The X-Files: F. Emasculata

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.

Other Thoughts

 - 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.


ChrisB said...

The ick factor in this episode is off the chart. The exploding pustules get me every time. I'm not usually a fan of outbreak stories, but this one works well because of the characters put into danger.

I also like the ominous ending. It is still very unclear exactly where on the line Skinner is and whether what he is telling Mulder is, indeed, the truth.

Jess Lynde said...

My favorite part of this episode is all the guest stars. Charles Martin Smith! John Pyper-Ferguson! Dean Norris! Dean Norris!!! (And as a Hank Schraeder type, no less!)

My least favorite part (aside from the excessive grossness) is all the people reacting stupidly to potential contagion. From the scientist guy in the jungle to the kid at the gas station, how many different folks did we have to watch edge closer to disgusting pustules that were clearly threatening to explode?

And why, oh why, did the writers force Scully to act like a complete idiot when it came to quarantine procedures? I hate that Charles Martin Smith died simply because the writers made Scully act stupidly. I have a really hard time believing she would just cut open the plastic like that under those circumstances. Who needs government conspirators to discredit you, when the writers can butcher your character just to serve the needs of the plot? Sigh. :)

Juliette said...

Jess, I have no idea who any of those people are, but I'm glad you enjoyed seeing them! :)

Jess Lynde said...

Thanks! I really, really did.

Just in case you are curious: I'm sure Charles Martin Smith has numerous other credits, but to me he will always be Agent Oscar Wallace from The Untouchables. I love that movie, and he makes quite the impression.

John Pyper-Ferguson has appeared in numerous genre things over the years (especially Canadian-based productions), but his recent turn in the ill-fated Alphas as Stanton Parish was quite memorable for me.

And, Dean Norris had a major role on Breaking Bad as Walter White's DEA agent brother-in-law Hank Schrader. (He's also on the CBS mini-series Under the Dome now, but I think he's become most well-known for playing Hank.) I'm a little surprised you don't know that one. Even if you didn't watch the show it became somewhat difficult to avoid all the press coverage last year. Perhaps the coverage wasn't as feverish and all-encompassing in the UK? :)