The Cigarette Smoking Man and Scully go on a road trip in this latest ‘The X Files Revisited’…
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 pilot episode and then carried on throughout the series, covering the best and most significant episodes of the show including the first movie The X Files: Fight The Future. Now we revisit this season seven episode written by none other than the show’s central villain…
The Cigarette Smoking Man is one of TV’s most iconic villains, a shadowy figure at the heart of the conspiracy that ran throughout David Duchovny’s tenure on the show. Given the close ties between the two it is telling that William B Davis’s final regular episode was the season seven finale, which saw Mulder abducted, only making a return in the season nine finale The Truth. Of course it is always debatable whether the Cigarette Smoking Man should have come back – and certainly again in the revival – but he is in many ways as much about The X Files as Mulder and Scully are, and I suspect he will always be there as long as the show exists.
I’ve mentioned in my latest ‘Revisited’ that at the time, season seven was often considered to be the last. It gave way to more experimental episodes such as X-Cops and more intimate character pieces, with the stars having more input than ever before. David Duchovny wrote The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati with Chris Carter and would write and direct Hollywood A.D., something Gillian Anderson would also do in All Things. And in this season seven episode, William B Davis also took up the pen to write this episode, a story that dealt with his character’s legacy. After all, no one knows these characters better than the actors that have been playing them for years.
The concept of En Ami is the Cigarette Smoking Man and Scully go on a road trip and indeed there is some really marvellous banter and awkward scenes between these two characters that have largely not shared much screen time. But it is probably an episode that suffers a little from too much scrutiny; while it is fascinating to see what happen where the show’s villain and the show’s purest character interact, her reasons for willingly following him are questionable at best.
The foundation is solid; a boy dying of cancer, whose parents refuse to give him treatment, is miraculously cured in a blaze of UFO-like white light. The Cigarette Smoking Man comes to Scully, claiming to be the one who saved him – like he saved her – and he will offer her the cure to all of mankind’s diseases if he accompanies her. That mix of religious faith and scientific discovery is what drives Scully to her core and it is those buttons he pushes to get her to follow. But while she doesn’t blindly follow him at the first chance, you do have to question why she doesn’t suspect what ultimately happens? That he is using her for his own nefarious needs. It’s the same thing that happened with Diana Fowley and later – very bewilderingly – with Monica Reyes; he has this power to control, to manipulate but it isn’t strong enough here. Or perhaps it is just that Scully is morally stronger than either of those women.
After Scully agrees to go with him on the road trip she does show at least some sign of intelligence by putting her in a wire in her top and attempting to send tapes to Mulder. It is a futile act of course as the Cigarette Smoking Man’s henchman is trailing their every move, but it shows she isn’t completely stupid. And as a scientist and a doctor, she will push herself into darkness if it can result in this miracle cure.
For the Cigarette Smoking Man, here is someone who is at the end of his life, dying from the brain matter transplant from the season opener and desperately trying to show Scully – someone he clearly admires – what he has achieved; which in the end is little. “Most of what I worked to build is in ruins and now that the darkness descends, I find I have no real legacy” he laments.
That plan of course is to entrap the scientist who has this cure. The Cigarette Smoking Man has been pretending to be Scully online for months, using her good name and nature to draw him in. And so when he sends her out onto the boat to meet with him on the lake, she has no idea who this man who claims to know her is. The Cigarette Smoking Man’s henchman shoots and kills the scientist and appears ready to murder Scully before his boss swiftly dispatches him.
Perhaps the most insidious element of the whole episode – and where perhaps Davis goes too far in his story – is the suggestion that he believes Scully could be romantically linked to him. He wines and dines her in candlelight as they wait for their contact, picking out a sexy black dress for her to wear. The scientist has an image of someone sexy and alluring, which considering it was the Cigarette Smoking Man who created this ruse, speaks disturbing volumes. Of course, Scully continues to be repulsed but that creepy old man factor is present throughout.
But it isn’t all morose drama. Scully groans over his pop psychology attempt to diagnose her being drawn powerful men, while Mulder tracking her move leads to one of the best lines of the series as her landlord tells the other tenants like having an FBI agent in the building gives them a sense of security. “Do you know how many people have died in there?” he asks, receiving the dismissive retort “Oh, we don’t really talk about that.”. The scenes where the Lone Gunmen accompany Skinner into his office feel a little forced, but his reaction is amusing to say the least.
In the end, Scully is given a blank tape and the Cigarette Smoking Man vanishes into the wind, discarding the real cure into the lake even if it could help him. Why he does this is never made clear. To keep his wavering grip of power over humanity? Because a cure would mean change beyond his control? Or because he is inherently selfish? It’s one of those ambiguous endings that leaves us with more questions.
But it is still a good episode for the Cigarette Smoking Man – not at the level of season four’s Musings Of A Cigarette Man, but still a great story to finish up his run. Because after this, we would have the season seven finale Requiem and then fleeting appearances in the season nine finale The Truth and the revival. William B Davis and Gillian Anderson deliver a great rapport and really sell this episode, despite some of the questionable decisions it makes. It also goes to prove again that the show could work with Gillian Anderson taking the lead, which would be a good thing come next season…
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