Written by Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon
Directed by Larry Shaw
In which Mulder stakes everything, including his life, on the hopes that he can discover the truth when something mysterious crashes in small town Wisconsin
Synopsis - Analysis - Memorable Quotes - Observations
"What...that's just Scully with her facial mask on..."
The episode begins early in the morning near Townsend, Wisconsin. Deputy Wright pulls his vehicle to the side of the road as explosions rip through the nearby woods. Seeing the size of the inferno, he calls for a fire squad. As the explosions continue, Wright walks a few yards into the woods. There is movement, and then bright flashes of light as Wright screams in pain.
At the same time, in the surveillance center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, Colonel Calvin Henderson is informed by two officers that an unidentified bogey breached national airspace off the coast of Connecticut, hitting ground just west of Lake Michigan. When one of the officers, Captain Koretz, refers to the bogey as an unknown aircraft, Henderson corrects her, making it clear that her report should say the bogey was a meteor. The matter settled, he calls an unknown operative to report a “fallen angel”. Operation Falcon is to begin immediately.
Presumably sometime the next day, Mulder is preparing for a foray in the woods in his hotel room in Townsend. As he listens to the official media comments on the incident, which cite a release of toxic material from a train derailment, he recalls his conversation with his mysterious informant (from “Deep Throat”) earlier in the day. His informant explains that something breached the electronic fence maintained around the United States, which resulted in the activation of Operation Falcon. He goes on to explain that Falcon is led by Colonel Henderson, whom the informant calls “the Air Force’s premiere reclamations expert”. Mulder understands this to mean that Henderson leads a UFO retrieval and cover-up unit.
Sometime later, Mulder is on the move, discovering that the area surrounding the impact site has been condoned off using some kind of laser fencing. He somehow manages to catch a ride underneath one of the military personnel transports coming through one of the checkpoints. He overhears Henderson giving orders to the arriving men to stock up on live rounds.
That night, Mulder sneaks through the woods to the impact site. Men in environmental suits are spraying the area with some kind of chemical agent. There is obvious wreckage of some kind, but it is completely indistinct. Mulder takes some snapshots of the work being done, trying to get some meaningful shots of the wreckage. But before Mulder can learn too much, he is apprehended.
Mulder is taken to Colonel Henderson, who promptly exposes all of the film and confiscates Mulder’s equipment. Henderson throws a number of threats in Mulder’s direction, but oddly, he doesn’t do much more than bark until he sends Mulder off to a containment area. While there, he is greeted by another intrepid truth-seeker, an odd man by the name of Max Fenig. Max is a member of NICAP, a civilian group dedicated to investigating UFOs. Mulder is largely unimpressed.
Around dawn, Mulder awakens to the sound of his cage being opened. Scully has come for him, and she is less than amused. Mulder’s latest stunt, following not too long on the heels of his adventures in Idaho, has prompted Section Chief McGrath to launch a full inquiry. McGrath wants the X-Files closed down and Mulder drummed out of the FBI. Mulder waves off the news, preferring to justify his personal investigation by questioning the official story on the crash. He knows that Henderson’s team is searching for someone, and he wants to know who…or what…it is.
Meanwhile, something unseen approaches the laser fencing. Whatever it is, it can only be seen by the ripples of distorted light that appear around it. It inspects the fencing, pausing as a military transport drives by on the nearby road, and then bolts through the fence.
As they arrive at the hotel where Mulder had been staying, Mulder proposes staying and continuing the investigation as long as possible. Scully doesn’t agree; the hearing with McGrath is the next morning, and Scully was sent to bring him back. Mulder dismisses Scully’s concerns. When they open the door to Mulder’ room, they find it has been thoroughly searched. They hear sounds coming from the bathroom, and rush to investigate, pulling their weapons.
They find Max hanging out of the bathroom window, apparently trying not to get caught for snooping around. Max explains that he just wanted to know if it was really Fox Mulder. When Mulder wonders how Max might have known about his activities, Max reminds him that much of what he does is released to the public through the Freedom of Information Act. Mulder is shocked to discover that people were actually paying attention.
Max shows Mulder and Scully his trailer, which is filled with all kinds of esoteric UFO paraphernalia. As Max tries to draw Mulder into a discussion on crop circles, Scully notes that Max is taking medication. Mulder eventually pulls Max back to the matter at hand, and Max plays for them an intercepted radio transmission…Deputy Wright’s call for assistance. He also caught a call for med-evac from the fire crew.
As Colonel Henderson reports to his unseen superior that the net is closing, Mulder and Scully go to the nearby emergency evacuation center, where the residents of Townsend have been sent during the “cleanup”. They try to talk to Deputy Wright’s wife, but she refuses to speak. Henderson has threatened to cut off her husband’s pension if she talks.
They also try to talk to Dr. Oppenheim, the man who treated Wright before his death. Initially he refuses to talk, but Mulder correctly guesses that he was threatened as well. Oppenheim tells them that Wright and three of the fire crew were brought in DOA, having suffered 5th and 6th degree burns over 90% of their bodies. Mulder guesses that the burns were caused by ionizing radiation.
Scully wonders if the burns could have been from a cracked core of a nuclear warhead, but Mulder believes that there is something else at work. The burns match clinical results in the X-Files concerning close encounter deaths. Before they can continue, Henderson’s team rushes into the hospital. Several men are horribly burned and dying. Henderson tries to force Mulder and Scully to leave, but Dr. Oppenheim forces him to let Scully assist in treating the wounded. Mulder, of course, has no such privilege.
It’s morning by the time Mulder gets back to the hotel, and he decides to pay a visit to Max. He finds Max convulsing on the floor. He tries to help Max regain control, and afterwards, Max cannot remember that it happened. Max explains that he has been treated for epilepsy since a head injury of some kind when he was ten, with blackouts that ended with him in strange places. Max is obviously exhausted, so Mulder helps him to bed. As Max falls instantly into a deep sleep, Mulder notices an odd mark behind the man’s ear.
When Scully returns to the hotel, the news isn’t good. All but two of the men died. What’s worse, they have very little time to get to the airport and catch their flight back to Washington to face McGrath’s inquest. Mulder once again dismisses the danger to their careers, instead asking Scully to look at the mark on Max. Mulder has seen it before; he shows Scully some photos from case files where two women had the same exact mark behind their ears. Scully informs Mulder that Max could be delusional, since his medication is for schizophrenia. But Mulder counters that he’s the one suggesting abduction, not Max. Scully agrees to check Max…but only on their way out of town.
At the same time, Captain Koretz at Cheyenne Mountain informs another officer of a new bogey, bigger this time. It takes a position above a small town in eastern Wisconsin. Meanwhile, the entity being hunted by Henderson enters Max’s trailer. As it approaches, Max begins to bleed from the ears, and the man wakes up, his eyes wide.
Mulder and Scully stop by the trailer, but Max is gone. Scully notices blood stains on the pillow, and they overhear a transmission from Henderson being intercepted by Max’s equipment. Something has trespassed on private property on a nearby waterfront. Mulder wants to go and find out what’s happening, but Scully reminds him that they are nearly out of time. But Mulder points out that in order for Max to be in the area to intercept Deputy Wright’s signal, he had to have already been in the area before the crash. Mulder thinks Max was called to that exact spot for some unknown reason.
At the waterfront, Max is confronted by two soldiers in a military jeep. He’s holding his hand to his ear, in obvious pain and discomfort. Henderson orders them to take Max into custody. By the time Mulder and Scully arrive on the scene, the two soldiers are dead, completely burned. They hear screams from a nearby warehouse, and find Max inside, moaning in agony. As Mulder tries to help Max, they hear a helicopter flying overhead.
Scully leaves to check out the situation, and Henderson takes her into custody immediately. Henderson’s men detect three individuals inside the building, which shocks Scully. Inside, something approaches Mulder and Max, tossing Mulder out of the way. By the time Mulder recovers, he finds Max suspended in the air above the warehouse floor, surrounded by an eerie light. As the light intensifies, Max begins to shake. Mulder is forced to turn away when the light gets too bright.
When Henderson’s men suddenly only detect one person inside the warehouse, they charge in. They arrest Mulder and continue looking for Max. But it is obvious that there is nothing left to search for.
The next day, Scully sits at the end of a long table. Section Chief McGrath interrogates Scully over Mulder’s unauthorized investigation, leaving it clear that any attempt to defend Mulder will not be allowed. When it’s Mulder’s turn, he doesn’t even bother trying to save his career. He bursts into accusations of a cover-up, accusing McGrath of knowing what really happened. He fully expects to be discharged.
Later that day, McGrath storms his way to a meeting with Mulder’s mysterious informant. McGrath wants to know why his decision to close the X-Files was countermanded. This was, after all, the best chance yet to shut Mulder down. But the informant reminds McGrath that by focusing Mulder’s passions, they can control what he knows, who he tells, and how…
Much like “Deep Throat”, this episode was one of the earliest attempts to develop an ongoing intrigue, beyond the simplicity of the general premise of conspiracy and paranoia. Though this episode remains largely unexplained, in terms of its impact on the larger mythology, it certainly does introduce some elements that would come into use sporadically over the next several seasons.
This episode hinges on the concept that within the scope of the larger conspiracy, of which control of the X-Files is only a small sliver, there is a concerted effort to contain and capitalize on alien visitations. In the context of this episode, it makes perfect sense. As the series progresses, however, this episode begins to look more and more out of place.
The Syndicate, after all, was supposedly working with the colonizing aliens at this point. One would think, then, that any policy automatically calling for the reclamation of alien technology and the execution of any surviving ETs as being counter to that agreement. But that assumes that the aliens encountered in this episode are the same as the Colonists.
Unfortunately, it’s not entirely clear who or what we’re dealing with here. Essentially, there is an alien that can conceal itself through what appears to be distortion of light. This alien is also capable of releasing intense bursts of ionizing radiation. Both of these elements fold back into the larger mythology in later seasons, which suggests an unintentional connection between the various incidents.
The ionizing radiation bursts are connected to the Colonists through the episodes in which infection by the black oil leads to control of the host. The fact that the alien in this episode uses the radiation bursts in the same way suggests that the aliens might be the same. Similarly, the alien craft seen primarily following the sixth season appear to have the ability to conceal themselves, leaving a similar shimmer effect.
However, we’ve also seen that there are possible several different alien species with a common background or evolution, all working towards different goals. It’s possible, perhaps even probable, that other alien species on the same technological and evolutionary level as the Colonists would be attracted to Earth for the same reasons. If the Syndicate had made a deal with the Colonists, then the Syndicate might also have been required to eliminate any non-Colonist alien visitors, in exchange for the rights to salvage any alien technology that might remain. The fact that the alien craft doesn’t begin repairing itself further suggests that this is not a Colonist or Rebel incursion.
All of which seems to be supported by the fact that Colonel Henderson plainly states that they’ve had aliens like this visit before, only they’ve escaped. They escape here as well, of course, taking Max Fenig along with them. And when Max does show up again, it’s in a way that is so tangential to the overall mythology that it supports the idea that it’s the result of a minor clause in the larger agreement.
So what we have is a non-Colonist alien crashing to Earth, then evading and defending against his captors, finally using one of the Syndicate’s own test subjects to survive long enough to get to the location where one of his people can extract him. It hangs together well enough on the surface, and it might even fit within the overall mythology. But there’s one minor detail that tosses a huge wrench into all the speculation, and it’s also one of the major flaws in the entire series.
Mulder actually survives. Under the circumstances of this episode, there is absolutely no reason why he ought to still be alive at the end. Henderson, for one, being the premiere secret reclamation ops man that we’re told he is, ought to have known that the only way to maintain silence on the incident is lethal force. Max and Mulder should have been dead within minutes of the episode starting.
The only reason for Mulder to be alive is given to us at the end of the episode. As Deep Throat says, Mulder is more useful to the conspiracy alive and under constant watch than dead or out in the public. After all, Mulder in public life would be completely sidelined by the media. It’s only Mulder’s following as the intrepid agent going against the evils of government that provides the conspiracy with a simple means of spreading “official” disinformation. And if he is killed, all those followers have the proof that they need.
And that means Henderson must have been under orders not to kill Mulder. It entirely possible that they were even aware of Max Fenig’s whereabouts, and Henderson was ordered to keep him alive as bait. After all, Henderson seemed to know that the alien would use a human host to hide. But Henderson seemed amazingly incompetent in several other ways, so it’s hard to tell if he was hamstrung by Mulder’s involvement or simply out of practice.
But the real question is…why did the aliens keep Mulder alive? They killed just about everyone else. Sure, Mulder was trying to help Max and the “fallen angel”, but the alien that was there to retrieve the target wouldn’t have known that. So why would the aliens, who killed indiscriminately prior to that point, spare Mulder with only a pesky telekinetic burst?
The basic reason, of course, is the need to keep the main characters alive for the duration of the series. And this would come up again and again over the years. It’s hard to believe, then, that the writers never bothered to come up with a solid and consistent explanation for why Mulder was supposed to be kept alive. But then, so little of the larger mythology was properly planned out, especially in the first season.
Still, this is one of those episodes that, despite its numerous flaws, is simply a damned good episode. And given that its flaws are typical of the series in general, and that it essentially foreshadows many of the events that would come later (including the end of the first season), it is one of the most perfect examples of the “X-Files” mythology.
HENDERSON: “We’re trying to contain an ecological disaster.”
MULDER: “That’s a lot of firepower just to protect Mother Nature.”
SCULLY: “That story happens to be highly classified.”
MULDER: “A highly classified lie.”
MULDER: “Enigmatic Dr. Scully…”
KORETZ: “Same exact spot, sir. Although I’m reading a much larger craft this time.”
OFFICER: “Meteor, Ms. Koretz.”
KORETZ: “A much larger meteor, sir. Hold on a second…we have a confirm. Whitmarsh Air Force Base is tracking…”
OFFICER: “Where is it?”
KORETZ: “Well, sir, the…meteor…seems to be hovering over a small town in eastern Wisconsin…”
SCULLY: “Good luck.”
MULDER (on crutches): “I’ll break a leg…”
MULDER: “Over a dozen men lost their lives, and you want me to respond to issues of protocol?”
MULDER: “How can I disprove lies that are stamped with an official seal?”
- Nice re-use of the musical themes from “Deep Throat”…it instantly tells the audience that this is going to be an episode picking up on similar plot threads.
- So which section is Section Chief McGrath supposed to be running? Blevins is the SC for the VCU, and at this point, that’s where Mulder and Scully are still assigned.
- I thought the area was supposed to be sanitized within 24 hours. Maybe Henderson’s getting slow in his old age…it easily takes days in this episode!
- I think Scully needs to remind Mulder that you’re not supposed to restrain someone who’s having a seizure!
- Max Fenig always felt like a test run for Langly!
- So does Mulder carry all those files around with him whenever he goes on a secret personal mission?
- Why does the black ops team use explosives to get into the warehouse when they just finished watching Scully walk through the wide open door?
- So where exactly was this large “meteor” hovering? It didn’t show up in the air over the warehouse! (OK, yeah, it could have been cloaked or something, but then it doesn’t make sense for it to show up on radar!)
Overall, this episode is easily one of the best, if most confusing, early mythology episodes. It gives a lot of insight into Mulder’s personality, and indirectly points out how well protected he really is. Sure, there were some nits along the way, and the alien here is hard to pin down with the rest of the mythology, but it’s still a great episode.
I give it a 9/10.
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