"Zero Sum"
by Michelle Erica Green

Who's Zooming Who?

"Zero Sum" Plot Summary:

When a mail clerk dies from multiple bee stings, Skinner engages in an elaborate cover-up, erasing evidence of the bees and destroying the body and tissue samples. Though a detective tries to contact Mulder about the case, Skinner, impersonating Mulder, dismisses him. Mulder learns of it nonetheless, and warns Skinner that someone has gone to great lengths to keep him off this case while Scully undergoes cancer treatment. A visit from Cancer Man reveals that Skinner has been working with him in a private deal to save Scully's life.

When the bees attack and kill an entomologist hired by Skinner, Mulder is shocked to learn that the man died of smallpox. He is also shocked to learn that Skinner was seen talking to the detective who tried to warn Mulder, but was murdered instead. Mulder theorizes that someone in the government has been breeding bees capable of spreading smallpox, receiving further evidence when children at an elementary school in South Carolina are attacked by killer bees, and Skinner goes to the hospital to tell the doctors to treat the children for smallpox.

Mulder accuses Skinner of murdering the detective and working with Cancer Man, whom Skinner confronts - firing several off-target shots before storming off. Finally, Cancer Man tells Mulder's U.N. contact Marita Covarrubias, who first led Mulder to the farm with the bees and the clones, to tell Mulder whatever he wants to hear.


"Zero Sum" brought a lot of plot threads to the fore without wrapping up any of them. The bees, the smallpox experiments, the deal Skinner made with Cancer Man after ordering Mulder not to do the same have all come up earlier this season. As a result, this episode was pure joy for series regulars, but probably mystifying for anyone who's missed a lot of episodes. It looks alternately like Skinner is secretly working against Mulder then working with him, and like Mulder learns that he can't trust Skinner but decides to let that slide. The only thing holding this episode together is its missing character, Scully.

Most of the focus on the romantic potential of The X Files is on the Mulder/Scully relationship, but we've gotten a lot of hints this season that Skinner is in love with Scully, and this episode contained what looks to me like proof - I don't think mere friendship or paternal affection would have driven Skinner to work for men who represent things he despises. The only alternative is that he cares so much about Mulder and Mulder's quest to prove the existence of aliens among us, and he considers Scully such an integral part of that quest, that Skinner is compelled to save her - but I don't think so. This isn't about finding the truth. It's about doing whatever's necessary to keep Dana alive.

And Mulder seems to know it on some level; his decision to trust Skinner at the end is otherwise inexplicable. Which makes for a very interesting triangle. We don't really know how Mulder feels about Scully: I frequently wonder what he would choose, if her life were the price for proving his theories to the world. I suspect he'd choose to save Scully, but I wonder what that would do to him. In a way, Mulder's personal bond with Scully is becoming a liability in his quest for his Holy Grail; as Scully herself as said to him several times of late, he doesn't have room for anything or anyone else.

As for the bees...are they alien drones? Part of an alien breeding program, connected with the bee farm from "Herrenvolk," and connected to the smallpox eradication program which also provided the government with tissue samples from every inoculated American? Mulder seems to assume that the government is experimenting with new forms of biological warfare. But it makes more sense to assume the opposite - that they're trying to scare Americans into vaccinating again, before some foreign power starts using bees to deliver a deadly illness. I can't think of any other reason for testing it on American kids in school, in a case certain to make the nightly news all over the country, when they could experiment quietly on prisoners or overseas captives.

That of course doesn't answer questions about where the clones or the aliens fit into all this. But then, what fun would The X Files be if the mysteries started solving each other?

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