Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): The X-Files - "E.B.E." (season 1, episode 17)

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The X-Files - "E.B.E." (season 1, episode 17)


Welcome to my viewing diary for The X-Files. Every day, except Saturday, I will offer a short review of another episode until I finish the first season. Future entries will cover the remaining seasons, breaking to review the feature films where chronologically appropriate, and eventually reach the recent miniseries. I have seen very few X-Files episodes, though I was utterly fascinated with the concept as a child, so for the most part this will be a first-timer's perspective. There will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on February 18, 1994/written by Glen Morgan & James Wong, directed by William Graham): With this dense, cross-country (occasionally even international) tale of sci-fi intrigue, The X-Files dives headfirst into its mythology again, arguably going deeper than it has before. Mulder and Scully are tracking a trucker (Peter LaCroix) who experienced a close encounter deep in Tennessee. Interrogating him in a jail cell where he's been held after firing his shotgun in the middle of the night on a dark country road, supposedly aiming at a flying saucer, the agents are frustrated to see his release ordered over their heads. With Deep Throat's help, they discover that the truck was traveling under false pretenses, with the driver using a fake name and the cargo much heavier than declared in its manifest. But if the duo is onto some secret faction of the government, that faction is also onto them - and Deep Throat is caught in the middle. Several episodes ago, we learned that this source wasn't simply feeding Mulder information but also using and manipulating him. Now it's Mulder's turn to find this out for himself, as he and Scully uncover wiretaps around their office and realize that some (but not all) of the evidence they're receiving is part of an elaborate set-up. When are they being told the truth? When are they being lied to? Why are the people responsible for this cover-up playing this game with them at all?

We get many questions in this episode, and some answers as well - although we don't know which answers are sincere, and what purpose the insincere ones serve. Or, as Mulder puts it, "I'm trying to decide which lies to believe." Riding to his help are "the Lone Gunmen" - John Fitzgerald Byers (Bruce Harwood), Richard Langly (Dean Haglund), and Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood) - brilliant conspiracy theorists who consider Mulder's ideas even more fringe than their own, and love him for it. U.F.O. enthusiasts, camped out near a top-secret site in Washington state, also assist Mulder and Scully in their quest to find the cargo (which they are pretty sure at this point is an "E.B.E." - "extraterrestrial biological entity," presumably captured when a spacecraft was shot down over Iraq in the opening sequence). This leads them to shake two snoops, fly separately to Las Vegas where they reunite, and follow the truck just in time to witness a spectacular light show. Did the aliens rescue one of their own from the back of the vehicle? Even this event appears to have been staged (the watches Mulder uses to track time disparities remain unaffected) and so the agents press on until finally they make it to the facility where the alien is being held...or was being held. Deep Throat reveals to Mulder that the creature has been killed. In the late forties, the leaders of all the great powers met in secret and mutually agreed to exterminate any extraterrestrial that crossed their paths (Deep Throat is still haunted by his own role in slaying one such seemingly innocent being).

Is this all bullshit or our deepest peek yet behind the U.S. government's red curtain? Is it a bit of both?

My Response:
Regarding such a quintessential mythology episode, it's interesting to consider exactly what "mythology" means. Often when a show features an ongoing serialized story alongside weekly episodic dramas, the former seems far more important than the latter. Yet The X-Files reveals so much stunning phenomena in its monster-of-the-week episodes that there isn't much room for the mythology material to be that much more astonishing. Are ghost bosses, psychokinetic clones, and backwards-aging serial killers any less world-shaking that alien visitors? The primary significance of the mythology, then, may be one of scope rather than depth. The government's cover-up of U.F.O.s spans decades and continents, and so offers plenty of material for a continuing story. Of course, the really crucial hook for all of this is Mulder's personal investment - the backstory of his sister's disappearance roots his obsession in deep childhood trauma. Curiously, though, we don't hear anything about that trauma this time. Between Deep Throat, surveillance, and the introduction of the Lone Gunmen, perhaps Mulder already has his hands full.

It was a nice surprise to see the series address its Deep Throat dilemma so early, while effectively keeping its meaning an open matter. By admitting ulterior motives and larger forces at work to Mulder, the informant suggests that now we're all on the same page. But are we? In the twist ending of "Fallen Angel," it seemed like Deep Throat was purely an authority figure, lying to Mulder to protect the agency rather than vice-versa. I'm still not sure if he's misrepresenting his role in all of this, and if it's all a bit more one-sided than he lets on, but I enjoy the ambiguity. Elsewhere at times, everything becomes rather confusing, creating a fun who's-playing-who conceit that can also feel a bit too shaggy-dog. Glancing lightly at the episode's production history I see that Wong, one of the writers, is on record with his frustrations, worrying that the episode highlights "texture instead of substance" whereas series creator Chris Carter is more enthusiastic, emphasizing the atmosphere of certain scenes. Those are interestingly distinct viewpoints, which I hope to tease out later. So far I think The X-Files has been most successful when it edrills into the mood of a given moment, but I'm also enjoying the more ambitious unraveling of a larger mythos. So far episodes have tended to lean one way or another, but I look forward to episodes that manage to weave both strands tightly together.

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