The X Files Revisited: 1.24 The Erlenmeyer Flask
The X Files ran for nine seasons and two movies, charting the efforts of Agents Mulder and Scully in their search for the unexplained. Now eight years after the second movie The X Files: I Want To Believe, the show is returning for six new episodes in 2016. Here at The Digital Fix, we are going to work our way through each season, reviewing some of the big episodes – and both movies – across the years in the build up to season ten. With 202 episodes, there is simply too much to cover every episode; instead we'll pick the story highlights of each year. This time we wrap up the first season with a dramatic finale that sets the series in a drastic new direction...
What are the great season cliffhangers? Sidney Bristow missing for two years at the end of Alias season two. "I Am Locutus Of Borg" at the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation's third year. The conclusion to The X Files's first season isn't quite on that level - that would come in season's two and four - but it is certainly a game changer. The X Files ends its debut year by closing down the X Files, essentially shutting down the entire premise. As cliffhangers go, that's pretty big.
But you wouldn't quite know that going into the season finale. The dramatic car chase in the pre-credits title sequence and the man that cannot be killed could be the opening to any monster of the week episode but that is part of the charm; the mystery builds slowly only to deliver some knock out punches in storytelling when you least expect them.
The first clue is in the end of the title sequence. 'Trust No One' appears instead of the usual 'The Truth Is Out There', a motto used by Deep Throat that will have great significance as the series progresses. Deep Throat's dogmatic approach to engaging Mulder on this case also suggests that not everything is as it seems. Naturally Scully is very sceptical, reminding Mulder that he has lied by his own admission in E.B.E and Deep Throat's last appearance in that episode continues to have ramifications throughout the finale.
Scully's suggestion that Deep Throat is playing a game with them because Mulder gets off on it really plays on his mind as their investigation into a missing doctor and monkey experimentation fails to yields results, that frustration really puts their shadowy relationship to the test. What is so fascinating at this point is that the audience and certainly Scully have no idea whether Deep Throat is an ally or villain and his eagerness to push them on the trail of the fugitive doctor comes across as highly suspicious. This is the episode where Jerry Hardin really started to let loose with his character and is sad that it would be his last as a recurring presence on the show.
Like many season one episodes, there are moments here that really set the scene for big things to come. The killer hunting down and killing the fugitive to cover up the truth feels similar to the alien bounty hunter that would recur on the show while the revelation that Mulder and Scully are dealing with alien-human hybrids is a major step forward in the show's mythology. The hybrid's blood, burning the eyes and skin of the paramedics and Mulder is something we would see again in the clone saga begun in season two. At the time all these elements would have been intriguing; in retrospect The Erlenmeyer Flask lays the foundation for much of the show's future mythology.
While Scully and a colleague Doctor Carpenter investigate a mysterious liquid found in the missing doctor's research lab, Deep Throat's assertion that Mulder had never been closer to the truth leads him to to Zeus storage and the discovery of five human-alien hybrids. I have mentioned in my season one reviews some of the big iconic images of the show and Mulder wandering through the warehouse between the bodies suspended and tubed in the large water tanks is one of those.
The mystery only grows as Scully and Carpenter realise the DNA in the sample may be extraterrestrial. It is a big episode for Scully as much as it is for Mulder. The evidence suggests that alien life might exist and she confides in Mulder that for the first time in her life she doesn't know what to believe.
Naturally the newfound evidence falls through their fingers before they can even use it. Like the loss of the evidence in the pilot episode, here Mulder and Scully find themselves unable to prove that the case is real. The storage facility is cleared and Carpenter meets with a horrific car accident as soon as she uncovers the truth. Deep Throat seeks to give them answers about human-alien experimentation but the stakes are raised higher than ever when Mulder is captured and Deep Throat is forced to go to Scully for help, something that makes for riveting television.
Putting Scully together with Deep Throat makes for an intriguing new dynamic, one that I wish the show had had time to explore further. They are openly hostile to each other, Scully for his secrets, Deep Throat with her refusal to blindly believe 'the truth' but her close kinship with Mulder forces her to go further than she has ever gone before. Before now, Mulder has sought to protect her from his own career suicide but this time she virtually commits it herself; by the end of season one the damage is done and Scully no longer has the chance to rise through the ranks of the FBI that was alluded to in the beginning.
The most tense scene in the episode has to be the sequence in which Scully, aided by Deep Throat, enters the medical facility to obtain evidence that can be exchanged for Mulder's life. If the alien DNA brings conflict to her beliefs, then coming face to face with an alien embryo changes her world.
Scully lifting the embryo out of the liquid nitrogen capsule is an even more striking moment than the hybrids in the warehouse and the finale delivers a third with the murder of Deep Throat. The shooting of this key character is utterly shocking; we still don't know enough about his agenda and yet he is the only real ally Mulder and Scully have, so removing him from the series is a stunning blow and worthy enough of shaking up the show. "Trust No One" he mutters to Scully as he dies in her arms. Now there is no one they have besides each other.
Even that is taken away as the finale pulls the rug out from the audience once more time. "They're shutting us down Scully." A defeated Mulder tells Scully over a late night phone call. "It's over. We're being reassigned."
He vows not give up, not as long as the truth is out there but there is a sense that nothing will be the same again. Indeed, it would be some time before the show resumes the status quo of Mulder and Scully investigating the weird and supernatural. And of course, the best was still to come. If season one largely proved to be captivating television with two fantastic leads and plenty of mystery and horror, then Scully's abduction, clones, alien bounty hunters and a boxcar in the desert...it was all just around the corner. The X Files was about to go from great to phenomenal television and The Erlenmeyer Flask paved the way...