The X Files Revisited: 4.08 Tunguska, 4.09 Terma
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. In our last revisited of 2015, we delve into the first mythology two-parter of season four...
After some stellar mythology stories in season two and the first half of season three, the second half of the previous year showed signs of strain. The introduction of the black oil and the killer bees continued to expand the ongoing story arc of colonisation but it wasn't as tightly focused as stories like Colony / End Game, Anasazi and Nisei / 731. Audiences were teased with more clues but there were already signs that Chris Carter and his team of writers weren't quite sure where it was all going. Fortunately Tunguska / Terma pulls it back with a tightly-paced tale that refocuses on the black oil and sees Mulder and Scully pushed to their limits.
Tunguska starts in epic fashion with Scully facing a tribunal, ranting about a culture of lawlessness and a conspiracy within the government. She sounds entirely like Mulder and this story sees her go as close to his ideologies than ever before. Mulder himself is missing and as she refuses to answer regarding his whereabouts, stating that to do so would put him in danger, the stage is set for an intriguing mystery that fortunately pays off.
The episode then picks up 10 days earlier as a diplomat travelling from Japan is apprehended by security who accidentally unleash a biohazardous material; the black oil. With this deadly threat back in play the episode continues apace as Mulder and Scully take part in a raid on a group of domestic terrorists, discovering much to their - and our surprise - that the driver is none other than Alex Krycek! Last seen possessed by the black oil in season three's Apocrypha, here he plays a much more dangerous character, playing everyone off against each other. After his role in the death of Bill Mulder and Melissa Scully, and his own part in Agent Scully's abduction, he is someone they both despise but realise they need in order to take down an even bigger villain; the Cigarette Smoking Man.
And so we see both agents working on the fringes of the law, following Krycek's lead to Dullies airport where they pursue a second diplomat and a pouch containing what is later found to be a piece of meteor, carrying the deadly black oil. This story cleverly weaves a number of ongoing plot threads together that, like the Japanese scientists in 731 makes the conspiracy a global affair. Learning of the incident in Honololou, Mulder realise the scale of the cover up to prevent the public from learning the existance of aliens.
And so like many of the big arc episodes, Mulder and Scully take two distinct paths. After an amusing scene where Skinner keeps Krycek handcuffed to his balcony (leading to an incident with a trained killer falling to his death while trying to capture the duplicitous former FBI agent and spy) Mulder and Krycek head off to Tunguska in Russia to uncover the truth - thanks to some handy diplomatic passports courtesy of a returning Marita Covarrubias.
There they find a secret complex in a remote forest protected by barbed wire and prisoners whipped as they dig for what we can only assume is more of the meteoroid rock. In a rather dramatic turn of events the two spies become the hunted, pursued by horsemen and captured. We have seen Mulder in pretty dangerous situations before but here in the wilderness, without the protection of the FBI or even the US government, this episode sees Mulder trapped in a prison without hope and about to be subjected to something more horrific than he could have ever imagined.
Scully meanwhile gets closer to the truth of the black oil when the exobiologist the agents hire to investigate the rock drills too deep and becomes infected. Together with a returning Agent Pendrell they study the infected scientist before she is brought before the senator seen questioning her in the opening. Together with Skinner we see just how suddenly their careers have been put in stake. The dead man seen falling from Skinner's apartment, the stolen diplomatic pouch, Mulder being AWOL; it becomes as personal as it does about uncovering the truth.
But is the cliffhanger that really makes this episode; Mulder, trapped in the Russian prison is strapped into a chicken wire cage full of prisoners. We can only watch in horror as black oil pours out of the pipe above his face as he screams helplessly; it truly is one of The X Files's best cliff-hangers.
And with such a great setup, Terma does not falter. The stakes continue to raise as Scully is brought before the tribunal just as her experiments on the infected exobiologist start to reveal the truth of the black oil is; an alien life form. Raging in a very Mulder-like way that there is a larger conspiracy at play she finds herself imprisoned for contempt with even Skinner unable to save her as he faces his own suspicion.
The scope also widens as the episode opens on an elderly lady in a convalescent home is pumped full of what we assume is alien green liquid and black oil pours from her face. And in St Petersberg an old former KBG agent Peskov is called into action, travelling to the US, murdering the infected biologist and a virologist working for the World Health Organisation who just also happens to be the personal physician of the Well Manicured Man.
Yes, John Neville's shadowy figure is back and in conflict with the Cigarette Smoking Man once more as we learn that their consortium is working on an inoculation to the black oil, or black cancer as the Russians call it. The cold war is certainly not over as nations battle each other as the continuing threat of colonisation rears its head. It is thrilling, intriguing stuff that layers on the show's mythology in a well paced manner while giving audiences just enough answers to stop them from feeling frustrated.
As for Mulder, he continues to go through the ringer; suffering from the effects of being experimented on with the black clancer, he makes a daring escape, taking Krycek with him. After another thrilling chase sequence through the forests of Tunguska they become separated and take very different path. Mulder finds himself rescued by locals who help him flee Russia and return to the US, while Krycek finds a different band of locals, terrified of the experiments at the facility. We learn the chilling reason they all have their left arms cut off at the elbow; it stops them from becoming subjects of the experiments and in a rather horrific moment they decide to 'save Krycek' by waking him in the middle of the night and cutting off his arm. It is just as nasty as the ending of Apocrypha in season three.
The episode keeps up the pace as Scully faces the tribunal once more and Mulder makes his momentous return. Tracking the actions of Peskov and the conspiracy to the home in Florida, the two agents race against time to stop the Russian, finding everyone in the home dead and then tracking a truck containing a device designed to unleash the black oil to the Canadian border.
Given how big the events at play have been, the climatic ending is a little small in scale but no less thrilling. Mulder finds the track abandoned next to an oil well, which explodes, showing him in the black cancer, though the effects do not seem to last. Scully encounters Peskov, the Russian taking her by surprise and escaping with her gun, but she survives the encounter to drag Mulder away to safety.
And while there are many answers still to give, Terma wraps up the story begun in Tunguska as Krycek is held responsible for the death of the man in Skinner's apartment and all the evidence of extraterrestrial life (something Scully firmly believes in at this point) is lost. Unable to prove the wider conspiracy at play and the Russian attempt to bring a biohazardous material onto US soil, the hearing is put on hold indefinitely. As for Krycek, we see him, sans arm, waiting at Peskov's home in St Petersberg, ready to congratulate him on a job well done...
Looking back, I forgot how good this two-part story was. It is not quite as good as season three's Nisei / 731, but its fast paced, global scale, blend of drama, humour and horror and the ability to give answers while still teasing bigger things to come make it a successful entry in season four of The X Files.
We'll be taking a short break with these reviews until 2016. We'll pick up with other key episodes from season four and beyond and eagerly look forward to reviewing the new season when it airs on Channel Five next year!