Caught Holding Your Yank
BIG FAT SPOILER WARNING! We're talking about The X-Files movie this week, and if you don't want to have the Big Surprises Ruined, look away, now, for the LOVE OF GOD!!!
The big deal really is necessary, because Fight the Future gives away the store. And it does it in the best possible way, too. All the pieces fall into place, but only the pieces around the edges of the puzzle: we now know the general shape of the six-year (and counting) arc, but the all-important details remain hidden.
I may be one of the few (or perhaps just the quiet) who watch The X-Files as a mystery as much as anything else. All right, you hooked me: what ARE the aliens, and who DOES the Cancer Man work for? Teasing is one thing, but sooner or later, you better deliver the goods.
And the movie, to my eternal relief, really does. We now know who the Cancer Man works for, and what they're up to: a cabal of old men, mostly of the World War Two generation, who for 50 years have been trying to help "aliens" take over the world. These "aliens", who are actually primordial inhabitants of the Earth itself, have bred preserved viruses (the series' "Black Oil") which can enter a human host and turn them into zombies, possessed by the alien mind. Mulder has been infected by the virus himself, in "Terma," as have Alex Krycek and a host of lesser (and shorter-lived) characters.
The Conspirators have been working very hard to advance their knowledge of biology so as to help the aliens spread; apparently, they believe the alien takeover is inevitable, and they plan to "roll with the punch" and come out on top. There's an element of deception in the Conspiracy's relations with the aliens, too; they openly speak to each other of buying more time to find a way to defeat the aliens. At the moment, the Conspiracy has developed a "weak vaccine" against the Black Oil, although it seems pretty darned effective in the movie.
They get a nasty surprise, though, in Fight the Future. Mulder and the Conspiracy learn at about the same time that the alien Black Oil, when it really invades a host, doesn't just take over the mind; it melts and regrows bone, blood and brain into an alien organism, turning the human body into a big womb to gestate the nasty, black, slippery alien within. The Conspiracy is unhappy with this turn of events, but hope to prevail nonetheless, whereas Mulder isn't all that much more paranoid than before.
There are also apparently aliens in space, who are related to the ones left behind on Earth, although that's still vague. My personal guess: the ones who fled to space were biologically optimized for space travel, being made smaller, simpler and longer-lived, and possibly adapted to cold storage or the deleterious effects of space drives (remember the very first episode, "Deep Throat?" Their space drive is nasty to unprotected life forms). Perhaps these "astronoids" don't adapt well to living on planets; perhaps they die after a short while, or really can't stand all the dirt and air. This could explain what the aliens have been up to; trying to engineer an alien-human hybrid so they can return to Earth, in newly designed bodies.
That's the deal. Now, what are Mulder and Scully going to do about it?
I feared the movie wouldn't provide enough story to justify the five-year tease. Now I fear the series, when it returns, won't take the story any further.
But that's not a rational fear, at least, not yet. The journey may have been meandering and at times pointless, but we're steadily getting there. I still can hope that the "there" is worth the journey.
I enjoyed Fight the Future. I laughed out loud at Mulder's explanation of his life story to the bartender, I screamed when the bees descended, I sighed when I realized who Cancer Man really worked for, I whimpered in frustration when our heroes' first kiss was interrupted, I bit my nails while Mulder was creeping through that claustrophobic underground tunnel into the top secret installation that turned out to be you-know-what. As emotional rollercoasters go, it worked fine.
But plotwise? What a crock! If a science fiction premise is really compelling in terms of character or plot or politics or philosophy, I don't worry about things like shouldn't Han and Leia have needed gravity suits inside that asteroid monster's jaws, but there was too much old ground covered in Fight the Future and too many suspensions of scientific and psychological disbelief for me to deal with the nitty-gritty details. I did not quite to repress my curiosity about how in hell Mulder and Scully got back home from Antarctica, considering that his vehicle had run out of gas, Cancer Man and friends had taken all the installation's snowplows, and our heroes failed to hitch a ride on the departing spaceship...not to mention the fact that they were both half-dead. I can handle having to believe in aliens, but must I also believe in noncommercial jetliners that can get me to Antarctica in less than a day? Please!
On a human scale, I was bugged by the assumption that a small town could be bought off entirely for the price of a playground and a few bikes after several of their own died people underground, then some secret organization snuck in and started digging. One thing that has always annoyed me about The X-Files is that, in order to make Mulder look both brilliant and isolated, practically all other people to whom paranormal things happen have to be portrayed as either kooks or passive idiots. If I lived in a trailer park, I'd be pretty pissed at this point at how mindless all trailer park residents have been shown to be. Kids who'd tell Mulder where a tanker truck was going would also sell their story to the Weekly World News, if not make contact with Geraldo.
For the sake of enjoyment, I'll buy that aliens visited Earth before humans walked upright - or was the black oil native, but it acquired sentience and left before humans walked upright? I was a little confused. I'll also buy that there could be a cabal of rich, powerful men stupid enough not to notice that they're being used by the aliens' descendants. The aliens and their means of gestation reminded me a little bit too much of Alien, but no matter. I have no clue what they might have to do with Samantha (whom I half-expected to see gestating an alien), or with the shapeshifting, empathic aliens, or with the clones (unless all those bodies in the spaceship installation WERE clones, since there can't be THAT many missing people, even counting all the ones who supposedly disappear during Satanic rituals). I can let all questions slide till next season, when I sincerely hope we find out why there seem to be so many sorts of aliens harrassing humans at the fin de millennium, and why a tiny cabal has power over Earth governments which don't even know about the threat from beyond.
Character-wise, this was the best Mulder episode ever. I'm not opposed to Mulder and Scully getting involved in a romantic relationship, since they've been portrayed as falling in love for five years now and real, live people usually don't let fear of dating co-workers keep them at a distance for that long, especially if they have virtually no other friends or connections. Besides, on a lot of other series, evasion of the sexual tension between main characters often does a lot of damage to the female leads in particular, making them look fickle or frigid. Lois and Clark and Moonlighting failed because they took too damn long to get it on, not because they finally, belatedly, did so, as a last-ditch effort to gain audience shares. But I've never been a passionate 'shipper because of a nagging sense that Mulder isn't good for Scully. He's never been as tuned into her competence as Skinner. He's such a head case that on many occasions he disregards her opinions and then goes rushing off to prove his own hypothesis, leaving her in whatever sort of trouble comes along.
He did that briefly in the movie, getting Scully to do an autopsy in an off-limits lab while he went looking for a guy in a bar. But then, in a crunch, he turned into a mushball! He said all those adoring things he says in fan fiction! As one of my friends put it, Mulder gave Scully the equivalent of the Jerry McGuire "You complete me" speech, with more sincerity and pathos than Tom Cruise could manage. Probably that was a sop to both relationshippers and novices in the audience and it'll get backtracked when the series goes back on the air this fall, but it certainly warmed my heart.
As for Scully...take note, Chris Carter. I am NOT sitting through another story arc where she's put out of commission and tossed to the side as a love object whom Mulder has to save. You got away with that once, when Gillian Anderson was pregnant and offscreen of necessity; you started up again with the cancer business, but in between bouts of Mulder hunting through files with the Lone Gunmen, we got some great Scully character development, though her continued skepticism and isolation weakened her nonetheless. To stick her underground through much of the climax of the movie is beyond annoying. Why can't someone throw MULDER in a dark pit for awhile and let Scully make the brilliant discoveries, brave the conspirators and the government and the elements, to save HIM?
That would make for a much more interesting angst-fest than Round Four of Mulder's abrupt recognition of his dependence on Scully right when he thinks he's lost her, especially after his recognition that she IS too good for him. I watch this series for the characters and their relationship. I don't care if it turns out that the aliens are atomic byproducts or genetically engineered viruses or Martians who've been negotiating with Anita Bryant for a run at the White House; I find the science fiction tenuous at best, ridiculous at worst. So unlike Steve, I'm not sweating at the possibility that they've exhausted all the fun they can have with the mytharc; I am, however, worried about how long I can care about characters who repeat the same angsty patterns without seeming to grow. If they don't backtrack, Fight the Future was a big breakthrough...but I fear the title may be prophetic.
This column was originally written for AnotherUniverse.com.