The X Files Revisited: 5.13 Patient X, 5.14 The Red And The Black
The X Files ran for nine seasons and two movies, charting the efforts of Agents Mulder and Scully in their search for the unexplained. And then in 2016, it returned for six new episodes, a mix of mythology and case of the week stories that brought Mulder and Scully back the FBI. From the brilliant Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster to the frantic mythology cliff-hanger in My Struggle II, it was largely viewed as a success and there are hopes that season 10 is just the first of more. In the lead up to the revival, The Digital Fix reviewed the best and most significant episodes of the first 100 episodes in the season's run, from the pilot episode all the way through to the 100th episode Unusual Suspects. Now we're going to continue that run, picking key episodes from the second half of the show - and two movies – and this time it is the thrilling mythology two-parter from late in season five...
Contrary to popular belief, The X Files did actually wrap up the majority of its ongoing mythology; the trouble it had was that it brought in new elements late in the game and was dragged on into the 2016 revival with a fresh coat of paint. Patient X and The Red And The Black came late in season five, with the first movie looming and in many ways served as the first step in the end game to what it had been building to for the last half of a decade. A lot of elements are introduced here, Cassandra and Jeffrey Spender, the rogue aliens and the culmination of the shadowy consortium's master plan, all of which would we wrapped up in style just a year later in season six. And it makes this one of the boldest and most interesting mythology two-parters in the show's entire run.
It's scale is certainly evident from the get go; two boys in Kazakhstan discover their friends and family - all UFO followers - burned alive in their cars and one meets his grisly fate as he encounters a man with no face who proceeds to set him on fire. What follows are two similar incidents in the US, as people amassing for a group abduction are burned horribly alive. The first takes us all the way back to Skyland Mountain, the site of Scully's abduction at the hands of Duane Barry from way back in season two, while the second involves Scully herself in a dramatic cliffhanger.
What is really surprising about this story is the brevity of both episodes. We see more as an audience than ever before - more than Mulder and Scully - as a number of large plot points fall into place. Krycek makes his return for the first time since season four's Tunguska two-parter and with him the black oil. He's now working with the Russians and carries with him the promise of a cure against the black oil which is now firmly routed in the colonisation story line.
We quickly learn that the shadowy consortium has made a deal with aliens to keep themselves in power by offering up the human race. It is big and dastardly and the first mention of the unfolding events being 15 years too early firmly establishes the 2012 deadline that Mulder and Scully wouldn't actually discover until the season nine finale The Truth. It's unfortunate that the revival backtracked on so many of these ideas; in retrospect it makes them look like fools, buying into the revelation that a second alien race is causing a galactic civil war that is destabilizing their plans. But here we are presented with a tightly woven tale, with some surprise twists; Krycek and a returning Marita Covarrubias, first seen working together are revealed to be sleeping together and there is even an interesting connection between Marita and the Well Mannicured Man (a returning John Neville).
It is also a story that returns to the idea that Mulder no longer believes in aliens, even going as far as to attend a conference on UFOS to debunk the idea that UFOs and abductions from extraterrestrials are a hoax conjured up by an government conspiracy. It's a shame that this idea continues to feel out of place in what has otherwise been a very strong fifth season. He has just as enthusiastic as ever about witches, vampires and mythical moth men but when his panel try to talk about aliens he is quick to debunk them. I would have liked a bit more of this scattered through season five; Patient x comes eleven episodes after Redux and with that gap of half a season, his anti-alien beliefs are jarring and feel forced.
But we do learn more about his past and the doctor who treated him with hypnotic regression many years ago to discover what happened to his sister. And it is through Mulder's re connection with the doctor that he is introduced to Cassandra Spencer, a woman who has been abducted by aliens multiple times in the last thirty years and is keenly aware of this extraterrestrial civil war brewing. Veronica Cartwright makes a great impression as the wheelchair bound woman who has suffered through so much and yet is equally joyous about the through of being abducted again. Most interestingly though it is not Mulder she bonds with, but Scully who begins to connect with her other their share abduction experiences.
One of the most intriguing aspects of season five is how connected to the mythology Scully has become, arguably more so than Mulder. Her cancer, the discovery and death of Emily and here being drawn to an abduction site, she is the one that goes as far as to tell Mulder he should listen to what Cassandra has to say. She is the believer and that becomes very apparent when she goes to the abduction site at the bridge at the end of the episode and witnesses UFOs, aliens and the abduction of Cassandra.
After the horrors in Kazakhstan and Skyland Mountain, it is a very dramatic cliffhanger, one you wonder just how she will survive. The concluding Red And The Black takes its time to deliver the answers; it is not until she undergoes regression hypnotherapy that she and the audience witness what actually happened at the bridge and just how she was able to survive with minor burns and lead a group of survivors to safety. You have to take the therapy session with a large pinch of salt - it is 'TV hypnotherapy' after all - but what she relieves is terrific stuff. People being surrounded and burned alive, the UFO returning and firing lights at rebels, Cassandra being abducted, it is vivid and exciting moment. The fact that Mulder doesn't believe it was aliens. more a staged government craft test or cover up seems disrespectful, even to Scully that it feels like he has taken on her role to the extreme (she certainly never came across as this dismissive of his beliefs).
At least he gets back on the path towards the end of the episode as he teams up with his old buddy Krycek to free one of the alien rebels before the consortium can give up the enemy in exchange for their own continued power. It's the culmination of a lot of beg events; Marita is infected with the black oil and the 'cure' Krycek offers fails - with it the hope of resistance against the coming colonisation too. The desperation in Neville's Well Mannicured Man as he races to save Marita from the infection shows another sympathetic facet to his character, particularly as he leads the idea to side with the rebels. I would have liked the show to have delved deeper into his history but what we get makes him as memorable as the Cigarette Smoking Man (more on his shortly).
The irony of Krycek putting Mulder back onto the path of believing in aliens is brilliantly played and the final showdown brings him closer than ever as gets caught up with the abduction by Brian Thompson's returning alien shape shifting bounty hunter and a daring rescue by other alien rebels. As always, he fails to remember exactly what occurs but there is a sense from this moment that he no longer believes it is all a lie.
Patient X an The Red And The Black are very much transitional episodes in the show's mythology. A very underused Marita Covarrubias is infected and pretty much written out of the show (though she would have a couple of more appearances), failing to make her a worthy successor to Deep Throat or Mr X. The aliens rebels signal the end game of a key chunk of the on-going story line and we get new pivotal characters in Cassandra (she would return next season) and her son FBI Special Agent Jeffrey Spender. Chris Owens had previously played a younger version of the Cigarette Smoking Man in season four's Musings Of A Cigarette-Smoking Man and that casting would be pivotal in the episodes to come. While he doesn't make a big impact in these two episodes - his sole purpose is to protect his mother from Mulder and Scully - he will become a key player.
And of course, we have the first of three returns from the dead from the Cigarette Smoking Man, proving that you can't keep a good villain down. It is the best of William B. Davis's returns and he is nicely set up for the season five finale and the upcoming movie.
There is a lot going on in this two parter - it certainly isn't one for the casual viewer - but it is a key mythology story and sets up plenty of new, intriguing plots while finally offering answers, even if not for Mulder and Scully. There are some great callbacks to early episodes too. The only frustration is that despite having a season to build to the movie (it was filmed between seasons four and five), everything that occurs here is barely mentioned in that big screen adventure. But it would all pay off in season six, even if there were still more seasons to come after that...