The X Files Revisited: 9.06 Trust No 1
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The X Files ran for nine seasons between 1993 and 2002, spanned two movies and then came back from the dead in 2016 for a revival series of 6 episodes. In many ways, the show is as much a cultural phenomenon as it ever was and The Digital Fix has been looking back at key episodes across the show’s run starting with the pilot episode, reviewing numerous classic stories and the first movie The X Files: Fight The Future. Now we're in the final stretch of our revisited as we cover the last season of the original run, the second movie and look back at 'season 10' a year on and we return to the show's current season nine mythology - the super soldiers...
Season nine of The X Files aired in the wake of the tragic 911 terrorist attacks, which made the world a slighter darker, more paranoid place. It's that paranoia that has generated a huge amount of discussion about surveillance, security and human rights; is it okay to examine personal emails of the populace if it identifies and prevents another terrorist attack? Or is that a huge invasion of personal privacy?
Monitoring and surveillance of the general populace is not a new theme in the show, but it takes on a more dangerous presence in Trust No 1, an episode filled with a huge amount of paranoia as Scully finds every aspect of her life under detailed scrutiny. In the wake of 911 (it aired in the US just four months later) it shows a chilling new reality but it still feels utterly relevant today. In fact in the years following 911, this theme has been the focus of fiction as much as reality, with shows like the excellent Person Of Interest built on the idea of secret government programs studying the lives of everyday people to detect acts of terror. This episode proved that The X Files could still be ahead of the curve when cames to its influence on television; Trust No 1 might seem hokey if it took place in seasons one or two, but in season nine - and indeed on re-watch - it's is a daring piece of drama at times.
Of course, it is all tied up in the themes that have dragged season nine down. Mulder's disappearance for 'reason's, the very quickly tired super soldier plot and a focus on Scully and William when it should have been the Doggett and Reyes era of The X Files. Perhaps if Gillian Anderson had been a recurring character it would have worked even better, but her presence in every episode undermines where The X Files is going, making it both forward looking and backward looking at the same time. When the biggest hope for the episode's end is that the old series lead might return, what does it say about the show's confidence in new series leads Doggett and Reyes?
But accepting those frustrations, Trust No 1 emerges as one of the strongest episodes of the season, particularly the best mythology episode (though that isn't difficult). That deep set paranoia is established in the replacement of the title sequence main phrase with "They're Watching" and the flash of Scully under surveillance at a train station platform - something that will reoccur throughout the episode in the lead up to the dramatic shoot out.
After a couple of episodes of Doggett and Reyes solving X Files (or at least stumbling into something strange), the focus is right back on Scully and William and Trust No 1 tries to deal with the best of a bad situation. At least it gives Gillian Anderson something to do finally, even if Scully is still largely a secretive, worried mother alienating her friends (I very much dislike the tempestuous relationship between her and Doggett this year after all the great foundation last season).
It begins with one of The X Files classic opening monologues as Scully talks to William about the love she found for Mulder, but this one is not pretentious or out of place; the beautiful use of Tchaikovsky's Bacarolle on piano, combined with the shots of eight years of Mulder and Scully make it a surprisingly emotive pre-title sequence that carries the episode through to it the dramatic end. As we follow her to the internet cafe where she contacts Mulder and we see the email beginning 'dearest Dana, that loss, that love and shared history is keenly felt and Anderson delivers a great performance without muttering a word. Their separation is still frustrating but the episode uses their relationship to great effect here. You can feel Duchovny's Mulder just out of sight and it doesn't quite feel like the frustrating shadow of the former series that Nothing Important Happened Today made it out to be.
Catching a glimpse of Allison Smith's downtrodden mother Patti arguing with her husband over their child, Scully is quickly drawn into the obvious trap. Inviting Patti into her home she quickly puts herself and William at risk as Doggett and Reyes uncover that her husband is actually a secret government operative with ties to a shadowy man claiming to have answers he will deliver to Mulder. When Patti and her husband are confronted, the agents soon learn that he is an NSA agent and their child may be the same offspring of the super solider genetic program as William. It certainly gives Scully some momentum to find the truth as she goes off alone to meet this shadowy informant, even if Reyes does rightly point out that this could be a trap for Mulder.
That man, it turns out is played Terry O'Quinn, a regular player in The X Files Universe; his character here is the third role on the show, having last played FBI special agent Michau blown up in the first movie The X Files: Fight The Future. He of course also played Peter Watts in Millennium. As far as I am aware, there is no connection between these four roles.
O'Quinn's character (and boss of the NSA agent baiting Scully) has been watching her every move and there is something rather sinister at his ability to know every aspect of Scully's life. When she accuses him of trespassing, he uses it as justification to stop threats to the US and in the raw wake of 911 that was surely something audience's keenly felt. But she agrees to go as the bait of a list of every super soldier might bring Mulder back to help destroy this threat. In a rather suspenseful sequence, she is given instructions to drive one car erratically through the streets of Washington DC, switching to another vehicle in an alley and driving out into the desert. It plays like a tense, psychological thriller and it drips with paranoia, particularly when she encounters O'Quinn's character and is forced to change clothing before he remotely drives her car into the distance and blows it up.
O'Quinn's is genuinely likeable in the roles he plays but this character is chilling. Scully's secrets are completely exposed, including his casual mention of his surprise at the night she let Mulder into bed. How does he know and is this an echoing of the fandom? I'm not quite sure but it suggests Scully and Mulder were watched for quite some time. Yes it doesn't make too much sense but the ambiguity of his actions plays well.
The paranoia on paranoia continues as Doggett questions why the informant doesn't go to Mulder himself. Is this couple real or are they double bluffing him, Reyes and Scully to lure Mulder out into the open? Scully continuingly (frustratingly so) remains dismissive and agrees to go the pre-arranged return at a remote train station at midnight - the very place we have seen monitored on the security cameras throughout the episode. The episode dangles the return of Mulder before the audience as if to offer the chance for The X Files to be redeemed. The tragedy of course is that it SHOULD BE DOGGETT AND REYES SHOW but they are not allowed to take up the mantle fully.
The scene at the station is very tense, with Mark Snow particularly capturing that sense of unease and paranoia in the score. While Reyes waits protectively in the shadows the clock ticks closer to midnight and you can feel these characters holding their breath as the train starts to pull closer to the platform. And then the NSA husband pulls gun, screaming at Scully as O'Quinn's shadowy man appears and shoots him down dead; Scully only survives by the timely arrival of Reyes knocking her to the ground. Doggett shoots the shadowy man and he falls in front of train as it keeps going as Scully screams Mulder's name. It quickly becomes clear that the shadowy man is a super solider.
It should all be so obvious but the allegiances and secrets keep the momentum of the episode going. There is no sign of O'Quinn's character on the tracks and the reports of a man jumping off the train - Mulder - set the stage for a dramatic showdown in a quarry. There is no David Duchovny but his body double seen running in the distance by Doggett fills the role of Mulder just tantalisingly out of reach. Scully meanwhile is confronted by the super solider who set the whole thing up to trap Mulder and is saved by the miraculous death of O'Quinn's character as his skin turns to metal, his limbs contract and he is flung towards the exposed red rock on the quarry wall. It is a cool death and a great turning point in the story as the heroes learn that the relentless super soldiers can be killed. The reds rocks are a nice throw back to the red quarry in season two's Anasazi, something that would be expanded on in the season nine finale The Truth.
Trust No 1 ends with the possibility that Fox Mulder might be dead at the hands of the super soldiers. But there is still hope too as Scully returns to the internet cafe, emailing Mulder, William at her side. It would have been a huge anticlimax if this was the end of his story but I suspect that if The X Files had continued on past season nine, this is where his ambiguous fate would have been left.
The show's mythology was truly worn out at this point in the show's history but Trust No 1 was a bit of a bright spark in a frustrating and tired story arc. For the first time in my 'The X Files Revisited' I will be skipping the next mythology story, two part Provenance / Providence in favour of some more interesting Doggett / Reyes cases. The kidnapping of William and the proclamations of Mulder as some kind of god by a UFO cult fail to progress the story and are incredibly frustrating in light of Scully giving up her baby a few episodes later. But we'll come to William soon enough...