Thu
May 24 2012 12:00pm
Reopening The X-Files: “Tunguska”/“Terma”

Season 4, Episodes 8 and 9: “Tunguska”/“Terma”
Original Air Dates: November 24, 1996 and December 1, 1996

Okay, but what if the conspiracy wasn’t just at home. Sorry — we were talking about the conspiracy, right? I know things got a little confused last week, the did-he-or-didn’t-he of it all, but this is a two-part episode so it’s serious times again. Thus far the show has focused pretty solidly on keeping the conspiracy local, keeping the fight between our agents and the shadowy men behind the United States government. There have been international waters before — Japanese scientists and French salvage missions — but “Tunguska” and “Terma” have something else in mind, something big and dark and cold and (in 1996) only a little bit dated: The Cold War. All those who like hearing Canadian actors put on Russian accents, put your hands UP!

A courier carrying unmarked canisters is detained at an airport by a customs agent who is terrible at his job. So terrible that he immediately drops one of the canisters, revealing the contents to be our old friends, the black oilians. Meanwhile, Mulder and Scully are apparently so good at their jobs that they have been allowed to join a SWAT team that’s bustin’ up a domestic terror plot. Now granted, Mulder was the one that brought the plot to everyone’s attention — he’s been receiving tips, he explains, just before he and Scully chase down a truck and yank from it our old friend, Alex Krycek, last seen screaming very loudly in a missile silo. He claims that the terrorist organization found him there, in the silo, and takes credit for tipping Mulder to the bomb plot. For this reason, Mulder does not kill him straight off. He does shove him around a lot, though, while Scully watches. I guess because if a guy kills your dad it’s a shovable offense but if a guy was in the room while someone else shot your sister it’s more of a disapproving stare situation? Someone check with the U.N. for me.

Anyway Krycek is not super-pleased about being shut up in that silo and he’s looking to take some revenge on the Cigarette-Smoking Man. Mulder bites, and the three of them go to an airport to intercept a second courier, who runs away but drops the pouch he was carrying. Inside: not canisters, but a rock. And for some reason Mulder and Scully are annoyed at this? Although I do not know what exactly they were expecting, and frankly if I saw a guy carrying a rock in a diplomatic pouch I would think it probably meant something, but fine, they take it to NASA and a guy at NASA is like, “yeah this is probably from Mars ” so maybe Krycek isn’t full of it after all. Krycek, by the way, is handcuffed to Skinner’s balcony because that is how Skinner treats houseguests who have previously attacked him in stairwells. The CSM swings by to tell Skinner that the pouch that Mulder and Scully intercepted is causing “a problem in foreign policy circles.” Then the rock-dropping courier from before breaks into Skinner’s apartment to look for the rock but instead he finds Krycek, and they scuffle, and Krycek throws him off the balcony. This creates a problem in domestic policy circles (the police, that is) and so Mulder has to smuggle Krycek out of there and hit him in the head a few more times. Law enforcement is hard.

The NASA Scientist takes a spinning saw to the rock and out come some oilians. They crawl on into him ’cause that’s what the oilians do, only they leave him in some sort of comatose state and that’s how Scully gets to find him. At Mulder’s somewhat creepy request (he, ah, shows up at her apartment in the middle of the night?) Marita Covarrubias finds out that the courier pouch originated nearabouts Tunguska, Russia. She offers to help him get to Russia, and at this point Mulder decides to ask why and her answer is so dull that I basically fell asleep in the middle but, it’s, “there are those of us who believe in your search for the truth.” I think we can agree that Marita is thus far the most boring informant, maybe because Mulder goes to her instead of vice versa? Deep Throat and X, at least, seemed to have their own agendas. Marita’s agenda thus far seems to be looking intensely concerned.

Krycek is still with Mulder, and Mulder is really enjoying not telling Krycek what is going on. Mulder thinks, of course, that he has the upper hand, but we’re not so stupid, are we? We know already that Krycek has danced a turn with the oilians, and it certainly isn’t a coincidence that the pouch he’s got Mulder after has something to do with that slithery black Gak. But anger makes you stupid, and revenge makes you stupider. Mulder parks in the long-term lot at JFK and cheerfully locks Krycek inside the car, handcuffed to the steering wheel. Krycek immediately starts cursing at Mulder…in Russian. Russian! Mulder thinks this is a great development because Mulder is dumb as an oilian rock. “My parents were Cold War immigrants, what’s it to you?” says Krycek — Krycek who supposedly does not know anything about that pouch, Krycek who even so kept pushing Mulder to learn more about it — and we all say, “Oh Mulder. It is thusly that you have been played.”

The CSM visits the Well-Manicured Man on the WMM’s telephone-free horse farm. A pretty lady named Dr. Charne-Sayer is riding a horse nearby. CSM tells WMM that their courier is dead, and that Mulder is off to Russia. WMM is super-furious about this. Also furious: Congress! A Senator Sorenson has issued a letter of summons to Skinner and Scully! He wants to know about the courier who was pushed off of Skinner’s balcony, also he wants to know where Mulder is. And if he really wants to know I’ll tell him. Mulder is in Russia, telling Krycek about the time (1908) there was a big explosion in Tunguska, an extraterrestrial sort of explosion and maybe now that means something. The two of them find a camp full of men who are walking through mud and getting whipped for their trouble. Then they are chased by some other men on horses. Then they are put in a gulag. Then Krycek speaks some insistent Russian to a guard and wishes a cheeky Dasivdanya! to Mulder (uh-oh). Then Mulder is injected with something and taken to the Scary Russian Experiment Room where he and a bunch of other prisoners lie naked under chicken wire while the black oil is dripped into their faces.  

So, not good. A prisoner in a neighboring cell tells post-experiment (but not black-oil-comatose) Mulder that the folks in charge of the gulag are doing experiments, possibly to find a cure for what he calls The Black Cancer. Over at NASA, Scully and Pendrell have examined the infected scientist and determined that he’s alive but compromised, the oilians having built a nest around part of his brain. In the meanwhile a retired KGB agent named Peskow has been called out of retirement to murder the intended recipient of the pouch, Dr. Charne-Sayer. The CSM learns that the hit was carried out by Peskow, and both he and the WMM are baffled — how, wonders the WMM, could the Russians know that they were also working on a vaccine? Which is apparently what everyone was doing. A vaccine. Not a cure. Just to catch you (me) up. The WMM sputters that only six people knew, and the CSM is eager to blame the whole thing on Charne-Sayer, but of course there’s another loose end, isn’t there? A sort of, a Russian-speaking loose end who is, as we speak, being super-friendsy which a bunch of gulag-guarding guards?

Mulder busts out of the gulag by taking Alex “Loose End” Krycek hostage and then stealing a truck. And then crashing a truck. Krycek runs into the woods and meets a group of one-armed men who claim that they can protect him from the gulag. This does not turn out to mean that they will cover him with leaves? But that they will saw off his left arm. No arm no test, explains the English-speaking wife of the angry guy whose truck Mulder stole. Mulder tells the wife that this arm thing is crazy, and also that he needs to get to St. Petersburg, and also he tells her that her smallpox scar is an identification. Which is an incredibly huge leap for Mulder to make, but also valuable information for those of us trying to keep the mytharc straight. This is one of the few elements of the episode that formally ties the concept of the oilians to the rest of the alien colonists. And although Mulder clearly got this idea from the writers and not from his extensive investigation of the gulag, it’s something to hang onto.

And if you are wondering what’s been keeping Scully busy this whole time, it’s Congress. She’s being hollered at for things that are not even her fault, primarily, the fact that Mulder’s gone off somewhere for “answers” to “questions.” She stoically refuses to tell the Congressional committee where the eff he is, which earns her a night in jail and gives her an opportunity to do some research on Dr. Charne-Sayer’s work with vaccines. The next morning she presents her findings, or at least she starts to present her findings and then Mulder walks in. The hearing is recessed and Mulder and Scully go to Boca Raton to visit a convalescent home where Dr. Charne-Sayer served as a board member. The same convalescent home where Peskow is going around and cheerily poisoning all of the residents (he has also poisoned the infected NASA scientist, for closure). Mulder and Scully find them dead, evidence of black oilians all over them.

Next stop is jail, where one of Krycek’s domestic terrorist buddies tells our agents that first of all they did not even find Krycek in that missile silo — he came to them, talking game about The Black Cancer and how it was developed in Russia and used as biowarfare. He also tells them that Krycek had been working on a second bomb, which Mulder quickly works out is not so much a bomb as a way to get the Tunguska rock samples away from the Consortium. Sure enough, Peskow is on the case, blowing everything up before Mulder and Scully can stop him. The Congressional subcommittee is unimpressed with our agents’ collection of evidence about the oilian, and then Mulder gets up and says some things about how everyone on the committee is being ridiculous. And it’s a decent enough speech but also a little infuriating, seeing as Scully has basically been saying the same thing for several days and the senators have had no problem interrupting her, but, let’s not worry about that, let’s worry about the episode’s last awesome reveal: the one about how the guy who brought Peskow out of retirement was in fact Comrade Krycek. Who now only has one arm. Who apparently used teleportation to get out of that silo? And is definitely very well-connected, and a Russian spy, and who maybe told Mulder the smartest thing of all, probably when Mulder was clenching his fist to hard to listen: “The truth, the truth…there is no truth. These men, they just make it up as they go along.”


Meghan Deans is an invertebrate scum sucker whose moral dipstick is about two drops short of bone dry. She Tumbls and is @meghandrrns.

6 comments
Eugene R.
1. Eugene R.
Ms. Deans, the Committee is very impressed with your testimony on the matter of the "oilians" (I believe you call them?), and we wish to thank you for taking the time to sort through this rather confused matter and report to us your most cogent findings. Based on your testimony, I see no alternative than to hold this ... (consults paper) ... Spotnitz and Carter, the alleged masterminds behind this conspiracy, in contempt of viewership.
Cait Glasson
2. CaitieCat
Eugene, should we now call you the WPM*?

* Well-Published Man.
Steven Halter
3. stevenhalter
These episodes were definitely a step forward, step back sort of exercise. At this point I remember being fairly confused of how the oil fit in with the grays and the bounty hunter and Mulder's sister and ...
The making it up as they go did seem like a very good description.
Eugene R.
4. Eugene R.
CaitieCat (@2): Hmm. Well, I have seen literary careers die, so I maybe be qualified to be WPM. Let me check with Deep Thesaurus and (sometimes) Y. [grin]
Eugene R.
5. JennB
LOL I love it - "oilians" good work on the breakdown of this one.
Eugene R.
6. TonyC
The big problem with this episode for me was, you can only understand it if you start at the end, and then work backwards through a series of improbable events.

The end is: Krycek wanted to achieve something. Once we know what he wanted, we realise, he had to get to Russia. How did he need to get to Russia? He needed Mulder to go with him. How did he get Mulder to go with him? He had to get Mulder's trust. How did he get Mulder's trust? By making sure Mulder caught him sabotaging a terrorist attack. How did he make sure that happened? By feeding Mulder info. How did he feed Mulder info? By getting involved with a terrorist group.

All that had to happen to get Krycek to Russia.

And to be honest, even after all this time, I'm not clear what Krycek was trying to do. Get more vaccine?

I'm one of the few people who never got lost in the mythology, it was always really clear to me. What wasn't clear was, the details. Like, what, hang on, some clones (End Game) are actually a race, while others are genetic experiments? Why did people who the black oil jumped into (like Krycek) not become genetically altered like those who were abducted and exposed, or tested on like Mulder? That kind of thing. It doesn't bother me cos it doesn't stop the core mythology from making sense. But it's annoying cos, like most TV story problems, all it takes is a sentence every now and then to straighten all of these things out.

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