycek may be trying to help, takes him to Skinner to ask for a safe house. Skinner, underlining the fan service of this episode by answering the door shirtless in the dark, gladly takes him under his wing and punches him in the gut before locking him out on the balcony. Misfortune, thy name is Alex Krycek. The next day, while Krycek’s still on the balcony and alone, the ‘diplomat’ who eluded Mulder and Scully at the airport appears and starts ruffling through the apartment. He comes out to the balcony and Alex – who’s hanging off the other side – manages to wrestle him over the edge and send him plummeting to his doom. This was quite impressive now lads, let’s be fair. I’m really warming to poor Krycek and that was – dare I say – bordering on badassery. Skinner then gets a call from the police asking him about the body which may or may not have been flung from his apartment. Mulder comes back to get Krycek out, while Skinner fobs off questions from the police about a man hanging off his balcony.
As Mulder skullhauls Krycek out, some further loaded comments are exchanged and Mulder shoves him in the face, shouting “STUPID-ASS HAIRCUT”. This is an actual canon thing which happened in this beloved award-winning show, and had AO3 existed back in the day it would have collapsed repeatedly under the weight of slash which undoubtedly came out of this scene alone.
Scully, meanwhile, is following up on the space rock. The NASA scientist who analysed it for them went to take a core sample, only to be splodged in the face by black maggoty goo and end up turning catatonic. He’s standing upright in the lab in a hazmat suit and everyone’s baffled. Dana enlists Pendrell’s help to go in and look at him. This is not at all how Pendrell envisaged his first date with Scully going. When they get in, Scully realises the scientist is still alive and moves to get him out. Meanwhile, Mulder’s gone to visit Covarrubias in NYC. Their meetings are supremely weird, lads. She’s wearing a dressing gown and speaks to him in halting, hushed tones and everything’s lit like a TV movie about the dangers of extramarital affairs in the 90s. In any case, she finds out that the guy who was tossed off Skinner’s balcony had just returned from a part of Russia near Tunguska. Twas here a meteorite crashed back in 1908, doing an Independence Day on the surrounding area. Mulder, of course, twigs this right away and starts arranging to get there. Covarrubias offers to help by sorting out diplomatic papers for him. She’s a strange one, but I like her.
Mulder drives to the airport with Krycek – after another few wallops – and at first decides he’s going to leave him in the car. As if Alex hasn’t been locked alone in enough small spaces for one lifetime, like. After he goes berserk and starts cursing at Mulder in Russian, the latter decides to bring him along. Krycek’s parents were Cold War immigrants. Colour me intrigued. Multilingual AND long lashes? He must have torn up the teen mags back in the day.
Off they go to Tunguska, thumbing a lift to the crater site. Krycek keeps whining about Mulder keeping him in the dark, as if the event which occurred there back in the day weren’t completely common knowledge. I know this is a pre-Wikipedia universe but seriously, Alex, do some reading. They cut under a barbed wire fence and find a bunch of people digging in what looks like a mine. Men on horseback patrol the area and quickly stumble across the two of them, capturing and imprisoning them in a rank jail cell. When Mulder first comes to, he’s alone, but because this is an American television show there’s a helpful prisoner in the next cell over who just happens to speak perfect English and is only too willing to provide portentous exposition. Later, Krycek is thrown in with Mulder. There’s more fumbling, more punching, Alex finally tells Mulder not to touch him again and they end up staring at each other menacingly while breathing out the exasperation. I’m not amplifying ANYTHING here, guys. The eye contact alone would set you on fire.
Later, they discover insects in their food, because again it’s a foreign jail. Then someone comes in to yell at them. Krycek argues with him in Russian and is taken to the “supervisor”. Friendly-English-speaking-prisoner-in-the-next-cell tells Mulder Krycek is not his friend and that he was addressing the guard “like an equal.” A bunch of men come in and inject Mulder with some kind of weird liquid, then tie him to a table in the middle of a huge room full of people also pinned to tables by what looks like fencing wire. There are taps above each table, and as the overseers look on from above the black maggoty goo is dunked on everyone. Mulder ingests it despite his best efforts not to, and his pupils go black. Bum bum bum! Cliffhanger.
Back in Washington, of course, no one knows where he is. Scully and Skinner have been asked to testify at a congressional hearing. This was shown in the opening scenes, where Scully reads a pre-prepared statement calling out the culture of lawlessness which prevents her from doing her job effectively. She refuses to say where Mulder is lest it endanger his life. Elsewhere again, the CSM – who’d made the standard thinly-veiled threats to Skinner earlier in the episode – visits the Well-Manicured Man and tells him Mulder’s scarpered off to Russia. Nobody’s happy. The plot thickens to a juicy boil. And we wait!
So, in case it wasn’t obvious already, I LOVED this episode. I always love the mytharc ones, even if they tend to follow the same pattern: Mulder gets some info, goes off on a wild goose chase, Scully attempts to cover his tracks and gets called out/suspended/disciplined for it, Skinner frowns and fidgets in his chair like he didn’t know it was coming, and the CSM and his vague yet menacing cohorts brood angstily over the threat of exposure. It’s all clockwork at this point, but it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it.
I genuinely never thought I’d warm to Ratboy this much. I remember how much I wanted to punch him when I first discovered he was a mole, but he’s actually a rather enjoyable breath of fresh air at this point. I really feel that he’s being mistreated in this episode. Sure, he’s a shit (I have form in the trash pile, as we all know) and he’s done some pretty despicable things, but I can’t help but feel that everyone keeps punching him cos they know they’ll never be able to punch the CSM. At least not as much and not as openly. It’s a tad low to keep picking on a desperate man, though he does have a weaselly face that looks like it’d connect well with a fist.
Nevertheless, I’m excited. Launching right into the next one, and kinda hoping Ratboy sticks around for a while. He does liven things up a bit.
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