The X Files Revisited: 6.21 Field Trip
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 we near the end of season six with Mulder and Scully's deadly encounter with a giant mushroom in the mountains of Virginia...
I admit, I watched this episode with a small sense of trepidation, wondering if I was about to watch the last truly classic episode of The X Files. After a strong season six, the show was never as consistent or critically received in its final years. In fact many fans switched off before the end. And so while I knew that there were still some great moments to come, I also had the feeling that my great 'The X Files Revisited' re-watch was coming to the end of an era.
Field Trip is generally regarded as one of the best episodes of season six and with its multi-viewpoint storytelling, recapturing the look and feel of the show's early years, crossed with the experiences Mulder and Scully have shared over the six years, it definitely deserves its classic status. In a season filled with great episodes it isn't my favourite (and perhaps the acclaim for Field Trip raised my expectations too high) but it was still another very strong slice of everything I love about The X Files.
It has a very intriguing opening as a couple Angela and Wallace Schiff share a hallucination, lying down in bed after a hike, only to reveal that they have died, locked in each other's embrace, two skeletons lying in the grass. It is a powerful image that sets the scene for the rest of the episode and the threat to Mulder and Scully's lives when they encounter the same spores they did.
I loved the post credit scene in the FBI office as Mulder tries to hook Scully in with a case of a dead couple, whose skeletal remains were found just three days after their disappearance. Mulder's claims that the area is the site of UFO sightings and that the couple were part of something akin to cattle mutilations are immediately scoffed by Scully demanding why every unusual case needs to be considered the work of aliens or bigfoot. Her rationalisation for the swift decay of the bodies is a ritualistic murder that saw the couple's remains skeletonised in boiling water or acid and then arranged in a specific manner, to which he scoffs at her unwillingness to open up. It is a very well played throwback to their discussions in seasons one and two and Mulder's retort that he is usually 98.9% right is deftly played.
That classic feel continues as they arrive in Virginia and Mulder rushes off in search of answers while Scully analyses the skeletal remains, with the local coroner (played by Jim Beaver, best known as Bobby Singer in the true The X Files successor, Supernatural). From there, Field Trip really starts to have fun as the audience witnesses multiple version of what happened next.
Mulder arrives at the scene, his car running over mushrooms and releasing spores, unbeknownst to him. Venturing into the caves, he discovers the Schiffs still alive and the victims of alien abductions just as he expected. But it is when they start referring to their skeletal remains as akin to cattle mutilations - a repeat of Mulder's very words from earlier in the episode - that the strangeness of Field Trip is really apparent. Dripping yellow goo on the caves and bright lights from UFOs outside lead to a shocking encounter as Mulder makes contact with alien life.
Yes it should be obvious that this is all a hallucination as soon as Scully finds Mulder back in his apartment in Washington D.C., the missing couple of the sofa and a telepathic grey alien lurking in the shadows of his bedroom. The truth Mulder has been looking for would never be so easily found and soon enough the episode reveals that Mulder is trapped in the caves, encased in yellow goo and being slowly digested.
Scully's hallucination is just as fascinating; if Mulder's centres on the discovery of real alien life, then Scully's shows just how close she has come to Mulder and the shock of losing him would do to her (some nifty foreshadowing perhaps?) She arrives at the caves with the coroner in search of Mulder but is too late. Gillian Anderson plays the bubbling, repressed grief at discovering Mulder's skeleton and delivering her final report to Skinner incredibly well. But again the clues are there that she is also trapped and hallucinating as everyone, from Skinner to the Lone Gunmen, believe Mulder was the victim of a ritualistic murder, his body boiled in water or acid. She does what we all suspect she would in Mulder's absence; she latches on to his beliefs and fights the more rational explanation. Even the sudden return of Mulder with his own abduction isn't enough to quell her concerns that they are both trapped and in mortal danger.
Mulder breaking free from the ground after realising he is trapped with Scully is a great fake out. Despite appearing to suffer no burns or irritation from being slowly digested, the agents return safe and sound to deliver their report and that's when Field Trip delivers its biggest moment yet - they are still trapped! The slow realisation of dread in Mulder and Scully's eyes, Mulder turning on Skinner and shooting him three times in the chest, the yellow goo oozing from the wounds; it shockingly done and the reveal of the two agents still in the cave is rather gruesome. But that is what makes the episode so good; the bizarre idea of a gargantuan mushroom living under the ground, infecting its victims with spores to digest them and then regurgitating the bones, it is horrific and ridiculous and yet utterly works.
Of course the agents don't die. Skinner leads the charge as he always does to rescue Mulder and Scully, digging them out of the ground himself. They are weak and marked from the hours they spent inside the digestive tract of the giant mushroom but they are alive. They always are, despite falling victim to the cases they have been investigating before; remember the green insects cocooning Mulder and Scully in season one's chilling Darkness Falls?
Though I did end the episode with one question - didn't Jim Beaver's coroner enter the caves with Scully? In which case, did Skinner and the local officers dig out Mulder and Scully and then leave him to be eaten? It's the darker side of the FBI we haven't seen before...
Field Trip is one of the last great episodes of The X Files, coming near the end of what has been a rather strong season of the show. It harks back to the early days of Mulder's far-fetched tales of aliens and Scully's scientific skepticism and has great fun playing on three different hallucinogenic scenarios to keep the audience on their toes. Next up is the season six finale Biogenesis as the show's mythology tries to find its feet again...