The X Files Revisited: 2.25 Anasazi

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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. Anasazi is the culmination of season two's dramatic events with plenty of twists and turns and a thrilling end of season cliffhanger...

If season one made The X Files a cult favourite, than season two was where the show really made an impact as must see television; while it never really deviated from the formula of standalone and mythology episodes, it did develop into a more confident show, raising the stakes for both the central characters, delivering thrilling storylines like Scully's abduction and the colony two-parter and giving audiences even more all time classics like The Host and Humbug.

Anasazi builds on everything that has come before to deliver possibly the most gripping season finale in the show's history. Beginning with the discovery of an alien skeleton in the red deserts of New Mexico and ending with that gripping cliffhanger in the box car, this episode continues to be a rollercoaster of emotions all the way through, losing none of its impacts on repeat viewings.

It is an episode that establishes the shadowy consortium that the Cigarette Smoking Man has been working for and developing the scale of the larger conspiracy at play. We wouldn't see other key villains like the Well Manicured Man until the start of next season, but it is interesting that Anasazi is an episode that finally starts to offer some clues to the audience, even if the answers that Mulder and Scully have been looking for remain frustratingly out of reach.

The story also hits the ground running, with Mulder ill and acting out of character as he is contacted by another Lone Gunman type called The Thinker. There is tension and paranoia from the start as Mulder is offered original defense departments UFO intelligence files, Roswell, MJ12 and beyond. It is the holy grail of the show and his quest and you can see the frustration when he discovers they are in code

It is that frustration that leads to an explosive fight with Skinner in the corridors of the FBI. While the season built steps to make Mulder and Scully's boss as engaging character (thanks to Mitch Pileggi's commanding performance) and quasi-ally to the agents, there is still an air of uncertainty about his motivations at this stage in the show's history. He certainly brings the metaphorical hammer down hard when he needs to and Scully finds herself facing the brunt of this too as she is forced to answer to Skinner and a board of FBI agents (including series creator Chris Carter in a surprise cameo) to defend their work. Like Mulder, she too finds her career on the line; all that talk of her running the FBI one day back in season one is a distant memory now.

And with Mulder out of his mind, it is Scully who drives the investigation forward, meeting with a representative of the Navajo society to help decipher the coded documents. It is here that we we start to learn more about the greater conspiracy with words like merchandise and vaccinations. Sinister stuff even if the relevance still remains unclear. And those secrets quickly threaten their very lives when she narrowly escapes a fatal gunshot at Mulder's apartment.

But perhaps the biggest surprises of the episode are those involving Mulder's father Bill. The arrival of the Cigarette Smoking Man at Bill's door lays the groundwork for future revelations at the start of season three as we learn that he has secrets that go back to the heart of what Mulder is searching for. Peter Donat continues to bring gravitas to his performance, both with William B Davis' villain and with David Duchovny as he calls his son over to reveal those truths. Sadly Bill's (and Donat's) involvement in the show is cut tragically short with the even bigger shocking return of Krycek.

Gone is the clean-cut snake in the grass that Krycek was earlier in the season. Now Mulder's former partner has returned to murder Mulder's father (it wouldn't be the only family member he would kill). While I enjoyed Nicholas Lea's performance in the abduction arc, here he really gets to let loose as the villain and his actions comes back to bite him when Mulder confronts his later in the episode and begins punching the living daylights out of him. It is the first of many dramatic confrontations between these two over the course of the show.

With Bill dead, a feverish Mulder goes to Scully's apartment (the third I think to date, but then after the Tombs incident in Squeeze and her abduction in Duane Barry it's not really surprising that she needs somewhere new to call home!). This is when Mulder's out of character paranoia reaches fever point and he turns on the one closest to him. "So you can clear your conscience and your name?! You've been making reports on me since the beginning Scully, taking your little notes! Look you have my files and you have my gun. Don't ask me for my trust."

Scully remains cool but you can see that this cuts deep and it is almost a relief when she finds the water supply in his apartment building contaminated. It is another sinister move by the shadowy forces in play, particularly as it affected Mulder's neighbour who suddenly shot and killed her husband. When innocents like this get affected you really see how ruthless the Cigarette Smoking Man and his cohorts really are.

And poor Scully actually has to shoot Mulder to stop him killing Krycek and being framed for another murder, which considering Krycek's part in her abduction can't have been an easy choice. It's another example of morality over ruthlessness that keeps the agents heroes rather than succumbing to motivations of those working against them.

When Mulder awakes in New Mexico 36 hours later, the effect of the drugs out of his system, the scene is set for those final dramatic moments in the desert. Mulder is AWOL and Scully's career is on the line too, having failed to turn up to a hearing with Skinner in order to save Mulder. It also brings them into contact with another pivotal character, Albert Hosteen, a former World War II code breaker who can translate the encrypted files and talks of an ancient Anasazi tribe, abducted by mysterious forces.

While Mulder gets ever closer to the answers he needs in the box car in New Mexico, the case turns deeply personal for Scully too with the latest entries in the translated referencing Duane Barry and a series of tests. It was a great move to have Scully personally connected to the case; her motivations have gone beyond a scientific exploration of the unknown and a keen loyalty to Mulder. She needs her own answers and that quest will fuel her for much of the rest of the series.

The last scene is nail biting and one of the most memorable moments in the show's history. Mulder enters the box car and discovers masses of dead alien bodies. The merchandise, bodies containing smallpox vaccination scars. It is an intriguing mystery cut short by the arrival of the Cigarette Smoking Man and military forces. Unable to find Mulder, the show's villain orders the box car burned and season two ends with an explosion ripping through the container, destroying the evidence and possibly Mulder with it. Other end of season cliffhangers might have been bigger in scale, but none came close to this shocking finale.

Anasazi is The X Files at its very best, a confident thriller with layers of mystery, the tease of huge answers, shocking twists and Mulder and Scully's world turned upside down. This was the first of the show's proper three-parters and after the events of the season finale, it needed it. Certainly one of the greatest episodes in the show's nine-year history.

Next time, we will pick up from this cliff-hanger with a review of the season three opening episodes and that start of another excellent season of The X Files...

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The X Files

Chris Carter's The X Files was the cultural zeitgeist of the 1990s, turning Mulder and Scully into television heroes. With its mix of aliens, conspiracies, monsters and serial killers, it revolutionised cult television and returned for new six-part revival in 2016 and another 10 episodes in 2018. Check out our 'The X Files Revisited', reviewing key episodes from across all seasons and both movies and our weekly reviews of season 11.

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