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The Mary Sue

The X-Files Newbie Recap: “Small Potatoes,” “Zero Sum,” & “Elegy”

"Did he have a lightsaber?"

So how many times have you seen Star Wars

NOT THE BEES!

There, I said it.

Small Potatoes

Oh gosh, there’s a shapeshifting rapist in this and it’s really odd and I feel very uncomfortable. One of the victims thinks Luke Skywalker fathered her child. I mean, c’mon. How unfortunate is it that Darin Morgan makes a [recognisable] acting appearance and ends up playing such a creep?

A bunch of women in a small town give birth to children with tails. Awkward, and that’s before it turns out that all the afflicted infants were fathered by the same man. Of the five mothers, four had undergone IVF. The fifth, an adorable creature named Amanda, believes Luke Skywalker is the dad. Ladies and gents, we’ve found Rey’s mother. Also, Amanda darling, that’s not Luke’s Theme.

Anyhoo, our intrepid heroes come in to assist. Mulder’s nascent theory about aliens gets a little too real when Amanda looks him in the eye and tells him she and Luke were intimate. A helpful tumblr user prepared a .gifset of this moment so you can see his withering face in all its glory.

So how many times have you seen Star Wars

Same, Dana

Scully, MD cap donned, is able to deduce that the tails may stem (sorry) from a genetic disorder. The affected couples have rounded on the IVF doctor, assuming he messed up the sperm samples. While looking around the doctor’s office, Mulder discovers the janitor has a scar on his lower back not unlike the remnants of a tail. They bring him in for questioning. Van Blandht is his name and he’s a creep. Scully decides they’re dealing with some form of date rape but before they can do anything, van Blandht escapes by impersonating one of the police officers. Mulder and Scully go looking for him at his house and meet a guy they assume is his father, but it later turns out to be van Blandht himself in shapeshifted form. He gives them the slip again and our heroes find the dried corpse of his actual father – tail and all – in the attic.

Scully does some tests on the corpse and discovers that he has what amounts to an extra muscle extending all over his body. Mulder wonders if this extra muscle might somehow be enabling van Blandht to change his appearance. Scully reckons it’s more likely he has a twin. Mulder goes to chat to Amanda again, as she’s the only woman involved who wasn’t looking to get pregnant. However, van Blandht morphs into Mulder and speaks to her first. He and Amanda dated in high school but she lost interest in him cos he didn’t have much ambition. She also clarifies that he was no Luke, which I can get on board with. Seriously, I am a Luke fangirl. Y’all can keep your Han Solo.

My last words will probably be either "whoops" or "shit"

My last words will probably be either “whoops” or “shit”

Van Blandht-as-Mulder leaves and actual Mulder arrives. When she’s surprised to see him again, he twigs what’s going on and goes looking for Van Blandht. Unfortunately, the latter gets the jump on him. Actual Mulder ends up locked in a boiler room, while Van Blandht-as-Mulder goes back to Washington with Scully. Frankly, Dana should have known something was off the second Mulder suggested there wasn’t anything to the case. In what universe would this tenacious imbecile ever say that, especially when there are children with tails running around?!

They report to Skinner in DC, who seems suspicious that everything was wrapped up so easily but sends them on their way. Scully goes to work on a paper while Van Blandht-as-Mulder goes to check out his alter ego’s life. He’s suitably unimpressed with Mulder’s office and “I want to believe” poster, and even less so with Mulder’s apartment. “Where do I sleep?” he asks incredulously, rambling around looking for the bed. In your office, idiot. Dreaming of little green men.

The 100% authentic face of Fox Mulder

The 100% authentic face of Fox Mulder

If this sounds bizarre, it gets weirder. Van Blandht-as-Mulder brings a bottle of wine to Scully’s and they get to chatting. She shares stories from high school and he leans in for a kiss before actual Mulder bursts through the door. I am mystified tbh. Van Blandht is dispatched to jail but not before he tells Mulder that he’s a loser by choice, as opposed to by chance. Whatever. The only interesting thing to emerge from this episode is the note that Scully would be Eleanor Roosevelt if she were to be another person for a day.

This was unpleasant. Quirky, but unpleasant. I’m not feeling the light-hearted treatment of, you know, rape or the generally flat storyline or what I’m sure was supposed to be a hilarious send-up of Mulder’s persona. That near-kiss belongs in a much better episode and more poignant moment. Let’s consign this one to the dump and move on.

Zero Sum

This was much better. It’s Skinner-centric and has my beloved as the big worm on a very skinny hook. Remember a few episodes back when it looked like Walter had dug himself into a CSM-shaped rut by asking for a cure for Scully? He’s neck-deep in gravel now, and clawing his way down.

A postal worker is killed in what looks like a killer bee attack. Skinner, pretending to be Mulder, steals away in the middle of the night to cover it up. He deletes emails sent to Mulder about the incident, incinerates the dead woman’s body, swaps out a blood sample, and cleans up the crime scene. The detective who emailed Mulder about the case approaches him and later turns up dead himself. Say it with me, for the 100th time: the CSM is naught is not thorough.

Walter being shady[2]

Back at his apartment, Skinner prepares to dump his clothes (I do not approve of his underwear choices but we all must have a flaw) when he’s set upon by Mulder. Mulder knows that someone cleaned out his emails and that the detective is dead. Skinner’s less than impressed with this last part and confronts the CSM about it the next day. By “confront”, I mean he literally stands firm in front of a speeding car and slams his hands on the bonnet. Walter Sergei Skinner, 200% man and all delicious.

Sadly, his bravado doesn’t get him anywhere. The CSM warns that he’s in no position to question the “terms” of their arrangement, so Walter must keep schtum. He later learns (by way of Mulder) that his gun may have been used to kill the detective and gets a bit fidgety. Revisiting the scene of the postal worker’s death, he finds a bee colony in the wall and takes a sample to an expert. The expert asks if it’s related to a similar case phoned in by one Agent Mulder a few months earlier. Skinner grunts and leaves. He digs out some photos of a covert installation in Canada, which turns out to be the clone colony that Mulder visited a few months back. He also learns that Marita Covarrubias is the one who gave the photos to Mulder. Mulder himself then arrives, saying he’s got a photo of the guy who claimed to be him and checked out evidence.

Walter’s already feeling the heat when his bee expert is killed by a swarm of the little critters. The body tests positive for traces of smallpox, linking it to the experiments last glimpsed in “Terma”. Mulder wonders if someone’s using the bees as a carrier for a mutated version of smallpox. I chose to google smallpox at this point, and I do not recommend it. Mulder has sent the photo of the guy who impersonated him to the photo lab and Walter starts sweating like a nun in church.

Unpleasant

The CSM, meanwhile, is reporting to his vague yet menacing government agency. The bee expert’s house has been contained and the body sanitised. He assures them he has a man handling the breach and that this man has “no other choice” but to succeed. Poor beloved Walter, behoven to these ancient assholes. The shady old men want to know if the “trial run” is proceeding as planned and the CSM says it’s already begun. Said trial run involves a town in South Carolina which is currently under attack by the bees. A group of children are stung in a school playground and one of the teachers dies trying to rescue them. Skinner arrives at the hospital and warns the doctor that the kids have smallpox. Covarrubias shows up right behind him, saying seven packages were sent from A CERTAIN PLACE IN CANADA to this town and she wants to know what was in them. Walter tells her that he thinks the bees are being used as carriers for a mutated disease. They discuss their mutual friend Fox and she urges him to tell someone about what he knows.

Covarrubias

Skinner heads home and is confronted by Mulder, who recognised him immediately in the enhanced image. Mulder, proving his trust issues run atom-deep, asks if he’s been working with the CSM the whole time. Skinner tells him he’s on a leash for asking the CSM to help Scully. Dana is in hospital throughout this episode, btw. Her serene [competent] presence is sorely missed here. Mulder takes Skinner’s gun for tests and discovers the bullet which killed the detective did indeed come from his gun. However, the serial number has been filed off, so there’s no way of tracing it. As if the CSM would let him go down that easily.

Mulder confronts Skinner

Skinner decides to confront the CSM again. He demands to know if he ever intended to save Scully. The CSM says he saved her before and he fully intends to do it again. Skinner, exasperated, shoots some bullets into the wall and leaves. The CSM then gets a call from Covarrubias, who says she’ll tell Mulder whatever he wants her to tell him. I mean, why the hell not. I’m not even surprised she’s on his payroll tbh. This would have been a much bigger shock to the system if she weren’t merrily following in the footsteps of both Mr X and Deep Throat, who were equally duplicitous and ambiguous about their loyalties.

This was a great, gnarly episode and I really enjoyed it. It felt more like a thriller with its twisty narrative and ending, and while it wasn’t hugely compelling it does open up some questions about the wider conspiracy. At this rate practically everything does, but it’s always fun to see how intricate the web of intrigue is. I would hope Covarrubias doesn’t end up, like her predecessors, in a pool of blood somewhere for her troubles. It’d be interesting to have her turn out to be loyal to the CSM, manipulating Mulder for their ends as opposed to the other way round. Mr X and Deep Throat were both ultimately on the side of good, so there’s some untapped potential for an informant on the other side of the moral boundary. More importantly, will Walter be able to extricate himself from the CSM’s poisoned grip? He’s still mad as hell and flinging threats all over the shop, so I doubt the CSM will be able to keep him in line for long. It all depends on how they wrap up Scully’s cancer, I suppose.

I also enjoyed the link to the clone colonies and – unless I’m mistaken – the appearance of the second shapeshifting bounty hunter, most recently spotted in “Memento Mori“. Given we’re so close to the end of the season, I expect these threads shall converge in epic fashion very soon. A final thought: this episode was dedicated to the memory of Vito J. Pileggi, whom I’m guessing is a relative. A toast.

Elegy

Feels. I have all of them. This was a really haunting, discomfiting episode which uses a tragic case narrative to tell us much about Scully’s current state of mind. It’s in episodes like this that I really feel the lack of urgency over her condition, cos if I didn’t know there were a boatload more seasons and movies I’d be a lot more concerned about her. As it is, her pain and fear are palpable, and I really like that the episode made a point of conveying her difficulty in coming to terms with the diagnosis.

The episode is ostensibly about unexplained sightings of ghosts, but it’s so much deeper than that. Mulder and Scully come on board when a bowling alley owner sees the ghost of a woman who was recently murdered. Her body was discovered some distance from the bowling alley, but the owner, Mr Pintero, saw her ghost inside. Mulder looks over the scene of the sighting. He discovers the words “she is me” etched into the ground. These were the last words of one of the victims, according to a 911 call, but the victim’s throat was cut so she couldn’t have said them.

Seeking to find out who made the call, our heroes go to a home for people with intellectual disabilities. There, they speak to a man named Harold, who works at the bowling alley. Harold has atypical autism and a form of OCD. Scully notes from his chart that he’s been heavily medicated and has undergone electric shock therapy. She wonders if he might have snapped and killed the women. As she and Mulder discuss the case, she gets another nosebleed and heads to the bathroom. While cleaning herself up, she sees the words “she is me” written in blood on the mirror and then turns the corner to see a ghost. When she goes back to the mirror, the words are gone. Mulder meets her outside and says there’s been another killing. They go the crime scene and Scully bristles when she realises the victim is the ghost she saw. Sufficiently spooked, she goes to the hospital to get checked out.

She is me

After getting some bloods taken, Scully visits the psychologist she saw after her abduction. She tells her about the cancer diagnosis and opens up about its effect on her. Scully says she never realised how much she relied on Mulder and his passion before this. He’s been a source of strength for her, she reveals, and she wonders if the ghost is a manifestation of her own fears. You’re so thoughtful and analytical, Dana. It hurts. Even as you try to deal with all the emotional fallout of a near-fatal diagnosis, you’re linking it to other people in your life. The notion of her being worried about letting Mulder down if she dies is physically painful, summing up all her protective instinct and nobility in one. It’s not just about leaving him without a partner but about the wider work of which they’re part, and the quest to get justice for her sister and all the other wrongful deeds. In the context of her recent soul-searching and uncertainty over life’s purpose, this is all a bit much.

Mulder, meanwhile, is trying to get Harold off the hook. The police, convinced he’s the killer, have brought him in for questioning. Mulder asks Harold to help him prove his innocence. Where I come from it’s the cops who have to prove guilt but let’s not let that get in the way. Harold brings them to an abandoned building adjacent to the bowling alley. He’s kept scoresheets from everyone who’s visited the alley over several years and they’re all pinned up on the wall. The victims’ names are among those on the cards. While the police look this over, Harold suddenly sees Mr Pintero as a ghost and freaks out. When they get back to the bowling alley, they discover Mr Pintero dead from a heart attack.

Harold and Pintero

Scully arrives back – praying, be still my feels – and Mulder updates her. He wants her medical opinion on something. Pointing to Mr Pintero’s death, he wonders if everyone who saw a ghost is dying, and wants to know if – in her opinion – Harold may be dying too. Scully hasn’t told him that she saw a ghost and internally freaks out. “What is a death omen,” quoth Mulder, obliviously, “if not a vision of our own mortality, and who among us would most likely be able to see the dead?” He is utterly blind to the look to sheer horror on her face and my heart has shredded itself into bits.

It turns out that Harold is indeed dying, because one of the nurses at the home is abusing him. She’s replaced his medication with something she describes as “poison” and tells him he’s a toad whom no one could love. It’s vile. There are few things I hate more than people abusing the vulnerable. When Mulder and Scully arrive at the home, Harold is missing. The nurse, Innes, says he attacked her. Mulder goes looking for him while Scully follows up at the home. Harold’s roommate, Chuck, tells her about Innes and the poison. Scully approaches her in the bathroom and Innes attacks her. Scully shoots her in the shoulder and she is swiftly carted off. Mulder returns and says Harold has been found dead in an alleyway. The cause of death isn’t immediately clear, but it may be linked to the fact he wasn’t being given his medication.

There follows a supremely loaded conversation between our heroes. Scully says Harold wasn’t dying, he was being murdered systematically. Mulder asks if that’s her medical opinion and she finally confides in him that she saw a ghost. Mulder gets miffed, wondering if she only came back to prove that what she saw wasn’t true. She says she came back cos he asked her to. They argue over whether Scully tells him only what he wants to hear (lol) and finally Mulder exclaims that he knows what she’s afraid of, and he’s afraid of the same thing. When Scully insists she’s fine, he says “I hope that’s the truth.” Scully then leaves, gets into her car, and promptly sees Harold’s ghost in the back seat. Marvellous. Exactly what we needed.

At the psychiatrist's

I would be inclined to put all this down to foreshadowing if, as detailed above, I didn’t know Scully is going to be fine. It seems more likely to me that her faith would predispose her to seeing ghosts. If ghosts are restless souls looking to complete certain business so they can rest, that allies quite logically with a spiritual interpretation of life and the afterlife. There have been ghost-like presences in this show before but it makes sense that she’d be more susceptible to them now as she’s had an extreme out-of-body experience. If nothing else, that would open one’s mind to hitherto unconsidered possibilities which in turn may make you more given to suggestion and interpretation. As much as she fights these things, of course. I think Dana would be a lot easier on herself if she accepted that she can’t explain everything.

That conversation with Mulder is so tense. There’s a fundamental mismatch in their beliefs which complicates their relationship, and makes dealing with the diagnosis difficult. I sense Mulder fears she’s only continuing to work so that, in some way, she can disprove that her cancer was alien in origin. For Scully, this is probably a necessary step lest she have to confront a reality she’s spent years rejecting. They’re probably both being a little reductive of one another but then, reactions like this are so perfectly in keeping with their characters that it’s hard to resent them. Mulder is wide-eyed and stubborn, Scully is analytical and stubborn. Neither of them want to openly address the elephant in the room. I just hope it doesn’t come to some kind of weepy deathbed confession cos that would be clichéd and silly and irritatingly inconsistent for them.

Anyway, I shall forge on and see how all this plays out. See you next week!

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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