The Field Where I Died
"Field Trip" Plot Summary:
In North Carolina, Wallace and Angela Schiff return home one evening from a camping trip. She's cranky and goes to take a shower. Inside, she sees yellow ooze dripping down the tile. When Angela gets into bed, she curls up with her husband. In daylight, two skeletons are found in the same position lying on the ground.
Mulder shows slides of the skeletons to Scully at the F.B.I., explaining that the couple had only been missing for three days when the bones were discovered. Scully says that the bodies must have been stripped and skeletonized in a ritualistic killing, but Mulder points out that they were found near Brown Mountain, which has been famous for UFO sightings since the Cherokee settled the area. "Extraterrestrials buzz the same mountain for 700 years?" Scully demands skeptically, and Mulder admits that it sounds like crap when she says it. Just once Scully wants Mulder to consider the most logical explanation, but he asks her how many times his theories have been wrong, insisting that he's earned the benefit of the doubt.
Mulder and Scully examine the bodies in the morgue - it's definitely the Schiffs, but there's no evidence of what happened to them save some unidentified yellow ooze on the bones. While Mulder heads off to Brown Mountain, Scully studies the material the coroner suspects is from the swamp nearby. Mulder parks on a ring of mushrooms and spots the same ooze on the ground, then spots...Wallace Schiff! The man flees from him and Mulder pursues into a cave, where he finds himself trapped with the dead man. Wallace says the skeletons are fakes - he and his wife were abducted by aliens, but they have not returned Angela and he is terrified.
Meanwhile Scully determines that the ooze is a digestive secretion including a plant enzyme, and reads old reports of other skeletal remains found on the mountain. Nervous, she calls Mulder, who does not answer his cell phone. She borrows the coroner's truck and heads out to look for her partner. Following Mulder's tracks, she comes to the entrance of the cave, shining her flashlight inside. But she sees nothing, so she walks away.
Inside the cave, the shining light from the now-restored opening makes Wallace panic, but it stops without harming the two men. "Thank god they didn't find us," Wallace pants, but Mulder suspects they were there for something else. Sure enough, Angela has been returned. She answers Mulder's leading questions, explaining that she saw a light over the mountain and was taken into a lab where men experimented on her. Mulder finds an implant scar on her neck. It all makes sense to the agent but the fake skeletons, which are unprecedented in the history of UFO abductions. When the light returns, he insists that they have to leave the cave, though the Schiffs are terrified of being captured again. Mulder walks straight into the light.
Scully knocks on her partner's door demanding to know why he left North Carolina without her. She is shocked to find the Schiffs sitting alive in his apartment, and doubts their story until Mulder tells her to set aside her scientific bias because he needs to tell her something that will change her life. "I was out there. I saw it." "Saw what?" "The truth," he replies, taking her into his bedroom, where he has a small gray alien hiding in the dark. "We communicate telepathically," Mulder explains, and Scully begins to hear the alien as well. "Oh my god," she says. "You were right. All these years you were right." She testifies to the existence of Grays, UFOs, etc., until Mulder asks about the skeletons. "It was nothing," Scully waves dismissively. But that doesn't sound like Scully to her partner, who suddenly has a terrible headache. Yellow ooze clouds his vision as Scully and the Schiffs seem to melt, and for a moment he's in a cave surrounded by the digestive matter.
Scully returns to the cave with the doctor from the morgue, who discovers a skeleton. Dental records show that it's what's left of Mulder. A shattered Scully asks the coroner whether the digestive matter could have done this to him, but the doctor says no, there's a simpler, more logical explanation: the bodies must have been stripped and skeletonized in a ritualistic killing. As she blinks, he promises to have the remains sent back to Washington.
Later Scully gives her report to Skinner and is shocked when he accepts her conclusions when she had only a sketchy theory about how Mulder died. Skinner wonders why she's questioning herself, and a tearful Scully recalls that her scientific approach haven't solved many x-files. Skinner says that given Mulder's lifelong fascination with the paranormal, it's tempting to attribute his death to supernatural causes, but this was clearly a ritualistic killing. "We'll get the bastard who did this," the A.D. promises.
At a wake at Mulder's apartment, Scully is relieved to hear that the Lone Gunmen have launched their own investigation. But they too are looking for a ritualistic killer who strips and skeletonizes victims and praise her thorough report. Scully shouts to the room that something else must be going on, then stumbles with a headache as yellow ooze clouds her vision. "Where is Mulder?" she asks plaintively, and is rewarded with a knock on the door. It's him. The room is abruptly empty of mourners. Mulder describes being in the cave, then being abducted, just as the Schiffs described.
Scully realizes that this is not reality, it's a hallucination...either she's having it, or they're both having it together, but it must have to do with the field where the Schiffs were found. "Wild mushrooms," she recalls, hypothesizing that they have become the victims of a hallucinogenic plant. "What if we're still in the field? I think the Schiffs were digested and expelled upward...it's the most logical explanation." At Mulder's doubt, she cites carnivorous plants which use hallucinogens to keep their prey complacent. "What if we're being digested?" she demands, and Mulder sees her melt into ooze before his eyes.
Mulder comes out of the ground, then helps Scully out, coughing dirt. When the pair later report to Skinner, he is shocked at the size of the organism - at least ten acres - but Mulder assures him that they have notified a variety of authorities. Scully identifies the spore structure as similar to LSD, with an alkaloid to induce narcosis. Her partner, however, is troubled because he can't remember exactly how they shook the effects off. People can't will themselves out of a hallucination even when they know they took a drug. Moreover, there are no scars on their skin from the acid which was supposedly digesting them. "We're still underground. You're not real," Mulder announces, shooting Skinner through the heart to prove it. The A.D. bleeds yellow ooze.
Inside the cave, Mulder and Scully are both surrounded by acidic yellow ooze. Mulder manages to thrust a hand up into the field where Skinner and other agents search for them, wearing gas masks. They drag out first Mulder, then Scully, who murmurs, "Mushroom." Skinner replies, "We found it," and orders the pair onto an ambulance. Inside, Mulder reaches for Scully in the space between the gurneys, and they hold hands as they are driven away.
Thinking about it now, this episode with the very punny name could have been a very funny show. Mulder and Scully get stoned, then nearly get eaten by a giant plant! (I've been waiting for The X-Files to reference "To Serve Man," the brilliant Twilight Zone episode where ostensibly benevolent aliens arrive on Earth with a secret Bible that turns out to be a cookbook.) "Field Trip" could easily have been a parody, but the lighting, the music, the tear-jerking performances by both Duchovny and Anderson turned it into something else.
I'm not quite sure how to classify this episode, quite frankly. Was it a serious look at how Mulder's willingness to turn to outer space instead of looking for answers closer to home could get them both killed? Or a dig at how Scully's resistance to supernatural explanations could have the same effect? Scully was right that there was a rational, scientific reason for the Schiffs' disappearance which had nothing to do with the supposed lights over Brown Mountain. And Mulder was right that this was no simple ritualistic murder. Scully was first to catch on to the fact that they were sharing a drug-induced hallucination, but Mulder was the one who realized that they hadn't escaped from it when they first thought they had. Neither one would have survived without teamwork, nor the bond they share which enable them to recognize at once when one or the other is behaving out of character, which was the key to breaking through the layers of illusion. I think that was the point.
It's lovely that their first joint hallucination - the one which ended with Mulder waking alone in the ooze - started from Scully's point of view but segued to Mulder's after he showed her the alien in his bedroom. I find it impossible to believe that we were not supposed to think of E.T. when the long green fingers came around the bedpost, but the soundtrack was doing a mystical-wonder number which made it hard to giggle. That entire sequence was deeply moving - Mulder's reaction to having Scully finally believe him, and Scully's realization of what it must mean to Mulder to discover that he was right all along. It's brilliant that the episode went for pathos rather than humor, because it sucks the audience into the illusion right along with them; I think a lot of us always wanted to see that scene on The X-Files, even if we all knew it was too good to be true, as Mulder quickly figured out. Ditto the textbook answers - cliches - given by the Schiffs about their abduction.
Scully's stunned, agonized reaction to Mulder's apparent death was moving as well even though at that point we knew we were being snookered. We've seen Mulder weepy over Scully's potential demise a couple of times, but most of the times we've seen Scully cry on this show, it's been over her own losses or near-misses. I loved that she couldn't stop her emotional reaction even when she guessed the situation wasn't what it appeared to be, first from the doctor who parroted her own initial theory, then from Skinner who bought into her report without asking the right questions. I found Mulder's shooting Skinner to be a cheap shot on the part of the writers - he could have gotten Scully to believe him nearly as quickly without the gratuitous violence, or he could merely have jumped out the window himself. He had little to gain and a lot to lose if he was wrong by shooting their boss and ally.
"I Want To Believe" could be the tagline of this story. Because tempting as it is to look for the humor in a goo-covered Scully and Mulder (looking much as he did trapped in "Tunguska") inside the equivalent of Little Shop of Horrors' giant extraterrestrial plant which eats the heroic lovers and everyone else, it's more satisfying to realize that these two may finally have made a breakthrough on the perpetual argument in which Mulder says something that sounds like crap, Scully shoots it down, and Mulder turns out to be right. Of course it doesn't help that the deck is stacked against Scully - on any other television show, she would be right 99% of the time and the other 1% everyone would believe her version anyway - but given that they live in a universe which resembles Buffy's Sunnydale, it's time she stopped pooh-poohing Mulder even if her methods make a hell of a lot more sense.
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