Season 3, Episode 22: “Quagmire”
Original Airdate: May 3, 1996
There are all sorts of monsters on The X-Files. There are the ones that humanity has created, like the Flukeman. There are the ones that have evolved, like Tooms. And then there are the ancient monsters, the ones who live far below the surface, quietly reigning over the food chain. Lake monsters, for instance, those canny beasts. Or perhaps something worse, something silent and powerful and ancient in its way. The sort of monster that can drive you and your partner to Georgia, to sit stranded in the middle of a cold lake in the blackest heart of night.
The frog population is declining near a lake in Georgia. A scientist named Farraday presents his research to a U.S. Forestry man. The U.S. Forestry man is not interested, and then the U.S. Forestry man is dead, violently. Mulder drags Scully to Georgia to investigate, and I say drags because every muscle in her face says drags. It’s a Saturday, a trip so last minute she couldn’t even find a dogsitter, and so now there’s a Pomeranian named Queequeg whining in the backseat (a gift from the late Clyde Bruckman). You’ll therefore excuse Scully for her lack of enthusiasm and you’ll excuse her annoyance when she realizes that what Mulder is really after is Big Blue, a lake monster who purportedly lives in this lake of declining frogs.
Farraday is on Scully’s side, he doesn’t care about the U.S. Forestry man and, furthermore, he doesn’t believe in Big Blue. Ted, the man who owns the local souvenir shop does believe, or at least he’s got a story to tell about it, or at least he’s trying to sell some t-shirts. But the true believer is Ansel, a local photographer who has dedicated his life to snapping a photo of Big Blue. Ansel has also just found a dead body, or rather half of one, the lower half of a Boy Scout troop leader who’d recently gone missing. Scully figures maybe fish ate the top half, Mulder thinks maybe it’s something bigger.
We’ve barely absorbed that death when we’ve got another, Ted the man from the souvenir shop, who gets attacked while using costume boots to make fake monster tracks. The Sheriff doesn’t want to close the lake because I guess he’s never seen Jaws, and almost immediately there’s another attack, this time a stoner who is snorkeling. A snorkeling stoner? He gets his body torn straight off his head, or maybe it’s propeller damage from a motor boat, so the Sheriff remains uninterested in pulling a full Chief Brody. That gives us the opportunity to watch as Ansel sets a trap for Big Blue and then gets himself attacked. He’s snapping photos all the way, and though they all turn out blurry, it doesn’t stop Mulder from carefully examining each one. With her partner once again lending an incredible amount of focus to an awfully long shot, Scully sighs and takes Queequeg for a walk. Then Queequeg runs off. Then Queequeg is eaten.
So that’s six deaths, five human and one canine. Scully has her head in her hands and Mulder offers up an apology, but what good is that? I mean it’s nice. It’s fine. The people that the two of them have lost, investigating the X-Files! A dog isn’t even close to being the worst of it, but Queequeg is a fine microcosm. Scully being dragged out to the woods on someone else’s quest, Scully losing something she loves, Scully committing to it not because she so desperately wants to find Big Blue or the rogue motor boat propeller, but because she has a responsibility to Mulder, and to her job. A responsibility and sometimes a love. Only it is very hard to love something that is responsible for killing your dog. Even indirectly responsible. Mulder knows this, so his apology is brief and the diversion comes next: “Can you drive a boat?” Because I guess he has also never seen Jaws.
They go out on a boat in the middle of the night. They see something on the radar, something large, and that something large slams into the boat and the boat sinks. Mulder and Scully find a rock but no shore, so they sit on the rock and they talk and since Scully has lost her dog and since Scully is, in her way, angry, she starts to call Mulder names. A name, actually, Ahab. As in Moby-Dick, as in also the name she had for her father, you’re welcome armchair psychologists. Ahab, who was “consumed by… personal vengeance against life, whether it be its inherent cruelties or mysteries.” Mulder tries to volley with a joke, but Scully won’t have it, and she’s not incorrect. Obsession, unchecked, leads to death both for dogs and for harpooners. Scully’s father called her Starbuck, the voice of reason, but it’s not Starbuck who survives the Pequod. And it’s not Ahab, either.
Mulder has a different read on it, and he promises it’s not flippant. He tells her he always wanted a peg leg, one like Ahab’s, not because it’s funny to say you’d want to have a peg leg, but because “if you have a peg leg or hooks for hands, then maybe it’s enough to simply keep on living.” With a peg leg, he wouldn’t need to chase down lake monsters in Georgia. And whether Mulder believes that to be true, or whether Mulder is simply trying to be kind, it’s hard to say. I think he wants to believe it. A man who is driven by obsession might certainly wish to believe that with a few subtle changes, his life could be easy. It’s too bad for Mulder, then, that he has a peg leg already. Because the point of Ahab’s peg leg is not that Ahab has a disability to overcome, the point of Ahab’s peg leg is that it’s a constant reminder of the battle he has yet to win. And so Mulder’s peg leg may be Samantha, or it may be his father. Or it may, in fact, be Scully. The woman who is next to him every day, making sense of the truth and reminding him of what is still left to do.
The rock they are on, it turns out, is not far from shore. And so they’re rescued by Farraday, who’s passing by with a bag of frogs that he means to release into the wild. On his way to do so, he’s attacked, and also while our agents were playing Survivor: AP English a fisherman got his arm chomped off. Mulder has a theory, one about how the declining frog population has led to the monster getting hungrier and how a hungry monster means attacked people. He’s convinced the predator is in the cove where the frogs live, but the Sheriff isn’t, so Scully stands up to full Starbuck height and asks the Sheriff to please send some men over to help them sweep that cove. Then Mulder chases a sound, and then the sound chases Mulder, and then Mulder shoots and it turns out it’s an alligator. Who is dead now.
Scully pats Mulder on the shoulder and makes one last Moby-Dick joke and the two turn away from shore just in time to miss the sight of a serpent surfacing in the lake, then dipping back underwater. A vaguely unsatisfactory ending, plus weren’t there a whole lot of deaths and is it really possible for an alligator to sink a boat? Our Ahab and Starbuck do not ask these questions, which therefore turns them into Brody and Hooper, which I suppose does mean survival. Or at least a sequel.
Next week: “Talitha Cumi”/“Herrenvolk”