Destination: Northville, NY; Washington D.C.
Time flies. Well, that's one way of putting it. 'Tempus Fugit' is the first of a two-parter in which a plane crash in upstate New York acts an icon of the show’s mythology. The circumstances surrounding the crash (and subsequent consequences) are as murky as anything The X-Files conspiracy has offered up and Mulder and Scully operate under the usual milieu of governmental pushback we’ve all come to cherish. Plus this arc peels back another layer about alien abductee Max Fenig (played once again by the sweet Scott Bellis), revealing that he has secrets heretofore unknown. And some of them are big. In essence, the episode feels like an older cousin to ‘E.B.E.’, which might be the best thing it has going for it. Though Scully’s birthday surprise (I mean, a sparkler, people), orchestrated by Mulder, is a damn close second.
Either because flying doesn’t conjure up enough awful images or a plane crash is inherently visually dramatic (or both!), Frank Spotinitz takes the mythology sideways in order to do another lap with memorable Mulder-ish doppelganger, Max Fenig. As an aside, it only took until season four for someone to pitch “a commercial plane gets hijacked by a UFO mid-flight” in the writers’ room for ‘Tempus Fugit’ to come to life. You got to love a show like that. The downing of Flight #549 really is another character here, and the huge set pieces of the crash site and the NTSB hangar allow for the usual XF brand of shady claustrophobic dread to permeate. One thing subverts expectation though – the head NTSB agent, Mike Millar (played by Joe Spano) goes from chiding Mulder for his alien assertions to all but believing his outrageous explanation despite everything he knows to be true in this world.
On the Max front, we find out he has a "sister," Sharon. At the very least, he has someone whom he considers enough of an ally to let her in on his plan consisting of a chemical heist from his place of employment that might be nothing short of domestic terrorism. Sharon is an indirect passageway into Max’s complicated mind since she must act as an advocate for Max’s agenda once his body is identified among the crash victims. She provides Mulder and Scully with fistfuls of letters before she, herself, appears to be abducted. The communiqués from Max represent a man much more troubled by his life circumstances than has been detailed before.
But right down to the music, ‘Tempus Fugit’ twinkles with that “Everyone’s against us, Scully” vibe of much older episodes (like the aforementioned ‘E.B.E.’ or the pilot). Right down to the military turncoat, Sergeant Frish (Tom O’Brien), the goings-on here are the best the show offers when it comes to suspense, suspicion and cover-ups. Only by now, Mulder and Scully have seen so much with the other, have suffered and sacrificed and sublimated anything resembling a regular life along the way and necessarily trust only each other to keep going.
* Mulder and Scully joke about alien implants as earrings. Amazing.
* I love how all of the watches at the crash site are gone mysteriously. It’s so creepy great.
* Mulder calls Scully way too late at night because she has to come over right this second – she just has to.
* Pendrell’s drunken behavior is unexpected thus a standout.
Scully: “You sure know how to make a girl feel special on her birthday.”
Mulder: “Once I got a quarter off the deep end at the Y pool.”
Final Analysis: Beginning of the best two-parter of season four thanks to high production values, old-school conspiracy stylings and two agents irrefutably at ease with the other.