This isn’t the greatest episode but it’s certainly not the worst.
But there’s one main issue that we need to get out of the way: the gripe that most fans seem to have with “Dod Kalm” is the less than believable makeup job done on David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson to “age” them. I have to say, though, that this is something that’s never bothered me. For one thing, this took place in the early 90s and we have to cut the effects department some slack. The shark in Jaws is hokey too but that doesn’t stop it from being a classic, does it? But the most important reason that I think this is a non-issue is that Mulder and Scully aren’t really ageing in this episode. As Scully mentions, they’re essentially turning into human pillars of salt. So if the result is that they don’t look older so much as messed up, so much the better.
Once again Mulder sends Scully on an inexplicable errand. And once again, she’s both frustrated and intrigued by it. But I would like to note, as Nina did so humorously in her guest post recently, that Mulder is the superior agent here. Scully can and does protest and rebel when she wants to do, but technically, she should do what he asks her. He’s in charge of the X-Files division. Notice he says “my office.”
It’s a neat twist on the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle. More importantly, it’s yet another case of Mulder being wrong, which I love all too dearly. There was no time warp, no wormhole. There was an explainable, if improbable, more basic scientific answer to the conundrum.
A mysterious, crotchety, over-confident ship’s captain approaches Mulder and Scully like a device out of a 19th century epic novel. It’s quite satisfying to watch Trondheim descend into madness and become the very thing he hated in Olafsson. He starts out reasonable enough, if not necessarily a man you want to take to dinner. Then we can understand, though not condone, that he takes out his vengeance on Olafsson, murderer of his young first mate. Why would he want to share a dwindling water supply with him? Of course it’s only downhill from there. And let me tell you, watching Trondheim scoop water out of that abomination of a toilet… I die a little inside.
One thing I never noticed before was Mulder listening in as Trondheim urges Scully to give up on Mulder and agree to split the clean (operative term here) water between themselves. Mulder hears and Scully knows that he does. Mulder himself urges her just as forcefully to save herself later on in the episode. We see her eyes flicker for half a second, but again Scully proves her loyalty as she’d rather go down with her partner than survive at his expense.
Delayed though it is, we get to learn something about what effect Scully’s near death experience had on her. It’s indicated at the end of “One Breath” (2×8) that Scully heard and remembered what Mulder said to her while she was in her coma. What she says in this episode would lead us to believe that she also remembers the vision she had of her father as well. Her final journal entry/monologue is quietly powerful, if rather depressing.
In those last moments, or what they believe are there last moments, Mulder and Scully’s characters shine. Mulder will be playfully sarcastic to the end of his days, Scully reserved and unflappable. Well, at least until the “Redux II” (5×3)…
…And the Verdict is:
I’m starting to think I need to create a whole new tag category for underrated episodes. I’m noticing quite a lot of them this rewatch and “Dod Kalm” fits the bill to a T. Is it genius? No. But it’s thoughtful, dark, eerie and claustrophobic, and isn’t that what an X-File is supposed to be?
Similarly to “Fresh Bones” (2×15), another episode driven largely by dark visuals, the most satisfying thing about it is seeing the villain get his hard-earned reward. Trondheim coveted water and water he received. That’s probably the best moment of the episode.
Speaking of visuals, the use of flashlights is phenomenal. Once again, Rob Bowman delivers as a director. Honestly, if not for makeup issues I think this would be considered one of the most nicely filmed episodes in the series.
This is a ship that not long ago was full of men, men who needed sustenance. Yet all Scully can find in the kitchen is one sorry sardine can?
Wouldn’t salty sardine juice only dehydrate them and kill them faster? Same with the Jack Daniels Captain Barclay was holding onto for dear life.
Scully: Feeling any better?
Mulder: No. You’re lucky you inherited your father’s legs.
Mulder: Sea legs.
Scully: Mulder, what do you know about free radicals?
Mulder: Is this a quiz?
Mulder: You know, I always thought when I got older I’d maybe take a cruise somewhere. This isn’t exactly what I had in mind. The service on this ship is terrible, Scully.