Reopening The X-Files

Reopening The X-Files: “Little Green Men”

Season 2, Episode 1: “Little Green Men”
Original Airdate: September 16, 1994

Have you ever seen this show called The X-Files about two agents who used to work on something called the X-Files and now they…don’t? Hah-hah indeed, but I’m serious about this. It’s scary when a show takes its premise away from itself. “Little Green Men” is a new pilot, a vision of a show that doesn’t have any of the things the show had when it began. It doesn’t have a sardonic FBI agent who is driven to find the truth, it doesn’t have a skeptical FBI agent who is determined to let science rule her, and it doesn’t have a basement office full of mysterious files. Instead it has a super-depressed FBI agent on wiretapping duty, an FBI agent who stares off into space while teaching new recruits, and no files at all. How long could this possibly last, you wonder. Surely they will re-open the X-Files at the end of this episode. Surely things will go right back right on track. Right?

Mulder is not doing well. Let’s start there. He’s scruffy, he’s dead-eyed, he’s walking right by Scully when they pass each other in the hallway. Scully also isn’t doing great but at least she’s not living on a diet of sunflower seeds, so, it’s up to her to get the band back together. She calls Mulder to their covert meeting point, the parking garage of the Watergate Hotel, and reminds him of his own words to her, the ones about, you know, never giving up, the truth is out there, not being a wet blanket. The little things. Mulder grumps at her that nothing he’s seen matters. That his memories—including his memories of his sister’s abduction—are number one not good enough and number two possibly faulty. That they need evidence. “I learned that from you,” he says. Way to go, season one Scully. Now he’ll never get out of bed.

We flash back to Mulder’s potentially faulty memory of Samantha’s abduction. The two of them, children, playing Stratego with news of the Watergate hearings on in the background. They fight about what to watch on television and then all of a sudden there’s light, and rumbling, and Mulder’s sister is suspended in mid-air, Max Fenig-style. We see young Mulder going for a gun, we see him seeing an alien-like figure. But then he stops, frozen, unable to do anything to stop the abduction. Helpless in the face of great, complex power.

Back in the present, Mulder is called to meet with a Senator Matheson, presumably the contact in Congress that Mulder cited in the pilot. With Bach blaring to thwart any possible bugs, Matheson offers Mulder a tip: if he goes to the Arecibo Observatory, a radio telescope in Puerto Rico, he may find evidence of “contact.” Mulder ditches work and heads straight for Puerto Rico, narrating his every move into a tape recorder. He breaks into the control room and finds that even though the power has been cut, the equipment is on, running, receiving and recording. He settles in to listen, and then that’s going so well that he decides to get a drink of water, except oh what’s this in the other room? A Spanish-speaking man named Jorge who is totally scared and yelling a lot? What fun! Mulder’s Spanish is pretty bad and mine is worse, so no one knows what Jorge is freaking out about until he draws a picture on the wall that looks kind of like an alien. Mulder calms Jorge down and tries to continue his work, but then all of a sudden the machinery springs to life and begins playing the Voyager recordings at them. Jorge loses it and runs outside into a storm. Mulder gives chase and finds Jorge dead, cowering, his hands raised as though to shield himself.

Skinner calls Scully in to ask her if she knows anything about where Mulder might be, and she says no, because it’s true. Skinner has done this calling-in apparently at the partial behest of the Cigarette-Smoking Man, who has not moved from his lurking post in Skinner’s office. It should be noted that Skinner does not seem entirely pleased with the Cigarette-Smoking Man’s presence. It should be noted that this is probably a good sign. Scully, naturally, takes her calling-in as a calling, and she begins hunting Mulder down. She goes to his apartment and guesses his computer password in three tries. The first guess is cheerful: SPOOKY. The second guess is mournful-optimistic: SAMANTHA. The third and correct guess is angsty: TRUSTNO1. On his computer she finds a radio transmission, which she brings to a fella with long hair at the Naval Observatory. Fellas with long hair love radio transmissions. This fella tells her it’s something like the Wow! Signal, but better. Scully peruses passenger manifests for flights heading to cities with SETI projects, finds a probable Mulder alias, and points herself in the direction of Puerto Rico.

And let’s just talk about this, now, because we should: at the time of filming, Gillian Anderson was pregnant. Shooting in partial shadow in a parking garage wasn’t just for atmosphere, and keeping the two agents apart for most of the episode wasn’t an accident. The ways in which the show’s writers worked around Anderson’s pregnancy is fairly clever. Though watching Mulder ditch Scully is already tiresome, here it seems like a realistic move made by a desperate man. Mulder is paranoid, and rightfully so. His apartment is under surveillance and Scully has to evasively maneuver out of a tail at the airport. Bringing her with him to Puerto Rico would have been a mistake. Not just one of those ones that people make up after the fact in order to cover up their thoughtlessness, but an actual mistake.

Because Mulder wants Scully there. He wants her in Puerto Rico, working with him. Even the tape recorder is for her. As Mulder examines Jorge’s body, his description of the corpse turns into a letter for his partner. “Nothing but evidence,” he says. “And again, no evidence at all.” Deep Throat’s last words have gotten to him, he admits, but trusting no one is a hard way to live. Plus, he trusts her. “And they’ve taken you away from me.” Breaks your heart, a little, because you know and I know and Scully knows that yes, formally, the partners have been separated, but Agent Woe over there has been too deeply buried to notice that Scully is still there. She’s still willing to work with him, and absolutely, definitely still willing to help him out. Which is good, because all of a sudden there’s a rumbling and a rattling and it seems like They’re Here. The reel-to-reels start repeating Mulder’s words back at him, and then there’s white light and he can’t shut the door and he goes for a gun, just like he did thirty years ago. This time he can shoot it, but the bullets won’t fire. And just before he passes out, he sees a familiar, alien-like figure.

Scully is there to wake him, to drag him out of Puerto Rico while a team of Blue Berets chase them. Mulder takes a tape with them, but the tape is blank. Degaussed in an electrical surge, suggests Helpful Scully, but it’s the Cigarette-Smoking Man who nails it true. “Your time is over and you leave with nothing,” he says, while Skinner stands in the background. But there’s something about the Cigarette-Smoking Man that Skinner has come to dislike, truly, and there’s surprise in Skinner’s face when Mulder says his apartment was illegally wiretapped, and so Skinner says “Get the hell out,” and he’s talking to the Cigarette-Smoking Man. Mulder is not too beaten to see that something has happened, but Skinner dismisses him without further conversation. Sends him back to wiretapping and sunflower seeds, and to Scully putting her hand on his hand. “I’ve still got you,” says Mulder. “And I’ve still got myself.” He puts the blank tape on the reels and he leans forward, straining to hear something. It’s a useless gesture, but poignant. Our old Mulder is in there. Unwilling to accept clear defeat. Anxious to find proof of what no one else believes.


Next week: “The Host”

Want to watch along? The entire series is currently streaming on Netflix as well as Hulu.

A minute ago, Meghan Deans was a four-bagger. She has a Tumblr and is @meghandrrns.


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