The X Files Revisited: 1.08 Ice
The X Files ran for nine seasons and two movies, charting the efforts of Agents Mulder and Scully in their search for the unexplained. Now eight years after the second movie The X Files: I Want To Believe, the show is returning for six new episodes in 2016. Here at The Digital Fix, we are going to work our way through each season, reviewing some of the big episodes – and both movies – across the years in the build up to season ten. With 202 episodes, there is simply too much to cover every episode; instead we’ll pick the story highlights of each year. Last time we were introduced to Eugene Victor Tooms; this time we've jumped ahead to to the Arctic-based horror that is Ice...
Jumping ahead from our last review to episode eight and another highlight of season one, Ice is essentially The X Files does The Thing. But while it certainly owes a great deal to both film versions it doesn't descend into pure homage, rather using it for inspiration to deal a chilling episode that sees both agents pushed to their very limits.
Ice delivers another of The X Files's brilliant, tense pre-title sequences. A dead body in a research facility, a man holding a gun and covered in blood, the ominous video log as he tells the camera "we're not who we are". The best of all is the sudden gun-toting stand off between the two researchers who hold it together to put their guns to their heads and shoot themselves. This isn't a tease of something like the opening murder in Squeeze; this is the gripping climax of a mystery the audience has just wondered into.
So when Mulder reviews the logs from the expedition and is eager to travel to the facility, Scully is understandably nervous. They are potentially walking into the same dire situation that killed everyone at the base. But go they do and we are introduced to their interesting expedition buddies:
• Happy go lucky geologist from San Diego Dr. Murphy (Steve Hytner). He isn't going to make it to the credits...
• Immediately suspicious physician Dr. Hodge Xander Berkeley. He's going to go paranoid first...
• Nervous toxicologist Dr. DaSilva (Felicity Huffman). Watch out for the quiet ones.
• An aggressive, possible psychotic pilot called Bear (Jeff Kober). Bear is going to cause trouble. Bear is going to go crazy.
The episode really does have fun with the premise and while there is plenty of mystery and suspense it isn't afraid to pack any punches too. Almost as soon as they arrive in the facility they are attacked by a rabid dog possessed by some alien creature. Naturally the psychotic Bear is the one to get bit first; in some way it feels a little obvious but the episode delivers it was such aplomb that it doesn't matter. As Bear slowly descends into paranoia so does the mystery.
There are some interesting ideas here too that feel like precursors to later episodes. The thing moving under the dog's skin and the alien lifeform drilled from a meteor almost feels like it is connected to the later black oil, while the idea of the threat frozen in ice for millions of years is similar to the aliens seen in the first movie's Antarctica end sequence. But here, the threat is smaller and as Ice progresses it becomes a more intimate piece as the survivors find themselves trapped and alone as the blizzard rages outside.
The moment that Bear is killed and the agents cut out the creature near his spine also has more than a little homage to the gestating xenomorph in Alien too and from there the panic and paranoia grows. Interestingly Scully the scientist wants to destroy the creatures, recognising the threat to the general population should it get out. Mulder naturally, still eager eyed and zealous in his search for alien life wants to study it more and is even willing to go back at the episode's end despite all the trauma they went through.
And it really is trauma. DaSilva and Hodge quickly turn on Mulder, believing he too has been infected and Scully finds herself acting more and more out of character as desperation and exhaustion sets in. When Murphy's corpse is discovered in the cupboard by Mulder, he quickly becomes the prime suspect and even Scully appears to turn against him. The trust and kinship that has built up between them looks set to crack as she is forced to lock him up. Mulder is erratic too, almost venomously retaliating at Scully with his comment that "in here I'll be safer than you."
Even amid all this tension, there is still a mystery to solve and the twist that the alien worms attack is an ingenious moment. It leaves Scully with an incredibly difficult choice; the only way to cure an infected host is to infect him again but how can Scully be sure that Mulder really is infected? In the end, the bonds of their relationship hold strong and she believes them. DaSilva is revealed to be the infected human - it really is the quiet ones - and the final sequence when they try to infect her is tense and dramatic.
Ice is a tense psychological horror that is often uncomfortable to watch and pushes the two main characters to their limits. On repeated viewing it loses a little of that tension and some character traits are signposted early on but it still delivers time and again. Is it the best episode of the first season? Not quite, but like Squeeze before it, it proved that horror was as much a part of The X Files as chasing UFOs and alien conspiracies.