Season 6, Episode 22: “Biogenesis”
Original Airdate: May 16, 1999
Okay so who are these aliens anyway. Does anyone know? They’re grey or they’re shapeshifters, they’ve got a life force made of black oil, they’re immensely powerful I guess, who knows, every time we meet them they’re half in shadow and there’s some completely wacked-out music playing. But. Throughout this campaign of non-information there has been one consistency, one half-acknowledged plot necessity. Alien life is old. How old is it? It’s so old that it’s maybe the reason we’re even here.
After the gleeful mythology-implosion of “Two Fathers”/“One Son,” “Biogenesis” is our roadmap, our sign of things to come, and apparently what is to come is the idea that life-on-Earth is linked to life-everywhere-else and, furthermore, the danger that Colonization poses is not really anything new. In the cold open to “Biogenesis,” Scully narrates the world’s most depressing high school science film, recounting the world’s Five Extinctions. First there was multicellular life, then it mostly died. Then there were plants and stuff and then they mostly died. Then dinosaurs and birds and some other things and boom, dead, “mass extinction,” isn’t it nice when your potential impending death is contextualized?
Driving the episode’s plot is a series of “artifacts,” which actually appear to be pieces of a larger something buried off the Ivory Coast. The pieces have writing on them, writing that turns out to be phonetically-written Navajo that, when translated directly, doesn’t make any logical sense. Oh hold up, where have I heard that before? Yesssss “Anasazi,” yessss code-talkers, yesssss some sort of connection to the old mythology that I’m sure will be totally clear someday ha ha oh god.
Anyway, so, these artifacts, man! How good is an object like this for keeping an episode moving! They’re either in the hands of good or evil, being pursued by other people who are good and evil. Plus to make it even more fun, these artifacts have some sort of wacky magic in ‘em. A Professor Merkmallen on the Ivory Coast brings one into his office, matches it to another one, and the damn thing fuses together and flies across the room, lodging itself in his Bible. Which is probably a little on the nose? Particularly as it gets stuck right in the midst of Genesis? But I don’t know, six seasons of this show and sometimes I appreciate the on-the-nose moments. At least it lets me know where we’re headed (Genesis Town, Population: WE’LL SEE WON’T WE.).
Merkmallen brings his artifact to American University where he’s supposed to meet Dr. Sandoz, another (good!) artifact-bearing fellow. Unfortunately, Merkmallen is intercepted by the (evil!) Dr. Barnes, another scientist at the university who has made a career out of debunking Sandoz’s wacky little-green-men theories. Barnes murders Merkmallen, steals the artifact, and plants his corpse in Sandoz’ apartment. After, of course, removing all of the parts of his body that would show trace radiation, specifically Outer Space Radiation (not what it is actually called, but) that would prove the artifact is from Outer Space.
Skinner, somewhat suspiciously, assigns Scully and Mulder to investigate Merkmallen’s murder, despite the lack of an obvious X-File. Skinner plays it all, “oh hey Mulder I know you are probably going to be interested in this” but in fact it appears that Skinner was forced to assign them to the case—and videotape his meetings with the agents—by the nanobot-wielding Krycek. As ever, Krycek’s motivations are shadowy and strange, but his control over Skinner is surprisingly poignant in its execution. By the end of the episode, both Mulder and Scully have noticed that something’s up—Scully calls him a liar to his face—and he can do nothing but clench, and unclench, his hands.
Scully is nonplussed by the assignment, particularly once she learns that Merkmallen and Sandoz were both proponents of the ancient astronaut theory. Coming off of “Field Trip,” an episode in which it is made clear how vital Mulder and Scully’s perspectives are to each other, it is at first frustrating as the two of them fall into the old it’s important/but it’s not science argument. Soon, though, the episode takes its smartest turn of all: it gets rid of Mulder. Upon looking at a rubbing of the missing artifact, Mulder starts to get crazy headaches and a little bit of psychic power. He knows where to find Merkmallen’s body, he knows about Skinner’s duplicity. But before we can get too excited about Mulder-as-Superhero, the headaches completely incapacitate him, leaving him writhing in an American University stairwell.
It’s Krycek who finds him there, Krycek on his way to meet with Barnes and strike up some sort of who-knows-what kind of bargain I’m-sure-we’ll-find-out-later ha ha oh god. But this is key, that Krycek finds him, because the next time we see Mulder, he’s in his apartment, being watched over by the occasionally-topless Diana Fowley. Fowley claims that Mulder called her, which given his condition does not seem to be true at all, and then also while at his apartment Fowley calls the Cigarette-Smoking Man to tell him that she’s there. So! The line seems to be, Krycek called Fowley, then Fowley called the Cigarette-Smoking Man. Which would indicate that Krycek is on his own tip, which would indicate that Fowley is double-agenting, which would indicate that the more things change, etc.
With Mulder unable to continue the investigation—he is eventually checked into a psychiatric hospital on account of being shouty and violent—it falls on Scully to pursue the artifact’s trail. And she does it, bless her. She finds Dr. Sandoz in New Mexico, where he’s gone to visit a sick-and-dying Albert Hosteen. Hosteen has translated part of the artifact and, surprise, it’s Genesis 1:28 and also a partial map of the human genome. And although Scully does not at all like this, and although Scully thinks this is proof that the thing is fake (and not, as Mulder suggests, proof that aliens invented everything), Scully keeps on. Sandoz gets murdered (by Krycek), and Skinner acts squirrelly, and Diana Fowley is a cold son of a gun, but Scully keeps on.
And because Scully keeps on, Scully gets to see something. She puts on her best long linen skirt and she goes to the Ivory Coast and she crouches in the water, brushes back the sand, and sees more phonetic Navajo spreading out under her feet. It’s a big thing, the thing she’s standing on, but, there’s a bigger thing: the fact that she’s there at all. While Mulder pounds the walls of a padded cell, while this artifact threatens to undermine her twin belief systems—God and science—Scully is forced, finally, to stand on top of the truth.