Commies Are Scarier Than Aliens
"Travelers" Plot Summary:
In 1990, a Wisconsin police squad arrives to assist in the eviction of a man named Edward Skur. His house is filthy, and just as a policeman finds a decomposed corpse, he is assaulted. He shoots Skur, and the dying man says "Mulder."
In D.C. the same year, Fox Mulder goes to visit Arthur Dales, a former FBI investigator. Someone has censored most of the report on Skur, who was a murderer - he removed the soft tissues from the bodies of his victims apparently without cutting into them. Mulder wants Dales, who worked on the case years earlier, to tell him why the dead man said his name - and why Dales recognizes the name "Mulder" as well. Dales asks Mulder whether he's ever heard of the House Un-American Activities Commission, and suggests that they found nothing because nothing was what they wanted to find. Then he slams the door.
Mulder watches tapes of Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn at the 1950s hearings and is shocked to see his father sitting among the investigators. He goes back to Dales, tells the man that he no longer speaks to his father, and threatens to subpoena Dales to get the truth. Dales tells Mulder that Skur worked for the State Department, same as Bill Mulder. He recalls being a young agent, sent to arrest Skur in 1952 under suspicion of being a Communist sympathizer. After the emotional arrest, Dales went for a drink, and received a phone call from his partner Michel telling him that Skur had committed suicide in prison. Dales went to inform the widow, and was shocked to see Edward Skur walking towards his house. The two struggled, and Dales saw some kind of creature coming out of Skur's mouth.
In 1952, the Rosenbergs were on trial and Roy Cohn had great power. Dales was summoned before Cohn, and while his partner advised him to plead that he was drunk and didn't really see Skur, Dales demanded to know how Skur could be alive. Cohn, who prosecuted the Rosenbergs and worked for J. Edgar Hoover, warned Dales that everything is political and he must follow orders to help the bureau keep certain dangerous facts from the American public. Dales pulled the file on Skur and his alleged accomplices Oberman and Gissing, but nearly the entire file was censored and blacked out. While he investigated, Skur murdered a German doctor. Dales and Michel were called to the scene by the Chevy Chase police, but when they found the body, the police arrived and said they never contacted the bureau - they had only just learned that the doctor was missing.
Dales received a phone call from Bill Mulder summoning him to his favorite bar. There, Mulder told him that Skur was a patriot who was a victim of the very department for which he worked - the State Department, same as Bill Mulder. He informed Dales that Oberman, Gissing, and Skur were all reported dead by their own hands, and that Skur's escape threatened everything. He added that Skur would try to kill Dales...and his partner. Dales tried to call Michel, but the other man's phone wire had been cut. He was attacked by the creature inside Skur, which destroyed all his soft tissue before the police arrived.
The police speculated that a corrosive agent killed Michel and wanted an autopsy, but Cohn arrived and sent the body to a veteran's hospital. When Dales questioned him, Cohn threatened to have him arrested as a suspected communist. Dales discovered that there was a previous FBI file on Gissing...an unsolved case, but since there was no more room under "U," the secretary had taken to filing them under "X." Dales learned that Gissing was found dead after murdering a German doctor who had treated him, and that the doctor's soft tissues were destroyed. He also discovered that Gissing's body was still in a local morgue.
The mortician told Dales that Gissing had had surgery before he died, and began an autopsy at Dales' request. Inside the cadaver, they found a creature held in place in the esophagus by sutures. Dales went to Mrs. Skur, told her he knew her husband wasn't dead, and said he was there to help. He said he knew her husband had received a xenotransplant, something Nazi doctors had been experimenting upon with their own people and were now working on for the U.S. As Dales left the house, Cohn's car pulled up beside him and Cohn ordered him inside, where Mulder was waiting.
The group went to FBI headquarters, where Hoover ordered Cohn to leave the room and asked Dales to be strong enough to help his country by understanding that they needed to employ the same horrible methods as their enemies. Meanwhile, Mrs. Skur went to her husband who was hiding in their bomb shelter to pass on the message, but he said that he couldn't even help himself, and attacked her. Dales was taken to meet Skur in the bar, but when Skur arrived, he told Dales that his wife was dead and that the bureau wanted him dead, too, or they wouldn't have sent him to meet Skur. Skur then attacked him, but Dales managed to handcuff him to the bar. Bill Mulder burst in and took custody of Skur.
Fox Mulder bitterly asks the now-aged Dales if his father let the government dictate his conscience. Dales warns Fox that if he works on the X Files, they'll bury him too. Fox asks why Skur said his father's name when he died and wonders how Skur got away. Dales says he has no idea, but some sucker probably let Skur go in the hope that the truth of the crimes would come out one day. As he speaks in the present, the Bill Mulder of the past drives Edward Skur to freedom.
I couldn't decide whether to treat this episode as totally serious or completely comical. It was set in the '50s and in some ways it resembled a bad '50s horror film, particularly when the alien grafted into Gissing's dead body started moving around. The whole nasty-creature-in-mouth effect was more cheesy than frightening, and the politics - Hoover talking in circles about bad guys, Cohn resembling Peter Lorre and speaking in film noir cliches - were beyond ludicrous.
I don't much like it when the aliens on this series get in the way of substantive political commentary, so the new twist on the McCarthy hearings made me cringe: they weren't trying to expose Communists, they were trying to protect a secret government conspiracy to fight fascism with its own hideous experiments! The prosecution of the Rosenbergs and ongoing arrests of innocent non-conservatives was one of the most terrifying events in our national history, far scarier than a couple of wacko government experiments with Nazi doctors. Like Hoover says in the episode, there are totalitarians affecting the lives of all Americans; THAT'S what's frightening, not space creatures used by ex-Nazi doctors.
As for how this hooks into the larger arc, well, now we know that Bill Mulder knew about government conspiracies before he befriended CSM and before he discovered the aliens currently causing such trouble for Mulder, Scully, Skinner, Krycek, etc. Whether those are related to the nasties in Skur's mouth remains to be seen - I am sure there will be some connection, possibly having to do with the Good versus Bad Alien problem, and I won't be surprised if we see Dales again (played as an old man by Darren McGavin, charmingly enough). I got a kick out of 1990 Fox Mulder, who resembles Cancer Man more closely than Bill Mulder, smoking...though I was most curious what he was doing wearing a wedding ring. And I was also curious why Bill Mulder was worried about his family in the early '50s, presumably before Fox and Samantha were born.
This episode was entertaining in a B-movie sort of way, but I missed the regular cast's input and I ended up rolling my eyes at the newest twist in the vast conspiracy that just seems to get sillier the more complicated it gets. This show needs to get back to what made it work, and I don't mean little episodes about the paranormal: I mean Mulder and Scully. Maybe they can do that in L.A. next year now that they finally made the committment to move.
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