A tense thriller and the race to stop a deadly disease in this underrated season two episode…
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. A tense thriller, a government conspiracy and a deadly outbreak make F.
Emasculata one of the surprising highlights of season two…
Potential apocalypses can come in one of many ways. Meteor hitting the Earth. Zombies. Nuclear war. Diseases wiping out humanity. That is essentially the premise of F. Emasculata which sees Mulder and Scully race to contain a deadly outbreak that has originated from the Costa Rican rainforest and is threatening to be exposed to the general population.
It was an episode I always remembered enjoying, particularly for that tense moment when the infected victim holds the boy hostage on the bus at the end, but rewatching it now, I realised that it is actually one of the strongest, most tense standalone episodes in the second season, while having ties to the on-going mythology in unexpected ways.
After a scientist in Costa Rica (the rainforest looks suspiciously like the Vancouver forests), encounters a dead animal being picked apart by vultures, a puss-filled wound explodes in has face. From there an inmate receives an animal leg containing the same pus-filled blisters and within hours an outbreak leaves an entire wing dead or dying.
With Mulder and Scully brought in to investigate the case and going up against secretive military officials and doctors, the episode feels very season one in tone, the fast pace reminiscent of episode like Fallen Angel that could almost have a 24-style ticking clock running on the screen. When two infected inmates escape, Mulder joins the manhunt with aggressive Marshall Tapia (Dean Norris playing the same bullish character we would see later in Under The Dome), while Scully stays behind to investigate the medical history.
It really is an episode of two halves with Scully’s possibly the more intriguing of the two. Working with a doctor she believes to be part of the CDC, she later discovers that is in fact working for Pink Pharmaceuticals, a company that has funded medical research in the rainforest. What’s worse is that they deliberately sent the package to the prison, claiming it to be a ‘postal error’ in order to cover up the conspiracy.
And it really is a conspiracy, with military officials blocking her every step, though that does little to negate the stupidity of her actions in digging around the corpses in the furnace room and exposing the poor doctor with a puss-filled boil explodes in his face. It also leads to a couple of tense scenes where Scully thinks she might be infected; given that of the 14 men infected, 10 were dead within 36 hours, the stakes are high indeed. Working in the shadows, the glow of the furnaces behind them, it is some atmospheric stuff.
Mulder on the road is less thrilling than it should be. Partly it is because it is Mulder who does all the problem solving such as deducing that the escaped convicts might have girlfriends on the outside. I get that he’s the series’ hero but surely this is the kind of day to day common sense the marshals should have deduced. However there are still some tense scenes, such as when the family stop off at the services and the dad risks getting infected to the main convict Paul (regular cult TV actor John Pyper-Ferguson) turning up at his girlfriend’s home with his very ill friend and her becoming infected too. The threat of a massive pandemic hovers over the episode even if it is ultimately contained.
And the scenes at the bus station at the end are gripping. With Mulder and the marshalls closing in, Paul grabs a young boy on the bus and holds him at knife point, the puss-filled boil on his face dangerous close to the boy and about to explode. It is both gruesome and exciting, only added by the fact that Mulder needs him to testify that the prison was deliberately infected (by this point Pink Pharmaceuticals and the military have destroyed all the evidence despite Scully’s attempts to stop them).
And then Paul is shot before the boy can be infected and with him goes the last piece of evidence. What is most intriguing about F. Emasculata is that is also a strong conspiracy thriller that continues to progress the overall series arc. Skinner gives Mulder and Scully the case because of its unusual nature and when Mulder confronts his boss and the mysterious Cigarette Smoking Man he responds by stating that controlling the disease is all about controlling the information.
In truth there is a great moral debate at the heart of the episode – do Mulder and Scully make it publicly known that Pink Pharmaceuticals has conspired with the government and have tested the disease on a small population that could go widespread, or control the information because the widespread panic would be more harmful? It is an interesting dilemma, only taken out of their hands when Paul is killed and their evidence is destroyed.
“Don’t believe for a second that this is an isolated incident.” the infected Doctor tells Scully’ before his death. This episode is one of the show’s most understated thrillers, with plenty of gruesome moments in the spores of the F. Emasculata insect infecting its victims to shadowy figures, experimentation and desperate man hunts. The convict’s story is ultimately less thrilling than Scully’s investigation but it proves to be another strong entry in an altogether stronger season.
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