by Jess Lynde
Case: The disappearance of thirty loggers.
Destination: Olympic National Forest, Northwest Washington State
When thirty loggers vanish without a trace in Northwest Washington, Mulder and Scully take “a nice trip to the forest” to investigate their disappearance. Initially, the primary suspect is a group of “eco-terrorists” that have been actively harassing the logging company, but the agents soon discover a desiccated body trapped in an enormous cocoon and realize that something much more terrifying and dangerous is to blame.
I really loved ‘Darkness Falls’ when I originally saw it. I listed it among my favorites from the first season without hesitation. I remembered the terror of Mulder and Scully being trapped in that cabin, staring down that light bulb and hoping it would last until morning, then making a desperate run for it, but getting trapped in the car. The scene in which they are discovered in the Jeep, completely encased in cocoon material, really stayed with me, leaving me with this overall impression of a great thriller.
But after re-watching it for the first time in years, I’m forced to admit that the episode is not as good as I remembered it. The end is still very tense and the glowy bugs are pretty darn scary if you’ve got a bug phobia, but overall, ‘Darkness Falls’ suffers in comparison with ‘Ice.’ The two episodes have the same basic premise --- the agents get trapped in the wilderness and are terrorized by ancient creatures accidentally released by man’s hunger for knowledge or money --- but, unlike ‘Ice’ which was a taut psychological thriller primarily focused on the potential enemy within, ‘Darkness Falls’ has a clear external enemy and an overly heavy-handed environmental protection message. Much like ‘The Jersey Devil’ (another Chris Carter episode) the social commentary here is so strident, it borders on distracting. I actually got kind of tired of the endless harping from both Humphreys (the company man) and Spinney (the eco-terrorist).
Humphreys (bitterly): “Environmentalists have pretty much made sure that all the land you see here is untouchable. Force us to take our timber where we can get it. Even then we plant saplings for every tree we take.”
Spinney: “What about your offense, my friend? Huh? What about the offense against nature you perpetrate?”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for environmental protection, and I love the concept of a dangerous critter being released from old growth trees. But I don’t tune into The X-Files for an overt political message. I want to be entertained, and whenever Spinney and Humphreys got to sniping about their respective viewpoints, I was far from entertained. To paraphrase Ranger Moore, I’m as concerned for the environment as anybody, but I can’t condone Carter’s methods in promoting his message.
That said, I was fairly amused by both Humphreys and Spinney being done in by their own machinations. Like his loggers, Humphreys’ greed and his disrespect for nature led directly to his demise, whereas Spinney fell victim to his own weapons of sabotage when the escape Jeep blew out a tire on those metal spikes. Poetic justice, indeed.
Revisiting The X-Files is sure making for a fun “I knew you when” game with the guest actors. This week: Titus Welliver!!! (Silas Adams, Deadwood; Man in Black, Lost) Also sporting quite the ‘stache. That makes two episodes in a row for impressive mustaches on guest actors who’ve gone on to wider recognition!
I liked the ease of Mulder and Scully’s relationship in the opening “case initiation” scene, especially the gentle teasing and the way they smiled at each other. I really enjoy seeing these small signs of the genuine friendship they’ve developed.
Unlike last week’s werewolf, the green bug swarm was actually pretty creepy in small doses (at least when people weren’t spastically swatting at them). I completely understood Scully’s freak out when she saw they were all over her hand. I think I would have freaked out, too.
When Spinney showed up with the rescue Jeep, I had to laugh at Scully making a beeline for the back while Mulder and Ranger Moore pondered what they should do. Get me the hell out of here!
The quarantine hospital at the end always reminds me of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. That movie really scared me when I was a kid, so the similarity just contributed to my final impression of the episode as a creepy success.
Scully: “What am I looking at?”
Mulder: “Thirty loggers working a clear cutting contract in Northwest Washington State. Rugged manly men. In the full bloom of their manhood.”
Scully: “Right, but what am I looking for?”
Mulder: “Anything strange, unexplainable, unlikely. A boyfriend?”
Mulder: “In 1934, long before anyone even knew what an eco-terrorist was, a WPA crew working that same area vanished without a trace. Not one of those men was ever found or heard from again.”
Scully: “And you suspect what? Bigfoot?”
Mulder: “Not likely. That’s a lot of flannel to be choking down even for Bigfoot. Come on, Scully, it’ll be a nice trip to the forest.”
Spinney: “Darkness is our enemy.”
Scully: “What do you think?”
Mulder: “I think I’m gonna suggest we sleep with the lights on.”
Spinney (re: the loggers): “That would be rather poetic justice, don’t you think? Unleashing the very thing that would end up killing them? And your friend, Humphreys. And who knows? Maybe us. Sweet dreams.”
Scully: “You mean would I have made a decision by myself that would have affected the whole group?”
Mulder: “Oh, will you cut the sanctimonious crap?”
Scully: “Well, what do you want me to say? Let’s face it, Mulder, we might die up here. If we’re lucky, they’ll find our bodies spun up in a tree, or they may not find us at all!”
Quarantine Doctor: “She’s still not out of the woods, so to speak. She lost a lot of fluids. Two or three more hours of exposure, she might not have made it.”
Mulder: “I told her it was gonna be a nice trip to the forest.”
Quarantine Doctor: “The government has initiated eradication procedures. They’re quite certain that by using a combination of controlled burns and pesticides, they will be successful.”
Mulder: “And if they’re not?”
Quarantine Doctor: “That is not an option, Mr. Mulder.”
Final Analysis: Although it tells a similar kind of story, ‘Darkness Falls’ is not as strong as the earlier ‘Ice,’ because it gets a bit preachy with its environmental viewpoint. However, it still has some great psychological tension and is highly memorable.