Written by John Shiban
Directed by Daniel Sackheim
In which Skinner becomes caught in the middle of a plan by the conspiracy to export dangerous technology, and the agents find themselves racing against time to save his life...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
After a long run of episodes with little or no connection to the overall series arc or the consequences of “Fight the Future”, the writers finally turned back to the subject. Oddly enough, the choice was made to turn away from Mulder and Scully and focus on Skinner. This might seem an odd choice at first, but in retrospect, it was the right move. Skinner was equally compromised by the events of the film, and the emergence of AD Kersh had changed things for Skinner. So what was the logical next step?
The best consequence of this decision is the first example of a strong Skinner-centric episode. It may not delve into his personal life, but it directly addresses his choices and puts the character on a new path. The one drawback is that the writers left the question of his future so open-ended that it felt like an important new aspect of the character, when it was something the writers never fully grasped as a consistent element for future storytelling.
As with most of the mythology episodes, previous interpretations regarding the goals and policies of the conspiracy and Cancer Man pertain directly to the interpretation of the current episode. Therefore, the speculation and interpretation outlined in previous reviews are assumed to be familiar to the reader. In particular, the summary of the mythology provided and given in the review for “Fight the Future” factors into the interpretation of this episode.
First, there’s the question of why the conspiracy would take this particular direction. After all, Skinner could have been eliminated or otherwise reassigned. Why keep him around, and more importantly, why compromise him in this particular fashion? The obvious reasons are within the episode, but a deeper look at the thought process may be instructive.
At this stage of the game, Cancer Man has manipulated the Syndicate into accepting his son, Jeffrey Spender, and Diana Fowley as the new operatives within the X-Files. This decision was two-fold. It gave the Syndicate and Cancer Man a greater control over information flow, disinformation release, and FBI operations, while also preventing Mulder and Scully from getting “off the grid”.
In that respect, Skinner had become, from the conspiracy’s point of view, too much of an ally for Mulder and Scully. He was able to afford them the latitude required to investigate aspects of the conspiracy that they were never supposed to see, at least until Mulder had been absorbed into the effort (Cancer Man’s long-term goal). Placing Mulder and Scully under Kersh’s thumb was about directing their efforts in very specific ways, thus controlling (to a certain extent) their psychological reactions. This was something that the format and content of the early sixth season was never able to communicate in the necessary detail.
Skinner was left in charge of Spender and Diana, who were all but stooges of the conspiracy. With Mulder pushing the limits again and again, a message had to be delivered. Going after Scully had proven foolish, and with Cancer man back in charge, any further action against them would be unlikely. Instead, why not deliver a message by staging a demonstration against their one remaining ally in the FBI?
This situation places Skinner directly under Cancer Man’s control, at least at this point in the series’ mythology. Krycek is once again working for Cancer Man, and as such, it makes sense for him to be the one to lead this particular operation. Looking back on previous mythology episodes, there had been a growing personal vendetta between the two characters, and this was another aspect of it. (Leaving aside, of course, the question of how Krycek could operate the technology or even a standard car correctly, given his physical limitations!)
While the events of “Two Fathers” would ultimately destroy Cancer Man’s plans, giving rise to the true conspiracy generated by Purity (see the mythology summary previously mentioned), the implication is that Cancer Man was preparing to manipulate Mulder and Scully even further. Taking out Skinner as an ally and source of strength would have been an important step. Had the Rebels not attacked within weeks of this point in the timeline, there’s no telling what Mulder would have faced in terms of personal temptation.
So the “why” is fairly obvious, and the writers do a competent job of exploring the implications for Skinner. He regrets not being more of an ally to Mulder, for not embracing the cause, because he knew what Mulder only suspected. He was a tool of Cancer Man, and he knew what choices were being made and implemented. The wonderful irony is that the introduction of the control nanotech into his system takes what was a choice of convenience and makes it an irrevocable demand, all while leaving it a matter of survival.
This is the essence of where Skinner should have gone, had the writers maintained consistency in his character evolution. Skinner’s choice doesn’t change; only the method of delivering consequence has changed. The choice is obedience or likely death, one way or the other. Skinner still chooses to preserve his life over the moral responsibility to fight the conspiracy.
Compare that to Krycek. Krycek is also completely focused on his own survival, and he chooses to shift loyalties and commit acts of terrorism to achieve that end. One could conclude that his methods are in direct proportion to his knowledge of the apocalyptic events to come. He knows much about the shape of the future, and so he aligns himself with whatever power can give him the greatest assurance of survival.
So Skinner and Krycek act out of very similar desires, but with one key difference. Krycek sees the need to survive as a viable excuse for shedding his morality. Skinner, however, still believes that he can do the right and moral thing, even while compromising his principles. The point is that Krycek is all but lost to true redemption; if he were to join Mulder and fight the future, it would always be on his own terms. Skinner has the chance to give his life, even in the most metaphorical sense, to a higher cause, if he so chooses. Skinner has the chance at redemption, even under the current circumstances.
(Of course, it was always possible for events to change Krycek’s perspective, thus giving him a personal reason to make the right choices for the right reasons. For one possible such scenario, see the following story: http://www.entil2001.com/fanfic/bringer/endgame/front.html.)
Skinner is not the only character that receives good treatment. Here is an episode where the “iconic” versions of Mulder and Scully take a back seat to the real deal. Mulder not only remembers what happened with Skinner in “Avatar”, but he actually asks a pointed question to rule that possibility out. More to the point, Mulder demonstrated in earlier episodes that he would risk his own skin to help Skinner as a friend, and he does so again. Scully shows equal dedication and returns to analyzing evidence from a scientific point of view. In other words, this episode avoids the pitfalls of every episode since “Drive”.
So the writers got the character continuity right, and the connections to the conspiracy make perfect sense. The only remaining question is how well the technology at the heart of the episode meshes with the mythology. On the face of it, it might feel like an intrusion, but it actually presents a simple solution to one of the big questions within the mythology itself.
On several occasions, things repair themselves with unerring accuracy. UFOs repair themselves after crashing, going back as far as Roswell. The super-soldiers in the eighth and ninth season are able to regenerate from almost nothing. For that matter, the “hunters” are able to heal dying individuals with barely a touch. How is all of this possible? As this episode suggests, the key is nanotechnology.
The idea is quite simple. The goal of the conspiracy, looking back on the early years, was to create a super-soldier capable of surviving the future Colonization. The ability to regenerate wounds was a big deal, and natural modifications (through grafting, radiation, etc.) could not provide the solution to that problem. But there was technology in hand from the crash at Roswell: the nanotech repair systems and the control chips that would govern their programming.
That technology was at the heart of “Phase I”, the first step towards creating the artificially evolved humanity that would be the perfect fodder for Purity’s subsuming of the population. The initial tests would have been brutal and lethal, but the technology would have advanced, slowly but surely. The culmination around 1990 was the pretext for staging the Persian Gulf Conflict; the first batch of nanotech-enhanced super-soldiers needed a field test. (“Phase II” was the attempt to create and propagate a biological analogue to the nanotech, as evidenced in “The Erlenmeyer Flask” and “Emily”.)
Cancer Man would know where the earlier versions of the nanotech had been stored, and he would be more than willing to use it. After all, he had approved the decision to implant Scully with one of the more modern control chip/biological nanotech systems in the second season. Using the older version was a more direct means of applying pressure to Skinner, while also ensuring that the true scope and capability of the Project would be out of sight.
What the writers never capitalized upon, despite having plenty of time, was the inherent flaw to the older system. The nanotech was within Skinner’s system, but unlike Scully’s situation, the control chip elements were not present in his body. It took a signal from outside, originating from the control mechanism owned by Krycek, to activate the programming. This could and should have been the key to Skinner’s next step in character development.
Skinner should have been seeking out a means of controlling the nanotech himself, especially to his own benefit. After all, if the nanotech can interfere with the body, it can be programmed to maintain the body. That is one of the functions of the nanotech within the control chip implants seen in “En Ami”, for example. If Skinner continues to be a pawn, used by others, then taking control of the nanotech within his body would be a metaphor (and would facilitate) taking control of his own destiny.
Even if Skinner were to destroy the control mechanism, it would be a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the writers never took advantage of the obvious storytelling opportunities. The nanotech would either be ignored or used sporadically and inconsistently, because there was little interest on the part of the writing staff to give Skinner that final step towards redemption.
Still, that has no bearing on whether or not this episode is successful. From the perspective of the sixth season in particular, this avoids the three primary pitfalls of the “XF Lite” era (seasons 6-7): it has strong connections to the “big picture”, the main characters act according to previously established development, and there’s no “wacky, funny hook”.
In addition, it avoids the mistakes of later mythology episodes by focusing on an element that is consistent with the mythology to date. One could even argue that this was one of the last “pure” mythology tales, written before the need to improvise plot elements from season to season. For all those reasons, this is one of the better episodes of the sixth season.
SKINNER: “Every minute of every day, we choose. Who we are, who we forgive, who we defend and protect. To choose a side or to walk the line, to play the middle, to straddle the fence between what is and what should be. This was the course I chose, trying to find the delicate balance of interests that can never exist, choosing by not choosing. Defending a center which cannot hold. So death chose for me.”
SKINNER: “I’ve been lying here thinking. Your quest…it should have been mine.”
SCULLY: “What do you mean?”
SKINNER: “If I die now, I die in vain. I have nothing to show for myself. My life…”
SCULLY: “Sir, you know that’s not true.”
SKINNER: “It is. I can see now that…I always played it safe. I wouldn’t take sides. Wouldn’t let you and Mulder pull me in.”
SCULLY: “You’ve been our ally more times than I can say.”
SKINNER: “Not the kind of ally that I could have been.”
Overall, this episode is something of a return to form, bringing some much needed conspiracy and mythology elements to the sixth season. This is also arguably the best Skinner-centric episode of the series, and had the writers followed through, it could have been the source of his redemption. Even so, this was one of the highlights of the sixth season.
Final Rating: 8/10
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