We’re back, or more importantly, SHE’S back, as we get out first glimpse of our heroes in their basement office, about to head off on weird adventures again. How exciting, but our first two cases back on the usual X-Files saddle after eight episodes of the show in a wonderfully experimental mood, sees the series getting back into its old routine both way too easily, with little ambition, and then follows it up with an episode that tries to do way too much.
First out of the gates is Howard Gordon’s Firewalker, basically a retread of the Ice/Darkness Falls formula of taking our heroes off into the wilds, in this case to a volcanic research station in Mount Avalon, separating them from the world with a bunch of disposable guest stars whilst some sort of weird natural threat makes live a living hell for everyone.
Typical of its author, we get a tragic guest character, in this case Daniel Trepkos, played by Bradley Whitford (Josh from The West Wing, one of this reviewer’s all time favourite television shows and characters), who joins the ranks of Max Fenig, Darlene Morris and Augustus Cole as a somewhat sympathetic soul hurt by a supernatural threat of sorts.
In all honesty, Firewalker is not a terrible episode, but it’s definitely the first episode of the second season that feels somewhat lacklustre. While 3 was not perfect, it’s somewhat unique circumstances for telling that story made it stand out more than it would have done otherwise, Firewalker on the other hand does feel like a retread of sorts with little new to offer the Ice formula.
While Chris Carter’s Darkness Falls was also a retread of that formula, it offered something new and interesting to the story, and, to top it all off, was scary as hell. Firewalker, despite the good efforts of everyone involved, feels like an Ice/Darkness Falls tribute album, put together by one of those bands whose name is a play on the original band. At this rate I’m surprised it’s not called Darkness Ice or Ice Falls, which wouldn’t really make any sense I suppose but that’s the direction it feels like we’ve gone in.
Gordon is a wonderful writer, but this is definitely not one of his best efforts. Whilst his first episode of the season, Sleepless, was an undoubted highlight, and his next episode will see him deliver a wonderfully entertaining chiller, Firewalker does nobody any favours for the most part. What does come as a surprise is the guest cast.
Bradley Whitford, Leland Orser and Shawnee Smith would all go on to bigger things, with Orser appearing is EVERYTHING, Smith would go on to the Ted Danson sitcom Becker and eventually the Saw movies, whilst Whitford would go on to be a major star in some of the greatest scripted television of all time and here they all are running around the woods, vulgar looking fungi erupting from their throats and, in Whitford’s case, delivering ponderous dialogue about the truth being like an elephant.
Credit is due for not ignoring the events of the previous few weeks. Mulder spends the episode deeply concerned for his partner, something that somewhat annoys her to a degree, a character facet that is brilliant portrayed by Anderson and which gives the events a charge here that it would lack if it was placed anywhere else within the show’s run. Duchovny and Anderson are great and if the episode does have one thing going for it it’s that there is a joy to be had in seeing both the characters, and to an extent the show itself, settling back into its groove. Part of me wishes that it was actually with a better episode than this.
Red Museum sees our intrepid duo in Wisconsin for a cross over with David E Kelley’s Picket Fences. Wait…no that didn’t happen, but rest assured, there is a parallel universe where that actually did happen and Tom Skerritt and Lauren Holly guest star in this episode.
It makes one wonder what the finished product would have been, because this does feel like an episode of two halves, the first a dark kidnapping tale where kids are disappearing and then reappearing shortly after with the words He/She is One written in black marker over their backs.
It’s a startling image, and one only The X-Files could do, setting up a very intriguing case that looks as if it’s going to take in a Vegan Cult, a suspicious community and a peeping tom. There was probably more than enough here to carry the episode to the end of its forty-five minute run time, but Chris Carter cannot help but throw so much at the wall in the hope that something, or everything, sticks, because by the time we get to the end of the episode the audience is knee-deep not only in the story threads that I just mentioned, but also Purity Control, Deep Throat’s murderer, a plane crash and alien DNA also.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very entertaining episode, but at the same time, its does turn into somewhat of a mess. Now, I don’t know what was said in any story meetings between Carter and Kelley (a meeting of the minds of two of 90’s television biggest creative names that would have been amazing to witness), it could be the first half of the episode would have been developed in Kelley’s more straightforward small town cop drama before The X-Files took over and headed knee-deep into its mythology with the story.
It’s an interesting possibility, but unfortunately goes into the well of “great unmade television episodes”. The episode of The X-Files that we have is one of the show’s most narratively crazy, borderline messy, but, amazingly, never fails to do anything but entertain.
The idea of a Vegan Cult in a small town whose financial well-being is made up of the meat industry is a subtle and wonderfully subversive dark idea, whilst the show itself makes the first reference to “walk-ins” which would return in a big way come season seven’s divisive Closure.
The investigation for the first half of the episode looks set to be a darkly brilliant mystery, the image of the words “He is One” and “She is One” scrawled on the victims backs is brilliantly visual and yet very disturbing. In fact, given certain directions that the episode delves into, it marks the first point this season when the series will explore substantially darker material than the first season, as we’ll see when we get to the episodes coming up.
When Red Museum in the second half of the run time decides to become a mythology episode, bringing back the Crew Cut Man from The Erlenmeyer Flask and linking its plot to the alien DNA plot line from that episode, it becomes all kinds of crazy. It never stops being entertaining, but its such a left turn that its hard not try to keep up with the episode’s logic and plot twists; a vegan cult, mysterious disappearances, a peeping tom, alien DNA, government assassins, a plane crash, the latter of which pushes the mystery forward by means of being a coincidence when you really think about it.
The pacing of the episode is on point however, and after Firewalker going all Ice and taking Mulder and Scully away to a volcano for their first case back together, there is a small joy to see our heroes in their 90’s suits, driving to crime scenes, flashing FBI badges and being criminal investigators together for the first time this season. The episode even brilliantly throws in a lovely borderline romantic moment when Mulder wipes the corner of Scully’s mouth when they’re having dinner.
In all honesty, Red Museum does feel like two episodes folded into one, and although not the most brilliant of episodes, it’s hard not to get swept along with its pace and craziness and it’s always a surprising entertaining entry of the series to revisit, even if it really doesn’t make a lick of sense.