Case: Two prisoners cleaning out the cell of a dead convict have escaped, and since this would not normally be an FBI job, it seems there's more to the case than meets the eye.
Destination: Dinwiddie County, Virginia
Mulder and Scully come out to chase down escaped prisoners and end up on the trail of evil pharmaceutical companies and some truly disgusting exploding boils. Or pustules. Let's go with pustules.
There are a lot of different things going on in this episode, almost amounting to different stories. There's the story of an escaped prisoner infected with a Mysterious Deadly Thing who may unwittingly kill his wife and child by returning to them; the tale of Mulder and Scully uncovering a conspiracy of Evil Pharmaceutical Companies and The Man (CSM is involved, somehow) which is of course completely covered up by the end of the episode; an attempt to prevent an outbreak of a deadly Thing involving men in hazmat suits etc. reminiscent of Outbreak; a quarantine story in which Scully may or may not meet a horrible pustular death separated from Mulder, and finally a climactic hostage situation in which Mulder saves a teenager on a bus.
With all of this going on at once, the episode doesn't entirely hold together as well as it could. Any one of these could fuel an entire episode; quarantine situations and hostage situations have both formed the basis of successful episodes of many shows over the years. By jumping around so much, no one strand gets quite the attention it deserves.
Having said that, each individual story strand worked pretty well for me. I'm a sucker for quarantine episodes (they're shipper heaven whether the couple in question is together or not, everyone is so tense and sick enough to get emotional) so although I could have watched a lot more of Scully contemplating messy, icky death, I was happy enough with what we got (Mulder's brief 'Are you OK?' is very sweet). The escaped prisoner storyline is made so much more interesting by placing the poor kid in the way of the gory virus thing and the Evil Pharmaceutical Conspiracy is made more interesting by the Cigarette Smoking Man's involvement, though it doesn't seem to be connected to the alien story arc. Finally, the hostage situation on the bus is nicely tense, partly because we don't want the innocent teenager to die and partly because we're waiting for the inevitable gooey explosion of the hostage taker's pustules. The way the one on his cheek pulses right next to the boy's face is truly disgusting and thoroughly nerve-shredding.
Although it's a bit choppy, this episode comes together and works pretty well. It plays on the strengths of The X-Files; questions about what the public has the right to know and when something should be kept quiet, bad guys threatening innocent kids and really disgusting body horror with just a little hint of something between Mulder and Scully to round it off.
- Oh, the 1990s: Mulder traces an escapee's phone calls by asking the operator in a phone box to trace the last call made from that booth. Also, a kid plays a Gameboy.
- Scully barges into a quarantined area and then has a great 'oh fudge' look when she hears 10 victims out of 14 have died. She also gets Dr Osbourne killed poking around infected bodies.
- The X-Files really liked to tell horrifying stories involving entomologists. I'm sure they turn up with disproportionate frequency in the first few seasons. Where are all the archaeologists discovering cursed ancient tablets, huh X-Files?
Scully: According to the briefing, the prisoners escaped while hiding in a laundry cart.
Mulder: I don't think the guards have been watching enough prison movies.
Osbourne: Don't believe for a second this was an isolated incident.
Final Analysis: Not perfect, but plenty of tense sequences and suitably paranoid material. Three out of four exploding pustules.
Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.