Season 5, Episode 4: “Detour”
Original Airdate: November 23, 1997
Mulder and Scully are headed for a teamwork seminar, which of course is a funny idea. Who needs a a teamwork seminar less than these two, right? These two who have fought side-by-side, who have seen things, who have saved each other over and over? But even the closest of partners take something for granted, as Scully learns within the first few minutes of this episode. As her better half gets out of a car and walks away without a word of explanation.
He’s escaping, of course, escaping the chatter of the two cheery agents driving with them to the conference. They get stopped at a Roadblock of Great Contrivance, set up by Florida law enforcement to investigate a man’s disappearance. Mulder quickly gets the lay of the land, needing only a few words (“there was a third set of tracks . I couldn’t identify”) to convince him that he oughta stay and check it out. Scully follows him and he forces her to draw her conclusions out loud—indeed, they won’t be making it to the seminar, and she’s the one who’s got to explain it to the other agents. “We don’t need that conference,” he says, smirking a little. “We have communication like that, unspoken. You know what I’m thinking.”
He’s joking, of course, believing that he and Scully are on the same page, the page that says this conference thing sucks and they aren’t going to endure it, no matter what. And if she isn’t on that page, then she needs to be on that page—the same way she needs to be on his page when they investigate, when he launches a theory and waits for her to catch up. Here, Scully tries to roll with it—Scully is very good at trying to roll with it—even breaking into her motel minibar so that they can share a tiny bottle of white wine. Only Mulder’s already got his foot out the door, a theory ready to launch, and as he runs out the door, she finally says it: “Sometimes I think some work on your communication skills wouldn’t be such a bad idea.”
He’s gotten better, of course, at not taking her for granted. She did after all almost die, he did after all break down at her side. He did risk everything for her, as she has risked everything for him. He trusts her, he needs her, but he still has a habit of abandoning her on the side of the road. And what is that? Is that selfishness, is that drive? Or is it, perhaps, fear? I mean not to get too, but yeah, let’s get too. Is it fear of intimacy? Of love, of a sort? While the Reduxes proved the depth of their partnership, they also proved the height of Mulder’s emotional barriers. He cried silently and while she slept; he cried silently and outside her room. Hiding his fears from her, despite the fact that she is in a unique position to understand them.
And oh, the case, let’s not forget the case. It’s an X-File, so well done there Mulder, your saving grace is so often your instinct. There are creatures in the woods and they are killing people. They begin in the cold open by taking down two surveyors, move on to a man who is hunting with his son, and then they make an attempt on the son himself. The creatures are vaguely humanoid, can camouflage themselves, and can regulate their body temperature. They also have glowing red eyes, leading Mulder to believe they might be Mothmen-types. Best of all, they are smart, and seem particularly concerned with taking down their enemies top-down—going after the strongest and working their way down.
From a dramatic standpoint, that’s a handy trait, particularly when it’s time for Mulder and Scully to go into the woods with a local officer and Mark from Rent. (Who’s character name is Jeff Glaser, but I don’t care, does anyone want to sing “What You Own” with me or are you no fun?) Local law enforcement gets picked off first, ’cause she’s in the front. Mulder makes Mark walk in front, which is awfully nasty, and sure enough he goes next. Third up is Mulder, but the creatures have made a miscalculation there, haven’t they? Because Scully gets a couple good shots off, freeing him before they can drag him away. Because Scully is a lot stronger than she looks.
So they’re lost, and in the woods, and without provisions, and Mulder’s all banged up, and here the episode pauses for a rare, sweet scene between our agents. Scully attempts to light a fire using gunpowder, they talk about mortality, and Mulder makes Scully sing him to sleep. She resists, he insists, and she offers him a tuneless rendition of the Three Dog Night hit “Joy to the World.” The scene echoes their Ahab conversation from “Quagmire,” but “Quagmire” was a season and a half ago, and there’s a new familiarity here. Neither needs to be told, anymore, about the lengths the other will go for the truth, because they know. Neither needs to know the other’s secrets, ’cause they know that, too. What they need now is teambuilding, a mountain made of chairs that gets them higher. What they need now is to be able to talk like this.
The sun rises and Scully falls into a hole, which turns out to be part of a whole network of tunnels dug, presumably, by the creatures. They find local law enforcement and they find the hunter, but they do not find Mark and they do not catch the creatures. Instead they are rescued, together, thanks to the efforts of the cheery agents who were meant to go to the teambuilding workshop. Mulder has a theory about how maybe the creatures are actually the last remaining survivors of Ponce de Leon’s crew, men who found the Fountain of Youth and put its magic towards their own evolution. As man encroaches on the forest, Mulder suggests, these creatures—now part of the forest—must push back. Nature: Another great thing to never take for granted.
Speaking of, where’s Scully? Mulder realizes, all of a sudden, just when you think the episode is over. He realizes that she’s gone, that she’s headed back to the motel, and that would be fine except for these creatures who don’t seem to stop. He rushes back to her, his speed betraying the flippancy he held so high at the beginning of the episode. And it’s fine, she’s alive, but it’s a nice touch, a strong final beat, to see him in pursuit of her, for once. Perhaps Mulder will never learn to express himself, perhaps he’ll always be three steps ahead of her. But at this point, she can be sure that he will always come back.