Season 6, Episode 1: “The Beginning”
Original Airdate: November 8, 1998
The strangest thing about “The Beginning” is how much it cares about “The End.” After the bright, broad bombast of Fight the Future, you might expect another crowd-pleaser, something to lock down those potential new fans who might be interested in the show now that they’ve seen what it can do with bees and Antarctica. But “The Beginning,” is really “The End, Part II,” a tough-nosed mytharc that wants to define the show’s future rather than fight it.
Because to be honest, we have some problems here in Season 6. We have, for instance, a wearing-down premise. This is the second time that The X-Files have been shut down only to be reopened almost immediately; this is the zillionth time that Scully has been passed out while something alien-proof-like has zipped by her. Although Mulder flirted with disbelief last season, his platitudes about the truth are back and bristling. The conspiracy remains as convoluted as ever. But hey, it’s not all bad – the show is now being filmed in Los Angeles! Sunshine and desert locales for all!
“The Beginning” responds to my imaginary press conference mostly by digging in its heels, but also, there is some cleverness. Although The X-Files have been re-opened, Mulder and Scully have not been assigned to them. In their place we have Jeffrey Spender and Diana Fowley, puppets for the man. Privately, Fowley tells Mulder that she’s definitely not working for the bad guys, only everything she does indicates that she is totally working for the bad guys. Spender meanwhile doesn’t even know what to think, other than he hates everyone, probably even his string-pulling, cigarette-smoking father.
Very quickly it becomes clear that having a couple of X-Files investigators in your pocket is great business for the Consortium and the stronger-than-ever Cigarette-Smoking Man. The very first case that Spender and Fowley work is a cover-up – a man infected by the black-oil-virus (he works for Roush, the Consortium’s biotech firm) has his chest burst open by an alien toddler. Mulder, desperate to find some physical evidence that corroborates everything we saw in Fight the Future, sneaks onto the crime scene, finds himself a freaky-looking alien claw, and high-fives himself.
The Consortium is particularly interested in finding the alien toddler and ridding the world of it, because, it is an alien and it is bad news, plus they are still annoyed that the black-oil-virus does this at all. The Cigarette-Smoking Man gets the bright idea to pull Gibson Praise out of underground brain surgery so he can use him as a sort of alien dowsing rod. But Gibson is still smart, and can still read minds, and after he leads everyone to the nuclear power plant where the alien toddler is hanging out, he escapes from the Consortium and finds Mulder and Scully, who are hip-deep in a not-quite-lovers quarrel.
Because although in Fight the Future Scully was positioned as Mulder’s emotional lynchpin, here she’s shifted back to the role we saw in “The End” – the partner who might in fact be holding him back. Only this time, Scully isn’t offering to step down. She’s pushing at him instead, pointing out that if their work is to ever gain credibility, they’ll have to be backed up by her science. Mulder resists, going as far as to nearly refuse to accept research she’s done, “if it refutes what [he] know[s] to be true.” Considering the lengths he went to save her life in Fight the Future, his punkishness is not unjustified. It is, however, unproductive.
Fortunately, there’s something new behind the old he believes/she researches dynamic: actual scientific proof. Of. Something? Scully does tests on Gibson and on the claw, then compares them to tests of the virus she had in Fight the Future. All three have something in common, she learns, “remnant DNA” present in all humans, but “turned on” in Gibson. “That would mean that Gibson is in some part extraterrestrial,” says Mulder. “It would mean that all of us are,” she replies.
The episode treats this as an incredible realization, despite the fact that this so-called-science is a little flimsy. So there’s remnant DNA in all of us, and also in the claw, and also in the virus, and that means we’re all a little alien? Not particularly airtight, scientifically or structurally, but then there’s Scully still using the conditional, still not admitting that she agrees with Mulder. Just admitting that there is something between these elements. In the power plant, Mulder watches Gibson and the alien toddler stare at each other like there is something between them, and there is. It’s a fuzzy grey area, the distance between what Mulder sees and what Scully knows.
With Mulder believing again, with Scully finding renewed focus, and with—and perhaps most importantly—the Consortium back on its heels, “The Beginning” might be mistaken for something new. But it’s not. “The Beginning” is a reinvestment, a doubling-down. A reminder that our agents are not just agents but necessary archetypes, heroic in their characterizations. “If I change now,” says Scully, “It wouldn’t be right. Or honest.” Which is certainly an overstatement, which is certainly a simplification, but which just might be true. Did I say the premise was wearing? Or has it perhaps just frayed, spread itself too thin? “The Beginning” is perhaps the only solution: to begin, again.