Season 1, Episode 17: “E.B.E.”
Original Airdate: February 18, 1994
“E.B.E.” is a solid, dependable, perfectly good, sometimes very good, borderline-unremarkable episode. It feels a lot like the sort of episode you’d show your friend who was kinda late getting into the show and she doesn’t want to waste her time watching the whole thing and is there anything that can kinda, give her like, the feel or whatever, just real quick? It hits the highlights of the myth arc thus far—government conspiracy, UFOs, alien reclamations, Mulder’s uncanny ability to always fall down while chasing things—and livens things up by feeding us a little more information about Deep Throat and introducing the three most adorable conspiracy theorists, The Lone Gunmen. Along the way, we learn some valuable lessons about the difference between lies and other lies, and also, we get to see Mulder fall down. But I think I said that.
So the way it is is that there’s something and it’s crashed somewhere, and there’s some radio interference, and a truck driver maybe sees a UFO. Mulder and Scully investigate, Scully cheerily spouting possibilities and maybe-abilities and Mulder nodding and ignoring her. He’s got two stopwatches, started at the same time, showing different times, and that counts as evidence of something. They talk to the truck driver, who has a cough that Scully immediately diagnoses as Gulf War Syndrome, because she’s a doctor. The driver claims to have never been in the Gulf, and right when they’re really getting somewhere with him about how he doesn’t know anything, the local police chief comes in and bust things up, in the way a local police chief does when he’s been got to. By Them.
At the bus station—wait, hold on, they’re at a bus station? I take back what I said about this being borderline-unremarkable. Mulder and Scully are at a bus station! To take a bus! The FBI is so thrifty! And Scully lends a lady her pen, which turns out to be a bad idea. Never lend a lady at a bus station your pen, Scully, did you learn nothing at Quantico? Because the pen turns out to be bugged, but Scully doesn’t figure that out until later, until after she’s met those three handsome champs of paranoia, The Lone Gunmen. Mulder calls them an “extreme government watchdog group,” but really they’re just all-purpose plot-advancement nerds, the kind your protagonists get to call whenever they need something “hacked” or “cracked” or what have you. They also make jokes, which we like. There’s Langly, who looks like Garth Algar. Byers, who wears a suit and rips up some of Scully’s money to prove that the government is tracking her. And Frohike, who correctly identifies Scully as “hot.” So glad to have you gentlemen on board.
Mulder proposes to the Gunmen that UFOs may cause Gulf War Syndrome, and the nerds laugh him out of the room. Scully sets about rubbing skeptical salt in the wound, but mid-harangue she discovers the bugged pen, and all hell breaks loose. You do not ever bug Scully, is something to learn from this episode. Because a bugged Scully does research, and lots of it. She learns that the truck driver was totally in the Gulf War, as a Black Beret, and also, that the truck he was driving was heavier than the manifest reported. Mulder meanwhile hits up his informant chum, Deep Throat, who chirps a little about the impending baseball season before handing Mulder a transcript of an intercepted Iraqi radio transmission wherein an Iraqi pilot shoots down a UFO, a UFO that was then recovered by the army. Mulder figures whatever was recovered was in that truck. Mulder further figures that it is super-annoying that people keep trying to keep him from the truth, and thank goodness he’s got this trustworthy informant, am I right?
At this point Scully calls him on this, pointing out that there’s no way to know if this informant is legit or not. Mulder argues that Deep Throat has never lied to him; Scully argues that Mulder is the only person she trusts. Which I guess is not so much an argument as a very nice thing to say. Mulder sticks to what he sticks to, though, and doesn’t even seem super-bothered to come home and find Deep Throat sitting in his apartment, bearing a new trustworthy informant gift: a photo of a UFO. Despite the fact that an at-home visit is entirely out of character for this relationship, Mulder rolls with it, and goes so far as to earnestly thank the man for going to so much trouble. So probably none of us are surprised when Scully takes half a look at the photo and declares it a fake.
The episode’s greatest strength in here, is forcing Mulder to ask a question he ought to have asked previously and repeatedly. What did he do to rate an informant, anyway, and how much can he trust that informant? Isn’t it plausible, Mr. Mulder, that in a conspiracy that is apparently as knotty and wild as you think it is, isn’t it plausible that someone might think to deliver unto you a campaign of misinformation and lies? The fact that Mulder has trusted Deep Throat this long speaks to a vulnerability, one that Scully succinctly names: “Whereas I can respect and admire your passion,” she says, “They will use it against you.”
And for once Mulder listens, and he goes back to Deep Throat and asks why, and Deep Throat doesn’t blink at all, which is just as bewildering as anything, at least until he declares that there are “some truths that people are just not ready to know.” This to me has always been one of the show’s creepiest recurring themes, the one that makes the government conspiracy the most plausible. Sure, there are men who want power, and knowledge, and who will use what they can to climb that ladder. But more insidious are these, the men like Deep Throat, the ones who perhaps have a shred of well-meant in them but also who believe in lies as a form of protection. In government as a wall. Is it power that corrupts, or is it condescension?
Thus disillusioned, Mulder pushes onward. He and Scully utilize some sneaky methods to get themselves across the country, unfollowed, in order to track the truck with the thing that might be inside. When they do find the truck, they’re pushed off the road by bright lights and hail and electricity and something. They come to and find the truck open and abandoned; inside, behind some boxes, is an empty gurney. Mulder pulls out his stopwatches, finds them both ticking at identical speeds, and declares the whole thing a hoax. They press on and eventually find a heavily-guarded government facility disguised as a power plant. Langly hacks them some credentials (good nerd) and they walk around for about thirty seconds before their cover is blown. Scully throws her hands up and Mulder runs, runs, runs into a room and trips over a chain and comes up limping, and is about to look at the big glowing red window when he is stopped by... when he is stopped by... when he is stopped by—
Did you guess it? Yeah, Deep Throat. Who calls off the guns and gives Mulder a speech about how once upon a time, after World War II, all the governments met and agreed that if aliens ever stopped by, they’d kill ‘em. Deep Throat claims to be “one of three men” who’s killed one, and tells a decently sad but mostly overwrought story about having to execute an alien while working for the C.I.A. in Vietnam. And Mulder, finally, doesn’t ask questions. Just stares at this man and says, “I’m wondering which lie to believe.” And as Deep Throat walks off, Mulder is joined by Scully, who doesn’t say anything at all.
Next week: “Tooms”