I didn’t even bother writing about last week’s episodes because, well, frankly, we all know which episode is the most important one and it was not “Sleepless.”
That, however, is all over tomorrow night. “Duane Berry” has finally arrived (again, 20 years in the future from the past when it arrived that other time). We can all rejoice in viewing this masterful, groundbreaking piece of television history.
We get to return to the aliens-abducted-my-sister mythos in a big way over the next few episodes, plus that other thing.
So, tomorrow we should all get on our red speedos, pop some corn, kick back and relax (Is it possible to relax in a speedo if you are not Mulder climbing out of a swimming pool in 1994? He was totally relaxed about it. I don’t know.) and enjoy the show.
Critical recap will follow. Live-blagging may also occur. Who can say? No one can know the future. Or the past. Or anything. Ever.
Imagine this: a merry band of odd folks united by their love for the X-Files have assembled in a Somerville, MA living room. Twenty years ago, one of the finest television shows known to Creation was aired for the first time. When we finally get everyone to sit down and shut up (a process of several hours), we are immediately transported to Oregon.
A young woman in a nightgown runs through the forest, but she is running very poorly. She is clearly not a professional runner, and I have my immediate doubts that she is a professional actor. A bright light breaks up the forest and we see a figure walk from it. The figure approaches her and white light engulfs the pair. The leaves around them swirl in a vortex. The screen goes white.
Can you imagine what the primitive peoples of the early 1990’s thought of this show? A little known fact about late 20th-century American culture is that the discussion of aliens was a major taboo. The X-Files made major strides in normalizing aliens among Americans.
TITLE: COLLUM NATIONAL FOREST, NORTHWEST OREGON
Following the white screen, we come back to the girl on the ground. The lighting is normal now, so we’re in the regular world again. The Collum National Forest a very convenient place for some x-files since that’s around where the show was filmed. Stick to what you know, producers!
Two marks on the girl’s lower back set up the episode’s main mystery (how did they get there?) while also foreshadowing for some sexy scenes to come—clever aliens, they could have chosen to leave their weird marks on the ankle or somthing.
The detective is perplexed, but he recognizes her. “She went to school with my son.” This guy says “It’s happening again, isn’t it?”
TITLE: FBI HEADQUARTERS, WASHINGTON, D.C.
Now we’re in FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Business time! Lots of power suits and shoulder pads. David Duchovny gets top billing followed by Gillian Anderson, probably because he’s the one with a penis (also I think it was more famous than her at the time). Back to the documentary: Dana Scully is on the prowl.
She has to meet with some bigwigs and she doesn’t look happy about it.We get some amazing background: Scully was recruited out of medical school, she saw the FBI as a place she could distinguish herself, blah blah…shut up, Scully, are you familiar with Fox Mulder? She is! Who knew. She knows he likes the occult and he’s the best in the violent crimes section.
They ask her if she’s familiar with the “so-called” X-Files. Well, I know of several million people who are familiar with them! But they were presumably pretty unknown in 1993, so the question is reasonable. Turns out Scully has been recruited to write field reports about kooky, “Spooky” Agent Mulder.
Her response: “Am I to understand that you want me to debunk the X-Files, sir?”
Scully agrees to the plan and scurries off to the the basement where they’ve stashed poor Mr. Mulder. “Sorry, nobody down here but the FBI’s most unwanted!” That’s Mulder’s first line of the show. Hot. Mulder, trust me, you’re not Amanda Propst’s most unwanted.
In the basement scene, we get our first glimpses of some amazing, exciting things: Mulder himself, the famous I Want To Believe poster.
Mulder is looking at slides on a lightbox. How retro! Next he’s going to be counting aliens on an abacus.
“I was under the impression that you were sent to spy on me.” Mulder knows exactly what Scully is up to, even though she is a little coy about it.
ADVICE: Scully plays this man like a fiddle. Us ladies should all learn from her.
It’s always nice when characters meet each on the first episode of a show like in this one, because we get some excellent straight-up characterization without any of the hassle of actual story-telling.
Not much time for chit-chat, though, because M&S have to jump right into the mystery du jour. Mulder shows Scully (with slides!) an autopsy with no explained cause of death, but we do see those marks from the girl in the forest. “Dr. Scully, can you ID these marks?” She sure can try! She throws out a bunch of things they might be from bug bites to electrocution, but when Mulder shows her a molecular diagram of the substance found near the marks, she can’t figure out what it is. “It’s organic,” she says confidently, “Is it some kind of synthetic protein?” I’m sorry, because I want to keep this blog G-rated, but come on, insert your own semen joke here.
The synthetic protein was found on a few of these unexplained deaths. Why does the bureau ignore them, Mulder demands to know. “Do you believe in the existence of extraterrestrials?” he asks Scully. If Scully’s game is immaculate, Mulder’s could use some work. Busting out with the alien-talk in the first ten minutes of meeting a stoic FBI medical examiner is probably not the best way to get her to reevaluate her diagnosis of crazytown.
Mulder, still on the alien rant, derisively dismisses “conventional wisdom” as a way to figure out these deaths. Watson, I think we have a THEME!
And the theme continues! “Now when convention, and science, offer us no answers, might we not finally turn to the fantastic as a plausability?” Mulder, something tells me this is not the first time you’re going to propose this approach to Scully and be TURNED DOWN. “What I find fantastic,” she counters, “is any notion that there are answers beyond the realm of science. The answers are there, you just have to know where to look.”
But Mulder has his own zinger to toss back at her: “That’s why they put the I in FBI.” Beautiful.
So now we’re on a plane to Oregon to check this stuff out in person. Scully is reading (apparently, she’s just reading the word “autopsy,” based on the zoom).
Just to remind you that we’re watching X-Files here, the plane freaks out and almost crashes. What I love most about this is that there’s absolutely no resolution for it or even much discussion by the characters on screen. Mulder’s not concerned, but a baby is crying, which I would find pretty concerning had I been there. I would have needed Mulder to comfort me, probably. Scully seems unsettled, but welcome to flying commercial. I guess the FBI didn’t spring for private jets for crackpot X-files.
M&S land and get a rental car. Scully’s indignant that people had already started investigating the murders (um, duh), and Mulder says that they had come out to poke around and that they “enjoyed the local salmon, which, with a little lemon twist, is just to die for if you pardon the expression.” Oh Mulder! So we now know that Mulder is a foodie. Hopefully he cooks.
Scully makes some smart-sounding observations about the situation and Mulder says she’s doing pretty good. “Better than you expected, or better than you hoped?” she snaps back. The windows fog up. Getting hot in here.
But then, as usual, the romance is cut when the digital clock freaks out. I guess in 1993 these things were still pretty new. Mulder stops the car in the middle of the road, goes to the trunk, fiddles with his stuff, and pulls out a can of spray paint. The real mystery to me is where he got it. Did they stop at the store? Did he disregard all plane safety and bring the aerosol can on the plane with him? Anyway, he marks the spot where the stuff went weird with the paint. Scully looks on at him like she’s with a crazy person. A crazy, sexy person.
Whatever, weirdos! We’ve got an exhumation coming! M&S need a tissue sample from Ray Soames, one of the kids who died earlier.
TITLE: COASTAL NORTHWEST OREGON, MARCH 7, 1992
Editorial aside: I happen to like knowing what day this happened on. It’s too bad we didn’t celebrate the 20th anniversary of Mulder and Scully’s first trip out together on March 7, 2012.
M&S arrive at the graveyard where the exhumation is underway. It naturally attracts a few local figures who don’t seem happy that the FBI has called in its weirdo goons. The girl from the beginning (nightgown forest girl) isn’t happy. Dr. Jay Emmer, county medical examiner, “has been away” (lame excuse, dude) and is hoppin’ mad that the FBI is here. His daughter implores him: “Daddy, please, let’s just go home. Let’s go home, please.”
In response to his unhappiness, Mulder quips to Scully, “Guy obviously needed a longer vacation.” Oh Mulder!
By the gravesite, Mulder and Scully are seeing what else is going on in this weird little town. Turns out the third victim, Ray Soames, pleaded to be locked up but couldn’t produce evidence that he committed any crime; he got out of jail, though, and died of exposure after seven hours. How does a twenty year old boy die of exposure on a warm summer night, wonders Mulder? Scully refuses to accept the glaringly obvious fact that it was aliens.
The body looks like it’s seen better days (ha, ha), and Mulder notices too: “It’s safe to say he never made the varsity basketball team.” Oh Mulder! You slay me!
TITLE: 10:56 PM
Mulder is snapping pictures and Scully is in Business Mode so that she can more artfully complete the medical examination. Business Mode mainly consists of wearing glasses and pulling her hair into a fabulous 90’s ponytail.
Mulder is excited that he’s finally got an alien (because I think that’s what he decides the weird dead body is?) and Scully just keeps on doing what she’s doing as if he’s not there. She snaps that she doesn’t want the flash on her. Flashforward to ten years of marriage: “Stop taking pictures of me, Mulder!” She thinks it’s an chimpanzee or an orangutan. She also doesn’t seem to think that this is at all weird; Mulder obviously wonders to know where Ray Soames’s body is or I guess what could have caused it to turn into an ape. Get me a full genetic workup, Scully! I don’t even know what that is, but I need it! When Scully sighs and clearly doesn’t want to take the x-rays and whatever else, Mulder reassures her: “I’m not crazy, Scully. I have the same doubts you do.” WE ALL DOUBT IT, MULDER!
Fantastically, she spends her evening at the hotel transcribing her notes onto an ancient laptop. Mulder knocks on the door and she’s scared, but when he identifies himself (by claiming he’s Steven Spielberg! Hilarious! Oh Mulder!) she smiles like a schoolgirl, thus setting loose butterflies in the hearts of thousands, nay, millions of women across the United States and the world. She’s wearing my old 90’s standby of a large t-shirt and leggings. She doesn’t want to go on a run with Mulder. My guess is that Mulder didn’t really want to go on a run anyway, but Scully is more interested in the nasal implant they found, which is probably more productive anyway. Oh yeah they found a nasal implant in the dead body.
TITLE: RAYMON COUNTY STATE PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL
So now we go to meet Ray Soames’s psychiatrist, who oversaw his treatment for a year. He couldn’t grasp “reality,” says Doc, and suffered from post-traumatic stress. He saw the same thing in a few of Ray’s classmates, too. Mulder asks if he uses hypnosis on any of them. Pay attention to that; hypnosis is a bit of a running theme. The psychiatrist says that he has two inpatients with the same symptoms in the hospital, and so obviously Scully wants to talk to them. Won’t be easy, though, jokes Doc! Ha, ha, we’ll see why!
Billy Miles is in a waking coma. So he can’t talk! He and the other patient, Peggy, were in an automobile accident leaving him in a coma and her in a wheelchair (and apparently a little bonkers). She freaks out and starts knocking everything over and has an explosive nosebleed. I’m surprised neither Mulder nor Scully shout “NASAL IMPLANT!” but I guess Fox expected that the viewer could make that connection on their own. Mulder grabs a quick peek at her—wait, oh, at her lower back marks. Scully storms out.
She’s mad that Mulder knew the girl would have the marks. “What is going on? What do you know about those marks? What are they?”
“I don’t think you’re ready for what I think,” says Mulder. (Editorial note: I’m ready, I’m ready, I pant.) She wants to know anyway.
“I think those kids have been abducted.” “By whom?” “By what.” Scully’s frustrated by the line of thought that always leads back to Mulder’s aliens, so she insists that there has to be an explanation. All four victims were in the woods…she uses her medical and investigative smarts to put together that if four victims got into trouble in the forest, maybe they should…
go to the forest!
So now they’re stomping around the forest. Scully’s got Business Ponytail and Business Khakis in play, so we know this is for real. Mulder’s compass is going weird again; he needs a new one. Scully senses something is wrong, too, and raises her gun. She sees a bright light—we’re not dumb, we remember that light from the forest in the teaser! Holy shit! Aliens! Scully’s going to meet some aliens! How will she hide behind science then! A figure comes out from the light, in silhouette. We know it’s some aliens! What must be do now? Obviously, cut to commercial!
Scully identifies herself as FBI, but it turns out the alien is just a regular dude who informs her that she’s trespassing on private property. We know he’s Detective Miles from earlier, but he doesn’t give Scully his name. Law enforcement works so well together!
Mulder shows up. The detective says he has to arrest both of them, because that’s SOP when you have FBI agents doing an investigation, you arrest them. The detective will accept them just getting in their car and leaving, though, so that’s what they do. I think it’s pretty soft to go from threatening arrest, but I guess he knows he’s dealing with the big guys here.The bright light turns out to be lights mounted on the detective’s truck. Gah. Boring! Not aliens at all!
M&S get out of there. Scully fortunately grabbed something strange before they were rudely dismissed from the forest: some weird ash that was all over the ground. “I think something’s going on out here. Some kind of a sacrifice, maybe.” Good work, Scully. She wants to come back and check it out more when Detective Buzzkill isn’t going to wag his rifle in their faces.
Mulder looks at his (famous) wristwatch and it’s 9:03.
Suddenly, an interlude of laughably bad cinematographic effects indicates to us that something strange has happened/is happening. “We lost power. Brakes, steering, everything!” observes Mulder, who is apparently not only a foodie but also a mechanic. What can’t he do! “We lost 9 minutes!” he shouts when he looks at his watch again. He’s kind of excited about this. For some reason, they both get out of the car even though it’s raining. “Look! Look!” Mulder is so excited when he notices that this happened right where he marked the spot earlier. They were abducted, he reasons. The car’s engine starts all by itself while they stare at each other, in a single moment completely destabilizing everything I thought I knew about cars and their engines. They go back to the hotel. Hey, what can you do?
Scully’s back to typing on her ancient computer when the electricity goes out. Things just go from bad to worse, don’t they! What do you do when the power’s out? Take a shower. I guess. Whatever we can do to get her in her underwear. This is the pilot, after all, and Fox needs some ratings. I guess this is what ensured at least a full season buy-in. She notices something on her back, though—could it be incredibly unflattering underwear? No, not just that. So of course she puts on a robe and goes over to Mulder’s room to have him check it out, because that’s exactly the tone I would want to set with my new FBI partner that I wasn’t going to start sleeping with. Eh, whatever.
Mulder seems quite unfazed when Scully comes to his room and disrobes. I guess this happens to him all the time. He looks sexily unfazed. He looks at her closely and diagnoses the marks: mosquito bites. He even gives it a comedic delay to freak her out. She hugs him and we get the first real spark of chemistry between them (and the starting point for a thousand fanfic stories, I hope). Let me gather my wits. Okay, we can move on now.
Cut to what I can only assume is post-coital chatting: Mulder is telling Scully about the abduction of his sister. Typical pillow talk. He starts with his biography: “My success [in the FBI] allowed me a certain freedom to pursue my own interests.” It’s interesting to me that the FBI works like that, but whatever. “Someone” has been blocking Mulder’s attempts to get classified information, but he has Congressional connections that let him continue his work. Now we go off the deep end: Mulder has retrieved repressed memories through hypnosis. “Listento me Scully! This thing EXISTS! They government knows about it!” Sexy. But the phone rings (remember those?) and it kills the mood. Or what I assume was a mood. What I desperately hope was a mood.
The phone call was a woman just saying Peggy O’Dell was dead. Scully daftly identified Peggy O’Dell as “the girl in the wheelchair”; this explication is helpful for any viewers who have fallen asleep or don’t have basic understanding of how narratives work. Peggy was apparently running and got hit by a truck—but how could she have been running when she needs a wheelchair! The thick plottens.
TITLE: RURAL HWY. 133, BELLEFLEUR, OREGON
Scully investigates Peggy’s body and notices that her watch stopped by 9:03. Maybe that’s significant? We learn from Mulder that the exhumed orangutan corpse, meanwhile, was stolen, and the hotel was set on fire! The x-rays, pictures, everything is gone. If that’s not an advertisement for backing your shit up on the cloud! They should have been using dropbox or something. Duh.
They hurry back to the hotel and the medical examiner’s daughter approaches them as the hotel burns. “You’ve got to protect me,” she says, with the subtext being “protect me from my atrocious acting skills.” They take her with them to some restaurant to talk. She sometimes finds herself wandering through the forest. “I’m scared…I might…die,” she says haltingly. She’s the one who called Mulder to tell him about Peggy dying. Her father obviously knows all the sinister alien stuff going on, but she isn’t supposed to tell anyone. She confesses that she has the marks, too, like the others, and then of course gets a nosebleed (aliens, build better nasal implants, yeah?). Scully, who assured her that she’s not going to die, is freaked out, kind of not toeing that line very well. With excellent timing, the dad stomps in just in time to take her from Mulder.
Turns out Detective Miles is Billy Miles’s father. We already knew that, but Mulder and Scully are just now finding out. Welcome to the party. Scully finally bites: these guys are clearly hiding something. Mulder thinks it’s aliens; Scully thinks it’s more routine small-town murders.
So they clearly need to go to the graves of the other two victims and see if they became orangutans too. The graves are empty, but that’s enough to get Mulder to realize it’s been Billy Miles, the guy in the waking coma, who’s been offing his friends. And why else would the detective be covering for him? It’s why the hotel was burned down, too. What a tight story, dudes.
TITLE: 5:07 AM
Scully is a little incredulous that Billy Miles could have done it. “It all fits a profile with alien abduction,” says Mulder. Word to the wise, Mulder: maybe don’t sledgehammer aliens into every idea you have? Scully would be more likely to believe the mundane parts of your theory if you give the aliens a rest.
“The forest controls them…it summons them there.” Right, Mulder. Scully’s not buying it. So much that she starts laughing uncontrollably after Mulder finishes his theory. They go to Billy Miles of course for Scully to see whether he might be capable of leaving the hospital to ferry people to the forest to die. Conveniently Scully finds that weird ash from the forest on Billy’s feet. Serious FBI investigative tactic.
Now Scully realizes she’s going to have to report all this weird shit to the FBI. Oh no, all her science (and thankfully her underwear) was destroyed in the fire! They have to go back to the forest to get a new sample of the ash. A scream in the forest and the detective’s car: not all is well. We have a half-assed chase scene, until the detective hits Scully on the head. I assume this is more metaphor for how local law enforcement views working with the feds.
Now we see it, the money shot: Billy is lifting the medical examiner’s daughter in the middle of a vortex. Mulder and the detective watch. Scully is a bit behind them rubbing her head, so naturally she doesn’t see the actual action, which is pretty important for her character development.
After all the vortex drama, things suddenly go back to normal. Billy’s marks are gone too, and he can talk now. And the girl is fine! Guess the aliens just decided to let ’em go.
TITLE: MARCH 22, 1992, FBI HEADQUARTERS, WASHINGTON, D.C.
We come to the denouement. Billy is in a nice shirt, giving some kind of deposition. He explains that his high school friends and he were all in the forest partying and the light took him to the testing place. The aliens would tell him to gather the others so they could do tests on them. They put something in his head. Scully’s FBI bosses watch with her through the mirror as Billy gives his speech. And of course our friend the Cigarette-Smoking Man is there too. He whispers something and they all walk out. Scully and Mulder exchange a knowing glance, which is probably about whether or not she’s going to betray him or not in her report to the FBI, but I like to think it’s more of a sexy look.
In another meeting with the bigwigs, Scully admits that her reports are personal and subjective and that she can’t draw any conclusions. She can’t substantiate anything. Science wins. We’re setting a real pattern here, Mulder.
Scully then makes a big mistake. She’s pocketed the implant from the exhumed body and it was the only piece of evidence not destroyed in the fire. The material couldn’t be identified through a lab test, but she isn’t that disturbed. She hands the implant over and passes by the CSM on his way into the office as she’s on her way out.
Mulder calls Scully late that night unable to sleep. I know those kinds of calls, and I would most certainly answer one from Mulder. He tries to gets her in the mood by telling that they aren’t filing a case on Billy Miles and the paperwork is gone. “We need to talk, Scully.” I agree, you sure do. Scully says she’ll talk tomorrow—girl knows how to play hard to get. I should learn from her. Then she just hangs up. Her game is on fire.
Cut to the CSM is in some labyrinthine vault. He deposits the implant into an acrylic case and walks out. Sinister. We think there may be something bigger going on. Maybe?
The sign on the door as we pan out is not very subtle. This is Pentagon-level shit, kids.
If you made it this far, congratulations! You get absolutely nothing in return for reading this, not even the last half hour of your life back. Recaps won’t typically be this in-depth, but I wanted to start with a bang. And a long, long whimper.
If you want a more straight recap of the episode, I encourage you to check out the X-Files Wiki’s entry on this episode.