Season 3, Episodes 15 and 16: “Piper Maru”/”Apocrypha”
Original Airdates: February 9 and February 16, 1996
Sssh, don’t be afraid. I know. They’re mytharc episodes, I know, and we’re afraid of mytharc right now. Afraid it will be all questions and no answers, all rise and no fall. But there is something good, here, in “Piper Maru” and “Apocrypha.” Old friends, a reinvestment in existing plot points, strong arcs for our leads, and, yes, okay, fine, an entirely new alien race to figure out, but! We can do this. I’ll be strong for you if you’ll be strong for me.
A French salvage ship named the Piper Maru is looking for something, and Mulder notices, because where they’re looking at something is the same place where a submarine-or-maybe-a-UFO was pulled up not so very long ago. The Piper Maru is in San Diego and most of her crew is being treated for severe radiation burns, which is strange, says a man from the Navy, because there isn’t a trace of radiation on the ship itself. The only man not burnt to a crisp is Gauthier, a man who went underwater and surfaced with a cloudy black something in his eyes. Mulder and Scully search the Piper Maru and find a tape of Gauthier’s dive that shows a World War II-era plane, underwater and marked Drop Dead Red.
Mulder goes in search of Gauthier while Scully seeks information about the plane. Scully is in a pretty terrible mood, as Skinner has informed her that the FBI is shutting down its investigation into Melissa Scully’s murder. So it’s probably not an awesome idea for Scully to be driving around the Naval base where she and her sister grew up! But that’s what she’s doing, driving and reminiscing and finally pulling up at the house of Commander Johansen. She asks the retired Commander about the plane, and first he tells her he knows nothing and then he has her detained at the gatehouse so that he can explain he knows a lot more than nothing.
It goes like: after World War II, Johansen was on a submarine that was sent to recover a downed atomic bomb. Not long after they discovered the sunken squadron, the captain of the Zeus Faber began acting erratically and crew members began suffering radiation burns. An officer attempted mutiny, mutiny went wrong, and Johansen locked the crazy captain—who we see, in flashback, with the cloudy black substance in his eyes—into the infirmary with most of the crew. Only seven men survived the journey. Presumably, all of the current salvage missions are after that bomb, but when Mulder hears the explanation, he has an important question. If the United States government knew that the bomb was there, why did they wait so long to try a second recovery mission?
Cloudy-eyed Gauthier ransacks his office. His wife catches him, Gauthier attacks her, and Lady Gauthier leaves the house, her eyes now clouded. Mulder finds Gauthier semi-conscious, covered in machine oil, and unaware of the events of the past few days. There’s a piece of letterhead that’s been torn, J. Kallenchuk Salvage Brokers, a lead Mulder follows straight to a shady lady named Geraldine. Mulder tracks her to the airport, follows her on a flight to Hong Kong, confronts her in a dumpling restaurant, and accuses her of selling classified government secrets such as the coordinates of a downed World War II-era plane. In a charming bit of sitcommery, he handcuffs himself to her and the two go to the Kallenchuk office to meet her partner. And who is that partner, so enchantingly lit through the office blinds? Alex Krycek, the best partner of all. The last time we saw this guy, he’d escaped a car bomb and was clutching the DAT full of secrets. And while Mulder and Scully were apparently uninterested in following up on those secrets, the ones that Albert Hosteen has gone to all that trouble to memorize (seriously, why haven’t they done that), Krycek has made tremendous, treasonous use of his resources.
Before Mulder and Krycek can have a true reunion, Geraldine gets shot by some Frenchmen-in-black, the cloudy-eyed Lady Gauthier radiation-burns said Frenchmen (out of Mulder’s view), and Krycek escapes. Mulder catches up with his old buddy at the airport, punches him a lot, and demands to know where the DAT is. Krycek says it’s in a locker in DC, Mulder says go wash up, Krycek goes to wash up, Krycek gets attacked by the Lady Gauthier and emerges from the bathroom with his eyes a’clouding. The two drive, and are followed, and are run off the road. Two men pull Krycek from the car, and then there is a flash of light, and Mulder falls unconscious.
Skinner meanwhile has just been trying to have a nice lunch at his favorite and bizarrely-dark eating establishment. Only one day he goes in there and three guys sit around him and warn him to stop looking into Melissa Scully’s case, because aw, the old softy has been reviewing the evidence himself, just in case! Then on the second day there’s a man making trouble with the waitress and when Skinner intervenes, the man shoots him in the stomach. We’ve seen the shooter before, and so has Skinner—he’s Luis Cardinal, the man who shot Melissa Scully and helped Krycek steal the DAT from Skinner. He is, in other words, the Cigarette Smoking-Man’s man.
The Cigarette Smoking Man, you’ll remember, recently told some lies to his Consortium pals. He told them first of all that Krycek was dead and second of all that the DAT had been destroyed. So you can imagine that when he sees the French sailors covered in radiation burns, he’s not super happy. The men of the Consortium are upset to hear of the failed French salvage mission and the attempt on Skinner’s life, and they haul in the Cigarette-Smoking Man to explain. He tells them, in his most put-out voice, that the UFO that was previously located at the salvage site has been hidden, and that if anyone shot Skinner it had nothing to do with him. The Well-Manicured Man is not suspicious, then the Consortium’s office receives a phone call from Mulder and he is super-suspicious. The two men meet in Central Park to see who knows what about what. The Well-Manicured Man is better at the game than Mulder is, and he carefully asks the right questions until Mulder reveals that Krycek is still alive, and that the DAT has not been destroyed.
It’s a small drama, but a good one, I think. In the first season and for most of the second season, the Cigarette-Smoking Man was a relatively simple bad guy—he was the one who caused all of the problems. As we learn more about the Consortium, as we watch the Well-Manicured Man work, we understand that no one involved in this conspiracy is entirely in charge. There have always been many men, with many motivations, using information as power. In flashback we see one of Johansen’s fellow crew members, a sailor covered in burns and talking to three men. He tells them that the captain wasn’t just crazy, he was being controlled by something, and he grasps the hand of one of the men and says, Mr. Mulder, I can trust you. William Mulder looks to the others, and the young Cigarette Smoking Man says, you can trust all of us. He looks positively evil, and also a little stupid. Because the Cigarette-Smoking Man’s drive for power has created gaps in security. Every time he scrambles to cover something up, he leaves a space for Mulder and Scully to learn something new.
Science has informed Scully that the man who shot her sister is the man who shot her boss, and now she is focused, now Luis Cardinal is in trouble. Cardinal attempts to kill Skinner while he is being transported from one hospital to another but Scully is there, and she chases him and points a gun at him and does not shoot him. Cardinal tells her that Krycek is headed towards an abandoned missile site in North Dakota, and she and Mulder go there. Although there are hundreds of silos, they pick right the first time, find a big empty thing that seems pretty boring until a bunch of commando-types chase them out. The Cigarette-Smoking Man is there too, full of hubris and not at all concerned when Mulder shouts at him about the truth. The Cigarette-Smoking Man believes he’s won, after all. He has Luis Cardinal murdered in jail. He has the agents yanked away from North Dakota. Plus, he’s got the DAT: an oil-influenced Krycek traded it to him for the location of the silo. Now Krycek is in that silo, retching up sentient black oil. Once the alien is clear of its last host, it crawls into the UFO, leaving Krycek alone and screaming.
The Cigarette-Smoking Man has handled what he needed to handle, but it’s a patchwork job. If you ever wanted to know why Mulder keeps on in the face of relentless setbacks, I think this is it. So long as the truth is guarded by men—aging men, confident men, fallible men—it can be found out. And it’s this kind of conflict that keeps the mytharc accessible and interesting. I may not understand why all of a sudden there’s a body-jumping oil-based alien in the mix, but I enjoy watching the Consortium eat itself, I enjoy watching Krycek make trouble, I enjoy watching Scully get a tiny bit of closure. Hang the truth—I’m in it for the character development.
Next week: “Pusher”