“I was a dead man, now I’m back.” – I just want to start this review by congratulating David Duchovny on delivering this line with a straight face.
With that out of the way…
If “Anasazi” (2×25) is when the scope of the conspiracy is hinted at, “Paper Clip” is where it begins to take shape. The Syndicate, just like the legitimate U.S. Government, was willing to strike a deal with the devil in order to achieve their goals, and the project impacted nearly every American child born during a certain time period; every American that was given the Small Pox vaccine. Chris Carter has often said that The X-Files is only as scary as it is real and grounding the events of this episode in a framework of legitimate facts gives the events that take place a deeper sense of possibility and makes them all the more disturbing.
Introducing the real world history of Operation Paper Clip into the narrative poses some interesting parallels. If the U.S. Government was willing to make a Faustian bargain for the benefit of its citizens, might not these shadow men who have far less accountability on their shoulders? We know that these men are trying to use alien DNA to make an alien-human hybrid, and not to give out a huge spoiler, but we eventually learn they’re in cahoots with the aliens. The question is never sufficiently raised of whether these men were actually evil in making such an alliance. There’s an argument to be made that they felt they were doing the best thing at the time, much like men in the U.S. Government may have felt that it was better to make the Nazis work for you then to leave them to their own purposes.
Now, no doubt in the real instance it was a vile transaction. But the aliens weren’t vanquished Nazis, they were an uber powerful galactic force that could wipe us out anytime they wanted to with or without our cooperation. Call me a sympathizer, but maybe Mulder could have cut The Syndicate some slack. Regardless, it’s certainly no stretch to think that same Nazi scientists who experimented on innocent Jews would be willing to test alien DNA on American civilians. That it’s done through something so innocuous as an inoculation is truly classic X-Files.
It’s an interesting choice to bring Mulder so close to the whole truth and nothing but the truth this early in the game. We know now that everything he’s been saying all these years is true and the proof exists, but he was faced with a decision: know the truth and have no way of disseminating the information or give up the truth and live to fight another day. It’s obvious what Mulder would have chosen if it hadn’t been for Scully and her sister, which is why all those “Mulder is a selfish bastard” haters need to take it down a couple of decibels.
Speaking of Mulder and Scully, I always thought, as most do, that MSR was purely a result of Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny unwittingly creating it out of the passion and tension that played out between their characters. Almost like magic, it was there before anyone knew what was happening. That’s fair enough and I still feel that way for the most part. But watching this episode again it occurs to me that the writers are nearly as much to blame. OK, maybe it’s 70/30, but still. They were complicit the Shipper Shenanigans that went on.
Mulder and Scully became larger than life because they wrote them as such; they gave them a freaking psychic connection and thought that, what? The audience wouldn’t respond to it emotionally? The characters were written into a corner and eventually they had nowhere to go but into each other’s arms. I mean, imagine just for a second that Scully, even this early in the series, decided to start dating. I can just hear her explanation to her significant other now:
Dear, let me tell you about my friend Mulder. Yes, he’s straight and he’s hot, but he’s really just a friend. A very good friend. We have such a spiritual connection that I even know it when he stops breathing. And when in mortal peril, he visits me in visions. But like I said, friends. There’s no reason this should come between you and me.
It would be a futile exercise. Mulder and Scully have passed the point of no return. No, they’re not in love. But there are only two real options at this point. Their bond can weaken and they grow distant and divided, an idea that the writers toy with for part of Season 3 and even Season 4. Or their bond can grow, in which case, unpolitically correct as it is, it would no longer be believable if the relationship remained forever platonic. If I had to pinpoint it, I’d say this is the moment when, as Nina mentioned in her guest post, they become each others’ “significant other.” It’s not romance in the erotic sense but it’s beyond mere friendship.
Back to the story at hand, Mulder and Scully finding all those medical files hidden away at an abandoned mining company has to be one of the most iconic moments of the series. Vaccinations are as American as apple pie. Even now, all but the most paranoid of parents make sure their children receive them. That something so innocent could be used by a shadow government to track and test its citizens is almost as creepy as the fact that Social Security Numbers were created with the promise that they wouldn’t be used for identification purposes. Interestingly, identification was the cover story for these vaccinations; the government was gathering genetic data so that citizens could be identified in case of a nuclear holocaust. It was the Cold War, you recall, and that would have been a believable party line.
Bill Mulder himself believed it, which brings us to the other major revelation of this episode: Samantha wasn’t randomly abducted. She was chosen by her father to be the “guarantee” for the family. Mulder was the one originally scheduled to rendezvous with the Mother Ship. Finally we know what Bill Mulder was trying to say to his son before he was killed. What a sadly powerful moment when Mulder confronts his mother about having had to make a choice. It wasn’t the abduction itself that drove the Mulder family apart.
Now there’s another family suffering. If we thought Scully was “involved” before because of her abduction, it’s even more personal now that her sister Melissa has been White Buffalo sacrificed on her behalf. Finally, she shares Mulder’s quest. And poor Maggie Scully is just put through trauma after trauma. The writers need to stop making bad things happen to that woman. The nobility on her face kills me. Somehow, though, I never do miss Melissa…
This episode is full of lots of fun, memorable moments. The scene in the mine when Mulder and Scully stumble upon rows of endless files I’ve already mentioned but there’s also CSM turning on Krycek, his mini-me, with a car bomb and my personal favorite, watching Skinner finally give CSM the old what-for with Albert Hosteen at his side. It’s worth all the magic and mysticism we had to put up with in “The Blessing Way” (3×1) just for that moment.
Another highlight for me is watching Scully get mad which, like smiling, she doesn’t do nearly often enough. I can only imagine that as a physician she is particularly offended by the atrocities conducted not only by men like Klemper but that the government would abuse citizens’ trust by taking vaccinations meant to help and using them to test and catalogue people.
We don’t learn much else about The Syndicate. Apparently they just sit around in a smoky room and rule the world. But it’s enough for now to know that they’re so powerful that even CSM has to answer to them. There’s no need to rush the reveal.
P.S. This is where the mythology starts to edge its way towards massive. If you’re having trouble keeping track, like me, go to: http://www.eatthecorn.com/eps/2X25_3X01_3X02.htm
We’re told that the DAT copy is protected and can’t be printed or copied, but didn’t we see Scully give a print out for a lady to translate in “Anasazi” (2×25)? And hasn’t Albert Hosteen been walking around with his translated copy that can be copied over?
Why is Well-Manicured man helping Mulder, really? I guess we’ll have to watch and see.
When conducting secret experiments on innocent civilians with the help of Nazi scientists, it would probably be best not to take damning photographs together.
Please note that Skinner had to be double-teamed in the stairwell for those wimps to take him.
Napier’s Constant is actually 271828 not 27828 as Scully claims.
Scully: I went to your father’s funeral. I told your mother that you were going to be okay.
Mulder: How did you know?
Scully: I just knew.
Well-Manicured Man: What is it Victor?
Victor Klemper: Oh, I was just paid a visit by the son of one of our old colleagues.
Well-Manicured Man: What did you tell him, Victor?
Victor Klemper: I told him that you were the most venal man I’ve ever met. Beyond that I told him nothing.
Scully: What do you think your father would have been doing here?
Mulder: I don’t know, but he never came home wearing a miner’s cap.
Mulder: Lots of files.
Scully: Lots and lots of files.
Mulder: Why are you telling me this?
Well-Manicured Man: It’s what you want to hear, isn’t it?
Mulder: Is there more?
Well-Manicured Man: More than you’ll ever know.
CSM: Are you sure?
Krycek: I’m sure of this. If I so much as feel your presence, I’m going to make you a very, very famous man. You understand?
CSM: Yes. Thank you. I’m going to report that to the group.
Scully: I’ve heard the truth, Mulder. Now what I want are the answers.