Judging from the teaser, you would think this episode was about a heat-seeking Bigfoot; a pre-historic monster straight out of Journey to the Center of the Earth. The X-Files is about to bring us the monster of all Monsters of the Week.
You would be wrong.
Instead “Firewalker” is another science saga; essentially “Ice” (1×7) and “Darkness Falls” (1×19) swirled together. In fact, it’s even directed by the same person as “Ice”, David Nutter. And I didn’t go back and check, but I’m positive that 90% of the soundtrack is the same too. So what, if anything, is the difference? Firewalker, is less claustraphobic, for one. But “No,” you say, “What’s the difference that warranted making this episode?” That I can’t answer.
I actually don’t think this is a bad episode at all. But only a season and a half into the series and already this motif is starting to smell stale. I believe that the writers and the producers realized that after this and we never see an isolated group of scientists lost in the wilderness again.
But for now this is what we have and even if it is a rehash, it’s done pretty well. This is the first episode with Scully back on the X-Files after her abduction and Howard Gordon, the writer, does a good job of touching on issues raised in “One Breath” (1×8) and making this a subtle transition back to normal for Mulder and Scully.
Mulder spent 90% of the last episode wrestling with his guilt over Scully’s abduction and subsequent condition. After all, she was put in that position because of his personal agenda. Mulder finally admits to himself that the cost of finding the truth may be too high, it may cost him his only friend. And when faced with the opportunity to learn the truth about what happened to Scully, he opts to forgo the truth, and vengeance, just to stay at Scully’s side and be a comfort to her. Sounds like a changed man, right? Well…
He certainly has no intention of losing her again and his hovering concern over her in this episode is sweet. It’s good to see them back together. But Mulder seems to have recovered from his angst quite well. Now that Scully’s been returned, he may be protective but he’s not about to beg her off the X-Files or insist that she run away and save herself before it’s too late. Who can blame him, really? If you had a Scully, would you let her go?
Well, just in case Mulder is about to forget the risks, along comes Trepkos who is essentially Mulder meets Apocolypse Now. Trepkos is literally having a mental breakdown because of his own search for the truth. And once he finds it, he realizes it’s not such a wonderful thing. In fact, he sacrifices himself, and his team, in order to prevent the truth from being revealed. Even his girlfriend Jessie dies a victim of his obsessive search. Sound familiar? In case you didn’t catch the inferred parallels, Trepkos expressly states to Mulder that the truth isn’t always worth the cost and that some truths should remain hidden, for everyone’s sake. He even asks Mulder a question that echoes his conversation with CSM in “One Breath”: “You still believe you can petition heaven to get some penetrating answer. If you found that answer, what would you do with it?” Mulder still doesn’t have a response. However, some part of the message does sink in and in the end he allows Trepkos to keep his secret and fade away, never to be seen again.
….And the Verdict is:
It’s not a home run, but it’s not a bad episode even if the plot is a little stale. The gross-out factor is certainly used to full effect. And I do appreciate the continuity from Scully’s abduction arc; that they didn’t pretend that the emotional issues raised there didn’t occur and instead let them hang in the air in this episode as well.
The only real issue I have with this episode is that there are more red herrings than actual clues. Even more confusing, it’s difficult to figure out where the people end and the parasite begins. Mulder is initially attacked by Ludwig, presumably because the parasite wants to use Mulder as a new host. Then the parasite, through Ludwig, decides that it would be better to be rescued and come into contact with more people. So why doesn’t Tanaka feel the same? The last thing he wants is to be taken home. And Jessie is the only one who seems truly frightened at what’s happening to them.
I used to think that Jessie handcuffs Scully to herself because she’s afraid and doesn’t want to be abandoned to die. But the story indicates that this parasite, through Jessie, is looking for a new host. I suppose that’s scarier in a sense but it’s less compelling than a woman so frightened she would pull someone under the water with her rather than drown alone.
What created the shadow Firewalker filmed in the volcano? Is it supposed to be Trepkos? How would he survive the heat?
How did the disabled Firewalker get brought back up to a shallower depth?
“I told her it would change her life.” Trepkos says of Jessie as he looks at her dead body. This reminds me suspiciously of the end of “Darkness Falls” when Mulder pronounces over the unconscious Scully, “I told her it would be a nice trip to the forest.” In fact, Mulder and Scully are even quarantined again. Yeah… that’s enough of this scenario.
Trepkos: The possibility of this new, or perhaps unfathomably old, life form has left me sleepless, wondering if I haven’t lost all perspective. If my intense desire to find the truth hasn’t finally eclipsed the truth itself. Our meddling intellect misshapes the beauteous forms of things. We murder to dissect. My mind is a tangled knot I can no longer untie. Daily I fight the urge to sever it completely to stop this dissent.
Mulder: I’m going to go find Trepkos.
Scully: What if he’s already dead?
Mulder: Then he’ll have a tough time answering my questions.
Trepkos: I say the Earth holds some truths best left buried.
Mulder: Like the spore?
Trepkos: Who are you?
Mulder: I’m Special Agent Mulder. I’m with the FBI.
Trepkos: You don’t look like a policeman.
Mulder: I came down here to investigate Ericson’s death.
Trepkos: That’s not why you’re here. You still believe you can petition heaven to get some penetrating answer. If you found that answer, what would you do with it?