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The X-Files: Tunguska

Case: Developments involving the Black Oil, which may or may not become clear in Part 2 of this two-parter.

Destination: Er... Russia?! Somewhere near Tunguska. Possibly.

"The truth, the truth! There's no truth. These men, they make it up as they go along."

I have a confession to make. We have long since passed the point where I entirely gave up on caring about The X-Files over-arching mytharc (it was somewhere around the mid-point of season three, if you're curious). It's actually possible that The X-Files, combined with my love of episodic Star Treks The Next Generation and Voyager, is responsible for my enduring distrust of story arcs and distaste for any time a stand-alone episode of a show is dismissed as 'filler'. I love The X-Files - all nine seasons of it, to a greater or lesser extent - but I love it for its monsters of the week and character development, not its mytharc. (There are, of course, later examples of places where character development and mytharc intersect, and I do enjoy those - but obviously I won't explain further here as it would spoil it).

This makes it difficult to review this episode because honestly, despite having seen every episode of The X-Files, most of them more than once, and despite the fact I like to think of myself as a reasonably intelligent person, I genuinely have no idea what's going on here. Of course, that's partly because this is the first part of a two-parter, and things will presumably become clearer in the follow-up. Though I confess, my choice of opening quotation (a line of Krycek's from this episode) pretty much sums up my opinion of the show's mytharc as a whole, and the way it develops - or doesn't - over the years. (Not that all long-term story arcs aren't made up as they go along, but it got a bit obvious in The X-Files' case).

However, even despite my complete confusion over pretty much everything that was happening, there was stuff to enjoy in this episode. For one thing, shirtless Skinner was far more pleasing to the eye than I had anticipated. Shirtless Skinner using Krycek as a punching-bag was all kinds of awesome. (I love Skinner. He is the best. He uses 'whom' correctly and avoids ending sentences with prepositions too. I like that in a man.) Skinner handcuffing Krycek to his balcony was great, and then it got even better as Krycek - one of those great love-to-hate-em bad guys who's all kinds of cool in his own right - flips someone off the balcony while hanging from the railings he's still handcuffed to. Awesome.

The cliffhanger into Part 2 is a doozy as well. Mulder, imprisoned in a gulag with the obligatory mysterious, unseen cell neighbour whispering to him through the walls, predictably betrayed by Krycek, is taken away, pinned down under a wire mesh thing (sadly robbing shirtless Mulder of his sexiness as it's too disturbing a situation, but you can't have everything) and has a ton of Black Oil dumped on him, which proceeds to work its way under his skin and into his eyeball. Roll credits. Shudder.

It's hard to judge this episode by itself. Some two-parters split fairly neatly into two connected halves, but this really is one longer story told across two hours (or two sets of 45 minutes) so I think I'll withhold judgment until I've re-watched the follow-up (of which I have basically no memory whatsoever, though I know I've seen it). But it'll have to work quite hard to beat that Skinner/Krycek scene.

Other Thoughts

 - I really, really hate the guy who keeps calling Scully 'Miss Scully' in the cold open. Scully is Dr, not Miss, and in a professional context should always be addressed as 'Dr' or 'Agent'. Add to that the fact that 'Miss' has certain overtones of youth and inexperience that 'Mr' does not and the fact that Scully is one of very few women in the room, and the whole thing reeks of patronizing sexism and disrespect towards Scully. Which is the point, of course, so props to the writers!

- The dialogue in this episode, written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz was great, and frequently hilarious (see Quotes).

 - Every time I see the slug-like bits of Black Oil crawling into people's faces, all I can think of is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Hmm, I should go re-watch Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

 - Isn't it convenient that parts of Russia and parts of Canada share similar climates?


Krycek: Hey, you go underground, you gotta learn to live with the rats.
Mulder: I'm sure you had no trouble adapting.

Mulder: You're full of crap, Krycek. You're an invertebrate scum-sucker whose moral dipstick is about two drops short of bone dry.

Krycek: You can't leave me out here, I'm going to freeze to death!
Skinner: Just think warm thoughts.

Scully: What I'm worried about is you, Mulder and how far you'll go. And how far I can follow you.

Krycek: You're going to keep me in the dark?
Mulder (punches him): Yeah.

Scully: We intend to file a complete report on this matter, sir, once we fully understand what it is that we're investigating.

Final Analysis: Half a story - two out of four patronizing sexists?!

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


  1. Juliette,
    Thank you for your review -- I loved it. I like this two-parter if for the unexpectedly comical beatdown of Krycek. It's so over the top.

  2. Thanks Heather! I was feeling guilty because I'm so un-invested in the arc plot at this moment, but the Skinner/Krycek stuff was brilliant!

  3. Thanks for the review and the candid remarks which made me laugh more than once! I particularly liked that you found Skinner's grammar abilities hot, as well as the Canada/Russia comparison :). I always thought that the black oil was particularly icky and so these were not my favourtie episodes but you picked the best bits for your review.

  4. Hilarious review, Juliette. Like you, I ceased caring about the mythology a long time ago and this episode is too disjointed and weird. I've seen it a bunch of times and still don't understand what we are meant to take away from it.

    I love Walter Skinner. The man is just awesome and the fact that he is easy on the eyes just makes him more so.

  5. I remember reading this review years ago and during my latest rewatch I still find it amazing that people prefer monster of the week to the main mythology storyline. The MotW episodes are like side orders to me (which can be still be delicious like chicken wings or sometimes just breadsticks, or worse: olives). The mythology episodes are still the steak though. It's all subjective I guess.


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