The X Files Revisited: 6.09 S.R. 819
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 the next episode sees Skinner facing certain death in this season six thriller...
Skinner-centric episodes of The X Files always made for solid viewing; as the 'third regular character' these stories were the chance for the audience to get to understand Mulder and Scully's boss a little better. Season three's Avatar saw the agents attempting to clear his name when he was accused of murder, while in season four's Zero Sum Skinner was forced to work for the Cigarette Smoking Man in exchange for the potential cure to Scully's cancer. S.R.819 is perhaps not as good as those two entries but it still another one of the show's strong conspiracy thrillers, established with an exciting pre-title sequence that sees Skinner admitted to hospital and pronounced dead.
After receiving a heavy blow during a boxing match, Skinner receives a computerized message on his phone; he has just 24 hours to live. Already starting to feel the effects of the 'poison' he turns to the two agents he can trust most. With Mulder and Scully reassigned to Kersh and off the X Files, Skinner's role had been largely reduced so it was great to see him reconnect with the two agents and see just how close they have all come over the years. There is no question from Mulder or Scully about dropping everything to save him.
Mulder helps Skinner find the man he encountered in the hallway of the FBI - a man who could have potentially infected him - using all his passion to find the answers Skinner so desperately needs. And for Scully, it is great to see her engaged on scientific research, using her medical training to identify the infection in her former boss's blood. It's an example of Mulder and Scully at their very best.
There is a lovely scene when he is near death that a remorseful Skinner laments that he should have been more of an ally to Mulder and Scully, that their quest should have been his. Scully's "You've been our ally more times then I can say." is a very bittersweet moment between her and Skinner; it's a shame that after his miraculous recovery at the end he starts to step back once more for fear of destroying his own career.
Mulder's own investigation offers some surprises, not least the return of Raymond J. Barry as Senator Richard Matheson. A quasi replacement for season one informant Deep Throat, he actually only made two appearances previously as an ally to Mulder in his search for the truth but here is almost a villain. The search for the men responsible for Skinner's poisoning lead Mulder to a Dr. Kenneth Orgel (John Towey) and Matheson and their work on S.R. 819, a Senate resolution supplying money and medical supplies to the World Health Organization. But being The X Files, S.R. 819 is something far more sinister and Skinner, leading a security check into the 'project', has put him in clear sight of his killers.
There are some great chase sequences on Orgel's home and a parking lot as Mulder faces mysterious killers and government officials ready to prevent the truth from escaping. Mark Snow's cinematic version of The X Files Theme from the recent movie The X Files: Fight The Future makes a dramatic return too, though the events of this episode don't quite stand up to bigger moments of the film.
I think where S.R. 819 falls down is that it's biggest twists feel obvious rather than shocking. Perhaps I've watched far too much TV but I guessed that it was nanobots killing Skinner rather than a virus. And it's probably hard to be objective having previously watched the entire series, but it never feels as if this is Skinner's last episode. The scene with Scully where he talks of his regrets attempts to be a coda on his time on the show but once we know nanotechnology is controlling him it feels obvious that he could be 'rebooted' at any time. And if the final scene revealing that it was - SHOCK! - Krycek controlling Skinner was supposed to be a jaw dropping moment, it fails. Despite a large coat, scraggly long hair and beard I recognised Nicholas Lea's disguise the first time he appeared in the episode.
But despite this, it is good episode and a nice return of sorts to the wider mythology. Krycek's manipulation of Skinner will be a major part of their relationship for the remainder of the show's run and is a nice set up for upcoming events. It's also good to see what Mulder and Scully do best, without trying to dodge their regular roles doing background checks for the FBI. S.R. 819 is another solid entry in another consistently strong season that continues to find fresh ways to keep the show's premise without actually having the X Files in play. Having Skinner and Krycek, two of the show's best recurring characters, at the forefront is reason enough to make this episode worthwhile viewing...