The X-Files: Ice

Case: The unexplained fate of the Arctic Ice Corp Project team after their leader sends a disturbing transmission stating they “are not who they are.”

Destination: Icy Cape, Alaska

‘Ice’ is one my favorite first season X-Files episodes, and probably in the top tier of my all-time favorite episodes. The case-of-the-week finds our heroes trapped in an extremely remote location with a small team of scientists, a bunch of dead bodies, and an unknown cause of death. Add in a healthy mix of mistrust, paranoia, fear, and murder and you’ve got yourself a terrific psychological thriller with some horror elements thrown in for good measure.

The writers and director do a great job of sustaining the tension and paranoia throughout the episode. The fantastic opening sequence at the Icy Cape establishes the visceral and unsettling tone right from the beginning. (I especially love the tracking shot of the two men holding guns on each other, and the closing exterior shot with the audio of their final gunshots.) The tension level stays high right through the initial “info dump” scene by focusing on Scully’s distressed reaction as Mulder plays back Richter’s last transmission. Once they get to Alaska (“bring your mittens ...”) the situation goes from bad to worse, complete with a vicious dog attack, mysterious black nodules, the violent and gruesome death of their pilot, and lingering questions about whether the investigative team may now be infected.

My favorite scene is the extended sequence of the team trying to settle in for the night, locked up in their separate rooms. So quiet, yet full of foreboding and a deep, deep fear. The sequence has virtually no dialogue but perfectly captures the dread and anxiety permeating the entire episode.

The episode also features the full range of Mulder and Scully dynamics, from butting heads over the case to defending each other when threatened. I particularly enjoyed their debate about whether the creature should be killed ...

Scully: “Mulder, if we don’t kill it now. We run the risk of becoming Richter and Campbell, with guns to our heads.”
Mulder: “But if we do kill it now, we may never know how to stop it or anything like it in the future.”

... their gunpoint standoff following Denny’s murder ...

Mulder: “For God’s sake, it’s me!”
Scully (desperately): “Mulder, you may not be who you are.”

... and their whispered discussion about trust in the storage room.

Mulder: “Now I don’t trust them. I want to trust you.”
Scully: “OK. But now they’re not here.” I really love Scully’s body language and facial expressions during this one.

Other Thoughts

This episode has a veritable smorgasbord of quality, recognizable guest actors! Xander Berkley has appeared as a supporting player in countess shows and movies, with a particularly memorable turn as George Mason on 24. Jeff Kober is well known for his turn as Dodger on China Beach and for multiple guest roles, including a stint on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Steve Hytner has guested on numerous shows from Seinfeld to Roswell to Pushing Daisies. And of course, there’s Felicity Huffman who went on to Sports Night, her Emmy-winning role in Desperate Housewives, and her Oscar-nominated role in Transamerica.

I always wonder why it took the dog so long to get infected. Bear shows signs of infection almost immediately after the dog attacks him.

The black nodules are really gross. And the worm in the ear? Even worse. Gives me the Wrath of Khan flashback willies.

I really liked the tension between Scully and Hodge. She’s quite the little spitfire when her professional skills and her partner are threatened.

I’m always amused by Scully’s flying leap to tackle Bear as he makes a run for it and the look on her face as they are getting ready to pull the worm out of his neck. I think she’s supposed to look grossed out, but there’s something in her grimace that makes me laugh.

DeSilva’s sudden and very psychotic breakdown has always seemed a bit over-the-top to me, but I suppose I can rationalize that she seemed perfectly sane (if tired) prior to that moment because she wasn’t directly threatened until Hodge discovered the worm in the back of her neck.

Quotes

Richter: “We’re not who we are. We’re not who we are. And it goes no further than this. It stops right here, right now.”

Mulder: “So far nobody’s been able to reach the compound because of bad weather. Obviously, they think we’re either brilliant or expendable, because we’ve pulled the assignment.”

Mulder: “San Diego? You get much of a chance to study ice down there?”
Murphy: “Just what’s around the keg.”

DeSilva: “Come on. You’re FBI, you have to know more than we do.”

Bear: “The only credentials I have is that I’m the only pilot willing to fly you up there. You don’t like those credentials, walk.”

Scully: “If the worm makes people violently aggressive, then why did Richter and Campbell kill themselves?”
Mulder: “Maybe they did it to save us.”

Mulder (as the men strip down to examine each other for signs of infection): “Before anyone passes judgment, may I remind you, we are in the Arctic.”

Scully (comforting DeSilva): “It’s all over. It all stops right here, right now.”

Mulder: “It’s still there, Scully. Two hundred thousand years down. In the ice.”
Scully: “Leave it there.”

Final Analysis: ‘Ice’ is a great psychological thriller that manages to maintain the tension and dread, no matter how many times you watch it.

Jess Lynde is a highly engaged television viewer. Probably a bit too engaged.

11 comments:

Josie K said...

Great review, Jess! I love this episode, too--it seems like Mulder and Scully's relationship really starts to bloom around this time, as well. Not in a romantic way, but in a "partners" way.

michal.dvorak said...

I don't recall seeing this episode, but it sounds cool. The plot however seems remarkably similar to John Carpenter's horror classic The Thing. The movie is about a group of scientists in an Antarctic research station who dig up an alien life form which starts killing them and assuming the forms of the ones it killed. Cue fear, paranoia, mistrust... Then again, after thousands of books and movies and tv series I suppose there aren't many truly original plots left.

Remco said...

"Ice" is one famous X-Files episode. I'm surprised you don't remember it. I'm pretty sure The Thing itself wasn't the first movie to feature the "they look like us" and "stranded in an isolated place" approach. The X-Files will use the latter to great effect in many episodes to come.

Nice review, Jess! One of my favorite first season episodes. Are you going to review "Space"? I can imagine it might be great fun to review an episode that is so universally hated. Or maybe not. :D

Jess Lynde said...

Thanks for the comments guys!

I was not planning to review 'Space.' I really dislike that one; however, I might consider it once I've finished the others on my Season One list. Even though I didn't really enjoy re-watching 'The Jersey Devil' there was a certain satisfaction in tearing it down a bit in my review.

My plan now is to focus on the S1 XF reviews (I've got 7 more eps on my list), then go back and finish the Wonderfalls reviews. After that, I might go back to a few S1 episodes that weren't covered.

Billie Doux said...

I must admit I've been looking forward to "Beyond the Sea." It's one of my favorites in the entire series. Is it on your list, Jess?

(No pressure. :)

Jess Lynde said...

'Beyond the Sea' is most definitely on the list. Like 'Ice,' it is one of my all-time favorites, not just an S1 favorite. So no pressure needed. :)

Remco said...

There's one problem with cherry picking the good episodes to review. When you're done with those, you're left with the ones you didn't like. It may become a bit discouraging to have a whole list of bad episodes to review. Of course there is no reason that you'd have to review everything. But if you're one to go for the completion thing, you have to keep that in mind.

Jess Lynde said...

It has crossed my mind many times, Remco. :) I keep asking myself if I'll ever really complete a season if I skip all the episodes I don't like. As you say, why would I want to go back and watch just the bad ones? Plus, if I just do favorites, then every review starts "[Name of episode] is another of my favorites ..." and you lose some of the developing character dynamics.

Hmmm ... Maybe I will try revisiting Shadows, Ghost in the Machine, and Space once I'm done with Fallen Angel.

ChrisB said...

One of my favourite episodes ever. Great review, Jess.

Scott said...

My favorite moment: Mulder and Scully pulling their guns on one another. This is the first time their trust of each other is put to the test - only to prevail. Amazing scene....

Billie Doux said...

As you mentioned, Jess, the cast in this one is terrific and worthy of the excellence of the episode. I didn't remember the denouement during my rewatch and was thinking it had to be Xander Berkeley because he can be so villainous. But no.

Poor dog!

Jess said, My favorite scene is the extended sequence of the team trying to settle in for the night, locked up in their separate rooms. Me, too. It was so unsettling, all of them trying to sleep in dead men's bedrooms, all waiting for someone to turn.