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The X-Files: Piper Maru

Case: A sunken WWII aircraft leads Mulder and Scully to further explore the alien conspiracy and the government’s involvement in it.

Destination: Somewhere in the Pacific; San Diego, California; Washington, D.C.; Hong Kong

Only a couple of weeks ago, I reviewed the “Nisei”/“731” mythology episodes. After only three standalone episodes, we are back with another two parter that expands the mythology even further.

As I discussed in my review, the first two are almost an action movie. This one has an entirely different feel. It is more emotional and, ultimately, more compelling because the danger that Mulder and Scully are facing is so terrifying.

The Black Oil was an idea of pure genius. It is not a being; it is not sentient; but, what it does is turn the people you love and trust against you and it keeps you alive for decades at the bottom of the ocean. It changes you without your being aware of what is happening. It makes you radioactive. What makes it even more insidious is that we have no idea what this stuff is.

Not unlike the two earlier mythology episodes, Mulder and Scully are apart through much of this one, each pursuing answers that are personal to them. Both are dealing with the aftermath of a family member’s death. Mulder is single-mindedly following the oil, going as far as to Hong Kong. We never really hear what he believes the oil to be, although it is clear he does not believe it is of our world.

Mulder entire demeanor changes when he realizes that Krycek is in Hong Kong and is involved. His rage and grief over his father’s death takes over, until Krycek tells Mulder that he may have answers. Mulder can’t help himself. His absolute need to know the truth, to get to the real answers, trumps everything — even exacting revenge on his father’s killer.

Poor Scully, on the other hand, learns that her sister’s murder has been shelved. Her visit to San Diego and to Commander Johansen drags up a lot of memories for her. Luckily, the memories of her sister are happy ones. Commander Johansen, however, has less happy news.

We’ll skip over the coincidence of Scully knowing a guy who had been out to the wreck in the past and go with the story. It is interesting that Johansen does not have a scientific or rational explanation for what he and his crew experienced all those years ago. The survivor guilt is evident, especially when we learn that he lost his son in another war.

Skinner is becoming much more important to the pair. He is not quite a father figure, more like a big brother. He is becoming much more open to what Mulder and Scully are experiencing, yet he never loses sight of what his role is in their lives. Finally, he is their boss and he, too, has people to whom he must answer. Yet, when faced with a direct threat, Skinner doesn't back down and ends up shot in the stomach for his trouble.

This first part sets quite a lot in motion. Mulder is in Hong Kong with Krycek who is now infected with the Black Oil. Scully is in D.C., tending to a wounded Skinner. Neither is any closer to the answers they are seeking.

Other Thoughts

“Piper Maru” was named for Gillian Anderson’s daughter, Piper Maru Anderson. According the internet, it is also the name of the ice-breaker in AVP: Alien vs. Predator. I wouldn’t know as that is a movie I assure you I will never watch.

In a similar vein, David Gauthier was the special effects producer for the show for years.

The coordinates given at the beginning of the episode place the vessel in the Pacific north of Hawaii.

Unsurprisingly for an episode that included our first look at such a big part of the show’s mythology, it was written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz and directed by Rob Bowman.

Is this the best cold open of the entire series? It certainly is among them.


Scully: “You know, it's strange. Men can blow up buildings and they can be nowhere near the crime scene, but we can piece together the evidence and convict them beyond a doubt. Our labs here can recreate out of the most microscopic detail their motivation and circumstance to almost any murder. Right down to a killer's attitude towards his mother and that he was a bed wetter. But in the case of a woman... my sister... who was gunned down in cold blood in a well-lit apartment building by a shooter who left the weapon at the crime scene, we can't even put together enough to keep anybody interested.”
Skinner: “I don't think this has anything to do with interest.”
Scully: “If I may say so, sir, it has everything to do with interest. Just not yours and not mine.”

Scully: “I’m just constantly amazed by you. You're working down here in the basement, sifting through files and transmissions that any other agent would just throw away in the garbage.”
Mulder: “Well, that's why I'm in the basement, Scully.”
Scully: You’re in the basement because they're afraid of you, of your relentlessness, and because they know that they could drop you in the middle of the desert and tell you the truth is out there, and you'd ask them for a shovel.”
Mulder: “Is that what you think of me?”
Scully: “Well, maybe not a shovel. Maybe a backhoe.”

Morgan: “What the hell is that?”
Mulder: “Looks like the fuselage of a plane.”
Scully: “It’s a North American P-51 Mustang.”
Morgan: “Yeah, sure is.”
Mulder: “I just got very turned on.”

Commander Johansen: “Conscience, it's just the voices of the dead trying to save us from our own damnation.”

Final Analysis: A good first part of the story that ramps up the emotional aspect of the show’s mythology.

ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.


  1. "Great... high noon in Hong Kong."

    Chris! You covered all my favorite beats in this episode in your fantastic review. And I completely agree that the emotionality (Scully mourning her sister and dad at the base is so well done) make this two-parter so much richer than the already-fabulous Nisei/731. This one is so well-written and feels so right for exactly where the show was in the third season. So many little touches that get me every time. Jeraldine! Gauthier! Luis Cardinal! And yes, that cold open... 'tis true, there are few that are better. Love it all!

  2. The French crew with the French Canadian accents always makes me smile. I guess that's how you get a lot of French native speakers while shooting in Canada. :)

  3. Scully's scene at the beginning with Skinner really made me feel bad.. because as soon as her sister was brought up I was going "boo, get outta town, let's move on already" and then... a sucker-punch right in the guilt muscle. Great scene.


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