The X Files Revisited: 3.23 Wetwired
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. The latest lookback delves into conspiracy theories and mind control, which has chilling consequences for Scully...
Mysterious signals in your TV programs? Mind control? It's a topic that conjures up intrigue and paranoia and perfectly suits the government conspiracy themes of The X Files. In the penultimate episode of season three, the show delivered a thrilling episode loosely tied into the wider mythology. Wetwired has many memorable scenes, particularly Scully's own paranoia and the episode doesn't always get the recognition it deserves.
The episode begins with a man burying his victim in a shallow grave, exclaiming that the corpse's 'killing days are over'. But when he mistakes his wife for the same man and kills her, we see that something far more sinister is at play. Mulder encounters a new informant - later to be revealed as working for Mr X - and begins to investigate the case which sees a town subjected to more cases of mistaken identities and bloodshed.
Not only did the man kill five people believing them to be a foreign war criminal he saw on TV, a babysitter attacks two people believing them to be wolves and we witness a woman go from calmly doing the washing up to bludgeoning a neighbour in his hammock to death while he dozed with his dog all because she thought she saw her husband canoodling with a blond mistress.
After Mulder and Scully visit the man who murdered his wife in an institution flitting between catatonic and screaming and the seemingly pleasant Dr Stroman, they discover that the murderer / victim had been recording hundreds of cable news shows. All the while a seemingly innocent cable company employee 'fixes' the telegraph poles outside the house. The great thing about this episode is that it all starts off simple enough with each killer a seemingly average American. But the tapes are the clue - recorded television signals that are messing with their brains (the man who killed his wife and the housewife who murdered her neighbour both see what looks like television static before they flip) - and the sinister nature of the episode is revealed.
The agents spend hours reviewing the recorded tapes, leading to an interesting debate on whether televised violence can be linked to real life crimes. Scully's argument that there is a causal causality versus Mulder's argument that sub science is used to support propaganda is an argument that was very prevalent in the 1990's. As to how successful that theme is here, is debateable. Particularly when the conspiracy of mind control and human experimentation is much more overt.
Scully is the prime example of this. Wetwired has great fun transforming the reasoned, scientific, controlled FBI agent into a paranoid mess. It starts with her crunching ice while she sits in the dark, reviewing the footage - there is something slightly off about her - but it first steps over the edge when she goes to the motel parking lot and sees Mulder sat in his car chatting and laughing with the Cigarette Smoking Man. It is a great moment because, like Scully, you can't quite believe it is happening. And she grows more erratic, questioning him about his actions the previous night, frantically searching for traces of cigarettes in the glove box and growing more and more frustrated as Mulder heads off with the device he discovers in telegraph pole to get it tested without her.
It all comes to a head when Mulder phones her and she demands to know where he has been. In a gripping scene, her paranoia completely sets in and she hears a signal that leads her to start trashing her motel room in search of a surveillance device; phones, lamps, tables, pictures and plug sockets, nothing is left unturned. And when Mulder turns up her violent transformatiom is shocking, shooting her gun through the door, almost killing him and running off into the night.
Making the case a personal one was an interesting move; The X Files always works well when Mulder and Scully's lives are at stake and this time she is the one under threat as Skinner is forced to arrange a manhunt for her capture. You can feel the tension as Mulder is called to identify what might be her nude body, shot in the forehead and found abandoned off a highway; and the relief when he realises it is not her. The showdown between the two agents at her mother Margaret's home is thrilling too. Scully has been forced to shoot him before but she always had his best interests at heart but here there is a good chance she will succumb to paranoia and shoot him in the head. Only the love of her mother saves her, stepping between them and convincing her to stand down, allowing for her to receive the medial treatment that frees her from her delusions.
Mulder meanwhile discovers he was immune to the signal on the tapes because of his colour blindness, a fact he discovers when he gets the Lone Gunmen to help him test the device he uncovered. Its effects, stimulating the brain, creating subliminal messages to produce psychotropic effects is very creepy. It turns people's fears against them - the housewife's fear that her husband would cheat on her, Scully's fear that Mulder would betray her. Chilling stuff indeed and one of the nastiest elements of the wider conspiracy arc.
The fact that the Cigarette Smoking Man plays a hand in the twisted experiment adds another dimension to the episode, one that is neatly wrapped up as Mr X bursts in on the key players - Doctor Stroman and the cable company employee - and executes them while Mulder spies on the events taking place. There are plenty of great reveals towards the episode's end; Mr X sent the informant to aid Mulder, a man he in turn executes to keep his own cover. Yes, Mr X works directly for the Cigarette Smoking Man; we knew before then that he had connections but this places him at the centre of events.
Unfortunately for Mulder, by choosing to save Scully he sacrificed the one thing Mr X was trying to give him - the truth. It is a theme we have seen before and one that puts Mulder and his informant to blows. "The truth is, you need me Agent Mulder." Mr X growls as Mulder rants about the clean-up taking place. It is a conflict that will come to a head in the next couple of episodes and shows just how different (and aggressive) he is compared to Deep Throat.
Wetwired is a great episode that examines the themes of violence on television, mind control and government conspiracies. At the centre of it is a great performance from Gillian Anderson who play's Scully's descent into paranoia and aggression fantastically, delivering a side to the FBI agent we haven't seen before. Added in the revelations about Mr X and some sinister moments and it emerges as one of the strongest, non-comic, single episodes of the third season.