Season 9, Episode 6: “Trustno1”
Original Airdate: January 6, 2002
The X-Files primarily exists in a time and a space of its own creation. In fact, were it not for the ever-evolving cell phones and odd Monica Lewinsky joke, you might think that the show existed in a universe completely independent of our own, one unaffected by politics and world events. On rewatch, this gives the show a particular timelessness, an amplification to the paranoia. “Trustno1,” in contrast, is an episode solidly of its time.
Airing four months after the attacks of September 11, 2001 and two and a half months after the passage of the PATRIOT Act, the episode trades paranormal threats for what was then a fresh-seeming threat: increased government surveillance. Terry O’Quinn plays an NSA agent (had the episode been produced a year later, he no doubt would have been Homeland Security) who has apparently spent the better part of his career surveiling Agent Scully. “You ever heard of the Constitution?” she snaps. “Yes. It’s what allows foreign terrorists to live here and enjoy the American dream, until time comes to destroy it” he retorts.
On rewatch, it’s an uncomfortable, clumsy, unsubtle moment. At the time of airing…it was probably still an uncomfortable, clumsy, unsubtle moment. This is not Law and Order, we do not rip from the headlines. Therefore, any nod to real-world politics feels incredibly significant. Is this a progressive stance, the show outing itself as liberal propaganda? Or is it a libertarian stance, the show as a paranoid Ron Swanson, decrying the government’s meddling now that its two heroes have been ousted from their work at a government agency?
The plot, god bless it, is a mess. Let’s see. There’s a couple. The husband works for the NSA, the same outpost that’s been keeping Scully under surveillance. He knows about William’s mobile-turning powers and he, too, has a baby with some sort of power. So he and his wife concoct an elaborate meet-paranoid with Scully, asking for her help. While they reveal all this to Scully, the husband’s coworker, Terry O’Quinn, phones Scully and does some fearmongering w/r/t surveillance. He says he knows the names of the supersoldiers, says that he’ll only give them to Mulder, says that he knows Scully can get ahold of Mulder because she recently sent him an email and “would you like me to read it to you.”
Scully goes with it, partially because she really wants to see Mulder herself and partially because her character is being slowly dumbed down, like a bloodletting, only with intelligence. And then of course it’s a trap and Terry turns out to be a supersoldier himself, and there’s a whole thing where Mulder (responding to Scully’s call to come home) is apparently on a train with Terry, then jumps off at a quarry, then Scully goes to the quarry, and Terry gets mysteriously weirdly smashed to death against the quarry wall because probably there’s something about that quarry, and we never see Mulder but we do see a body double running around in the distance.
Oh also Doggett and Reyes are around, somewhere. And no, the couple with the baby don’t really end up figuring into the plot at all. And yeah, it is not clear at all how Scully gets in touch with Mulder, and if it’s through email why doesn’t Terry just know what Mulder’s secret email address is, particularly since he has Scully’s most recent communication to that email address, and if it was just that Mulder needed Scully to give a specific all-clear signal why the hell would Scully even do that at this point, just because she’s sad?
I mean, ugh. The whole thing makes for an episode that’s not only dull, but dour. While this show has always got plenty of mileage out of its distrust of big government, that distrust has always been rooted in historic events, events with their own complex mythologies—World War II, or the Kennedy assassination. In fact, one of the show’s original strengths was its ability to repurpose folklore and shopworn conspiracy theories, giving the old stories new angles. Perversely, appropriating current events doesn’t make the show seem more current. It only makes it seem tired.