The X Files Revisited: 4.01 Herrenvolk
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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. Herrenvolk is a bold, action-packed season four opener, featuring clones, bounty hunters and the debut of the killer bees...
As if making up for the less than thrilling season finale, the opening to season four is a much stronger beast - and the best season opener since the pilot - that introduces the killer bees, more clones and a plot that feels heavily influenced by The Terminator.
Herronvolk starts with a cable repair guy stung by a bee - yes, the next phase in the show's mythology is quickly introduced here - while five identical-looking boys watch him die. The clones look like something out of Children Of The Damned and add an air of mystery in the pre-titles sequence before the episode returns (after the ominous change in titles to 'Everything dies') to the cliff-hanger from last season's Talitha Cumi
The next several minutes are incredibly thrilling and really start the season with a bang, helping to make it the strongest opener since the pilot. The chase through the factory is pure The Terminator as Jeremiah Smith flees with Mulder in pursuit while the alien bounty hunter strides through the factory; Mulder stabbing the enemy in the back of the neck is only delay, revealed in the tense moment Scully reaches for the body and finds herself almost choked to death and used as bait to find Mulder and Jeremiah after they flee.
Unlike the finale, there is a grander scale to this episode; the First Elder and the Cigarette Smoking Man close in on their leak, setting a fatal trap for Mr X. Mulder encounters a colony of clones, some of which look like his sister Samantha when she was abducted. And Scully tries to bring evidence of secret cataloguing of Americans using smallpox vaccinations, even if her presentation falls on deaf ears. It is a mythology episode that starts to deliver more answers, while working to weave together all the strands - clones, alien bounty hunters, government conspiracies, killer bees and colonisation; in the fact the only thing absent is the mysterious black oil but that would be back in a few episodes' time.
For Mulder, finding the clones offers the not only offers the chance to find real evidence of alien life and a conspiracy at play but the truth about what happened to his sister. Unfortunately the bounty hunter continues to remain a credible threat throughout the episode, using Scully to track him to the colony in Alberta and a number of thrilling action sequences, that sees them hide out in a giant bee hive (anyone scared of bees, this would be your worst nightmare) and eventually tracks them down just as Mulder is about to bring Jeremiah and the clone of his sister in, not only to ensure his dying mother can be healed but so the truth can be revealed.
If the scene in the beehive is generally skin-crawling and the moment the bounty hunter attacks Mulder by ramming the car into the phone box he is using is another big moment right out of The Terminator. "Everything dies Brian Thompson's killer mocks Mulder before flinging him like a doll and closing in on the screaming Samantha clone in the backseat of Mulder's car. We don't see her death but it is clearly implied. Jeremiah Smith meanwhile flees in a panic (his fate left open) and with him Mulder loses his last chance to reveal the truth and save his mother. Like the stolen data tape from Anasazi another step in Mulder's quest is destroyed...
While Mulder continues a similar path to what we have found him before - losing the evidence before he can bring it in - at least the story he takes in Herrenvolk is both thrilling on an emotional and action packed level. Scully's is slightly less engaging as it feels like it is revisiting old themes; the cataloguing of humans with smallpox vaccinations. The tunnels of files in season three's Paper Clip were far more revolutionary than the Jeremiah Smiths cataloguing humans through their Social Security roles, though it does lead to the great moment Scully pulls a 'Mulder' in front of Skinner and the FBI board as she tries to convince them of the insane conspiracy at play.
Entering year four, Scully is far more invested and this is her chance to use scientific proof to reveal the truth. I liked her callback to her assignment in the pilot, using science to prove the extreme nature of the X Files, though like Mulder, the disappearance and murder of Jeremiah Smith and all his clones derails any further investigation.
The biggest shock of the episode though is the brutal murder of Mr X. Mulder's informant has never been friendly and indeed in recent episodes he has become outright hostile. We discovered he worked directly for The Cigarette Smoking Man in last season three episode Wetwired, an episode that seemed to destroy his alliance with Mulder so perhaps it should have been obvious his days were numbered. But his shooting as he tries to flee the trap set for him and his bloody crawl back to Mulder's apartment were still disturbing to watch.
For me Mr X never quite filled the void left by Deep Throat though he was an intriguing and often explosive dynamic in the show's second and third seasons and his death was a loss that was never quite replaced. Laurie Holden of The Walking Dead fame steps in as Marita Covarrubias by the episode's end but she never quite measured up to her predecessors.
The 'one month later' coda serves to draw to a close the story begun in Talitha Cumi, allowing the show continue in its current format. Mulder meets Marita Covarrubias at the United Nations after following the bloody clue Mr X left him with his last dying breath and learns that while the clone farm he encountered in Alberta is gone, not everything dies, suggesting that there is still hope for the search for his sister and the truth. Rather surprising is the revelation that the alien bounty hunter is working with The Cigarette Smoking Man. Healing Mulder's mother Teena prevents Mulder's grief turning his work into a crusade and for the first time a family member actually survives the dramatic events at play. Their discussion in the hospital also suggests that Mulder is integral to the larger conspiracy; just what that role is offers more intrigue for the show ahead.
Herrenvolk is a bold and dramatic season opener that reignites interest in the ever-unfolding mythology after the slightly disappointing season three finale. It draws many plot threads together successfully while delivering the shocking demise of a pivotal character. It's The X Files meets The Terminator with killer bees and even on rewatch it is a thrilling ride!