Season 5, Episodes 13 and 14: “Patient X”/“The Red and the Black”
Original airdates: March 1 and March 8, 1998
After going several rounds with multi-part mytharc episodes that froth quite a lot but pay out not much at all, “Patient X” and “The Red and the Black” are basically just a joy. Here are two completely comprehensible episodes that manage to introduce a new layer to the conspiracy without further obscuring the big picture, and, bonus, they've got some lovely bits of character development and excellent performances from nearly everyone present. Has someone been peeking at my Christmas list?
Anchoring the two-parter is a mystery that neither our agents nor the Consortium understand. So long as the characters don't understand, they work on theories; so long as they work on theories, the audience gets fed information. No one is left behind. It seems simple, but mytharc episodes often lack a core as strong as this, instead choosing to deliver important-seeming answers before the audience has had a chance to figure out what the questions are. And what’s happening in these episodes is genuinely fascinating. Groups of abductees—people who have reported abductions, people with implants in the back of their necks—are gathering in outdoor locations and being murdered. Specifically burned. It happens in Russia and in the United States and it throws everyone into a big, exposition-sharing tizzy.
Everyone, that is, except Mulder. Once a man who could always be counted on to get excited about UFOs, now a guy who's been disillusioned and who believes only in government conspiracy. These are the first episodes in which the implications of Mulder's newfound disbelief truly become apparent. When one of the mass deaths occurs at Skyland Mountain, the location of Scully’s abduction, Mulder is poker-faced. Scully is forced to be the one with the wild theories, the one who believes the deaths might be the result of an abduction gone wrong. “Do you have any evidence of that?” asks Mulder. He's not mean about it, but the question alone feels cruel. Particularly because Scully herself knows that he's not wrong to ask it.
So one of our agents is asking questions and the Consortium is, too. Questions like, why the hell is this happening to these abductees, and oh god can we fix this before the colonizing aliens try to come fix it themselves? Answering the Consortium’s questions is Marita Covarrubias, Mulder’s current informant. It looks like a double-cross but it’s actually a triple-cross; Marita is pretending to work for the Consortium while for realsies still feeding information to Mulder. She’s also double-crossing our old friend Alex Krycek, who faces off with her in Russia before hooking up with her in the good ol’ U.S.A. (Their make-out scene is so gross. It’s maybe the grossest make-out scene ever. Laurie Holden does not do her best work here, oh my god you can see her tongue.)
Krycek is there because Krycek saw an opportunity, because death taxes and Krycek has a scheme, am I right? Although he appears to have gained some level of authority in the oilian testing facility we last saw in “Tunguska” / ”Terma,” big fish wants a bigger pond. He kidnaps a boy who witnessed the first abductee bonfire, infects him with the black oil, and totes him back to the U.S. to use him as leverage with the Consortium. Only then Marita steals the boy first, only then she gets infected by the black oil, only then the Well-Manicured Man deduces that Krycek wouldn’t have infected the kid unless the Russians had successfully created an oilian vaccine. Which they did, which Krycek is forced to hand over, which is used on Marita to get her back in fighting shape.
The oilians have always been a bit of a loose end for me, and I like the way these episodes attempt to tie them back into the colony plot. It's clear now that the black oil can be used as a weapon and a vaccine against the oil would make it possible for the Consortium (and their Russian counterparts) to resist. Finally, the platitudes about how the Consortium’s work is for the good of the people seem to make sense. They’re scared. They’re doing the best they can. And when it’s revealed that the mass deaths are being perpetrated by alien rebels—resistance fighters who presumably disagree with the plan to something something and then hybrids and then Earth—the Well-Manicured Man senses an opportunity to form an alliance. But the rest of the Consortium moves too fast, decides too quickly, and the rebel is handed over. Out of fear. Everything, always, out of fear.
Two new characters are introduced in these episodes, an Agent Jeffrey Spender and his mother, Cassandra Spender. Cassandra is an abductee, a wheelchair-bound woman who has undergone regression therapy with Mulder's old doctor, Dr. Werber. Cassandra is either delusional or a prophet, and isn't that always the way? She believes that the aliens who have abducted her, who have done tests on her, are good. She believes that they have a message to deliver. Her son, Agent Jeffrey, is meanwhile none-too-pleased by the sudden interest that Mulder and Scully have taken in his mother. Agent Jeffrey is also, by the way, totally the son of the completely-not-dead Cigarette-Smoking Man, who’s revealed to be living in Canada somewhere, still smoking, still using a typewriter, and still somehow using his influence in the FBI, though now only to make sure that his son (who returns his letters, unopened) gets the career that he deserves.
Scully is drawn to Cassandra, and it’s no wonder, as it’s the first time the abduction has had even the hint of a bright side. Lately, Scully has been experiencing a feeling like the one Cassandra describes as being “called.” Unfortunately, Mulder's reluctance to explore Cassandra's story compounds Scully's growing alienation and ensures her silence up until the day she walks out of their office, mid-conversation. She goes to a bridge in Pennsylvania where other abductees are staring blankly at the sky. Cassandra is there; Cassandra takes her hand. They are attacked, and Cassandra is taken. The next time Mulder sees Scully, she's in a hospital bed with burns on her body and she doesn't remember a thing. Although I don't particularly relish another scene where Scully is laid up and Mulder is visiting her in the hospital, the choice here is elegant, a way to remind Mulder that his choices have consequences. That because their partnership was built on his beliefs, his disbelief can manifest as abandonment.
Mulder takes Scully to Dr. Werber, who puts her under while Mulder listens. The scene in Werber's office is deeply affecting, with Scully crying out and Mulder sitting as far away from her as he can—until her left hand flails for something and he takes it, anchors her. His fear is that she has been tricked the way that he believes he was once tricked, given a false memory to make her believe. We've often heard Mulder protest that a lack of physical evidence doesn’t mean a lack of truth, but without evidence, all we have is our faulty, faulty memories. Which makes it all the more upsetting when Mulder—acting on a tip from Krycek—goes in search of the captured alien rebel and arrives just in time to see the rebel taken, and just in time to pass out. Scully asks him what happened, and he says he doesn’t know. His exhaustion is evident. For most of us, it’s a struggle to believe. For Mulder, it’s a struggle to pretend that he doesn’t.