Season 1, Episode 8: “Ice”
Original Airdate: November 5, 1993
“Ice” is the second Morgan & Wong episode and another bang-up Monster of the Week. Set in the Arctic—a vague and frozen land that the show will come to call on again, and again—it’s a bottle episode with the pressure kept tight. In the excellent cold open, a shirtless, sweaty, bloodied man sets up a video camera and rasps: “We’re not who we are.” Then he repeats it. For effect. He’s interrupted by a second man, who wants to fight! So they do. Beat each other up a bit, then point guns at each other. Then, slowly, the first man lowers his gun and points it at himself. The second man follows. Two gunshots. So awesome.
In what appears to be a high school computer lab, Mulder briefs Scully on the case. The suicidal wrestlers were actually scientists, sent to the frozen freezy part of the country to do some sort of research core drilling science something. And our agents get to go up and figure out why they all murdered each other, because they are “either brilliant or expendable.” They’re teamed up with some scientists, one goofy (Danny, who likes to listen to radio broadcasts of old Chargers games), one suspicious (Hodge, who is suspicious), and one lady (DaSilva, who is Felicity Huffman, and who has bangs). Also a pilot, whose name is Bear, because obviously his name is Bear.
Upon arriving at the site, which still has a bunch of dead bodies strewn about, Scully momentarily forgets that she is a trained FBI agent/medical doctor and actually says “Where do we start?” Well! It turns out that they start by documenting the scene, and also touching all sorts of stuff, and letting Danny play around with the core samples, like there is absolutely no chance that what happened to the previous team could have been caused by something in the room or could happen a second time. The lack of precaution they take is hilarious. But it was the Nineties! People were always going around touching stuff and wearing scrunchies and being pilots named Bear. Oh hold up, speaking of Bear, guess who’s first to get into trouble? It’s Bear! He gets attacked by a dog, which sucks, because the dog is infected by something, and that something turns out to be a totally gross worm-parasite that makes people super-surly. Like, attack-Mulder-with-a-glass-jar-type surly. The gang holds Bear down and extracts the worm from the back of his neck. Then Bear dies.
So we’ve got a worm that turns people into murderous jerks. You know what also turns people into jerks? Being stuck in the Arctic with a bunch of strangers! It’s perfect, really. Everyone starts to side-eye each other. No one can sleep. Are people shouting at each other because they’re tired and scared and cranky, or are people shouting at each other because they are infected? Then Mulder goes walking around in the middle of the night and finds Danny stuffed in the freezer with his throat cut. Because someone was really, really tired and scared and cranky? And this is point at which the finger-pointing gets really bad and this is also the point at which Mulder handles it all horribly, first refusing to let the others examine him for signs of worm and then pulling a gun on Hodge. Naturally Scully is not going to take that crap and so she pulls a gun on Mulder, and naturally Mulder takes that badly and so he points his gun at her, and then for God’s sake they are pointing guns at each other! Darn you, threat of worm! Leave this promising but still-tenuous partnership alone!
Now, Mulder is not infected. We eventually learn. Which means this standoff is pure Mulder. And it is! It is totally and completely him, to see resistance in others and to meet it, bullheadedly, with thrice the force. It is the reason we love him! It is the reason he is going to get locked in a closet. Because although Scully would like to defend her partner, she has also got to be the voice of reason. And voice of reason says it’s possible that Mulder is infected. What with the gun-pointing and the shouting and all. Therefore, Mulder gets bolted into a closet, and he has no one to blame but his own bullheaded self.
With Mulder safely locked away, the remaining three happen upon a cure so sublimely well-structured and fun that I almost get angry when I think about it. Like the popular children’s book says, if you infect an worn-infected person with a second worm, the two worms will kill each other. Which means if we are pretty sure Mulder is infected, we can give him a worm and he’ll be cured. Except if he’s not infected, and we give him a worm, he’s now infected. And there aren’t any more worms. There’s only one worm left! Oh man! I am getting really angry about how good this is! Scully visits Mulder’s closet to explain how great it all is, and obviously he hates it because of how he is (1) pissy (2) not infected. To prove his point, he offers to let her inspect him for worm. She does. Either tensely or tenderly, depending on your stance. Then she turns and he either grabs her neck or puts his hand on her neck, depending on your stance, and examines her right back.
It’s a little like the mosquito-bite scene in the pilot, but better, because it’s the both of them vulnerable and because it doesn’t require Scully to be an idiot who can’t identify mosquito bites. And I like it best, honestly, as a gesture of partnership rather than a gesture of attraction. “I wanted to trust you,” Mulder says, which is a little faulty on account of he pulled the first gun, but the sentiment is real. They both want that trust. They need to be able to rely on each other. In a world of ice-core worms and pilots named Bear, that partnership is the surest thing they have. Which is love, of a sort. But at the outset it’s not romance so much as it’s survival.
In the end, the host is Felicity Huffman. Hodge notices the worm under her skin just in time, and they cure her and leave her to official quarantine and a dubious moral future. Mulder spends about five minutes back in civilization before deciding that he wants to go back to the lab and figure out if the worm is an alien or whatever, but Hodge reports that forty-five minutes after their evacuation “they torched the place.” Ooh, “they”! So quick with a torch. Mulder gets wistful about it, but Scully walks away. And she’s right, I mean, if you’re going to get to know an alien, does it have to be the one that makes people murdery? Maybe go find the peacekeeping worms instead. I bet they are so much more fun.
Next week: “Fallen Angel”