The X Files Revisited: 6.03 Triangle
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 our latest episode is season six's experimental Triangle...
The change in the show's format during the first half of season six offered The X Files the opportunity to mix things up and out of that came Triangle, perhaps the most experimental episode the show ever did. But unlike extreme episodes like the comedic season three episode Jose Chung's "From Outer Space" with Lord Kinbote and smoking aliens, which some fans admit to finding rather OTT, Triangle is generally regarded as The X Files on top form. And rightly so; it's a thing of beauty from beginning to end and one of my personal favourite episodes across the show's 208 episode run.
Triangle is The X Files' take on the Bermuda Triangle as a cruise liner that disappeared in 1939 reappears in the modern day (1998). Without any X Files cases to sate his appetite, Mulder is on the case, trying to be the first person to locate the ship. But an accident on his own boat sends him overboard in a storm and he is rescued by the crew of the Queen Anne...in 1939...just as it has fallen into Nazi hands at the outbreak of World War II. Not only that, one of the passengers looks like Scully, new boss Kersh is one of the crew and three of the Nazi officers look like Spender, Skinner and the Cigarette Smoking Man.
Yes, the episode is completely bonkers but it embraces the madness with a full heart and that makes it so engaging to watch, even on my fourth or fifth viewing. There are two theories for this episode; one that the weirdness of the Bermuda Triangle caused the events that take place in Triangle and the other that it is all in Mulder's head and while either can work I kind of prefer the former. There is no scientific foundation for a ship that can travel through time (and indeed there are probably a few plot holes to pick at as to how Mulder travels back to the present) but it is pure unabashed fun from beginning to end.
It's a story of three acts; after the pre-title sequence shows Mulder floating in the sea, the wreck of his boat around him we follow him as he is brought onboard the ship. The set is brilliant, the costume work fantastic and the cinematography is glorious to watch. Long sweeping corridors, the majestic ballroom, cameras tracking Mulder and his captors as they head through the bowels of the Queen Anne. The West Wing may have coined the 'walk and talk' scenes but this episode does it a year before that show began. Everything is also played very straight, making the shocking reveal that the Nazi solider Mulder attacks looks like Spender all the more surprising. It's a great double take moment but when you see William B Davis as the Cigarette Smoking Man slash Nazi commander, and Mitch Pileggi's Skinner as his subordinate, it is truly mind boggling. If anything, seeing Cigarette Smoking Man light up a smoke in the Nazi uniform makes his seem even more evil.
Added to this is Scully as a plucky passenger, ready to call out Mulder as a traitor and standing up to the Nazi officers holding them prisoner. Gillian Anderson must have had a lot of fun playing this alternate character - indeed so must all the regular cast. Even James Pickens Jr. gets to play a noble crew member helping to lead the rebellion against the ship's captors. The only gripe I had was Mulder's seemingly breezy willingness to spout information about future events to anyone willing to listen. Perhaps I have watched too much Doctor Who, but telling people of the past what will happen in the future is surely a bad idea?
The second act is virtually a one-tracking shot with Scully in the FBI, receiving a visit at her desk from a very worried Lone Gunmen. This is Scully as we have never seen her before, ostracized from her colleagues at the FBI which results in some truly desperate attempts to uncover the tracking information to locate the missing Mulder. It's a very tense scene as she goes to new boss Kersh - who of course is in a meeting with the Cigarette Smoking Man, tries to cash in all her favours with Skinner and even goes as far as to venture into the basement to threaten Spender in exchange for the information she needs. The fact that he goes straight to Kersh and the fact that Skinner becomes the saviour she needs is inevitable. Her joyous kiss on Skinner's lips is hilarious and Gillian Anderson plays a panicked Scully well as she tries to escape her superiors and flees in the parking lot, pursued by Spender. It's a captivating scene from beginning to end.
And then it all comes together as Scully as the Lone Gunmen find the Queen Anne in the present while Mulder fights for his life in the past. The hilarious ball room ball, Mulder and the alternate Scully fleeing the Nazis and the fantastic use of split screen and very, very fun. The moment that both Scullys converge on the same corridor via their split screens and cross into the other is the highlight of the episode, followed by Mulder's epic kiss with Scully before throwing himself overboard to travel back to the present - yes that moment doesn't actually make a lot of sense but I bought it just the same.
The fun lasts right up to the final scene as Mulder confesses his love for Scully in his hospital scene and she scoffs with disgust. Triangle is an episode that embraces the madness of its concept, plays it straight and keeps the audience hooked from beginning to end. It is certainly one of the most experimental episodes in the show's history but it works on almost every level. For anyone asking if The X Files was any good after the movie, direct them to Triangle. Quite frankly it's a masterpiece of an episode.