The X-Files Newbie Recap: “Terma,” “Paper Hearts,” & “El Mundo Gira”

D’ya ever want to hug and punch Mulder at the same time?

Sigh.

Terma

The second half of two-parters in this show is always unsatisfying. Usually because despite all the passion and intrigue which infused the first one, no significant progress is made to blow the conspiracy wide open and the men in the shadows retreat further into nebulousness. So it goes with “Terma”, as it has with many other episodes before. Alex lost his arm, though. Sucks to be you, bruh. Alex “I’m just pain covered with skin…and now a little less of it” Krycek. When will you ever catch a break?

So, this unfolds in two parts: Mulder’s adventures in Russia and Scully’s attempts to deal with Congress in DC. Let’s start with Mulder’s adventure hour.

He comes to in his cell, apparently unaffected by the black maggoty goo showered across everyone in the last episode. The prisoner in the next cell tells him it’s a form of black cancer and the more you’re experimented on, the worse it gets. Mulder announces he wants to live long enough to “kill that man Krycek”, which is good because we all need goals in life. The other prisoner dutifully passes him a shiv he just happens to have made earlier. This prison is all mod cons for a secluded Russian hellhole.

Later, the prisoners are brought out to the yard. Krycek’s chatting away to one of the guards. Mulder, shiv in hand, makes a beeline for him and shoves him into the back of a truck. He then commandeers the truck and smashes it out the gate and gets away. Lads, this is farcical. If that’s all the security they had on this place I have no idea how all these prisoners haven’t slipped off one by one. Mulder’s Great Escape doesn’t go entirely according to plan however. Krycek, who’d only just managed to go a whole day without being punched, rolls off the back of the truck and disappears into the woods. Mulder realises with dawning horror that the brakes on the truck aren’t working, so he crashes it into a thicket to try and stop but ends up rolling down into a ravine. Christ. Do you ever picture Bill Mulder watching from on high, squirming and frowning and rolling his eyes while muttering “fuck’s sake” under his breath? You’re a piss-poor secret agent, Fox. You truly are.

Anyway, some lads find Krycek in the woods later. He says he’s American and claims he was wrongfully imprisoned for spying. The group – who all appear to be amputees – offer assistance, which takes the form of attacking him during the night and sawing his arm off. Alex, your life is a fucking catastrophe.

Mulder, meanwhile, is recovered from a pile of leaves and taken to a cabin by the guy who owns the truck he crashed. The guy’s wife explains that he’s been delivering supplies to the camp in exchange for immunity. They cut off their son’s arm to save him from the tests. Mulder exclaims that he must get to St Petersburg and he can help them, when the driver comes in brandishing a large knife. Gulp.

Meanwhile, a Russian by the name of Vassily Peskow is sniffing around Virginia. He’s been tasked with cleaning up the space rock mess. He first visits a doctor named Bonita Charne-Sayre and strangles her to death. She turns out to be a, ahem, close friend of the Well-Manicured Man, who meets with the CSM to demand her killer be found. Vassily then goes to the NASA scientist who was infected with black goo last episode, and euthanises him. He finds and takes the lump of space rock and heads for a convalescent home in Florida. There, he does some more euthanising before crossing paths with our heroes. More on this presently.

Throughout this farce, Scully’s been attempting to hold off Congress. She examines the NASA scientist with another doctor and learns that there’s some kind of growth on his pineal gland. She then learns from Skinner that a Doctor Charne-Sayre has been killed in suspicious circumstances in Virginia. Scully recognises the name – Charne-Sayre was a virologist and one of those advocating that the last remaining vials of smallpox (housed in the U.S. and Russia) be destroyed. The doctor was also the intended recipient of a certain diplomatic pouch whose courier recently met a grisly death on Walter’s balcony.

Still with me? It’s all a web of intrigue peeps.

So, Scully goes before Congress armed with this information and sasses them to the best of her ability. They’re whizzen-faced and humourless and, when she refuses for the 100th time to say where Mulder is, jail her for contempt. In prison, she catches up with her reading: Charne-Sayre’s writings on variola viruses, to be precise. Walter, gracious man, visits. They chat about the Congressional committee and Dana wryly declares that she doubts they’re all that interested in getting to the truth. She’s right, of course. The CSM, during his earlier meeting with the Well-Manicured Man, described Senator Sorensen as “honourable” so I think we all know where his allegiances lie.

The next day, Dana comes before the committee again. She argues that they should be talking about the diplomatic pouch and the biotoxin it contained. The committee insist she reveal where Mulder is, when suddenly the doors part and in the smooth bastard walks! He’s clean and well-dressed and his usual snarky self, drawling “what is the question” when the committee mention him. The look he and Scully give one another melts my cold acidic heart. Guize. Look at them.

It’s a full reunion when Skinner appears. He’s learned the NASA scientist is dead. The committee adjourns to consider this new information.

Hugs are exchanged. Mulder is pleased to be able to use both arms.

Throwing shade at a man who isn’t there is a new low, Fox

Scully asks Skinner for permission to go to Florida. She’s learned that Charne-Sayre was on the board of a number of convalescent hospitals and she wants to investigate. Skinner stops her right there and says he doesn’t want to know lest the committee make him talk, and just tells her to be back in time to testify tomorrow. D’ya ever feel like Walter’s ability to give a fudge receded bit by bit with his hairline until finally there was nothing but the bare minimum left? What a man.

Road trip! Our heroes make it to the convalescent home just after Vassily does. For context, be advised that in the opening scene an old lady was taken out of the home to be euthanised (permissibly) but when she was injected, her blood ran green and hemorrhaged black goo. Something rotten is afoot in Florida, it seems. Vassily’s been quietly euthanising some of the patients at the home and hides when Mulder and Scully come in. They find the bodies and order that the place be sealed off to prevent the toxin getting out. Vassily however is able to escape.

Mulder decides they should pay a visit to one of the dudes Krycek was working with in the last episode. This dude, Terry Mayhew, reveals that not only did they not dig up Krycek in North Dakota but the little shit found them, and came brimming with explosive ideas. He told them about a “black cancer” concocted by the government as a bioweapon, one which had no cure or vaccine. After some strong-arming and unpleasant rape allusions by Mulder, Mayhew also reveals that one of the bombs cooked up by Krycek and the gang is in Terma, North Dakota.

Mulder suspects this other bomb is in fact the space rock from the diplomatic pouch. He fears it’s being buried again to prevent the truth getting out. Terma is close to the Canadian border and, unfortunately for them, Vassily is already smuggling the rock over. Our heroes take a helicopter to an oil refinery in Alberta, where Vassily is busy finishing his work. Mulder looks around in the grounds while Scully checks out the refinery itself. Peering into some kind of air vent, Mulder spots a package but inadvertently unleashes a torrent of oil in his attempt to dislodge it. An alarm starts sounding and the vent explodes. The explosion distracts Scully for just long enough for Vassily to surprise her and take her gun. He says he doesn’t want to kill her and that his work is done, before slinking off babbling random Russian. Scully goes back out to the field and pulls Mulder in.

They make it back to the committee to testify. Scully announces that she has evidence linking several recent deaths to a toxin transported to US soil from Russia. The courier transporting it was thrown off Skinner’s balcony by one Alex Krycek, who is missing and possibly dead (business as usual). When the committee ask what evidence she has, she says she doesn’t have the pouch or its contents but she does have documents and interviews. She believes the toxin to be extraterrestrial in origin. The committee scoffs. Mulder goes on a rant, asking why it’s so hard to believe. He suggests the committee be held in contempt for ignoring irrefutable evidence. A recess is promptly called and in the ensuing commotion the CSM stands up at the back of the room and slips out. He later meets Sorensen in his office and carefully peruses all the evidence submitted by Scully. Bleurgh.jpg.

Back in Russia, Vassily arrives home to find Comrade effing Krycek – the tit – sipping tea in his living room. He now has an artificial hand in the manner of Jaime Lannister. He congratulates Vassily on a job well done. I rolled my eyes so hard they almost fell out of my head.

So that was that. Plus ça change, eh amigos? What a ridiculous thrill ride. The truth lingers nobly on somewhere out in the ether, but today is not the day we expose it.

Notes:

Onward!

Paper Hearts

This was dodgy. The story itself wasn’t bad, but there were some clear liberties with characterisation which don’t seem right to me. The episode begins with Mulder having a series of dreams which lead him to the body of a little girl. When the body is examined, he realises the MO matches a spate of murders by a man named John Lee Roche, whom he helped put away years earlier. Roche took a trophy – a cloth heart cut from the fabric of his victims’ clothes – from each victim. He was put away for 13 murders, but the discovery of this body suggests there were more. Mulder finds the cloth hearts and realises there are 16 in total. This means there are two more victims who have yet to be found, and through a series of strange events Mulder becomes convinced Samantha is one of them.

This notion begins to take hold when he has a dream about the night Samantha was taken. It’s similar to the dream which led him to the body in the opening scenes. In this however, Samantha is taken by Roche and not aliens. Mulder latches on to this idea alarmingly quickly and goes to question Roche. He asks where he was on November 27th 1973. Roche plays into this, claiming he visited Mulder’s house that year and sold his dad a vacuum cleaner. Mulder loses it and punches the guy. Outside, Scully tackles him. She tells him Roche is playing him. The inmates at the prison have access to the internet and Roche probably looked him up. Mulder asks her if she believes Samantha was taken by aliens. She hesitates. Mulder decides he doesn’t know what he believes but he has to find out if it was Roche. Curse this guy’s single-mindedness! For heaven’s sake. He’s the living embodiment of that Inception quote about an idea being the most infectious virus there is. Mulder heads to his mother’s house and finds a vacuum cleaner in the basement. To his horror, the make matches one Roche claims to have sold to his father. His mother appears and confirms that Mulder’s dad did indeed buy it for her. The lawyer in me is inclined to dismiss all this as circumstantial, but I’m not sure that word is part of Mulder’s vocabulary.

Mulder rocketed to this conclusion way too quickly for someone who’s had one defining theory about Samantha for over 20 years. One he’s shaped his entire effing life’s work and career around, and one which has him being shot and experimented on and locked up in Russia on an alarmingly regular basis. Maybe psychologically he’s had enough and needs to pick a simpler explanation for his own mental sake but I do not buy the speed with which he discounted so many years of work. It seems wildly implausible that one dream could mess him up so much after everything he’s been through…and yet, it’s vexatingly  predictable.

[throws hands up in despair]

Let’s move on.

Skinner tries to block his access to Roche after the punching incident. Scully comes to Mulder’s defence (as always) (he does not deserve her) and argues that he should be kept on given his knowledge of the case. Mulder has learned that Roche was in Boston in 1973 and visited Martha’s Vineyard in October of that year. Skinner reluctantly relents. Roche, examining the two unidentified fabric hearts, gives them an address for another body. They dig it up but it isn’t Samantha. Roche then claims he got mixed up, and this body belongs to a young girl from New York. He taunts Mulder and says this is all a “mystery” he wants to blow wide open. You know, in case there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind that Roche is making all this up.

Mulder, making more questionable professional decisions, gets an order to take Roche out of prison for a few hours. He takes him up to Martha’s Vineyard. On the plane, Roche talks briefly with a small girl named Caitlin. Mulder takes him to a house which he claims is his own when he lands. Roche ambles through, talking about the night he took Samantha. He points out specific details, including what was on television and where Mulder’s parents were. Mulder eventually shrieks that it’s not his house and Roche has been lying this whole time. He wonders if, when he profiled Roche, he opened up some kind of nexus between them and Roche learned everything about Samantha through Mulder’s dreams. He probably found some way to hack into some psychological and professional records, but let’s go with the nexus theory if that makes you feel better bb.

Eventually, Mulder takes Roche back to a motel. He dreams once again that Roche took Samantha, but this time he manages to rescue her. When he comes to, he’s handcuffed to a table and Roche is gone. Well done, babe. Fantastic stuff. You just lost a child-murderer. Skinner and Scully, who’ve come looking for Mulder, burst in. Skinner looks ready to burn everything. I know how he feels. Roche made off with Mulder’s badge and gun and used this to trace the little girl he was speaking to on the plane. Mulder would never ever have a job again if the FBI had any consistency. Think of all the times Scully’s been hauled before a disciplinary committee for something as minor as refusing to dob him in when Mulder can actually lose a convicted murderer and not even get a slap on the wrist. Bollocks.

The look of a man who has lost all ability to can with his employees

They go to Roche’s former apartment in Boston. It’s deserted but Mulder spots a lot full of disused buses out the back and goes searching. He hears a scream and manages to track Caitlin and Roche down. Roche is holding a gun to Caitlin and continues taunting Mulder about Samantha. Mulder tells Caitlin to count to 20 and angsts internally as Scully and Skinner appear at the door, guns raised. As Caitlin reaches 20, Mulder eventually shoots. Caitlin is saved and Roche is dead.

In the final scene, Scully comes in with the last paper heart. She says tests have shown the dye was manufactured sometime between 1969 and 1974, suggesting it may not have come from Samantha. She says they’ll find her, eventually. Mulder nods and brightens a little, but I guess until they know for sure this will always be a possibility in the back of his mind.

Hmm.

Well, I’m not sold on this episode. Plot-wise it’s fine, but I just find it difficult to believe that Mulder’s long-term theory about Samantha could be blown out of the water like that. Unless it’s some kind of psychological shift – a response to his frustrated efforts to prove the aliens theory and intense internal desire to just have an answer. That would make some sense, but it’s still tough to buy coming from a character as driven and destructively single-minded as Mulder. Also, the dude flat-out just lost a felon. He got papers to take him out of prison without telling his partner and superior and just took off on a unilateral road trip to chase up a fleeting whim. This much at least is irritatingly in character for him, but talk about typifying the whole woman-pays-for-even-the-tiniest-perceived-professional-misdemeanour-while-white-dude-gets-away-with-everything spiel. I know he’s gotten in *some* hot water before, but it’s nothing on a par with what Dana’s faced and usually presented as a conspiratorial move by the faceless men in the shadows. ARGH. Mulder is frigging ridiculous. No wonder Walter’s gone bald.

El Mundo Gira

This was pretty unabashedly awful. I’m mystified and annoyed all at once. It sort of seemed like it was going to be a commentary on the treatment of illegal immigrants, only to abandon that notion halfway through and turn everything into an outright joke. Then again, considering the title and some of the events, maybe it’s meant to be a send-up of overblown soap operas. I’m not sure what’s going on, but I do think it’s scathingly bad.

This begins with an older woman relating the story of some terrible thing she saw. This turns out to be the killing of a young woman named Maria by something called El Chupacabra. There’s a flash of light and yellow rain and next thing Maria, who had been a bone of contention between two brothers, is found dead, mouldering and green and with half her face chewed off. One of the brothers, Eladio, was with her when it happened but has since vanished. This unfortunate incident takes place in an immigrant workers’ camp and everyone scarpers when Mulder and Scully arrive to investigate. Eladio’s brother, Soledad, hangs around and cries melodramatic foul enough to convince Scully it’s a lovers’ tiff. Mulder, intrigued by the meteorological phenomena, isn’t so sure.

When Scully gets a chance to examine the body, it’s already significantly decomposed and covered in a green fungus. She decides it’s some kind of fact-acting fungal infection, possibly exacerbated by Maria’s exposure to toxic soil pesticides. Mulder is with an INS agent, Lozano. The INS have Eladio in custody and he denies killing Maria. The other inmates, all of whom appear to be undocumented immigrants as well, won’t go near him. When a group of inmates are moved later, INS agents put Eladio in the front of the bus as the other prisoners won’t sit with him.

The bus later crashes at the side of the road. Mulder and Scully come across it and discover the driver dead and the inmates scarpering across the field. The driver’s covered in some kind of dusty film. Scully’s perturbed, realising the fungus has eaten away most of his skin. She suspects they’re dealing with a dangerous pathogen. Lozano arrives and says he’s rounded up most of the inmates bar Eladio, who ran in the opposite direction to everyone else. He and Mulder go looking for him while Scully tries to figure out what the infection is.

Eladio visits his cousin Gabrielle, asking for money to get back to Mexico. She’s heard the Chupacabra rumours and seems reluctant to deal with him. Mulder and Lozano later find him at a truck stop, but he escapes by hiding in a van of goats. The goats are soon found dead from the same affliction which got Maria and the bus driver. Scully learns that the fungus is, of all things, athlete’s foot but with one crucial difference – it contains an unidentified enzyme which appears to be drastically accelerating the infection.

She, Mulder, and Lozano then go to see Gabrielle. Gabrielle claims she hasn’t seen Eladio. Mulder isn’t convinced and waits outside with the others. They see Soledad leaving her apartment a short while later and follow him. Eladio turns up at a supermarket, where he tries to steal some food. One of the employees chases him out, discovering fungus growing on the food he handled. Soledad comes to the same shop, where our heroes and Lozano manage to corner and arrest him after some melodramatic wailing. The employee who chased Eladio out is dead nearby under a pile of fungal matter.

It’s about this point the episode really started losing the plot. Lozano, who had earlier said he didn’t want to get between two brothers, comes to the workers’ camp with Soledad. The two of them march around looking for Eladio, calling for him to come out and face his brother. Meanwhile, Scully calls in a hazmat team, saying Eladio has to be found and isolated so the infection can be contained. Two different versions of the story now unfold. The first, related by the old lady from the start, has Lozano being shot by Eladio before aliens appear and whisk the two brothers away. The second, as told by Gabrielle, has Soledad refusing to kill his brother and instead killing Lozano in a scuffle. In both versions, the brothers disappear. The aliens are the hazmat team Scully sent in, who manage to contain the infection and prevent any more deaths. Lozano is dead from a gunshot wound. His gun turns up 10 miles away near a car owned by a human trafficker, who is himself dead from the infection.

Mulder and Scully sit and relate all this to Skinner, who looks as completely effing done as I am. The story ends on an ambivalent note with the brothers still out in the desert, possibly looking like mutants and presumably free to infect any and all they choose.

This was an absolute travesty. It was so unbelievably bad. I think it was meant to be some kind of take on telenovelas/soap operas – aside from all the melodrama and declarations of love and the differing versions of events, the title means “the world turns” which I guess is a play on “As The World Turns”. I readily admit I’m not familiar with these soaps so a lot of this might be going over my head, but the episode just falls completely flat.

Riddle me this though: does the episode make at least a cursory attempt at highlighting the way immigrants are treated in the U.S.? Lozano mentions that the immigrants go by different names, presumably to convey that they are nameless nobodies to authorities. Their pseudonyms on police files are well-known Latino names in what I’m guessing is an indication that they’re all interchangeable and unimportant to the police. When Scully comes to examine Maria’s body, the coroner doesn’t even pretend to care about what happened to her. Lozano contemptuously says that the immigrants make up stories like El Chupacabra to keep themselves occupied. It’s a distraction from how neglected they feel, he says, and makes them feel important but they take the stories as fact nevertheless. He also describes the immigrants as “true” aliens in the sense that people know they’re there but never see them.

However, it then seems to go downhill: Soledad wails about losing his love and his need to kill Eladio when he’s confronted in the supermarket. Gabrielle eagerly relates the story of what happened to Eladio to other immigrants, who all smile in amusement. Lozano – who appears to be Latino himself – accompanies Soledad to the camp and demands Eladio face his brother. The old lady sees aliens instead of people in hazmat suits. I just get the impression the joke shifted target and the episode ended up ridiculing the immigrants themselves? It doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe I’m completely wide of the mark but I think this was fairly forgettable.

Til next week anyway, friends! 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 Tumblr or catch her frequent TV liveblogs on Twitter.

—Please make note of The Mary Sue’s general comment policy.—

Do you follow The Mary Sue on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, & Google +?

Tags: contributors, recap, The X-Files, The X-Files newbie recaps