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The X-Files: Zero Sum

Case: A mail clerk dies from an unusual bee attack.

Destination: Vienna, Virginia and Payson, South Carolina

This much appreciated Skinner-centric episode brought us back to the disease carrying bees we met in 'Herrenvolk'. Skinner, at the request of the Cancer man, destroys evidence of the death of a mail clerk who is attacked by the "killer" bees while taking a smoke break in the bathroom. The bees have escaped from a damaged package that was headed for Payson, South Carolina. Skinner doesn't realize that his actions will implicate him in the murder of a detective and the intentional infection with small pox of a town full of children.

I enjoyed this episode for several reasons. It highlighted Skinner, who I think is a very interesting character who doesn't get enough screen time. It also pitted Skinner against Mulder although that was never Skinner's intention. I'm pretty sure that it was exactly what the Cancer man intended. This tension between two characters that we usually root for illustrates just how dangerous and difficult the Cancer man and his colleagues are. The power, creativity and intelligence of Cancer man and the Elders make for the kind of challenging villain that I appreciate and allow Mulder to act as the passionate, talented David to their Goliath.

This episode is also about how a good man can fall into a place where he does terrible things. Skinner realizes how deeply embedded he is in the machinations of Cancer man and he no longer even knows if Scully will benefit from his sacrifice. He seems quite close to the breaking point and yet he doesn't kill Cancer man. It made me wonder if he is a bit in love with Scully or if he feels responsible for her illness. It seems a lot of sacrifice for one person. Skinner says he doesn't care what happens to him, but it will be interesting to see how far he will go to protect himself and Scully.

I always enjoy Mulder doing his Mulder thing but in this episode it takes him somewhere he doesn't want to go. You can see the disappointment in his face when he realizes that it is Skinner in the video and you can hear the anger when he accuses Skinner of collaborating with Cancer man. Once more Mulder learns that there is almost nobody he can trust. Even his lovely contact Marita is working with Cancer man.

There were some things that bothered me. This felt like the first part of a two part episode. There is no part two. Many things felt unfinished to me. My next annoyance is a bit nit-picky. I really wish they would get the small pox thing straight. Is this a new strain of small pox? Since the vaccine for small pox is made from a similar strain it seems to me that most strains could be vaccinated against and since vaccination went on until 1977 (according to the CDC), the mail clerk and entomologist would have been vaccinated. So say it is a different strain then as they intimate it would be contagious. Why did no one else, including Skinner and Mulder, get it? An outbreak of smallpox would be very noticeable. Not a very secretive experiment. And finally, all you really needed were the bees. They seemed to kill quite effectively. It feels lazy when writers don't work these things out.

Other Thoughts

Life lessons in this episode: 1. Don’t smoke. 2. Don’t take unauthorized breaks from work. 3. Don’t walk into rooms where the lights aren’t working. 4. Don’t make deals with the devil. He always wins (usually by cheating).

Swatting at bees is exactly the wrong thing to do. Why do people always do that? You would think that an entomologist would know that.

The bees quite conveniently disappeared as soon as they made their kill. Was that part of the breeding?

Nice shot of Skinner cleaning the mirror and then having to confront himself.

We get to see Skinner in his skivvies :)

Loved the old rotary card index.


Cancer man: “A man digs a hole, he risks falling into it.”

Mulder: “I think that someone is trying to engineer a method of delivery for a disease that has killed more people throughout history than any other contagion known to humankind.” (Glad we eradicated it - score one for vaccinations.)

Elder #1: “Details are everything. Much more important than your vague assurances.”

Skinner: “I advised you against a certain course of action some time ago concerning Agent Scully. I didn’t follow my own advice.”

Skinner: “I’m starting to get used to the dark.”

Cancer man: “Now unless you intend to kill me, I’d like to answer my phone.”


  1. Doc:
    What a wonderful review. I never thought about it -- that this episode feels like 1 of 2 parts. It really does. Maybe 'Avatar' is a quasi part 1. Also, wasn't it such a coup that Skinner has 'fallen so far' that he's forced to impersonate Mulder? He's really in the thick of it now.

  2. I agree that Skinner is a great character that doesn't, usually, get enough air time. Great point about CSM pitting Skinner against Mulder. It does make Mulder's isolation and paranoia that much more believable.

    While I am sure that Gillian Anderson appreciated the break, Scully's absence is noticeable. Her quiet demeanor, while all hell is breaking loose, is a dynamic that, when missing, makes the entire episode feel somewhat off.


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