The X Files Revisited: 3.15 Piper Maru, 3.16 Apocrypha
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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. This next big mythology story is pivotal in many ways, resolving key plot threads from Paper Clip while setting up elements that would massively impact the show moving forward...
If Nisei and 731 continued the themes established in Anasazi through to Paper Clip with secret human experimentations in box cars and sinister projects, then Piper Maru and Aprocrypha serve as a direct sequel with the return of Alex Krycek, the stolen data tape and Skinner facing the consequences for standing up to the villainous Cigarette Smoking Man.
It is also the story that introduced the alien black oil that can possess its victims. It begins with a French deep sea diver searching for a missing World War II jet and discovering the pilot still alive inside. The creepiness continues as the rest of the crew are discovered dead or dying of horrific radiation burns while the diver returns home, under the influence of the alien presence.
At the same time, Skinner tells Scully that the manhunt for her sister Melissa's killer has come to a grinding halt. This story has a huge emotional impact on Scully through both episodes, with Gillian Anderson delivered a passionate speech to Mulder as she vents he frustration. "The case of a woman, my sister, who was gunned downed in cold blood at a well lit apartment with the gun left at the crime scene, not enough to keep people interested." she bemoans and it is hard not feel for her. Fortunately answers would be coming with the surprise shooting of Assistant Director Skinner himself.
Ever since he stood up to the Cigarette Smoking Man in Paper Clip, breaking free of his presence, Skinner has put himself in the same firing line as Mulder and Scully. Here the consequences of his actions of his actions come back to bite him as he is warned off appealing the closure of Melissa Scully's case by mysterious intelligence officers and then shot in a deliberately random altercation in a restaurant. It helps raise the stakes in Piper Maru and forms part of the episode's taught cliff-hanger.
As for the two agents, they take separate paths; Scully uses her father's contacts to find out what the French salvage ship discovered while Mulder pursues the evidence, eventually coming face to face with his father's killer; Alex Krycek. Melissa's death hangs over an emotional Scully as she drives through the base, reminiscing of the times her and sister used to play while growing up on the street. Through this trip we come to learn more about her life as a child of a naval officer. Anderson plays Scully's emotional instability over her sister's death well, adding greater vulnerability to her role.
After her father's colleague feigns dementia when she comes to him with questions, a far more sinister story is at play. Commander Johansen tells her that his ship tracked the downed World War II fighter which was escorting a third atomic bomb to Japan at the end of the war. What they discovered was something far more terrible; their captain possessed by the black oil and the crew succumbing to radiation burns. Only their mutiny saved them. This chilling scene forms the opening scene of the concluding Apocrypha and helps to expand the mythology not just globally but adding greater history to the conspiracy at play.
Mulder meanwhile discovers the Frenchman dead after the black oil passes to his wife and tracks the salvage company seeking to recover the alien wreckage in the ocean - with the nuclear weapon as the cover story. After the cold Jeraldine Kallenchuk brushes him off he pursues her to Hong Kong, unknowing tracked by the possessed Frenchman's wife. And is there where he comes face to face with Krycek - Kallenchuk's employer - in a surprise, action packed scene that sees gunmen track them and kill Kallenchuk, only to fall foul of the possessed wife.
It is thrilling stuff and the first episode looks set to be another great mythology story; Mulder captures Krycek at the Hong Kong airport and sees it as his chance to get revenge and recapture the stolen data tape he originally retrieved back in Anasazi. The possessed wife transferring the black oil to Krycek is another surprise move and adds to cliff-hanger of Skinner's life hanging in the balance.
Apocrypha sadly doesn't quite live up to the promise of Piper Maru. There are plenty of great teases and teases of the on-going arc - such as the flashback to Bill Mulder the Cigarette Smoking Man and the rest of the shadowy consortium meeting one if the radiation survivors back in 1953 - but it doesn't reward the audiences with answers like Paper Clip or 731.
After returning to the US, the possessed Krycek escapes Mulder, killing the men sent to kill him and making a deal with the devil himself; the Cigarette Smoking Man. At one point an amusing scene with The [ice-skating] Lone Gunmen help Mulder with some (overt) covert intelligence to help him track the locker Kyrcek was holding the stolen data tape. But rather frustratingly it leads them to an empty case. The real data ends up with the Shadowy consortium, Mulder losing his last chance to get the big answers he was looking for.
Instead the global drama becomes much more insular as Scully races to save Skinner from a second attempted hit while everyone under the sun - Skinner, Mulder and Scully and the Cigarette Man - all hunt down Krycek. "Is there anyone not after Krycek?" Scully exclaims to Mulder at one point.
Mulder want's revenge while a recovering Skinner realizes that the man who attacked him to the stairwell with Krycek in Paper Clip is Melissa's killer. The twist this time is that unlike his previous two multi-episode appearances Krycek doesn't escape to live another day, finding himself imprisoned by the Cigarette Smoking Man who shows why he is the series' main villain.
Mulder meanwhile gets to engage with the Well Manicured Man again after he traces a number left on the tape to the consortium's head quarters. John Neville continues to remain one of the most intriguing recurring characters in the show at this point. I like the way he gives Mulder answers even if it is to his own agenda. Sadly this time Mulder has deduced what is happening by the time he gets the confirmation.
Scully meanwhile races to save Skinner as her sister's killer hijacks the ambulance he is travelling in. It is the most tense scene in the episode, particuarly when she races after the killer after saving her boss and screams "You shot my sister!" as she holds him at gunpoint in time for police officers to arrive and arrest him. Scully shows great resolve in not shooting him, a testament to her strength of character. Though his forced 'suicide' means there are no more answers to give it does give her some peace over what happened to Melissa.
The final scene in the facility in North Dakota should have been the dramatic finale of this 'epic' two-parter but it sadly feels like a retread of Paper Clip. Their search for Kycek and the captured UFO falls flat and they are soon arrested by gunmen working for the Cigarette Smoking Man who arrives to cover up everything. "You can't bury the truth!" Mulder raged against him as he and Scully are led away. Well apparently he can.
At least the 'coda' is rather satisfying. Scully visits her sister's grave, finally having closure over her murder but the most horrifying moment is seeing Krycek locked in the room within the facility, lying on top of the UFO as black oil bleeds out of his eyes and mouth.Trapped, all alone and in obvious pain, it is a horrific ending for Alex Kycek. Fortunately he would be back next season.
Piper Maru and Apocrypha are good mythology episodes, introducing the alien black oil, dealing with the return of Kyrcek and putting the Cigarette Smoking Man back firm and centre as the show's primary villain. Unfortunately the 'invasion of the body snatchers' theme doesn't really pay off in the concluding part and against the previous multi part stories the show has presented - Scully's abduction, colony, Paper Clip and 731 - it doesn't quite measure up, starting the show's trend of adding to the mythology without really answering anything. Thankfully it delivers enough thrills, action and emotional moments to make it an engaging re-watch from beginning to end...