Investigating The X-Files: Season 6, Part 2

When Season 6 rocks, it produces an extravaganza of some of my all-time favorite episodes. When it sucks, it’s enough to make me go all drooly and cross-eyed. And when the episodes are just average, their very averageness somehow irritates me. The effect is just plain weird, bipolar even. Even the way the myth works strikes me as odd. In Season 6, the myth plateaus, tension stops building and suspense ceases to rise. It ought to be awesome to finally have some questions answered, and while it is, it’s also oddly unfulfilling. The myth engine that drove the meta-plot of “The X-Files” sort of runs out of gas, and it leaves the whole show feeling unmoored.

The myth episodes themselves have odd structures and a lack of stylistic and thematic cohesiveness. In Season 6 opener “The Beginning,” we find out that the X-Files, which got reopened during the film, have been assigned to weasly Jeffery Spender and slimy Diana Fowley. Gibson Praise reappears, after some creepy Syndicate brain surgery, and discovers that he can communicate with the newborn evil alien baby. I found Gibson particularly fascinating on this viewing, but the episode doesn’t focus on him. Instead, it centers on Mulder’s intense and illogical attachment to smarmy mega-bitch Fowley, a choice that made me feel stabby.

Around this point that I found I’d developed a grudging respect for Krycek. He’s smarter than Spender and less subversive than Fowley. The more I looked at her, the more I came to appreciate Krycek’s pragmatic sort of selfishness. I just wish “S.R. 819,” the episode where Krycek poisons Skinner with nanotechnology in order to control him, made better use of his ratty qualities. The episode manages to be both boring and illogical. Even though I know the premise kind of pays off later, it still couldn’t keep my attention.

The myth both of Season 6 and of the show to this point climaxes with “Two Fathers” and “One Son.” These episodes confirm a great many suspicions and tie up oodles of loose ends, but they don’t actually uncover many truths that a savvy viewer didn’t already have guesses about. Worse, although they’re important episodes, they aren’t narratively very exciting. I perched on the edge of my seat while I watched them, gobbling down the revelations, but a few eps later, I could hardly remember how it all went down.

For the record, here’s basically what you learn from “Two Fathers” and “One Son": Cassandra Spender, the Cigarette Smoking Man’s ex-wife, was one of the Syndicate family members turned over to the alien Colonists in exchange for the alien fetus from “The Erlenmeyer Flask.” The aliens eventually returned her and, after extensive testing with DNA from the fetus, she became the first successful alien-human hybrid. The Syndicate’s deal with the Colonists mandated that as soon as they made a hybrid, they would turn her over so colonization could begin.

Although the Syndicate, at Bill Mulder’s insistence, worked secretly on a vaccine against the alien virus, they always knew if it wasn’t successful they and their families (including the ones they gave up in 1973) could stay alive as hybrids. They continued on with this plan even after they found out that the Colonists didn’t plan to just enslave the non-hybrid members of humanity, but use them as disposable incubators.

Cassandra gets returned after her disappearance in “The Red and The Black,” but she wants Mulder, her son, or CSM to kill her rather than turn her over. Diana Fowley has deep ties to CSM, Marita Covarrubias has been tested on extensively, and the Syndicate has resigned itself to letting colonization begin. The alien rebels hoped to let Cassandra live as a means to exposing and thus fighting the colonization plans. When that doesn’t work, they instead steal the alien fetus and go to the intended Syndicate/Colonist rendezvous site before the Colonists arrive. They burn Cassandra and the Syndicate members, ending the conspiracy and, at least for now, plans for colonization. Only CSM and Fowley escape. CSM shoots his son, Jeffery Spender, for choosing Mulder’s side over his own.

See? It’s interesting, but not earth shattering. Afterwards, Season 6 devolves into a series of eps that range from quite good to solidly “meh” to, for one notably silly episode, downright painful. From the “meh” column there’s “Agua Mala,” about a hurricane and a sea monster with Guest Who Later Got Big Silas Weir Mitchell from “My Name is Earl” and “Prison Break.” “Monday” is a tragic-comic ode to “Groundhog Day,” “Trevor,” (with “The Shield’s” Catherine Dent) features a dude who walks through walls, and “Field Trip,” the best of the bunch, blurs reality thanks to hallucinations caused by a huge, carnivorous mushroom-thing.

None of those episodes is precisely bad, they’re just sadly located in the long, mythless second half of Season 6. The air of deflated malaise remaining after the myth wraps up means they feel rather like the show stalling for time. Luckily, there’s “Three of a Kind,” with the Lone Gunmen in Vegas and the return of Suzanne Modeski. At once funny and touching, it does everything it sets out to do and more.

A new but related myth thread gets introduced in season finale “Biogenesis.” A scientist finds artifacts off the coast of Africa with Navajo language inscribed on them. Scully thinks they’re fakes, but then they start moving on their own and communicating telepathically with her partner. Albert Hosteen, the Navajo code-talker from “Anasazi,” translates the inscriptions. They contain passages from the Bible and the human genome. Mulder becomes convinced it’s proof that life on Earth came from the aliens, but then he goes seriously batshit insane because of the artifact talking to him.

Diana Fowley comes back pretending to be all sweet and loyal while actually working for CSM. Skinner starts acting strange because Krycek is screwing with him, and Mulder is locked in a mental hospital. “Biogenesis” ends with Scully traveling to Africa and seeing a huge alien craft thing half buried in a beach. I liked the ep and what it establishes well enough, but after the aimless wandering of much of Season 6, it felt a wee bit like a letdown.

Conversely, the thing I enjoyed most about the second half of Season 6 was the attention it pays to the Mulder and Scully’s ambiguous relationship. The thread of should they or shouldn’t they, of Chris Carter tormenting the shippers, weaves through the season. Two episodes I like best from the second half make particularly effective use of the theme. In “Arcadia,” Mulder and Scully go undercover as a suburban married couple. I enjoyed the contrast between the reality of them as a couple and my own fantasies of such a union. Plus, Mulder in a pink polo telling Scully to “make me a sandwich, woman” is worth the price of admission alone. 

In “Milagro,” a writer (played with faboo creepy/sexy intensity by John Hawkes, later of “Deadwood”) with a Scully obsession works on a novel so powerful, the killer he creates actually comes to life. He writes about Mulder and Scully investigating the crimes, and hopes that the narrative will lead Scully to fall in love with him in return. The fact that he can’t make it happen because Scully already loves someone else offers a hopeful and poignant counterpoint to “Arcadia’s” humorous doubts about the prospects of Mulder and Scully as a couple.

There’s no better way to illustrate the bipolar nature of Season 6 than through its best and worst episodes. The worst? “Alpha,” with a bullet. The writing blows, the plotting feels haphazard and the characters poorly motivated. There’s a lady Mulder met online who has lupus and a crush on the agent. There’s a cryptozoologist who becomes a cryptozoological dog in the manner of the world’s stupidest werewolf. The dog’s glowing eyes created in an effect so bad it almost makes the astro-ghost from season 1′s “Space” look dramatic. “Alpha” makes a valiant stab at dealing with the Mulder/Scully relationship jealousy thing, but it’s so buried in suck you hardly notice.

On the extreme other hand you get “The Unnatural.” Oh heavenly Jeebus, how I love this episode! I love it three exclamation points worth!!! Combine my “X-Files” passion with my rabid baseball fandom and nearly endless well of affection for Jesse L. Martin, and you end up with something quite like my ideal hour of television. Martin plays an alien undercover as Josh Exley, a player in the Negro baseball league during the 1940s. He says that baseball was the first unnecessary thing he ever did and the first thing that ever made him laugh, a thing his species never does. Naturally, his "family" doesn’t support Josh’s mingling with the puny humans, so it’s just a matter of time until they hunt him down and punish him. The episode’s elegant plotting, sparkling wit, and great performances balance the touching message about what truly makes a man so that it never feels heavy-handed.

Also, I have a pet theory about “The Unnatural.” I always wondered why the alien Rebels give a damn about what happens to us poor, pitiful earthlings in the first place. I guess the accepted idea is that they come from a planet that’s already been colonized so they want to strike a blow against their tormentors, but that never seemed adequate to me. It’s hard enough to feel empathy for your own species, let alone for some pinkish, tiny-headed weirdoes from a galaxy away. I like to imagine baseball-loving martyr Josh Exley as a sort of alien Frederick Douglass whose story can teach the alien races that, basically, humans are people too. I don’t have any proof to support this and I don’t care. Season 6 may be a bit bipolar, but when an episode rocks as much “The Unnatural,” you might as ride that good feeling as far as it will take you.

Posted in Professional, The X-Files
2 comments on “Investigating The X-Files: Season 6, Part 2
  1. Eleanore says:

    I’ve been reading (and loving) these since you first started posting them, and just had to finally chime in with a comment. You’re definitely right about S6 feeling strangely disjointed and hollow, despite including many of my favorite episodes.
    And it’s worth nothing that I think The Unnatural was one of the finest one-off hours of television ever produced in the X-Files franchise. It’s also one of the very, very few episodes that barely includes Scully or Mulder that has me completely engaged from beginning to end (and the fact that friends of mine who hate baseball agree with me on that show just how well done it is). Love that episode!

  2. Martin says:

    Even i enjoyed the Unnatural and im English and as a result know absolutely nothing about baseball what so ever.
    I see what you mean about SR819 struggling to stay interesting. now ive watched all the episodes i went back to this one the other night and now i watch it again, already knowing its implications i actually found it much more exciting and interesting. And i also see many instances where i shouldve guessed it was Krycek but i didnt notice it at all. The sheer fact the guys only using his right arm for everything should be enough of a give away. Not to mention his voice when he’s on the phone to the Senator. I didnt like SR819 first time around but now its one of my favourites.

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