If Duane Barry and Ascension in the early third of The X-Files‘ second season gave a sense of how big and dramatic the show could be, then Colony and Endgame were concrete proof that not only could The X-Files do emotionally charged, it could do bold and epic too.
Marking the first time David Duchovny would contribute a story idea to the show, with Endgame marking the writing debut of Frank Spotnitz who would become one of the show’s most important voices, the Colony/Endgame two-parter is an epic ninety minutes that would show everyone that The X-Files could more than rival big screen movies.
Opening with the biggest “oh crap” moment from the end of the story, the episode then uses a flashback device to go back two-weeks earlier and show the audience how we got to Mulder on the verge of death. It would not be the last the time the series would use this technique, in fact it would be used frequently in several mythology themed two-part stories, as well as the occasional stand alone, but its first time out would be the most dramatic.
It is a brilliantly entertaining ninety minutes of television, and, being a two-part story, would be another of FOX Video’s best-selling VHS releases in the UK where two episodes would be edited together into feature-length format, thus cementing how cinematic and feature film quality the episodes could be.
It does see the series dip ever further into the realms of science fiction than previously seen. Are there aliens or not has always been a question at the heart of the series, made even more powerful by the idea hinted at in Duane Barry and Ascension that the US government themselves are responsible for alien abductions. Here we’re given not only aliens who are attempting to colonise the planet, but an Alien Bounty Hunter with shape shifting capabilities who has been sent to assassinate them.
It could be silly, it could too much, but amazingly Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz use the material here to fashion a brilliantly pulsating thriller, backed up by superb plot twists, brilliant far-fetched scenarios, crisp, cinematic direction from Nick Marck on Colony and Rob Bowman on Endgame, as well as a brilliantly tense music score from Mark Snow.
There is a delicious edge of paranoia running throughout the first hour especially. Once its established that the Alien Bounty Hunter can shape shift and assume anyone’s identity, another boundary pushing scenario, the audience is immediately put on edge because the Terminator-esque figure, played by Brian Thompson who, ironically, was murdered by the T-800 in the opening moments of James Cameron’s 1984 classic, could be anyone, a fact that helps build up to one of the all time best cliffhangers on the show.
Watching the episodes as an eleven year old, as soon as the words “To Be Continued” appeared on-screen, I think I let out a massive scream at the television, becoming incredibly livid that I was going to have to wait a week to see how the show would resolve Colony’s incredibly tense final moment.
On top of all that, we are finally given an introduction to Mulder’s family and whilst Scully’s family was shown in a loving light in Beyond the Sea before tragedy struck, right away there is a clear sense of estrangement here, a wonderful sense of awkwardness that is both hard to watch, and yet even harder to look away from. The manner in which David Duchovny plays the moment when he goes to hug his father only to be greeted with a handshake is wonderful and full credit to both Duchovny and Peter Donat for playing the scene so well.
If you think that was good, Endgame goes and tops the more quieter intensity of that scene by going for full on hardship brought about due to events that befall the characters in the second hour, another season two highlight for Duchovny that sees the actor bring more nuances and emotionally complexity to one half of our heroic duo.
Even the manner in which Mulder reacts when his mother answers the phone is a superbly played moment of subtle character drama. “What are you doing at dad’s?” he asks her and the question carries so much, tells the audience everything without forcing it down our throats the Mulder family has been incredibly estranged for years.
Of course, the big twist at the heart of Colony and Endgame, and the reason we’re spending time with Mulder’s family, is the return of Samantha, and immediately the show toys with the audience over whether or not the character is who she says she is. We’ve been presented with clones and the Bounty Hunter’s ability to shape shift, so immediately the sense of emotionally dredged paranoia is there for all to feel.
We desperately want it to be her, and David Duchovny sells it all so well, but it can’t end here just yet. It’s just the second season after all.
When we get into the second part of the story we are presented with the first script courtesy of Frank Spotnitz, and with Rob Bowman directing, you know it’s going to be epic. Whilst Colony presented the first case of a flashback structure, Endgame presents what would become another recurring story telling motif in these grand, mythology driven two-parters, as the episode opens with a sequence (in this case a submarine encountering trouble under icy waters) which makes you wonder how it will impact on the larger story being told.
Endgame is, admittedly, not as great as Colony, but it presents so much that is individually brilliant. It feels more padded out, especially in the middle section, but it’s hard to complain when it still manages to give the fans so much gold as it does here; the awkward scene between Mulder and his father, the hostage exchange on the bridge, the reappearance of X, THAT fight scene between Mulder’s informant and Skinner, a superb moment if there ever was one, and then the climax which, visually, is one of the most stunning the series has pulled off to date.
Nowadays so many showrunners and executive producers call their television shows “movies” or “mini-movies” but The X-Files and Chris Carter was the first to do so, or it feels like they were the first to use those terms, and this two-parter kind of makes that a factual statement. A submarine tower having burst out of the ice is a stunning image and looks as if a fair bit of money has been spent on it. It gives the two-parter a stunning final set piece to finish on and would ensure that when the series would do subsequent two-part stories over the years, it would allow them to make good on the promise of being a “mini-movie” to the extent that everyone would come to believe that the “mini” part of that equation wasn’t enough anymore.
Of course, everything is left unresolved to be picked up in future episodes, but at this stage of time, that was seen as a strength and not the liability it would eventually become, instead opting to give the characters, and Mulder especially, a sense of emotional closure going forward.
Yes, it does tip the show’s ongoing arc ever more into the realms of science fiction, a more hardened science fiction than previously hinted at, but amazingly it never destabilised the atmosphere of the show. It makes it even more promising, the hint of where it could go and where it might take us felt brilliantly tantalising at this stage and the show playing with ideas such as Samantha clones and epic set pieces like the ones here give the show an even bigger playing field than thought previously.
Yes, Colony is better than Endgame, as I’ve said before, Endgame flags a little bit in the middle, especially when Mulder finds a plethora of Samantha clones who are then despatched (I presume) by the Bounty Hunter, but the pay off is still worth it. Of course, the more baggy nature of the episode after the awkward encounter between Mulder Sr and his son may have a lot to do with the script having to be heavily re-written due to it being considered somewhat unfilmable (budgetarily that is), but in proving that The X-Files can do big and epic, it shows the series and its mythology, no matter what you think of where it would eventually go (or not), as being grand, epic television of the highest order and in some respects, these are two episodes that could be somewhat seen as a game changer for the show.