The X-Files: The Erlenmeyer Flask

Case: The apparent demise of a mystery man in a silver Cutlass Ciera following a high-speed chase with police.

Destination: Washington, DC and Gaithersburg, Maryland

‘The Erlenmeyer Flask’ begins with a high-octane car chase, a police beat down, a shooting, a plunge into the harbor, and green blood. And things only get more intense from there. When Deep Throat brings the case of the man in the silver Ciera to Mulder’s and Scully’s attention, the agents are left questioning what exactly it is they are supposed to be looking for and how far they can trust their cryptic and cagey source. They discover that government-sponsored research tied to the human genome project has led to the creation of human-alien hybrids, and soon find themselves scrambling to secure proof of the hybrids’ existence before a relentless, conspiracy-backed cleaning crew destroys the evidence and anyone with knowledge of it.

This first season finale is quite the mind-blowing affair. It has so much fantastic stuff in it: the opening car chase; the discovery of human-alien hybrids with inhuman strength, the ability to breathe under water, and toxic blood chemistry; Mulder finding the storage unit full of oversize fish tanks holding living humans; Scully retrieving the tiny, cryogenically frozen alien; the sudden and shocking death of Deep Throat; and the return of the Smoking Man and the Raiders of the Lost Ark-esque storage facility at the Pentagon. Not to mention the really great character beats in between all the shocking discoveries and events!

The introduction of the human-alien hybrids really takes the show’s mythology to the next level. Over the course of the season, we learned all about the government cover-up of alien beings and technologies, as well as their involvement in some pretty heinous biological experimentation. But this episode combined all these conspiracy elements into one staggering development that pushed even Scully’s skepticism beyond the breaking point, and ultimately resulted in the X-Files being shut down. Scully slowly learning about the contents of the Erlenmeyer flask was increasingly unnerving, but Mulder’s discovery of the incubation tanks in the warehouse is what truly floored me. Even having seen the episode many times, on this re-watch I was just astounded by how unsettling that scene was and by how bold the creators were to give us plot twists involving “E.T.-gene therapy,” clones, and human-alien hybrids. Seriously ambitious. Or crazy.

We also got some great material with Deep Throat, in what turned out to be his last hurrah. We’ve spent so much time this season pondering his motives and his trustworthiness, and this episode was no exception. I loved all the clashes between Mulder, Scully, and Deep Throat on this topic.

Scully (re: Deep Throat): “You don’t know that this isn’t just a game with him. He’s toying with you. Rationing out the facts.”
Mulder: “You think he does it because he gets off on it?”
Scully: “No. I think he does it because you do.”

Deep Throat: “I fear you’ve become too dependent on me.”
Mulder: “Let me tell you something --- I’ve got plenty to do without chasing down your vague leads or trying to decode your circular logic. Maybe it’s you, who’s become too dependent on me. On my willingness to play your games.”

Scully: “There’s just one thing I don’t understand --- why you gave us so little to go on in the beginning. And why you’re giving us so much now.”

I love Scully’s absolute disdain for “this Deep Throat character” and his sudden openness. And I love that, even after having her mind fairly blown by the alien bacteria and the alien DNA source, she still questions Deep Throat’s goals and expresses serious doubts about whether making a trade for Mulder is the right thing to do, despite her fear for her partner’s life.

Deep Throat: “Let me tell you something you should know. In 1987, a group of children from a southern state were given what their parents thought was a routine inoculation. What they were injected with was a clone DNA from the contents of that package you’re holding as a test. That’s the kind of people you’re dealing with!”
Scully: “So why give it back to them?”
Deep Throat: “To save Mulder’s life.”
Scully: “At the risk of so many other lives?”
Deep Throat: “It’s the tip of the iceberg. You and Mulder are the only ones who can bring it to light.”

If nothing else, this exchange seems to confirm that Deep Throat has always been trying to help Mulder expose the government conspirators and their secrets. Good to know where he stood before he died.

Other Thoughts

I liked Lindsey Ginter as “Crew-Cut Man.” He was an unusually funny nemesis. Especially for a nameless and seemingly remorseless government enforcer.

Mulder’s research buddy, Danny, is back! First checking the partial plate on the Ciera and later checking the phone number from Dr. Berube’s bill. He even got a voice!

Loved that Zeus Storage was on Pandora Street. Mulder really did open a Pandora’s Box there.

I felt really bad about Dr. Anne Carpenter from Georgetown. Was her whole family murdered? Or just injured? Either way, helping out Mulder and Scully often seems like befriending John and Sarah Connor. Lots of collateral damage.

So, did Crew-Cut Man beat Mulder up after they caught him in Dr. Berube’s attic, or was that just the work of the toxic blood?

I’ve always wondered what must have been going through Scully’s mind when she pulled that little alien out of the cryo-freeze. I’m sure she really doesn’t know what to believe now. Going to that high-containment facility probably had the effect that Mulder promised re: entering the storage unit --- nothing sacred will hold.

Speaking of the high-containment facility, it makes no sense to me that Scully was able to get in there. If something as valuable as the original alien DNA source was being stored there, you’d think the government conspirators would limit access to it a little better. I mean, Scully went in there as herself. The conspirators certainly know who she is, so how was Deep Throat able to get her access? You would think Scully and Mulder would top the list of people not supposed to get access to the top secret alien DNA source.

I really loved how the coda to the season finale echoed the end of the Pilot episode. Scully gets a phone call from Mulder at 11:21 p.m. regarding the status of the X-Files, and we close with the Smoking Man once again concealing evidence in the Pentagon’s Raiders room. The director even used an identical overhead tracking shot of the Smoking Man walking down the aisle to the “In case of fire or emergency” exit door and sealing it with his card. Just a fantastic way to bring the season full circle. And so it continues …

Quotes

Scully: “Do we even know why the suspect was being chased?”
Mulder: “As far as I can tell, he wouldn’t pull over for moving violation.”
Scully: “Well, that ought to put him on the Ten Most Wanted list.”

Scully: “I mean this has reached the point of absurdity, Mulder. We’re out here on half a hunch, off of a cryptic phone call, chasing down a clue that’s based on nothing but speculation.”

Mulder (to Deep Throat): “You know, from day one, this has always been on your terms. I’ve gone along, been the dutiful son. But maybe this time we could just cut out the Obi Wan Kenobi crap, and you could save me the trouble.”

Scully (re: the contents of the Erlenmeyer flask): “OK, Mulder. But I’m warning you --- if this is monkey pee, you’re on your own.”

Scully: “I may be understating the strangeness of this, Mulder. Bacteria like this, it may have existed, but not for millions of years. Not since before our ancestors crawled out of the sea.”

Scully: “Mulder, that bacteria I had analyzed --- they’re saying that it doesn’t exist in nature. They’re saying that it could be extra-terrestrial.”

Scully: “I should know by now to trust your instincts.”
Mulder: “Why? Nobody else does.”

Scully: “You know, I’ve always held science as sacred. I’ve always put my trust in the accepted facts. And what I saw last night … for the first time in my life, I don’t know what to believe.”
Mulder: “Whatever it is you do believe, Scully, when you walk into that room, nothing sacred will hold.”

Deep Throat: “There are limits to my knowledge, Mr. Mulder.”

Deep Throat: “Trust... trust no one.”

Mulder: “They’re shutting us down, Scully.”
Scully: “What?!”
Mulder: “They called me in tonight. And they said they’re gonna reassign us to other sections.”

Scully: “What are you gonna do?”
Mulder: “I’m … not gonna give up. I can’t give up. Not as long as the truth is out there.”

Final Analysis: A very strong season finale, which effectively brings us back to the overarching mythology and really kicks things up a notch. With a major change in the status quo and a fantastic closing scene, ‘The Erlenmeyer Flask’ certainly left me wanting more.

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

5 comments:

Dimitri A.C. Ly said...

I remember this one left quite an impression on me as well. I wish they made more finales like Erlenmeyer Flask i.e. that create suspense by promising a new status quo while wrapping up the previous one instead of giving us situational cliffhangers we know will be reversed within the next season premiere.

Anywho, as a long-time X-phile, I wish to thank you, Jess, for reviewing season one. I'm looking forward to your thoughts on season two (not least because it features my all-time favourite episode).

Jess Lynde said...

Thanks, Dimitri! And thanks for your comments on the other recent reviews. I'm glad that I'm not the only one who thought 'Born Again' was a possession. I was afraid my Supernatural fandom was influencing me. :)

Season Two is a project I'm not going to even attempt until next summer. Of course, now I'm curious which episode is your favorite ever. There's some darn good ones in Season 2. Definitely a few that would make my top tier. However, if forced to choose, I suspect my all-time favorite would be from Season 3.

Juliette said...

I'm looking forward to your season 2 reviews - I stopped watching around season 3 and have just started going through the entire DVD box set. I'm up to season 7 and there are no good reviews out there or places for me to vent the good, the bad, the ugly etc! The later seasons are a lot better than I thought they would be - this all needs discussed... ;)

ChrisB said...

This was the episode that made me a dyed in the wool X-Phile. Loved it and continue to love it every time I watch it.

I've really enjoyed reading your reviews, Jess. Thanks for doing it.

Jess Lynde said...

Thank you, Chris! It's good to get a little push to get back to reviews for this show. Hopefully soon.