"Brand X"
by Michelle Erica Green

Mulder Is Bugged To Learn Second-Hand Smoke Kills

"Brand X" Plot Summary:

In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Skinner guards James Scobee, a man prepared to testify as a federal witness against the tobacco company for which he works as a researcher. But Scobee is found dead in the morning, the skin around his mouth grotesquely chewed away. There's no evidence of a break-in, so Skinner sends Scully to autopsy the body. Mulder finds it strange that a tobacco company employee doesn't smoke, like a GM executive driving a Ford. He is also surprised to find a tobacco bug in Scobee's water glass.

Mulder and Skinner go to see Dr. Peter Voss, Scobee's supervisor, though head of corporate security Daniel Brimley must personally escort them past the guard at the gate. Voss' lawyers insist that Voss not tell the FBI what Scobee intended to testify about, nor why Scobee was demoted a few weeks back, on the grounds that no corporate secrets can be discussed with the FBI.

Mulder shows Voss the tobacco beetle; when Voss asks why he wants to know about it, Mulder says he can't discuss it on the grounds that no FBI secrets can be discussed with the corporation. At home that evening, smoker Darrell Weaver approaches Voss, saying he's out of the cigarettes he used to get from Dr. Scobee. Voss promises to bring him some, as long as the man doesn't come near his home again.

Scully's autopsy concludes that Scobee's tissue damage extended down his trachea to the lungs, yet he died of hypoxemia - in essence, he choked to death. Mulder asks whether she found any bugs, which he wants to investigate based on Voss' reaction to that line of questioning. Meanwhile, Weaver sits at home smoking, ignoring his neighbor's protests. The neighbor ends up dead on the floor, with his face gnawed like Scobee's and beetles crawling all over his head. When she arrives at the scene, Scully concludes the man died in the same manner as Scobee, but this is a transient rather than a corporate whistleblower.

Looking for a link, Mulder visits Weaver next door, inhaling the man's second-hand smoke as he asks for information Weaver refuses to give him. While Scully goes to confer with an entomologist friend at UNC, Mulder goes to check something else that's "bugging" him - Voss, who will say only that the tobacco beetle is an herbivore and can't be connected to the deaths. When Mulder leaves, Brimley calls Voss from where he is spying in a corporate car, telling Voss to think about what's really important and tell Brimley where he can find Darrell Weaver. Voss pleads ignorance.

Scully's entomologist associate says the tobacco beetle from Weaver's apartment complex has different mandibles, antennae, and body segments, which sounds to Scully like genetic engineering. Learning that tobacco companies alter the plants to make them more resistant to bugs, she wonders whether super-bugs could have evolved that could be dangerous to humans. Voss visits Weaver, who says he's just a guinea pig and asks ironically how his neighbor died. Voss begs Weaver to leave town, offering thousands of dollars of his own cash, but Weaver thinks he has a good deal going with the free cigarettes. Voss flees before Weaver can light up in his presence, warning Waever that a multi-billion dollar cigarette corporation will kill him rather than let him endanger them. When he leaves, Brimley walks down the hall towards Weaver's place.

Scully shows Skinner that Weaver's neighbor died with a lungful of tobacco bug larvae. She believes their exodus when they reached the pupal stage caused the destruction of the face and throat. Then Mulder starts coughing, bringing up blood. At Asheford Medical Center, a team of doctors suction half-formed beetles from his lungs with a machine developed to help cystic fibrosis patients while Scully explains to Skinner that Mulder inhaled tobacco beetle eggs, which might have been processed into cigarettes that were smoked around Mulder and Scobee.

Served with a federal warrant, Voss admits that his company was trying to save lives with their deadly new product - they tried to genetically engineer safer cigarettes, but three of their four test subjects died, which is what Scobee was going to testify about. Weaver was the fourth member of the focus group. But when Skinner arrives at Weaver's apartment, he finds only Brimley - tied to a chair and choking to death on bugs. Weaver himself is driving Brimley's car. Scully visits Mulder in the hospital; he concludes his situation is dire when she holds his hand, and says he feels like a Dust-Buster attacked him. Moments later he nearly chokes to death as Scully calls for oxygen and a code blue team. She believes he is too weak for thoracic surgery, and insists they must find Weaver.

Skinner tracks down Voss to the Morley Tobacco building, from which he never returned from work. Weaver has him trapped there and has stolen the test cigarettes. The test subject dares Skinner to shoot him, saying they need him. He lights up a smoke, saying in an unsteady voice that Voss may be on to something with his research, and Weaver himself will become famous as the subject of papers, maybe even as the cure for cancer. "You ain't gonna shoot me. Toodles," he concludes, but Skinner fires at his retreating form, then steps on the deadly cigarette to extinguish it.

At the hospital, Scully examines Weaver and notes the nicotine stains on his skin. She immediately orders nicotine for Mulder. Two weeks later, the partners meet at the office, discussing Morley Tobacco's subpoena of the FBI files on Mulder's treatment. Weaver is at a correctional ward, where it has been learned that nicotine kept him alive, just as it saved Mulder. Scully points out that the drug is a deadly poison and was formerly used as an insecticide, but in Mulder's case, it acted as chemotherapy. Mulder says that it had another effect, and pulls out a pack of Morleys he bought on the way to work. Scully insists that he throw it out, but once she leaves the room, he gazes longingly into the trash.


The Insider meets Alien, with tobacco bugs playing the role of the murderous beasts that spring from their unwitting hosts. "Brand X" is an excellent episode, more socially relevant than the more amusing "War of the Cophrophages," with a charmingly ominous ending in which Mulder suddenly looks like he really could be Cancer Man's son. (Brimley, the tobacco company spy, also looks enough like CSM to be a relative, though his character was an insignificant thug who died as he deserved.) Though I'm sure the writers had to use a fake cigarette brand name to avoid lawsuits, I don't think it's any accident that Morley, the phony manufacturer of the deadly pest smokes, is also the brand that CSM smokes.

The gross-out shots of dead men's lungs serve as a poignant deterrent to stopping smoking, though it's hard to draw any real conclusions about the message - that nicotine kills except when it's helpful? Voss came across as a good man, a scientist with the right values even if he made the wrong decisions to cover his mistakes. Brimley, the thug, is connected more with Evil Corporate America than with cigarette development specifically. On this series, it tends to be creeps and psychopaths who smoke while professionals and scientists avoid the habit, so hopefully no one will feel that the episode glorifies smoking. If Mulder gives in to nicotine addiction, it'll bug me.

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