The X-Files Newbie Recap: “Tempus Fugit,” “Max,” and “Synchrony”

Pendrell is dead. In related news, so is God, love, hope, and my faith in this world.

Here, take some tissues before we go on.

Tempus Fugit

The return and simultaneous disappearance of one Max Fennig. You may remember him from the season 1 episode “Fallen Angel”, in which Mulder went tactical espionage action in a crash site and found Max and his NICAP cap in the lock-up. He was later hoovered up by some kind of craft while Mulder was called before a disciplinary committee and told Max was dead. Belly laugh. Unfortunately, this time, it appears the Grim Reaper has stuck.

At some stage between season 1 and now, Max was dumped back onto earth. Life continues to be a dick to him. Here, he gets on a flight to DC, clutching a bag with an important piece of evidence, only for the plane to be intercepted by UFOs and then shot down by the military. A shady-looking type was preparing to take Max out right before the aliens sucked him out the window, but everyone else ends up equally dead about 30 miles from Albany.

In DC, Mulder and Scully are in a seriously crap-looking bar celebrating her birthday. Mulder, who’s remembered it for the first time in about four years, gives her a keyring with Apollo 11 on it. Before Scully can thank him for this thoughtful and generous gift, they’re approached by a woman named Sharon Grafia. She says she was told to get in touch with them if something happened to her brother—Max. The plane he was on has just crashed. Our heroes head to the crash site to take a look around. Mulder asks the investigation team if there’s any chance the flight may have been forced down, but it’s looking like some kind of weather-related incident. There are no survivors, and Max’s name wasn’t on the manifest.

While Mulder and Scully look around, two men from the investigation team—one of whom has a moustache, and who shall henceforth be referred to as Moustache—find the body of the guy who was targeting Max. They spray something on his hands and face, melting away his fingerprints. Mulder finds a watch. It reads 8:01, but the flight supposedly crashed at 7:52pm. A victim is suddenly unearthed alive but covered in severe burns. It turns out this man was sitting next to Max on the flight. Elsewhere, Sharon is abducted (by aliens) from her motel room.

The bodies of the victims are taken to an airport hangar to be identified. Mulder finds Max’s body and discovers his business card in Max’s pocket. None of the other bodies have watches, which Mulder finds suspicious. He wonders aloud what might have happened during the nine missing minutes. He and Scully then head to a nearby air traffic control tower at Von Drehle Air Force Base to get more info. The officer who was on duty at the time of the crash, Frish, explains that he saw the downed flight descend to a lower altitude on radar before it “triple Xed”, which I guess means it crashed. No other aircraft were spotted. As Mulder and Scully drive off, Frish is approached by another officer, Gonzales. The two were on duty together when the crash happened. Frish says he told our heroes what he was “supposed” to, but Gonzales says if they come back he’s not going to lie.

Back at the motel, our heroes discover Sharon has gone missing. The guy spearheading the investigation into the crash, Malar, arrives and says he’s found some disturbing evidence. The plane showed signs of significant wear and tear despite being a brand new aircraft, and there are cracks indicative of the over-wing door having been blown off its frame.

At Von Drehle, Frish comes back to find Gonzales dead in the control tower. He sees unmarked cars rolling up in the distance and quickly bolts. Operatives, led by Moustache, swarm out and search the building but Frish gets away. He makes his way to Mulder and Scully’s motel and the three of them head to the investigation team’s headquarters. Frish explains that he was ordered to lie about what happened to Flight 549. He saw another aircraft on radar and believes the military knowingly and willingly shot down the civilian plane. Wonderfully, Frish declares that he “has a responsibility to the truth”, almost prompting Mulder to squeeze his chewy little cheeks and have an aneurysm. For his part, Mulder believes a third (alien) aircraft may have been involved—one which wouldn’t show up on radar. He suggests they look for a second crash site to explain the first. Scully, once again demonstrating actual professionalism, says they have to get Frish somewhere safe first.

They get into a car to leave but the unmarked fleet from Von Drehle appears and chases them down a runway. A plane is coming in to land and Mulder just manages to get under it in time, forcing their pursuers to back off. Scully and Frish get into a plane bound for DC. Mulder is supposed to join them but begins to wonder if the alien aircraft might have crashed in nearby Lake Sacandaga instead of on land. Frish agrees it’s possible, so Scully—begrudgingly—agrees to take Frish back to DC by herself while Mulder checks out the lake.

At the 549 crash site, Malar sees lights hovering the sky before discovering Sharon sobbing on the ground. Scully and Frish arrive safely back in DC. She arranges for a federal marshal to meet them at a bar—the same one she and Mulder were in earlier. Federal marshals always make me think of Justified, so I was already sad even before Pendrell bit a bullet. The beloved little creature is also in the bar and beside himself when he sees Scully. He drunkenly insists on buying her a birthday drink. She relents, smiling at his boy scout goodness, and goes back to sit with Frish. Suddenly, Moustache appears. He pulls a gun on Frish and Scully jumps up with her own. Pendrell walks right into the crossfire and takes a bullet to the lung before Scully can shoot Moustache. It is awful and the poor cherub never saw it coming.

 

At Lake Sacandaga, everyone’s favourite idiot has convinced a poor local boatman to take him out on the water. He proceeds to go diving despite having less than zero experience, and promptly discovers an alien craft and bodies under the water. Something tells me that wet suit will need a thorough cleaning before it can be used again. However, before Mulder’s at liberty to do anything, he’s interrupted by another bright light and the screen fades to black. I just knew this was gonna be a two-parter. I’d chew my nails down to my knuckles only I’m too upset over beloved Pendrell.

Sniff.

Max

In which Pendrell succumbs to his wounds, off-camera. I am broken. He was a literal cinnamon roll and far too good for this world. Hello from the other siiiiiiiide.

As Pendrell is treated by paramedics, Skinner arrives. At least we can forever rely on that particular cinnamon roll. A whole cinnamon cake, really. Scully explains what happened and says she was waiting for a marshal. Skinner says her request was countermanded because Frish is under military arrest. The order to arrest him came from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who have also arrested Mulder. The military are all but admitting that they downed Flight 549 but their story doesn’t match Frish’s. Surprise surprise! The only unusual thing about this is the absence of a waft of smoke and a certain sneering bastard.

Scully gets a nosebleed. I wouldn’t blame her really, given all this stress. Skinner, donning his concerned dad cap, sends her to hospital with Pendrell with a serious note about his responsibility to the agents under his command. I love you, Walter. You’re such a hot ‘n’ cold type. I think he feels more genuine concern for Scully than Mulder, cos half the time she ends up in messes of Mulder’s making with no regard for her own welfare.

Speaking of the FBI’s most unwanted, Mulder has been picked up by operatives at the lake. Scully comes to see him when he’s released from custody. The military’s story is that the control tower gave bad coordinates to the fighter pilot which in turn led to the crash of Flight 549. Mulder has a minor radiation burn, which Scully looks at worriedly. He tells her what he saw underwater. Scully replies that there’s no physical evidence 549 was involved in a collision. She also says Malar found Sharon at the crash site, and they’ve discovered Sharon is not Max’s sister but rather an aeronautical engineer with a history of psychiatric problems. She met Max in an institution.

Now the sad part: Scully, visibly torn up, tells Mulder about Pendrell. To his eternal credit, Mulder is equally horrified. The two of them look at one another in resigned sadness while Scully wonders aloud what everyone is dying for. Mulder, gathering himself, declares that it has to be the truth.

They head to Max’s trailer to look around. It looks exactly the same as it did back in season 1, bless him. There’s a bunch of tapes of Max talking about military experiments, conspiracies, and high-ranking officials being in on everything. As his narration plays out, we see operatives cleaning up the area around Lake Sacandaga. A diver comes up covered in radiation burns. Soldiers wrap up alien bodies. Moustache arrives and, glancing at the burned diver, says “we found it.”

Mulder and Scully then go to see Malar. He’s wrapping up the 549 investigation. Mulder offers him a theory: Max was being followed and was pursued onto the plane. Mulder thinks Max found physical proof of the existence of extraterrestrials and someone was after it. Malar and Scully exchange looks. Dana’s patented shrug-and-just-go-with-it look is as beautiful here as it ever was:

Continuing, Mulder says 549 was intercepted by a second aircraft which did not appear on radar. Max would have recognised all the signs of an alien abduction. Unfortunately, the military had gotten the aircraft’s coordinates. While the alien craft held 549 aloft, it was taken out by the army, which in turn led 549 to depressurise and crash. Malar, blinking, says he can’t sell a story like that. Scully concurs but points out that there are traces of radioactivity on the plane which can’t be explained. Malar shows them the only evidence they found—a bag containing Max’s NICAP hat.

Our heroes bid Malar adieu and split up. Scully heads to a psychiatric facility to see Sharon. Scully asks Sharon if she knew what Max was carrying on the plane. She has blisters on her face from some kind of radioactive contact. Sharon explains that Max had a piece of alien technology. It was made up of three separate parts—he had one and Sharon had another—but these were taken from them. Mulder has gone back to Max’s trailer. It’s been trashed, in all predictability, but the lot owner gives him a stash of post Max hadn’t picked up. He finds a key to a storage locker in one of the envelopes. This leads him to an airport in Syracuse, where he collects a bag containing some kind of device. Spotting operatives on his trail, Mulder uses his badge to get through security and places it in the X-ray scanner. The object appears to have three parts. Scully calls and updates him. She warns him not to take the object out of its container as it is highly radioactive. Mulder boards a flight to DC and asks her to meet him at the airport.

Moustache appears on the flight with him. Mulder, noticing a patch of blood on his leg, trains his gun on him. Moustache says he has a parachute and is willing to grab the bag and leap out of the plane. He’s not afraid to die for a cause greater than he. I bet Alex Krycek once felt the same way, mate. Mulder leads him to the bathroom and bars him in. He uses the air phone to call Scully and tells her the guy who shot Pendrell is on the plane. Alert Skinner, he says, and take no chances. Suddenly, he notices his watch has stopped. He rushes to the air hostess and tells her to get the pilot to initiate evasive manoeuvres. Moustache bursts out of the bathroom and draws a gun on him. Before things can get really messy, the aliens intercept and we cut to a shot of the plane touching down in DC.

Skinner and Scully hurry aboard. Mulder is there, but Moustache is gone. Mulder’s watch is nine minutes slow. “Is this man on the plane?” Skinner, man of action, demands forcefully. Mulder stands up and deadpans, “I think he got the connecting flight.” Da-dum tsssh

Back at Max’s trailer, our heroes meet Sharon and hand over Max’s tapes. They head outside and Scully looks up at the stars. She mentions the Apollo 11 keyring Mulder gave her and says she knows what it means, rhyming off a typically gorgeous Scully monologue about perseverance, hard work, standing on the shoulders of giants and not forgetting the sacrifices of those who make achievements and leaps possible. Mulder cheerfully says he just thought it was a cool chain. Slow curtain; fin. Stay classy, Fox!

Well! Our latest two-parter. And a substantial comedown from previous two-parters in terms of tension and quality, I must say. Call me a spoilsport but these two episodes didn’t actually do much for me. It was nice to see Max again, however briefly, but I’m not sure they actually contributed too much to the overall narrative. Neither Mulder nor Scully make particularly showy leaps in character here, and indeed the only time we really get a glimpse of any emotion from them is when Pendrell dies. I’m a bit miffed over that if I’m being honest. I know he was a minor character but his death feels like it was inserted for shock value more than anything, to lend weight to two otherwise fairly flimsy episodes. I never thought I’d complain about the absence of the CSM but his lack of presence was so noticeable it was like the proverbial elephant in the room. Surely, if this was as huge a deal as the episodes made it out to be, he would have been hovering around in the background somewhere? Unless an entirely different team of ne’er-do-wells—yet another!—are also fiddling around with alien evidence and conspiracies, which is possible but again doesn’t really add much suspense. It doesn’t seem like the mythos benefited too much from these episodes. I don’t know any more than I already did, and the evidence Max had was predictably robbed as quick as it appeared. Bleurgh. I’m lighting a row of candles for Pendrell and sniffling down into my duvet.

Synchrony

A rather light but enjoyable look at time travel, in the loosest possible way. An old man comes back from the future to take out his younger self and a bunch of others who were all involved with a cryofreezing project. Mulder and Scully first get involved when the man’s younger self, Jason Nichols, is involved in an accident. He and another man named Lucas are confronted by an older guy who warns that Lucas will be killed by a bus at precisely 11:46. The old guy is arrested by campus security, but Lucas is promptly killed in just that fashion. Jason is arrested but no one believes his story about the old man.

This is because the old guy is missing, and the security guard who arrested him is dead. The guard was found frozen solid in his patrol car. Scully looks the body over and suggests he was exposed to something like liquid nitrogen. His body temperature appears to be declining, despite the fact he’s already dead. Mulder heads off to chat to Jason. Jason reveals that Lucas was threatening to destroy his reputation by saying he falsified data to get an NSA grant. The grant was for cryobiological experiments, piquing everyone’s interest.

Elsewhere, a scientist named Yonechi is attempting to check into a hotel room. The old man appears and helps him sort out a problem with the reservation. He claims that Jason sent him. Up in the room, the old man attacks Yonechi. He says Yonechi published a paper which “changed everything” before pricking him with a needle-like instrument. The scientist starts to freeze.

Mulder and Scully examine his body a few hours later. Scully wonders if Jason has an accomplice, but Mulder suspects he’s being framed. He suggests that the grant money might make him a target. Scully notices a pinprick on Yonechi’s hand. A similar mark was found on the guard’s body, leaving traces of an unidentifiable compound. They go to speak to Lisa, Jason’s girlfriend and fellow research scientist. She says the compound is a catalyst for a rapid freezing agent. However, the compound has only ever been tested on the computer and not actually synthesized in reality. The technology to do so is still 5 or 10 years away. When Scully mentions Yonechi was attacked about two hours ago, Lisa says he may not be dead.

Lisa places Yonechi’s body in a pool of liquid to warm him up. They then use a defibrillator to resuscitate him. However, shortly after he comes around, he begins seizing and his temperature goes through the roof. He then catches on fire—literally—and burns to a crisp.

Later, Lisa is headed to speak to Jason when she notices the old man following her. She confronts him and asks what he’s up to. He says he came there to kill her but leaves without doing anything. She tells Mulder and Scully what happened and admits that she falsified the data to get the NSA grant. A police officer approaches, saying someone matching the old man’s description has been spotted in a nearby hotel.

In the hotel room, Mulder and Scully find a photo of Lisa, Jason, and Yonechi. Mulder thinks it’s from the future, to Scully’s audible dismay. He thinks the old man is Jason, and the picture was taken in a future where the three of them synthesized the freezing compound. When Scully calls him out, Mulder points out that she herself wrote in her graduate thesis that time travel was theoretically possible according to the laws of quantum physics. True, she says, but she also wrote that the limits of human endurance would never permit it.

After our heroes have left, old man Jason comes back to his room. Lisa appears behind him. She’s realised who he is and asks what’s going on. Jason tells her that ten years from now, she’ll meet a man who discovers subatomic particles which can travel back in time. The particles can only go back for a few seconds, however, and only at temperatures of absolute zero. This will in turn lead her to make a crucial discovery which changes the course of history. Lisa attempts to reach out to him, but he stabs her with the needle and she begins to freeze.

Mulder meets younger Jason, who’s been released from custody. He informs him that the older man is him. He’s had the photo examined by experts and it’s real. Mulder suggests that time travel is possible through wormholes, and Jason’s compound may be the key to countering the effects of heat and gravity. The two of them go to the cryo-lab. When Jason scans himself in, the guard says he’s already in there. Mulder sends him to get Scully and goes up to the lab alone.

Meanwhile, Scully is trying to resuscitate Lisa. They revive her in the same way they Yonechi, but this time Scully orders that she be returned to the pool of liquid as soon as she’s awake. It works and Lisa survives.

Mulder finds an assistant in the cryo-lab and asks him to pull up Jason’s files. The assistant says the files have been erased. Somewhere else in the building, Jason the younger finds Jason the elder and confronts him. Happily, this does not create a time paradox and/or chain reaction which destroys the entire universe, but granted that was a worse case scenario. (The destruction might have been limited to our own galaxy.) Jason the elder explains that their work leads to a world without history and hope. Mulder appears outside and urges Jason the younger not to do anything, as if the older version dies they’ll never know the truth. Jason the elder takes this opportunity to attack his younger self and the two of them catch on fire.

Outside, Lisa is loaded into an ambulance and sent to hospital. Scully grimly informs her that Jason is dead before she goes. Mulder comes up to Scully afterwards and says they only found one body. He’s miffed, but makes another reference to Scully’s thesis. If time travel is possible, then multidimensionality allows for an infinity of outcomes in infinite universes but there can only be one outcome per universe. In other words, somewhere out there, Jason’s older self’s attempts to prevent the discovery of the compound will fail and time travel will be discovered. Physics, man. I bow to your complete incomprehensibility.

The episode ends with a shot of Lisa on a computer looking at the compound. Is this the darkest timeline, or something else? We’re left to wonder as it fades to black.

So! Not too shabby, all in all. Not a mind-blowing episode by any means but competent and thought-provoking after the wayward ones which preceded it. I love the idea of multidimensionality. So many possibilities and interpretations. There could be a world out there where Samantha wasn’t taken, Missy didn’t die and Krycek still has both arms. Mr. X is a schoolteacher and Skinner a grizzled Rambo type in the jungles of Vietnam. Mulder might genuinely have been locked up in an institution, while Scully’s pioneering new fields of medical research with a spring in her step and twinkle in her eye. Then again, half of these probably exist in fanfic AUs. All the better.

Til next week, friends!

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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