The X Files Revisited: 6.11 Two Fathers, 6.12 One Son
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 season six two-parter delivered all the answers fans were hoping for...
There is a common misconception that the long-running mythology of The X Files never went anywhere, answers were never really given and Chris Carter was making it all up as he went along. I would challenge that whole heartedly by presenting the dramatic mid season six two-parter Two Fathers / One Son, which beautifully wrapped up about 90% of the show's mythology in one fell swoop. The trouble with The X Files was that it wasn't brave enough to end there and it was the desperate attempt to jump start the mythology over the remaining three and a half years (and then again in the season 10 revival) that ultimately became the show's undoing.
The end game - colonisation of the earth and the shadowy consortium's alliance with aliens - really started to come to a head in the season five two-parter Patient X / The Red And The Black, a mere seven episodes before the upcoming movie The X Files: Fight The Future. It saw the return of the Cigarette Smoking Man and Alex Krycek, two key players in the show's mythology and the introduction of Cassandra and Jeffrey Spender, late additions who were another final piece in the puzzle that was the colonisation arc. This two-parter is very much a sequel to that and the mythology stories in between (The End, the movie and The Beginning). As the story begins, Mulder and Scully are still off the X Files, replaced by Jeffrey Spender (Chris Owens) and Diana Fowely (Mimi Rogers) and the abducted Cassandra Spender (Veronica Cartwright) is returned. What follows are some of the most dramatic events the show has ever presented.
Two Fathers is the slower of the two episodes, framed by the Smoking Man recounting the events that led to this story to an unknown character.
"This is the end. I never thought I'd hear myself say those words after all these years. You put your life into something... build it, protect it... The end is as unimaginable as your own death or the death of your children. I could never have scripted the events that led us to this. None of us could. All the brilliant men... the secret that we kept so well. It happened simply, like this. We had a perfect conspiracy with an alien race. Aliens who were coming to reclaim this planet and to destroy all human life. Our job was to secretly prepare the way for their invasion. To create for them a slave race of human/alien hybrids. They were good plans... right plans. Kept secret for over 50 years, ever since the crash at Roswell. Kept secret from men like Fox Mulder. Plans that would have worked had not a rebel alien race come to destroy them. Had not my own son chosen betrayal. Or chosen to betray more wisely."
It's a forbidding speech to kick-start the episode but that calamitous finality in his words is reflected heavily in this story. We quickly learn that Cassandra is the end result of twenty-five years of experimentation, the first true alien / human hybrid that the Cigarette Smoking Man and his shadowy consortium have been working to create. But the success of their work has put the world on a ticking time clock; she will lead to the colonisation of humanity into hybrids and the faceless alien rebels who turned up last season are here to derail everything. It is perhaps the apocalyptic storyline the film should have gone with (imagine this story on a big movie budget and it could have been truly magnificent, if confusing for the average audience member).
The faceless rebels are particularly gruesome this episode. The scene where they attack one of the Cigarette Smoking Man's cohorts (played by George Murdock) is nasty; ripping off the face before he is burned alive. He infiltrates the shadowy consortium as they make a decision that will destroy them for good; to give up Cassandra and accept that colonisation is happening, even with the possibility of the vaccine to the alien black oil.
It is refreshing to have so many things clearly laid out after years of teasing. Mulder too seem to get the answers from Cassandra as he and Scully visit her at the hospital. His sister Samantha that Mulder encountered in season five opener Redux wasn't real; she is still 'out there' the subject of the great alien / human hybrid experimentation. But the aliens she previously claimed to be good are actually here to wipe humanity off the planet using the black substance purity and only the faceless rebels can save everyone. She also confirms what we have long suspected - she is the ex wife of the Cigarette Smoking Man as well as Jeffrey's father and he finally has a name (of sorts); CGB Spender. The revelations come thick and fast over these two episodes.
It is also an episode puts Jeffrey Spender and Diana Fowley at the forefront and this is perhaps where the story falters a little. Chris Owens may have had more screen time than Mimi Rogers but there is little to him that we know besides the identity of his parents. He faces a crisis of conscience in Two Fathers that leads him to his act of defiance in the concluding episode but not enough has been done to build him up as a character to really make the audience care.
The same goes for Fowley. The shocking reveal that she is the one listening to the Cigarette Smoking Man's monologues should have been one hell of a twist, particularly when she so readily agrees to help him. (It's an issue we saw again with the treatment of Reyes in the recent revival). While One Son continues to play up the idea that she could be the alternate love of Mulder's life, she never came off as engaging or likeable enough to make that storyline work, despite the best efforts of Rogers. Perhaps if we had been given an episode featuring Spender and Fowley investigating the X Files during the first half of the season we might have come to like, or at least understand them more. Sadly, like the X Files, they been virtually discarded for months, only brought back in when the story demands it.
Still despite this lack of foundation, the two parter is by far the strongest storyline for Jeffrey Spender. With Mulder and Scully suspended from the FBI after their search for the truth into Spender and his father fails, he becomes deeply ensnared in the machinations of the Cigarette Smoking Man's greater plan as he is sent to kill the rebel disguised within their ranks. Spender's pairing with Krycek is a surprisingly entertaining one and the truth about his mother, aliens and colonisation comes crashing down on him when he encounters the faceless alien, leading to a last minute change of heart to protagonist.
As for the real heroes, this is also the episode Mulder and Scully finally clue their former boss Skinner in exactly what is going on. Again, moments like this really makes this story feel like the end game for the show. The cliffhanger to Two Fathers is a little flat as Cassandra bursts into Mulder's apartment and begs him to kill but the concluding One Son really kicks things up a level.
While the first part was framed by the Cigarette Smoking Man's speech to Fowley, the latter is framed by the 25-year old flashbacks that saw the shadowy consortium make a deal with the aliens in a military airbase by giving up their families, including Cassandra. The makeup and effects are rather good in recreating a younger Smoking Man, Cassandra, other members of the consortium and Mulder's own father Bill (in a welcome return by Peter Donat).
Fowley makes herself known immediately, bringing in the CDC in hazmat suits to abduct Cassandra from Mulder's apartment. The episode certainly fails to paint her in a sympathetic light and makes Mulder's assertions that she is not a villain seem a little foolish. While Scully came across as oddly jealous of Fowley during her first appearance, here her overt hostility serves her well as she works with the Lone Gunmen to discover what she was really doing in the years since she helped Mulder discover the X Files. Collating data on female abductees it seems, making this ever so personal for Scully.
But there is plenty to get too before that little revelation. Mulder finds Marita Covarrubias wandering a military facility, the subject of terrible tests at hands of consortium to test the effects of cure she was given last season. It is a rather bleak, brutal path for her, though not a fatal one unlike Mulder's previous two informants. But it is his encounter with the Cigarette Smoking Man as he sneaks into Folwey's apartment that is the most revelatory.
When faced with Mulder holding a gun to his face he does the one thing he has never really done before; he tells Mulder the truth. He forestalled alien invasion by agreeing to cooperate and it was Mulder's father that risked everything, he didn't give up Samantha willingly, she was abducted because he wouldn't cooperate. And so while Cassandra was repeatedly abducted and experimented on, the alien embryo they were given - the very one Scully stole for Deep Throat in the season one finale The Erlenmeyer Flask - was used to forge the vaccine to fight what was coming. A plan forged by Bill Mulder himself.
The episode titles are very apt. Two fathers - CGB Spender and Bill Mulder - helped 'fight the future' and one son carries on that quest; Mulder the hero survives while wannabe good guy Jeffrey Spender does not. It's the last piece in a puzzle and the callbacks to earlier mythology greats are prevalent throughout - from the alien embryo to abductee experimentation in box cars first witnessed in season three's stunning Nisei / 731; intentional or not, it feels as if Chris Carter has just carried off a well-orchestrated plan from start to finish.
Most interesting though are the paths both 'sons' take. Spender rushes to save his mother but his father has already taken her (their bitter scene is beautifully played between Cartwright and William B. Davis). While Mulder waits for Fowley, determined to save her and Scully from the dreadful fate awaiting humanity. Against such overwhelming odds, neither is able to save Earth. It is the faceless alien rebels that ultimately undo the plans for colonisation. The shocking scene where the consortium, their families and Cassandra are burned alive (while Fowley rescues the Cigarette Smoking Man from the same dreadful fate) is a definite closing chapter in the long-running series arc.
Mulder's potential 'love' vanishes into the wind while Krycek is reunited with Marita as the world is about to go to hell. There are certainly loose ends, though Spender ends up not being one of them. After he tells Kersh and Skinner to put Mulder and Scully back on the X Files he comes face face with his father one last time and is shot dead for his betrayal (or so we are led to presume at this point).
No mythology two-parter would ever quite reach the heights of Two Fathers / One Son or arguably be as interesting as what had come before. Only Samantha's fate hung as the big missing thread and that would be wrapped up next season. But here's a thought; did it need to be? We knew her fate, to be a pawn and experimentee in the plans for human colonisation. If you considered that Mulder got those answers here, what was left for him to learn?
Here's an even bolder question; should The X Files have ended with season six? Arguably so. It was the last great season and while there would still be some strong episodes to follow, that classic feel ended with the destruction of the shadowy consortium and the end of the colonisation arc. Chris Carter had the opportunity to use the last ten episodes to wrap everything up; the season finale could have easily revealed the fates of Krycek, the Cigarette Smoking Man, Fowley and of course Mulder and Scully themselves. There was little left in the wider mythology to tell and so the show, in continuing for another three seasons (and now a shorter fourth) had to make up a new series arc to carry on the series and ultimately that led to a whimper and not a bang.
Had Two Fathers / One Son been the start of the show's final countdown, perhaps in the lead up to further movies, it might have kept The X Files up there as one of the consistently greatest TV shows of all time...