The X-Files S1, E8: “Ice”

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I’ve been delving into the popular sci-fi series The X-Files for a while now, making many attempts and failures to engage with its first season. Now it’s summer, and I’ve been weaving in and out through the series various episodes, trying to piece the gigantic enterprise together. It may seem strange for me to go back and recap an over two decades old television show, in some ways that type of thing is what the blog was built for. Join me this week as I review/recap the eighth episode.

...and so is a very very angry parasite!

…and so is a very very angry parasite!

In a lot of ways, it’s harder to review this episode because I am way more familiar with it than anything else from season one. This is one of the episodes I’ve been pointing people towards who are unfamiliar with the series and as such, have watched it a bunch of times. Since I’m relatively new to The X-Files myself, this means I’ve seen it way too many times in a short period. This is definitely the stand-out early X-Files episode for me, and even if the plot doesn’t do a ton of new stuff, it was the first time I actually sat up and took notice of the show when I was going through it the first time.

This episode is a “monster of the week,” and the monster Mulder and Scully are confronting is a small, worm-like parasite that lives under human skin and increases the host’s aggression. In the cold open, we see two scientists stationed at the Arctic Ice Core Project break their stand off, and at once, point their guns at their own heads. Mulder, Scully, and a team of team of three scientists (Hodge (Xander Berkeley), Da Silva (Felicity Huffman), and Murphy (Steve Hytner)) head off to the Arctic Circle to find out what exactly happened to the original scientific team.

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Everyone is immediately distrustful of each other, feelings which only intensify when isolated in a small outpost in the middle of a icy unforgiving landscape. The scientists distrust the government agents, and vice-versa, and distrust them even more when people start succumbing to the unknown parasite. One of my favorite things about this episode is it’s use of classic horror mainstays, the enclosed environment, combined with a winter storm, and people getting slowly picked off one by one. It obviously owes a lot to sci-fi/horror classics such as The Thing and Alien, but it works really well in this one hour television episode. These feelings eventually tie into how the parasite takes it’s victims; Scully figures out that since the parasite can reproduce itself, it has no problem killing off its own species, and in inhabiting humans, makes them behave in a similar way.

So what you have is a locked room situation in which everyone has reason to distrust everyone else. The symptoms of having the parasite are also the symptoms of being under extreme stress because you distrust yourself and everyone around you, so it’s quite hard to tell if anyone indeed has the parasite without a medical examination, which people are reluctant to submit to because of the mixed motives of anyone who might be doing this examination. This all creates a lot of tension, and the episode holds together a lot better than most early episodes of The X-Files. The tension is built up wonderfully over the course of the episode, without a slow-moving second act that a lot of the early episodes suffer from.

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Nice callback to the pilot!

Mulder and Scully also get into their classic arguments here. Mulder is all for preserving the parasite for further scientific study, whereas Scully just wants to get rid of it so it can’t hurt anyone anymore. They both make valid arguments, obviously a parasite that makes people kill each other could be very harmful to the public in the wrong hands, but then again, as Mulder points out, if no one knows anything about it, how would they treat it if it did make its way into the population? Their competing viewpoints on this matter are interesting, as Scully is often painted as the one with the scientific background. In this episode, as in some others, you see why she didn’t become a scientist though. Her commitment to helping people gets in the way of pure scientific research. I was trying to remember if we see this side of Scully in previous episodes and I couldn’t find anything in my previous reviews, but I’m pretty sure it comes back up later. This debate becomes moot at the end of the episode though, because as usual the powers that be make sure The Truth never gets out.

“Ice” remains one of my favorite episodes of The X-Files, especially of the first season. I think the mechanics of how the parasite work are fascinatingly thought out, and the tension is built up amazingly well over the hour. If there’s one flaw it’s how the parasite ultimately manifests itself in one of the team members, he or she ultimately rages out in a way that he or she probably should have been the whole time, not just when he or she is revealed as the carrier of the parasite. Nevertheless, it’s a minor nit-pick that doesn’t hold the episode back too much. It might not be the series’ most original hour, but it’s definitely one of its most well-executed ones.

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“Now, I don’t trust them. But I want to trust you.”

Long story short: 4/4 stars

Click here to read my review of next week’s episode: “Space”

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5 responses to “The X-Files S1, E8: “Ice”

  1. This is one of my favorite X-Files episodes as well, and its a terrific homage to Alien. Kind of wish the recent reboot had more episodes like this than the mythology ones.

    • Yeah the mythology episodes of the recent episodes were pretty horrible. Along with the introduction of the younger agents that are supposed to parallel Mulder and Scully, that really annoyed me. I loved the Darin Morgan episode tho!
      This is hands down my favorite episode of season one, and one of my favorites of the series for sure. The only one that comes close this early out is “Squeeze.” A lot of the episodes in season one aren’t as tightly constructed as “Ice” is, and I really love their explanation of how the parasite works. Stand out episode for sure.

      • The non-mythology episodes were actually pretty solid in the recent season, in particular the Darin Morgan one. But the Chris Carter-penned episodes were just so clumsily written and bad that they derailed the show for me. And this is coming from the guy who liked season 8, didn’t think season 9 was all that bad, and will do anything to defend I Want To Believe.

        • Season 8 was pretty solid. I actually liked I Want to Believe wayyyyy more than the first movie, I can’t figure out why most people seem to think the first one is better….
          They mythology arc ran out of steam way before the new episodes, it was an unfortunate decision to try and continue to do them 😦

          • I preferred Fight the Future more, even though it was more of a standard blockbuster than an X-Files adaptation, but I did like I Want to Believe. It did have some major issues, but the chemistry between Duchovny and Anderson reminds you how good the series was.

            It was mainly the cringe-worthy cliffhanger that kind of ruined the new season for me. Hopefully the new episodes of Twin Peaks avoids such mishandled storytelling.

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