Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): The X-Files - "The Erlenmeyer Flask" (season 1, episode 24)

Friday, June 29, 2018

The X-Files - "The Erlenmeyer Flask" (season 1, episode 24)


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 May 13, 1994/written by Chris Carter, directed by R.W. Goodwin: At first, Scully is frustrated by Mulder's credulity and Deep Throat's obscurity. They are trying to figure out what happened to Dr. William Secare (Simon Webb), a man fleeing a police chase who bleeds green when he is shot and then disappears underwater for hours without being found. The car he's using belongs to Dr. Terrance Berube (Ken Kramer), a member of the Human Genome Project conducting mysterious experiments. Based on these clues and Deep Throat's strong hint that they're onto something big, Mulder and Scully deepen their investigation. Scully's skepticism is quickly overcome: Dr. Berube dies under very suspicious circumstances, Dr. Anne Carpenter (Anne De Salvo) informs her that a sample from the Berube lab is possibly extraterrestrial in origin, and then Dr. Carpenter dies under even more suspicious circumstances. Mulder discovers a room full of bodies floating in water and they're all gone the next day - according to Deep Throat, these were humans with terminal illness who were infused with alien genes as experimental treatement. However, they've probably been destroyed thanks to Secare's relatively high-profile disapperance (and perhaps, grimly, Mulder's piqued interest in their condition). This isn't merely a cover-up - it's a brutally violent suppression.

As Mulder tries to save Secare, the doctor is assassinated and the FBI agent is taken hostage. The "Crew Cut Man" (Lindsey Ginter) has been scouring and often instigating these crime scenes and he mocks Mulder as his cell phone rings without answer. Only Deep Throat can help him now, and so the informant meets with Scully, telling her what to do to get Mulder back. She is given passage to a top-secret government facility where she extracts the source of extraterrestrial tissue that was infused into the various patients: an alien fetus in a jar. The trick works; the deep-secret agents release Mulder. But the rescue comes at a price - these same nefarious forces shoot Deep Throat at the hand-off. And Mulder finally informs Scully that Skinner, from "the highest authority in the Executive Branch" has shut down the X-files and is planning to assign the partners to different areas. Explaining why he won't comply with this order, Mulder references one of the series' key slogans: "the truth is out there." Deep Throat articulates another arresting phrase: "Trust no one."  Well, aside from one another.

My Response:
This is definitely what I was hoping for - a grand conclusion involving aliens, Deep Throat, and threats to the X-files unit's very existence. The episode is a fun combination of action, suspense, intrigue, and sci-fi iconography but it also cements the crucial element of The X-Files: the personal relationship between the two agents - their tension and especially their mutual loyalty. Granted, it's a bit of a stretch when Scully claims that a scientist's testimony about an extraterrestrial gene has finally made her unsure about what to believe: we've just seen twenty-three episodes of material that would shake even the most hardened non-believer to their core. Still, at this point Scully's skepticism is as central to her identity as Mulder's inquisitive openness is to his, and the series will have to negotiate the space between exposing Scully to paranormal phenomena and retaining her "exhaust all other options first" attitude. What's more important is that if she doesn't always believe in psychics, ghosts, or aliens, she does always believe in Mulder's skill, integrity, and commitment. And Mulder, in turn, knows she is a brilliant partner, the counterweight he needs within the X-files unit who can keep him balanced while supporting their larger mission.

What is a bit more surprising than Scully's and Mulder's mutual loyalty is the ferocity of their opponents. This is another area where the show has to walk a tightrope; if the bad guys are willing to kill Deep Throat, why not Mulder? If they want the alien fetus back from Scully and she has it, why not kill her to get it or, once they've got it, take her out? What leverage does either FBI agent really have, other than the fact that they're the stars of this series and need to survive week after week; within this world, why are their enemies playing by any rules whatsoever? Before he dies, Deep Throat tells Scully that there are factions within the government, the deepest state of the deep state, who know and act on information even their ostensibly more powerful superiors don't have access to. So far the mechanisms and motivations of this conspiracy are vague and nebulous (if ominous) as, of course, whispers of shadowy cabals often are. Will The X-Files flesh this out in future seasons? Will it lose something of its sinister quality if it does, or will a better sense of how this suppression operates make an even stronger impression? And if the X-files unit is being shut down and Mulder and Scully are being reassigned, how does the premise of the series continue?

One thing's for sure: given the title of the next episode, we haven't seen the last of the the U.F.O.s - or the beings who pilot them.

Next: (season 2) "Little Green Men" • Previous: "Roland"

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