Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong
Directed by William Graham
In which Mulder and Scully are drawn into an elaborate web of lies and deceit, when the recovery of an apparently alien body sparks a race to uncover the truth...
Synopsis - Analysis - Memorable Quotes - Observations
"You do know that they make them smaller now, right?"
As the episode begins, an Iraqi fighter pilot spots something unusual in his airspace. After checking his radar and with the tower at his air base. Suddenly, several blips appear on radar as it seems that the UFOs are attacking the Iraqi fighter. The Iraqi fighter gets missile lock, and takes down one of the UFOs. It crashes on the Turkey/Iraq border, rather close to a NATO surveillance station.
Sometime later, an unmarked tractor trailer drives through the night down Route 100 in rural Tennessee. Over the C.B., the driver hears several reports about something unusual in the skies nearby. There seem to be more than a few UFOs being reported. Suddenly, the radio starts flipping out, and then the truck loses power. As it comes screeching to a halt, the driver looks up, and then pulls out a shotgun as he jumps out of the cab. Above him, a UFO hovers as the trailer doors swing open, seemingly by themselves. Hearing nearby bushes rustle, the driver fires off several shots.
The next morning, Mulder and Scully are at the scene. Mulder starts two stopwatches, placing one on the truck. Then he begins using a Geiger counter, inspecting the area around the trailer. As Scully rattles off several rational explanations for what was reported, Mulder finds a crushed leaf with high radiation levels. Mulder scoffs at Scully’s attempt to dismiss a UFO connection, pointing out that this case has more supporting evidence than he’s ever seen. For him, the question is why the driver was singled out. Scully is less than convinced, but then he shows her the stopwatches. The one he kept in his pocket is somehow 9 seconds ahead of the one left on the truck.
Later, at the police station in Lexington, Mulder and Scully question the driver, who has given the name Ranheim. Ranheim has a severe rash on his exposed skin. Mulder asks him about what he saw the night before, and he describes a saucer with flashing lights. Mulder points out, however, that his initial report spoke of something cigar-shaped and black. Ranheim claims that he just wants to forget what happened, breaking into a terrible cough.
Scully, concerned, asks Ranheim when the cough started. She’s concerned, because Ranheim claimed to be a veteran, and his symptoms are similar to Gulf War Syndrome. Ranheim denies being in the Gulf, and claims that the symptoms started after his experience. Before Mulder can ask any more questions, the local police chief steps in and declares the questioning over, asking the agents to leave. Scully wants to argue the point, but Mulder stops her.
As they sign up for a rental car at the local airport, Mulder explains to Scully that it looks like someone convinced the police chief to stop the investigation. As the woman standing next to them asks to borrow Scully’s pen, Mulder explains that Gulf War Syndrome has been linked to UFO sightings by soldiers. Scully points out that it’s more likely to be sightings of experimental aircraft, but Mulder doesn’t think it matters which it is. After Scully gets her pen back, Mulder tells her that he wants to speak with some friends in Washington, a kind of “government watchdog group”.
Soon they are in the office for the underground magazine “The Lone Gunman”. There are three men in the office: a man with long blonde hair named Langly, a well-dressed man named Byers, and a short, toad-like man named Frohike. Langly claims to have had breakfast with the man who shot JFK, while Byers claims the CIA is controlling post-Soviet Russian politics. Frohike is just taking pictures of Scully.
As Langly answers the phone (taping the call, of course), Byers and Scully bicker about the CIA, and Byers points out that it’s not the government itself conducting these activities, but rather a sinister “shadow government” running the show. To prove it, he practically destroys one of Scully’s twenty-dollar bills to remove a small magnetic strip. She says it’s an anti-counterfeit measure. Byers claims it’s a tracking device on the movement of currency.
Before Scully can get too far drawn into the debate, Mulder turns the conversation to Gulf War Syndrome. According to Byers and Langly, it’s the result of using depleted uranium in artillery shells. Mulder wonders if there were any reports of classified planes being flown in the Gulf War, but Byers is skeptical. After all, the Iraqi air force didn’t warrant the use of that kind of technology. When Mulder asks about UFO sightings, Byers and Langly are quite amused. Even they think the idea is nonsense.
Back in the basement office, Scully scoffs at Mulder’s friends, pointing out how incredibly paranoid they are. Then she notices that her pen isn’t working, and opens it...finding an electronic surveillance device inside. Later that night, when Mulder returns home, he screws a blue-tinted light bulb into his desk lamp and points it at the street. Hours later, someone calls, and all Mulder hears is a click.
Shortly, Mulder waits by the Lincoln Memorial, and his informant (from “Deep Throat”) arrives. The informant is cautious, especially when someone takes a picture nearby. Mulder asks what he might be onto. The informant doesn’t answer, but instead hands him a large envelope.
The next morning, in the basement, Mulder reads the information his informant passed to him. It’s a transcript of the Iraqi fighter incident, as sent to the commanding officer of the “Majestic Project”. Meanwhile, Scully informs Mulder that her own investigation has revealed that Ranheim is really a Gulf War veteran named Frank Druce, and that Druce had been treated for Gulf War Syndrome several times in the past. Furthermore, his truck’s manifest listed 3100 pounds of auto parts, but weigh station records report that there was 5100 pounds of material in Druce’s trailer.
Mulder tells Scully about the Iraqi incident, which had happened four days previously. The wreckage and possible survivors were taken into NATO/American custody. He thinks that the truck was carrying the recovered materiel. Scully, on the other hand, wants to know where Mulder got the information. When Mulder mentions a secret source, Scully questions how trustworthy his informant really is, given that they’re being bugged. Mulder insists that his source can be trusted, and asks Scully where the Druce’s truck has last been spotted. Scully replies that it seems to be heading west. Mulder thinks they ought to intercept it and see what’s being hidden.
Before they leave, Mulder returns to his apartment and finds his informant waiting for him. The informant hands him a photograph of an apparent UFO being spotted by a police officer. The informant claims that the photo was taken near Fort Benning, Georgia, and that there were quite a few UFO sightings reported in the area. Mulder asks if that’s where the Iraqi wreckage is being held, but his informant doesn’t quite answer the question, turning for the door. Mulder stops him to thank him for everything he’s done. The informant doesn’t reply, but his expression is sad as he walks out the door.
Mulder is impressed by the photo, but Scully sees a number of inconsistencies and thinks that it’s a fake. When she suggests that he have the photo analyzed, Mulder counters that she’s determined not to believe anything she knows comes from the informant. Mulder is dedicated to finding proof of “extraterrestrial biological entities”. But Scully points out that his dedication is known by his enemies as well, and that leaves him vulnerable. Still, he leaves without telling Scully what he’s decided to do.
The next morning, Scully arrives in the office. After dropping her briefcase on Mulder’s desk, she goes for some coffee...and returns to find the desk light on and her briefcase now on its side. Mulder walks in, and tells Scully that he had the photo analyzed. Sure enough, it’s a fake.
Sometime later, at a local aquarium, Mulder confronts his informant. The informant claims to be impressed that Mulder detected the fake, and that it was meant to divert Mulder from discovering the truth. Some secrets, he claims, are too dangerous to be exposed. Mulder isn’t happy with the excuse, but he does confirm that the Iraqi transcript was genuine. His informant remarks that Mulder and Scully are still under surveillance, but that Mulder shouldn’t let this incident stop him from his crusade.
Back at his apartment, Mulder tears his apartment apart, and finds more surveillance equipment. When Scully stops by, Mulder quietly tells her that they need to find the truck. They split up on the way to the airport, eluding various tails along the way. They meet in Las Vegas, and Scully tells Mulder that she managed to track down the truck, heading northwest on Interstate 90.
Eventually they find the truck, and spend a few hours tailing it towards Seattle. Suddenly, the rental car’s radio begins flipping out, hail starts falling, and there’s a bright light. When the light fades, the car is stopped past the truck, which has been turned around and the trailer is open. While Scully checks for the driver, Mulder climbs into the trailer. By the time Scully joins him, he’s found a secret chamber in the front of the trailer, with a small examination table and odd medical devices. Mulder’s thinks that an EBE had been kept there...alive.
But when he tests the trailer for signs of a UFO experience, it doesn’t show the same evidence as the incident in Tennessee. Mulder realizes that this latest incident was just a hoax, using some kind of technology they weren’t aware of. Scully wonders why they simply weren’t killed, but Mulder figures that he’s being used again. With all the leads exhausted, Scully doesn’t know where to turn. But Mulder has an idea.
Contacting several UFO hotlines, Mulder puts together several dozen mass sightings and determines that they follow the progress of the truck. The most recent sightings center around Mattawa, Washington. The agents canvass Mattawa a couple times, but see nothing but a group of people holding a UFO party. They tell Mulder that the recent sightings have been over the nearby power plant. When Mulder takes a closer look, they see Ranheim/Druce being led through the front gates of the heavily secured power plant.
Calling his friends at the “Lone Gunman” office, he gets them to hack into the security system and grant them access, after telling them that they would get evidence of an actual EBE. They manage to get Mulder and Scully access to Level 5, so they know that whatever is being hidden must be in Level 6. They pass the door to Level 6, but before they can find a way in, the security guards catch them. As they’re being led past the door to Level 6, Mulder breaks free and runs through the door.
Mulder haphazardly runs down to a ground level warehouse, where he finds a large, unusual column and a small bunker with a window. From inside, an eerie red light emanates, similar to the one in the trailer. Before Mulder can limp his way to the window, the security guards surround him. Before something more can happen, the informant steps into the room and dismisses the guards.
Mulder tries again to look through the window, but the informant stops him. He explains that the EBE has been killed, as per a post-Roswell international agreement which mandated the execution of any living alien recovered by whatever country was holding it. The informant is one of three men with the distinction of carrying out that agreement, having supposedly executed an alien while with the CIA during the Vietnam War.
Mulder finally looks through the window, and sees an empty examination table. The outer doors to the warehouse open, and Mulder and his informant walk out into the night. The informant notes that Mulder is rather quiet, and Mulder comments that he doesn’t know which lie to believe. The informant is amused, and walks out into the fog. By the time Scully rejoins Mulder, they can only see a figure walking into the shadows...
Previous to this episode, much of the evidence that the conspiracy was using Mulder for disinformation purposes was implied. Investigations were cleverly cut off without evidence, situations were staged while the real action took place, and even actual events were used to feed the machine. But with this episode, we finally see that disinformation campaign in action. Along the way, we get an interesting look at the conspiracy and its resources at the time.
More than once, it’s been said on the series that the Persian Gulf War was a staged conflict, meant to conduct studies on everything from advanced military aircraft to the black oil virus to super-soldiers. The later seasons clearly indicate that the first of the successful super-soldiers were tested in the Gulf War, including members of John Doggett’s former Bravo Company in the Marines. There are earlier speculations that viruses like the black-oil virus were used on soldiers in Iraqi, leading to the Gulf War Syndrome.
However, in this episode, there is a far better explanation. As seen in “Deep Throat”, the propulsion systems used in the experimental aircraft using supposedly alien technology caused effects that match what is depicted in this episode. If these symptoms are indicative of Gulf War Syndrome, then it makes sense that experimental aircraft were used in the conflict. It would also make sense that the suborned Iraqi government would provide a simple testing ground for later generations of the military technology. Hence, the no-fly-zones in the north and south, and the conspiracy-run NATO stations on the borders.
That explains what is happening at the beginning of the episode, but the real mystery is what happens once the wreckage is recovered. It makes sense that the conspiracy would want to study the effects of the crash on the pilot and the recovered craft, but then there are the unknown UFOs that are following the progress of the wreckage across the United States. At least once, in Tennessee, something tries to remove the wreckage and possible survivor from its apparent captivity.
However, it’s also known that there are projects similar to the one wrought by the United States. Specifically, the conflict between the United States and the Russians included racing for a vaccine to the black oil. There’s reason to believe that the Russians were also working on advanced military aircraft, and one can imagine that the Russians would want to test that technology as well.
It’s possible, then, that the Iraqi incident took place against Russian advanced aircraft. It might explain why the Iraqis were able to lock onto the aircraft in the first place. After all, why would the American versions allow such a thing, if Iraq had been taken over for use as a remote testing ground? And it would explain what happened afterward.
Once the Russian technology found its way into the United States and began moving via truck across the country, there would probably be an attempt to recover the wreckage by the Russians. Those experimental aircraft would probably not look like the more recognizable aircraft seen tested in “Deep Throat”. Following the unsuccessful attempt to recover the wreckage, the truck would likely get an escort by the American experimental aircraft.
With the Tennessee incident gathering the attention of our favorite agents, the conspiracy would need to cover their tracks. Should the truth be uncovered, then the world would find out about not just one, but two different military black projects. And since the experimental aircraft programs were started after the knowledge of impending alien colonization became known to the international conspiracies, there would be the potential for complete exposure.
On the other hand, giving Mulder the impression that the entire operation is about recovery of a UFO and its alien occupant provides the perfect chance to dispense disinformation. All of the various UFO watchdog groups follow Mulder’s investigation through the Freedom of Information Act, and sure enough, the cover story is out there. Meanwhile, the informant makes certain that Mulder follows the trail, learning only what he is supposed to know.
Mulder’s final question is actually a reflection of what the audience should be thinking. Which lie is closest to the truth? Is the informant’s final explanation the truth, or simply the final piece of the charade meant to reaffirm Mulder’s incorrect assumptions? Since we know that the informant works for the conspiracy, it’s just as likely that everything Mulder is told is a lie.
In the end, this episode is a tour-de-force of lies and deceit, and at the same time, we get to see just how easily Mulder’s passions are used against him. Everything that the informant has done since his appearance in “Deep Throat” is rendered utterly suspect, and the drive of the series seems to be discovering why the conspiracy is using Mulder specifically. Most of the questions that come out of this episode are eventually given somewhat disappointing answers, but regardless of that fact, this episode is one of the most perfect expressions of the series.
BYERS: “And, Mulder, listen to this. Vladmir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Russian Social Democrats? He’s bring put into power by the most heinous and evil force of the 20th century?”
BYERS: “That’s why we like you, Mulder...your ideas are weirder than ours!”
SCULLY: “Those were the most paranoid people I have ever met. I don’t know how you could think that what they say is even remotely plausible.”
MULDER: “I think it’s plausible that someone might think you’re hot.”
INFORMANT: “In our line, nothing is what it seems...”
SCULLY: “I have never met anyone so passionate and dedicated to a belief as you. It’s so intense that sometimes it’s blinding. But there are others who are watching you, who know what I know and whereas I can respect and admire your passion, they will use it against you. Mulder, the truth is out there...but so are lies.”
- I know that the budget was pretty tight back in the first season, but some of those UFO effects are just plain bad!
- Is that scene with the truck in the teaser supposed to take place during the day or at night? Notice that when the police car speeds by, it’s suddenly dusk!
- I’m noting here that the very first episode featuring our favorite geek trio states that the magazine is called “The Lone Gunman”. I only mention this because of all the people who bashed the later series because they made this “mistake”.
- Now, in this episode, there’s clearly another desk in the basement office. It’s more or less vacant, and it wasn’t there before. So either Scully has a desk at this point, and it’s taken away…or Mulder is a firm believer in manifest destiny, and took the open space for himself!
- Nice to hear these early comments about Mulder’s love of baseball. That’s one character trait that carried through the series very well.
- What’s with that odd camera effect during the scene where Mulder and Scully are conducting surveillance on the highway near Seattle? It looks like Scully’s head suddenly goes all fuzzy…
- Did they use Tom Braidwood in this episode because he came up as a suspicious DOD contractor? (Remember “Shadows”?)
- Nice jump over the chains, Mulder!
Overall, this episode is the classic example of the paranoia and complex deception at the heart of the series. Any assumptions of trust are completely fractured here, and by the end of the episode, there’s absolutely no way to determine what the truth might be. It’s done so well that future episodes often pale in their attempts to develop the same tone.
I give it a 10/10.
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