Released not long after the Dustin Hoffman movie Outbreak, F.Emasculata sees The X-Files, like Ice in season one in relation to John Carpenter’s The Thing, somewhat tip its hat to a big screen movie, but doing so in a way that it feels fresh and unique to its own sense of self. It’s fast paced, filled to the brim with brilliantly gooey prosthetic effects, feels like a mini-action movie, and features one of the most suspenseful moments from the entire show. I. Love. It.
With a script from Chris Carter and Howard Gordon, it functions as a mini-mythology stand alone episode, one that takes place in the span of a single forty-five minutes and a sub-genre of X-File that I wish the show had done more of. Over the years, episodes such as Wetwired, Demons and En Ami would see the show play with its mythology, plethora of recurring stars and back story to tell small, contained stories that didn’t need to be played out in a two or three-part duration and were perfectly formed in the space of a single episode. F.Emasculata is exactly that.
In fact, it probably has more in common with Wetwired as opposed to Demons and En Ami because the other two episodes really went to town with hardcore mythology aspects such as the CSM and the Samantha storyline, F.Emasculata, like Wetwired, doesn’t impact directly on to greater mythology of the show, it just takes certain elements, like the CSM, and plays them out with their own little storyline, in this case two felons escaping whilst their prison is in the middle of an experiment with a deadly pathogen, meaning they too are exposed and a massive risk to the population.
It’s effectively Outbreak but without the Marcel from Friends, but it moves like a rocket ship and grips like a vice. Directed by Rob Bowman, once again being a cinematic flourish to the show (one shot in the episode would be reprised in Fight the Future, albeit with Jeffrey DeMunn and Lucas Black as opposed to David Duchovny and Angelo Vacco here) and an intense, pounding score from Mark Snow and incredibly dark photography courtesy of John S Bartley, it’s a brilliantly put-together action movie from the show. the second time in the second season after Endgame, showing that the series was fully capable of taking on the big screen, even on limited budgets.
The major star of F.Emasculata has to be Tony Lindala. The show’s make up supervisor was one of the many crew on the Vancouver years of the show who added so much to those first five seasons and here he delivers the goods with prosthetic effects that are memorable, icky, gooey and truly brilliant. If you don’t jump out of your seat the first time you watch it when that thing goes POP on the dead animal in the teaser, then you’re made of stronger stuff than I am.
The episode isn’t without minor problems; the Scully subplot where she believes she may have contracted the virus is faux-suspense because we know she can’t die, not with at least another three episodes of the season to go, but it’s a minor flaw and it does give both her and guest star Charles Martin Smith some great work to do together. Of course, Smith’s character exists as cannon fodder, at least for the end of the episode and the revelation that both he and the other doctors in the prison are not prison or government doctors but in fact a major pharmaceutical company. This element gives the episode an extra charge and a subtle but surprising sense of anger and it’s Scully’s discovery of this twist and her anger at it that gives Anderson her best scenes in the episode, as opposed to the threat on her life.
It’s the manhunt element of the episode that sees this hour of television really deliver the goods. Throwing in a guest appearance from Dean Norris as a Federal Marshall, making it feel even more feature film because this was back in the day before he became famous as one of the stars of Breaking Bad and frequently played roles like this, usually in movies like Terminator 2, it places Mulder into an action movie type situation, but a more cerebral one because this is The X-Files and being a simple chase movie is simply not enough for a show like this.
It plays with themes of cover up, conspiracy and lays it at the door of both the Pharmaceutical company at the heart of the episode and at our heroes too. Mulder wants to tell the public, Scully thinks that would be worse than the spread of the disease itself, and as such end up inadvertently doing the CSM’s bidding in helping with the cover up, even if our heroes themselves are doing it for the greater good. It says so much about how great the episode is that it can effectively stop the thriller for just a few moments to have a brilliant dialogue scene like the one Duchovny and Anderson have here about the ramification of a decision like they one they take where they are effectively helping with a cover-up, even if their own motives are more pure and just than the CSM’s.
It all builds up to a wonderful set piece on a bus which sees those pulsing boils used to absolutely terrifying extremes when a young boy is taken hostage, and when the significance of the name of Robert Torrance becomes clear, it leaves the episode on a brilliantly played bit of bitter and angry drama between our heroes and Skinner. The Skin Man may claim to be on the line our heroes keep crossing, but his words after that carry a charged warning that is equal to that of Deep Throat’s at the end of season one…and THIS isn’t even the season finale yet.
A brilliantly engaging forty-five minutes of X-Files goodness, it’s very underrated and deserves to be remembered more than it does. I said it before and I’ll say it again. I. Love. It.