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 recap/review the ninth episode! (Also, I started doing TOS style notes on the episode, which you can read here if you feel like it.)
And we’re back to season one mediocrity. Once again, this episode isn’t horrible to sit through or anything, it still resembles an hour of television, but it doesn’t really do much outside of that. It does the bare minimum to get by. The guest star isn’t that compelling, the monster of the week is just silly, Mulder and Scully don’t do too much, and even though like most sci-fi nerds I love NASA, that’s not enough to really lift the episode up off the bottom of the barrel.
This episode deals with the ghost of Mars haunting the space shuttle. In the cold open, we see a shuttle mission in the 70s discovering water on the planet, and an ominous looking mountain in the shape of a human face. Is that evidence that humans (or aliens resembling humans) once lived on Mars? Who knows, but whatever the case may be, the image of that Mars-mountain-face is haunting one of the original astronauts from that mission, Colonel Belt (Ed Lauter), who’s now in charge of mission control in Houston. Another mission control officer, Michelle Generoo (Susanna Thomanson), is worried about possible sabotage on the latest failed shuttle mission, and call in Mulder and Scully to investigate. They head down to Houston and are confronted with the apparent sabotage, and Col. Belt’s refusal to let it get in the way of the next shuttle mission.
This episode’s most frustrating element is probably the special effects on the “ghost.” You can’t really blame them, since it’s the first season of a television show in the early nineties, but because there’s not enough else in the episode to distract the viewer, the terrible special effects stand out. The ghost is just a gray blur that appears to move in and out of bodies, or sometimes the face will appear to Col. Belt, or his face will transform into the Mars-mountain face. It’s just so ridiculous looking and sounding that it drags the episode down. The ghost’s motives are pretty obvious. It doesn’t want humans on Mars, but it’s also ridiculous that Mulder and Scully never figure that out; they just have it shouted at them by a distraught and possessed Col. Belt.
The Mulder and Scully dynamic is really not very satisfying to watch in this episode. It mostly amounts to Mulder talking about how he used to want to be an astronaut and has admired Belt all his life, whereas Scully remains dubious. The two of them just sit in the comfortable believer/skeptic roles and never really bump up against each other in a meaningful way all episode. Scully also does this weird thing where she sarcastically comments on Mulder’s love for space travel and Col. Belt which really doesn’t make sense. A lot of people are into space travel, as Mulder’s obsessions go it’s really not that worthy of mockery. Furthermore, Scully and Mulder as I said before, are pretty behind the eight ball all episode, they get focused on the sabotage and can never really figure out the ghost thing (but who can really blame them, it’s pretty ridiculous).
The episode visually feels like most X-Files episodes, but because we’re dealing with NASA we get a lot of archival space shuttle footage, which admittedly is pretty cool and appropriate for the episode. There was one pretty nifty shot of Mulder’s astonished face reflected in the screens of mission control. Col. Belt also has a series of flashback dreams where we see how the ghost initially possessed him, where the show does a decent job at recreating an archival footage style.
The episode’s not a total wash, but it almost is. The monster of the week is pretty lame, both thematically and visually, Mulder and Scully are basically just along for the ride, and overall the episode is pretty mediocre. After “Ice,” this is especially frustrating. However, not exactly surprising for season one. Next week’s “Fallen Angel” sounds like a mythology episode, so we’ll see how that goes.
“You know a good place to eat in Albuquerque?”
Long story short: 2/4 stars
Click here to read my review of next week’s episode, “Fallen Angel”