Season 1, Episode 24: “The Erlenmeyer Flask”
Original Airdate: May 13, 1994
I know they’re going to shut down the X-Files. I know this first of all because I’ve seen the show before. I know this second of all because of the bummed-out way Mulder was talking about change. And still, yet, The Erlenmeyer Flask is a gut-punch of an episode, a season-ender that leaves you with neither a desk to sit down at, nor a home to go home to. In fact, you could end the show, here, over Deep Throat’s dead body and with our agents scattered. You could end it the way it started, with a taciturn government agent, inefficiently filing evidence of extraterrestrial life. Sure. You could. But you won’t. Because there’s too much left to do.
There are cars screeching around turns and a whole bunch of cops chasing one dude, who looks mostly like a normal dude, except he’s super good at fighting and he bleeds green blood. He fights everybody and jumps into some water and it doesn’t look like he’s dead, but he should be. The credits say TRUST NO ONE, the first time they’ve said anything other than THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE. Shouldn’t bother you except here’s something about “The Truth Is Out There”: it’s sort of hopeful, isn’t it? It’s the reason you keep going. Because it’s out there and you can get from here to there, why not. But “Trust No One,” what’s that? Far from hopeful.
Mulder gets a call from Deep Throat and he hops to. Scully has misgivings, which of course she ought to, because she read my “E.B.E.” recap. Mulder adorably insists that Deep Throat wouldn’t call without good reason, and maybe he’s right, but even so the real problem with Deep Throat is that Deep Throat’s not great about explaining things. He’s really great at calling Mulder in the middle of the night and saying he should look at Channel 8, but beyond that our agents are on their own. Mulder is anxious to follow the tip, but between Scully frowning in his periphery and the lack of obvious supernatural involvement, this is turning into the worst vacation ever. Local law enforcement insists that the case is nothing more than a moving violation turned missing person. They have divers, but the divers haven’t found a body. They have a car, but the car hasn’t been of any use… until Mulder squints at it and realizes that the car is not the right car, the car is not the car from the chase at all. Yay! Conspiracy!
The car belongs to a doctor named Berube who has a lab full of monkeys and an Erlenmeyer flask with some mysterious-looking stuff inside it. Yes, “stuff,” you heard me. While Mulder questions the doctor, Scully, who’s great at science, taunts the monkeys. The monkeys freak out, and Scully isn’t far behind. She puts her foot down, denouncing Deep Throat and using the word “absurdity.” Cowed by Scully’s irritation, Mulder returns home, where he’s ambushed by Deep Throat. Dude must be a great dad, because he’s all: “Your level of commitment seems to have diminished,” and in response Mulder throws a well-deserved tantrum about how is he meant to get closer to the truth if he doesn’t really know what sort of truth he’s dealing with. Then both of them sigh.
Meanwhile back in Monkey Lab, a fella with a crew cut (bad sign) kills Berube, then throws him out a window so it looks sorta like a suicide, except not enough like a suicide that both Mulder and Scully think it’s lies, all lies. The two of them stalk around the crime scene, informing us about how Berube worked on the Human Genome Project and also they take the flask with the mysterious stuff, the one from before. Scully is still solidly in Camp Dubious, but once she and a lady from Georgetown Microbiology get a chance to examine the flask-juice—which is actually a bacteria sample, okay, you happy?—her paradigm quivers. According to science, the bacteria sample is weird. Super weird. As in, the DNA sequences in the sample is extraterrestrial. Scully is genuinely awed. This is important. It is important, right now, that Scully be awed. Her awe is as important as her trust in Mulder. It is the one-two punch that levels the skeptic. Give me something to believe, and give me someone to believe it with.
Mulder meanwhile is up to some shenanigans, breaking into Berube’s house so he can first trace a repeatedly-dialed number from Berube’s phone bill and second so he can intercept a call from the fugitive, who is alive, and who collapses mid-call. The fugitive is picked up by an ambulance and the paramedics do what they can but what can you do for a guy with green blood who, when you inject a needle into him, leaks a toxic gas? Not much. So. Mulder heads to that storage facility and walks into the creepiest room in all the land: tanks, big ones, each one with a naked person inside. Alive, and underwater, and breathing, and then Mulder is chased out of the facility.
Our agents reconvene and Scully apologizes to Mulder, saying that she should know by now to trust his instincts. I’m not so sure, Scully, but that’s sweet of you. Mulder is pretty excited about her apology but way more excited to show her the creepy room, too bad that when they get inside the creepy room there’s nothing creepy in it anymore. Except Deep Throat. Who appears, as is his wont, out of nowhere. He claims the creepy room operation has been destroyed and further claims not to know who destroyed it, and just when we’re all starting to get a little sick of his crap, he opens up. In this very storage facility, he says, the first alien-human hybrid was created as part of a top-secret government experiment. The fugitive, a man named Secare, was one of six volunteer patients, all of whom were terminally ill. The project wasn’t supposed to succeed as well as it did and so now the cover-uppers are covering-up, as fast as they can, and Secare is running for his life. His mysterious, alien-hybrid life.
Mulder and Scully scatter. Scully finds out that the doctor who examined the sample for her is dead and all evidence of the sample has been destroyed. Mulder tracks Secare to Berube’s house. The two tussle and Mulder says he’ll protect Secare and will Secare believe him? Too late, the man with the crew cut is there and he shoots Secare and Secare gets toxic alien gassy and Mulder falls to the floor while Crew Cut Man (outfitted with a gas mask, lucky!) looms. Scully and Deep Throat meet, and Deep Throat tells her he can maybe get Mulder out of this if Scully doesn’t mind going into a high containment facility in Maryland and retrieving “the original tissue.” And because it’s Mulder, and because she’s had a solid dose of awe, Scully says, let’s do this thing.
And she does. The project password is “purity control,” which is horrifying. “Purity control” gets her into a creepy room, and in the creepy room she pulls out a container, and she reaches into the container, and she pulls out a small, fetus-looking alien-looking specimen of original tissue. Scully, all season, has mostly just-missed the big things. Has missed Max Fenig hanging in mid-air. Has missed the government facility inside the power plant facility. Now she’s holding an alien. No big deal. When she meets back up with Deep Throat she’s doing her damn best to hold it together. She tells him she wants to make the exchange. He insists that he be the one to do it and she calls him sir and tells him she doesn’t trust him and good for her. But she lets him make the exchange. Deep Throat hands the alien over and is shot for his trouble. Mulder gets thrown onto the road and Scully goes to him, first, and Deep Throat, next, and Deep Throat dies in her arms, saying: “Trust no one.”
Then they shut down the X-Files, like we knew they would. Skinner delivers the order and the Cigarette-Smoking Man files away the evidence, the original tissue, in the Pentagon room with all of those files. Mulder and Scully talk late on the phone, like they did in the pilot, and Mulder tells Scully, “I’m not going to give up. I can’t give up.” Then he hangs up. And yes, sure you could end it. You could absolutely stop right there. Because we know something now, right, we know that there are aliens and we know that the government knows and we know that there are hybrids and that would be enough except. We also know that there are holes in everyone’s plans. There are lapses in judgment and gaps in the fence and people out there who are friendly to the spooky. Deep Throat told Scully that only she and Mulder could bring the truth to light and aren’t you excited to know what that means? The season ends and I think what we’ve learned most is that there is, in fact, is a lot of hope in The Truth Is Out There.