The X-Files: Field Trip

Case: The bodies of a young couple are found in a field, their skeletons picked clean after only three days.

Destination: Brown Mountain, North Carolina.

"I just think I've earned the benefit of the doubt here."

Dream episodes, or episodes featuring extended sequences of hallucinations or virtual realities of some kind, are always fun and can allow long-running series to play around with things they could never really do because the structure of the series would fall apart. In this case, the hallucinations brought on by the giant fungus that's eating Mulder and Scully (it's best not to think too hard about what's actually going on!) allow the characters and the audience to explore some of the extreme possibilities that are usually dangled in front of them, but never fully realised.

In Mulder's case, he gets everything he has been looking for when he finds not only a couple ready and willing to talk about their abduction by aliens, but an actual Grey alien he can abduct himself as well, thus proving him right about everything he's been saying for the last six years. In Scully's case, we see some of her worst fears realised as Mulder is killed and she attends his wake, a development almost as potentially series-destroying, considering how much of the show's success rests on the relationship between Mulder and Scully. Stories that turn out never to have happened are tricky to pull off, as the audience can feel cheated at having invested in something that wasn't real, but in cases like this, when the audience doesn't really want these events to be real, they can work well.

None of that is really why I'm so fond of this episode, though. Across the whole of season six, the series has pushed further and further towards depicting Mulder and Scully as a couple in all but name, starting with Mulder kissing 1939 Scully in 'Triangle' and going through the ghosts treating them as a couple in 'How the Ghosts Stole Christmas', everything in 'The Rain King', them posing as a couple in 'Arcadia', the assertion that Scully is already in love in 'Milagro' and the final scene of 'The Unnatural', among other things. This episode is something of a culmination of that theme.

The central motif of this episode is the image of Wallace and Angela Schiff's skeletons lying in the ground, embracing each other, their bodies making an inverted heart shape, echoing Angela's request that her husband "just hold her" from the cold open. Mulder and Scully nearly meet the same fate, and when they are finally rescued (if they are - see below) they hold hands in the ambulance as they are taken away for treatment, realising, perhaps, that the most important thing, more than any aliens or scientific discoveries, is that they have each other.

And they also have Skinner, who is the real hero of this story and rescues them with only the barest help from Mulder's out-stretched hand. They'd be dead half a dozen times over without Skinner.

Other Thoughts

 - This being a trapped-in-a-dream episode there is, of course, a sequence in which our heroes think they have got away, only to find they are still there. This always leads to the uncomfortable possibility that they are still there at the end and never really got out - an interpretation occasionally favoured by fans who didn't enjoy seasons 7-10 of The X-Files as much as the earlier seasons.

 - The dream-like nature of events in this episode is well realised, as we slowly realise, with Scully, that none of this is progressing in the manner of normal events (though of course, on TV, we don't realise that no one remembers how they got somewhere until they tell us!).

 - Another recurring theme in this episode is whether or not Scully can continue to question the paranormal after six years of Mulder being "right 98.9% of the time". Mulder's hallucination has her finally, conclusively, conceding that he was right about everything, while her own has her coming to broadly, if not quite so whole-heartedly, the same conclusion, or at least expressing a more open-minded attitude. This was probably an acknowledgement to the fans that yes, the writers were aware that Scully's scepticism was starting to look like stubbornness at this point.

 - Dream-Langley's funeral outfit is a thing of beauty.

 - BOBBY! I knew I knew him from somewhere when I first watched Supernatural. That moustache is quite something.

 - This episode also features Roy from The Office (US) as Wallace Schiff, who, by the way, imdb tells me was also Skip in Angel - a role in which I did not recognise him, since he was under quite a lot of prosthetics at the time.


Scully (sceptically): Extraterrestrial visitors from the beyond who apparently have nothing better to do than buzz one mountain over and over again for 700 years.

Mulder: Scully, in six years, how often have I been wrong?

Final Analysis: Sad, sweet and a fitting way to round off the season before we go into the arc-based cliffhanger for the finale. Three and a half out of four giant fungi.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.


Mallena said...

I love this one. The story is so interesting and gets better on rewatch. You know something is wrong with the narrative early on and it is fun to try to figure it out. I love Scully at the funeral and the oozy green dissolves is cool. Did they get out? Why would Mulder be awake enough at the end to reach his hand up for Skinner to catch? A giant cave dwelling venus fly trap? Who cares? That hand holding at the end was so great. They didn't look, just knew the other would reach out their hand.

ChrisB said...

Bobby! I grinned when the doctor started talking. I had completely forgotten he had a role in this show.

I like this episode. It is a nice coda to the season, as you point out, before we head into some more mythology.

Heather said...

Really great review, Juls. I agree with everyone's thoughts so far. I've always had a fondness for this one. Love the individual subconsciouses of M&S on display. Dream sequence stuff can sometimes go off the rails but I think it's pretty original and gutsy here.