The X-Files S1, E20: “Darkness Falls”

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. Since the 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 for the Joe Napolitano directed and Chris Carter written twentieth episode!

…and so is a very sinister swarm.

I’m a bit early with this week’s X-Files review, but that’s mostly because these Wong Kar-Wai films have been a bit harder to track down than I originally anticipated. No matter, just means I have to change my plans around a bit. Surprise X-Files is the best X-Files? Maybe? Anyway, this episode itself is a pretty welcome surprise, a solid monster of the week episode that far surpasses the last couple.

Remember my favorite episode of season 1, “Ice”? Well, “Darkness Falls” is the same sort of idea, except instead of Arctic we have a remote forest in Washington state. But in both cases, we have humans meddling with the forces of nature where they ought not be, and they come to pay the price. It’s fairly standard for sci-fi, but it’s a well-worn plot for a reason. It doesn’t quite measure up to the suspenseful heights of that early episode, but it’s also head and shoulders above the run of the mill season one episodes we’ve been getting lately.

In the cold open, we see some poor unfortunate souls in the forest enveloped in a green glowing swarm of bugs. It comes no surprise that later, when Mulder and Scully travel up to the forest to investigate the disappearance of a group of loggers, that one man is found cocooned up in a tree, dead. This is of special interest to Mulder because a group of WPA workers went missing in the same woods back in the ’30s, just a mysteriously.

A ranger (Jason Beghe) tells of how the forest is at the center of an ecological debate, with the loggers feeling they’re doing nothing wrong by only cutting down marked trees and the eco-terrorists doing everything they can to make sure that none of the trees are cut down. Once Mulder and Scully see these groups in action though, things are not so simple. The head of the logging company, Steve Humphreys (Tom O’Rourke), underestimates the insect menace to his peril and is convinced the eco-terrorists killed his men. The “eco-terrorists” don’t do anything much worse than puncture the tires of visitors to the forest, but being stranded in bug infested woods is more dangerous than first meets the eye. It also turns out, the loggers cut down a tree that was not marked for them, and Mulder theorizes that this felling could be what released the bugs.

 

Mulder and Scully have a bit of a back and forth on the bugs and what caused their appearance, but it really seems open and shut. The lesson of the episode is clear, and as I said it’s not the intense suspense The X-Files has ever dished out. Anderson and Duchovny seems a little more alive this episode, which is always good. The eco-terrorists are represented by Titus Welliver,  one of the those guys who shows up on a ton of TV shows, so it’s nice to see him here. There are some scary moments though, like when the bugs creep into the house or cocoon a man. The bugs are not much more than animated green dots on the screen, but they generate a surprising amount of unease regardless. (Cuz let’s face it, however environmentally important, bugs are gross.)

The episode might not have the intensity of “Ice”, but even so, it deals with similar themes in enough of a different way to make it a good episode in its own right. It comes not a moment too soon, too. After “Shapes” and “Miracle Man” we need something to liven up the end of season one. It’s only going to get better from here on out, as next week we check in with our old friend, Eugene Tooms.

“Come on, Scully, it’ll be a nice trip to the forest.”

Long story short: 3/4 stars

Click here to read my review of next week’s episode, “Tooms”

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