Nov 17 2011 12:00pm

Reopening The X-Files: “Fallen Angel”

Season 1, Episode 10: “Fallen Angel”
Original Airdate: November 19, 1993

I think we’re all old enough to admit that Mulder can be a little annoying. A lot annoying. Entirely, hugely annoying, fine, yes, I mean. Obviously we love him. I’m not even saying that we don’t. He’s a very passionate man, and he’s just trying to get the truth, and the truth can be very elusive, and lots of people are trying to keep him from it etc etc. But I will be very honest with you, sometimes, sometimes I’m sitting there watching Mulder take his brave, leap-of-faith chances and I am saying to myself, stop it, Mulder. Just stop it. Go home and feed your fish. Though I guess a television show about a conspiracy theorist who feeds his fish wouldn’t be that great. Checkmate, Chris Carter.

Here in “Fallen Angel,” the episode where Mulder wears a leather jacket and really pisses off the military, Mulder meets his Other, a UFO enthusiast and crack conspiracy theorist named Max Fenig. The two meet cute in a military lock-up, after Deep Throat tips Mulder off to a government cover-up already in progress. Somewhere in Wisconsin, a UFO has crashed, and a man named Colonel Calvin Henderson — a Cold War veteran and “reclamations expert” — has been dispatched to clean it up. Mulder makes it all the way to the crash site (he hides underneath a military convoy! somehow!) and even catches a glimpse of some um. Some lights? Maybe a spaceship? Before getting conked on the head and growled at by Col. Henderson, who claims “ecological disaster,” and then, bafflingly, tells Mulder to forget what he saw. Which, I don’t know, I’m no reclamations expert, but I feel like if I were going with this “ecological disaster” cover story, I would maybe leave out the part about forgetting what you saw? In the interest of not seeming like the most suspicious guy on earth?

Anyway, so Mulder gets thrown into a chicken wire prison and Max Fenig is there and he’s got a hat and he’s a big UFO geek, you can tell by his long hair and the way Mulder half-sneers at him. It is hard to be confronted with the less socially apt version of yourself, and it must be particularly hard for Mulder, who’s got plenty of pride in spite of the fact that he knows what everyone thinks of him. But it’s okay, Mulder, because you definitely have something that Max doesn’t, and that’s Dana Scully. She shows up to retrieve her drunk husband sorry her professional FBI partner and then dutifully begins reading him the riot act. Mulder is dutifully ignoring said riot act when all of a sudden they walk in on Max Fenig rooting around in Mulder’s motel room. Turns out Max, via the Freedom of Information Act, has been following Mulder’s career, and he’s a fan. He’s also a fan of the “enigmatic Dr. Scully,” because I guess the Freedom of Information Act is very thorough, and produces trading cards? I don’t know.

So the gang heads to Max’s Airstream trailer (eat it, McDreamy). Mulder and Max gossip a bit about crop circles while Scully checks out Max’s medicine cabinet and decides that he’s not just apparently crazy, he’s also actually crazy. Also he has CIA-grade surveillance equipment, and that’s how he picked up this super-cool recording of a local deputy frantically calling for medical assistance the night that the “environmental disaster” crash landed. It’s just enough of a lead to get Scully’s righteousness piqued. Our agents interview the deputy’s widow and learn first that her husband’s body is being held by the government and second that she’s been threatened with the loss of her husband’s pension should she talk to anyone. Our heroes head next to the hospital, where a local doctor tells them that the local deputy and three other local men were admitted to the hospital with weird (non-local) burns, and also that the military was mean to him. Scully impresses the doctor with some flashy doctor talk just in time for the Colonel to burst in with a bunch of other burned (non-local) fellas. The Colonel tries to strong-arm the agents out of the hospital, but the fascist-hating doctor steps up and declares that the enigmatic Dr. Scully needs to stay, for helping. It’s a nice twist on the usual reception that Mulder and Scully get in America’s most mysterious small towns — usually, they’re regarded with anger and suspicion. Here, they’re the lesser of the government evils.

Mulder stops by Max’s trailer and finds him having a seizure. He also finds a small incision behind Max’s ear, a fact he can’t wait to report to the completely exhausted, up-all-night-watching-burned-men-die Scully. Mulder believes the incision means that Max is an alien abductee. Scully believes the incision believes Mulder needs to shut the hell up and also that they have a flight in an hour and mmmpfh tired mmpfh fine I’ll take a look. Except Max has disappeared, and then there’s a little blood on his pillow, and then over the scanner a report of trespassing at “the waterfront.” And here’s where it all comes together for Mulder. Max, he realizes, was in town the night of the crash. He was in town in time to intercept the deputy’s distress call. And he wasn’t in town because of his CIA-grade listening equipment or because of his top level UFO fandom. He was in town because he was led. By something.

And I know I was a little hard on Mulder, before. But this is not a bad theory! It is, in fact, a rather pretty theory. It’s personal. It’s the thread that connects Mulder to Max in a very true way, the one that vaults Max from nutcase to fellow searcher. Mulder isn’t obsessed with finding the truth because he’s obsessed with a free and open exchange of information. He’s obsessed with finding the truth because when he was a child, something bad happened to someone he loved. Max is the same, but in a more sinister way. He didn’t get to go to Oxford and join the FBI and write for magazines under the world’s dopiest pseudonym (M.F. Luder, really?). Instead, he got an incision, a physical scar that drives him, that controls him. Mulder has scars, too, but his are psychic. His scars still allow him his free will.

Mulder and Scully head to the waterfront. The Colonel does, too. Our agents find Max in a warehouse, crying out in pain and yelling about how “they’re coming for me.” Scully leaves the warehouse to argue with the Colonel, therefore missing Max’s ascension: he hangs in mid-air and is surrounded by light. And then he’s gone.

Back in DC, the agents face a lot of angry people who say a lot of angry things, at tables. Mulder is on crutches and Scully gets interrupted and then Mulder yells, a lot, and waves around evidence that he must know the panel will ignore, right? Except he doesn’t. Except he probably doesn’t, except probably, deep in him, he has hope. Dang it, Mulder, that’s always the thing. When you’re at your most annoying, when I most want you to go home and feed your fish. You’ve got that hope that maybe this is the time the people in charge will listen to you. Maybe this is the time that the military will not rip your film out of your camera. It’s your dumb hope that keeps you watchable. Keeps you heroic, I might even say.

Of course, a man needs more than hope and a leather jacket to get to the truth. He also needs a man on the inside, and that’s apparently what he’s got in Deep Throat. Before we hit the credits, we see our informant standing stoically in a courtyard, getting hollered at by one of the angry men from the panel. The angry man demands to know why Deep Throat reversed the committee’s decision, presumably a decision that would have banned Mulder from the FBI salad bar for life. Deep Throat laughs a knowing man’s laugh and says it’s because you keep your enemies closer. Then angry man looks angry. And Deep Throat walks away.


Next week: “Beyond the Sea”

Want to watch along? The entire series is currently streaming on Netflix as well as Hulu.

Meghan Deans starred in The Last Detail. She has a Tumblr and is @meghandrrns on Twitter.

Steven Halter
1. stevenhalter
I really liked the ending. It left me wondering whether Deep Throat was really on Mulders side or was he playing him in order to keep him under control. Nicely done CC.
2. flipsockgrrl
This episode always makes me feel sad for Max. Whether he's really an abductee or just delusional, he's living with a physical condition -- epilepsy -- that's severe enough to be debilitating for him. He puts up a brave front when his situation clearly frightens him. He knows his story won't end well but he carries on regardless, searching for an explanation. His courage makes his quest admirable -- and all the more tragic in its futility.
Cait Glasson
3. CaitieCat
One of the few mytharc episodes I enjoy, mostly because of poor Max. I just felt like in some ways Max is such a stand-in for the viewer/fan, his semi-knowledge leaving him only more terrified than the clueless general public.

Too bad Max wasn't around for more of the mytharc, I might have enjoyed it more. :)
Meghan Deans
4. Meghan
I love the Max love. Scott Bellis knocks this performance out of the park. It's sweet, subtle. Could easily be a caricature but instead he's wonderfully sympathetic.
5. Pendard
I never liked this one very much on the level of story -- it became much more interesting when the government started working with the aliens instead of just covering them up like they do in this episode and "E.B.E."

However, on a character level, this is classic Mulder. And it's also fun because you can't tell if Deep Throat is trying to help him or trying to screw with him, which is something I always liked about their relationship.
Jamie Harris
6. JamieH
Oh, Max. The three episodes with Max are three of my top favorites. And yes, in large part to Scott Bellis nailing the performance in such subtle, lovable ways.
Kristin Reed
7. k_reed
I'm with flipsockgirl. I've also always felt tremendously sad for Max. This episode, along with "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" are almost too sad to watch. Almost, but then I always do.
8. hestiashearthfire
My husband's dad lives in the town where this is set (no high school or hospital, alas). We've always been amused by that -- it's such a tiny little town, and I'd be curious how the writers picked it.

We watched the episode when it first aired, and we still joke about "all the aliens in Townsend."
Cait Glasson
9. CaitieCat
"Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" = Best. Episode. Ever.
10. Eugene R.
Poor Max, who was abducted for our sins.

And the tradition of ineffectual, counter-productive military cover-ups goes back a-ways. I am reminded of the classic bit of dialogue from The Attack of the (The) Eye Creatures, wherein the Air Force lieutenant, overhearing the locals discussing the nearby UFO crash, exclaims in annoyance: "How long does the government have to go on denying something until you people believe it?!"

hestiashearthfire (@8): I sympathize with your bemusement. Living near Newark, NJ, I was amazed at all the small location details that the Flukeman episode, "The Host", gets wrong. Either geography was not Mr. Carter's strong suit or The X-Files takes place in a parallel world not unlike our own.
Cait Glasson
11. CaitieCat
LOL, yes, Eugene @10, that's a common problem for shows filmed in Vancouver: they give people from outside the continent the idea that the entire place is covered in temperate rainforest. It's become a joke:

"Ah, this week on Supernatural, the temperate rainforests of Kansas!"
12. Eugene R.
CaitieCat (@11) - So, it's like Hoth, the Ice Planet, and Arrakis, the Desert Planet - Earth, the Temperate Rainforest Planet? Could be worse, I suppose.

Oh, and while I would pull for "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" as the best X-Files episode (and perhaps best hour of network TV ever), I would certainly say "Peter Boyle = Best. Performance. Ever."

Scully: "The company is owned by a man named ..."
Bruckman: "Claude Duckenfield. Age 43. 316 Roundview Lane. Divorced with two children. Makes about 87,000 a year. Nonsmoker."
Mulder: "You got all that from a keychain?"
Bruckman: "No. I sold him an insurance policy a couple of years ago. Just a coincidence."

And in either case, Darin Morgan = Best. Scriptwriter. Ever.
Ian Tregillis
13. ITregillis
I loved the ending of this episode, too, the way it made me question DT's motives. And ditto everybody else about Scott Bellis's performance-- when I read this recap the episode came back to me with more detail than I usually remember things, and that might be due to the great character of Max.
14. charming.quark
Freedom of Information Act Trading Cards would be awesome!
15. Jenn JB
Hi Meghan,
Just stumbled onto your blog a few days ago, searching for Mulder/Scully moments all listed out for me, and am so happily surprised at what I found. I recently went back and watched the entire series as well (I'm on Season 8 now, desire to continue dwindling...) You have an amazing skill for writing and analyzing, especially when it comes to this complicated show, and I admire it. You also think very similarly to the way I do, which is fun to read in itself. Anyway, just wanted to say this blog is awesome, and I plan to read all the back issues as well as all your thoughts/recaps going forward.

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