Nov 10 2011 12:00pm

Reopening The X-Files: “Ice”

Season 1, Episode 8: “Ice”
Original Airdate: November 5, 1993

“Ice” is the second Morgan & Wong episode and another bang-up Monster of the Week. Set in the Arctic — a vague and frozen land that the show will come to call on again, and again — it’s a bottle episode with the pressure kept tight. In the excellent cold open, a shirtless, sweaty, bloodied man sets up a video camera and rasps: “We’re not who we are.” Then he repeats it. For effect. He’s interrupted by a second man, who wants to fight! So they do. Beat each other up a bit, then point guns at each other. Then, slowly, the first man lowers his gun and points it at himself. The second man follows. Two gunshots. So awesome.

In what appears to be a high school computer lab, Mulder briefs Scully on the case. The suicidal wrestlers were actually scientists, sent to the frozen freezy part of the country to do some sort of research core drilling science something. And our agents get to go up and figure out why they all murdered each other, because they are “either brilliant or expendable.” They’re teamed up with some scientists, one goofy (Danny, who likes to listen to radio broadcasts of old Chargers games), one suspicious (Hodge, who is suspicious), and one lady (DaSilva, who is Felicity Huffman, and who has bangs). Also a pilot, whose name is Bear, because obviously his name is Bear.

Upon arriving at the site, which still has a bunch of dead bodies strewn about, Scully momentarily forgets that she is a trained FBI agent/medical doctor and actually says “Where do we start?” Well! It turns out that they start by documenting the scene, and also touching all sorts of stuff, and letting Danny play around with the core samples, like there is absolutely no chance that what happened to the previous team could have been caused by something in the room or could happen a second time. The lack of precaution they take is hilarious. But it was the Nineties! People were always going around touching stuff and wearing scrunchies and being pilots named Bear. Oh hold up, speaking of Bear, guess who’s first to get into trouble? It’s Bear! He gets attacked by a dog, which sucks, because the dog is infected by something, and that something turns out to be a totally gross worm-parasite that makes people super-surly. Like, attack-Mulder-with-a-glass-jar-type surly. The gang holds Bear down and extracts the worm from the back of his neck. Then Bear dies.

So we’ve got a worm that turns people into murderous jerks. You know what also turns people into jerks? Being stuck in the Arctic with a bunch of strangers! It’s perfect, really. Everyone starts to side-eye each other. No one can sleep. Are people shouting at each other because they’re tired and scared and cranky, or are people shouting at each other because they are infected? Then Mulder goes walking around in the middle of the night and finds Danny stuffed in the freezer with his throat cut. Because someone was really, really tired and scared and cranky? And this is point at which the finger-pointing gets really bad and this is also the point at which Mulder handles it all horribly, first refusing to let the others examine him for signs of worm and then pulling a gun on Hodge. Naturally Scully is not going to take that crap and so she pulls a gun on Mulder, and naturally Mulder takes that badly and so he points his gun at her, and then for God’s sake they are pointing guns at each other! Darn you, threat of worm! Leave this promising but still-tenuous partnership alone!

Now, Mulder is not infected. We eventually learn. Which means this standoff is pure Mulder. And it is! It is totally and completely him, to see resistance in others and to meet it, bullheadedly, with thrice the force. It is the reason we love him! It is the reason…he is going to get locked in a closet. Because although Scully would like to defend her partner, she has also got to be the voice of reason. And voice of reason says it’s possible that Mulder is infected. What with the gun-pointing and the shouting and all. Therefore, Mulder gets bolted into a closet, and he has no one to blame but his own bullheaded self.

With Mulder safely locked away, the remaining three happen upon a cure so sublimely well-structured and fun that I almost get angry when I think about it. Like the popular children’s book says, if you infect an worn-infected person with a second worm, the two worms will kill each other. Which means if we are pretty sure Mulder is infected, we can give him a worm and he’ll be cured. Except if he’s not infected, and we give him a worm, he’s now infected. And there aren’t any more worms. There’s only one worm left! Oh man! I am getting really angry about how good this is! Scully visits Mulder’s closet to explain how great it all is, and obviously he hates it because of how he is (1) pissy (2) not infected. To prove his point, he offers to let her inspect him for worm. She does. Either tensely or tenderly, depending on your stance. Then she turns and he either grabs her neck or puts his hand on her neck, depending on your stance, and examines her right back.

It’s a little like the mosquito-bite scene in the pilot, but better, because it’s the both of them vulnerable and because it doesn’t require Scully to be an idiot who can’t identify mosquito bites. And I like it best, honestly, as a gesture of partnership rather than a gesture of attraction. “I wanted to trust you,” Mulder says, which is a little faulty on account of he pulled the first gun, but the sentiment is real. They both want that trust. They need to be able to rely on each other. In a world of ice-core worms and pilots named Bear, that partnership is the surest thing they have. Which is love, of a sort. But at the outset it’s not romance so much as it’s survival.

In the end, the host is Felicity Huffman. Hodge notices the worm under her skin just in time, and they cure her and leave her to official quarantine and a dubious moral future. Mulder spends about five minutes back in civilization before deciding that he wants to go back to the lab and figure out if the worm is an alien or whatever, but Hodge reports that forty-five minutes after their evacuation “they torched the place.” Ooh, “they”! So quick with a torch. Mulder gets wistful about it, but Scully walks away. And she’s right, I mean, if you’re going to get to know an alien, does it have to be the one that makes people murdery? Maybe go find the peacekeeping worms instead. I bet they are so much more fun.


Next week: “Fallen Angel”

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

Meghan Deans would like to remind you that before anyone passes judgment, we are in the Arctic. She has a Tumblr and is @meghandrrns on Twitter.

1. TomR(Mac)
If I remember my late night viewings of the X-Files in the late 90's (might have been a repeat), The exteriors for the arctic station were ripped from 'The Thing', a sci-fi/horror film that also contained themes of other lifeforms taking some control over a person and a lack of trust between the people stuck in the situation.
2. MarJL
Oh man, TorR(Mac) beat me to it.

Never was there a better rip-off of 'The Thing' (new “prequel” included). One of my favorite episodes.
3. Nightsky
I was young and not very media-savvy at the time, but I remember, when the second "The Thing" adaptation aired*, going "Hey, wait a minute! They just did this story LAST season, except it was in the Arctic!" That was when I found out about John W. Campbell and "Who Goes There?", and THAT was when I started to read classic SF.

* According to the Internet, it was called "Firewalker" and aired in season 2.
Angela Korra'ti
4. annathepiper
I've been rewatching my season 1 DVDs specifically because of these rewatch posts, and I was delighted to get to this one. I LOVE this episode. :D
Chris Hawks
5. SaltManZ
I just have to say, Meghan, how much I love these write-ups. So funny!
6. Pendard
I remember really liking this one when I got into The X-Files in 1995. But as the years passed, it has been overshadowed by some of the later episodes, like many of the first season stand-alones.

Also, I never realized that was Felicity Huffman...
Meghan Deans
7. Meghan
Gang, I have to admit that I have never seen The Thing. I know! I know. Scanning over the cast list, I can't wait to watch the part where Wilford Brimley and Kurt Russell examine each other, shirtless.

@SaltManZ, thank you so much!
Ian Tregillis
8. ITregillis
I have a very vivid memory of the night this episode aired. I still remember what I was doing, and who was there, when this came on. I had been watching from the pilot onward, and really enjoying the show, but this was the episode where I sat up and thought, "Holy crap, this show could become something amazing."

Still love this episode, 18 years later.

I'm really enjoying this rewatch, and the stroll(s) down memory lane.
Fredrik Coulter
9. fcoulter
I was reading your watch alongs, and I noticed that this was episode eight. I couldn't remember you posting seven earlier posts, so I double checked.

The last episode you wrote about was number three. Now number eight. Are you going to skip more episodes, or are you just watching them out of order? Or is there something else going on that I don't understand?
Should I trust you? Is there truth out there?
Jack Flynn
10. JackofMidworld
Holy FBI, fcoulter! You're right!! Meghan is obviously on the Smoking Man's payroll! *squints suspiciously at computer monitor*
Kristen Templet
11. SF_Fangirl
@9 you need to read the previous post where she explains she's not watching all the eps.

BTW this is a favorite of mine from the first season ... probably my second favorite after "Fire." ("Fire" was the first episode I watched.) I prefer the monster eps especially after the mythology got too convoluted to make sense. For the horror/sci fi combo episodes this is one of the best even if its an obvious homage to "The Thing."
Meghan Deans
12. Meghan
@fcoulter: Yep, I'm only recapping select episodes. Otherwise this whole endeavor would take about a zillion years. I think. I'm not great at math. My boss at the Consortium is always telling me to--uh, I mean. My. Cat. My cat is always telling me to uh. Hey, nevermind.

But, yes, select episodes. Highlights! I'm aiming to hit the majority of the mytharc with some top MOTW to keep us limber.
13. jondiced
The only thing that bothered me about this episode was why the worm, which is supposed to turn people into rage-filled belligerent murderers, turns Felicity into a devious, sneaky, silent killer-type. Can we have some consistency, please?
Marcus W
14. toryx
jondiced @ 13:

Because she was a woman and women, when possessed and manipulated by outside forces, become sneaky and cunning violent rather than openly rar rar! violent like men. It's all about the testosterone, really.
Meghan Deans
15. Meghan
Maybe she spent all of her rage stuffing Danny into that freezer?

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