We open with a vision of creatures being slaughtered; creatures that look a lot like the deformed bodies we saw in the boxcar in “Anasazi” (2×25). Is it a coincidence?
It’s tempting to initially think this is connected to what we saw earlier, we quickly find out that it isn’t…. and it is. This is yet another set of tests being done on humans by another set of scientists, different from the experiments exposed in “Anasazi” but still governed by the mysterious men of The Syndicate.
So let’s start with The Syndicate, shall we? Scully is introduced to yet another Syndicate member this episode, The Elder. He feeds Scully the truth, or parts of it, but for what purpose? To save the creature trapped on the train? Is this shadow government responsible for testing on civilians as a part of a secret plan for alien colonization… or are they doing it to win a Cold War that ended years ago? I’ve said it before but I’ll complain again, why didn’t we get even more of these Syndicate guys? Sure, they needed to remain mostly mysterious for effect. Yet the few times that their characters were delved into, even just a little bit, were memorable. Just think of Well-Manicured Man in Fight the Future.
But since The Elder isn’t ready to bare his soul, the real character that steals the show this episode is our very own Mulder. When I think of who Mulder is as a character, the Mulder we see in this episode fits my personal definition to the letter. Mulder is a frustrating jackass but he’s a heroic one. Right after I want to strangle him I want to pat his head and give him a hug. It’s not that Mulder hasn’t been reckless before. In fact, “End Game” (2×17) comes to mind. But that was Desperately Seeking Mulder and this is Mind-Blowingly Frustrating Mulder. There is a difference. From him foolishly jumping on the train to his self-sacrificing decision to ignore Scully’s attempts to save him and have the train car dropped in the middle of nowhere, it’s amazing how annoyingly loveable David Duchovny managed to make this character. He’s self-righteous and arrogant and just as equally endearing.
Mulder’s Mulderishness has been slowly escalating. In Season 1 he was a bit of an outcast upstart, but still fresh-faced and relatively docile in comparison to his later years. Season 2 proved he can be downright hostile to anyone who gets in his way, but it also showed that he could be sensitive and very protective, especially when it came to Scully. Season 3 is when I think Mulder’s core personality is solidified as 2 parts teeth gnashing and 1 part pitiable and he stays fundamentally the same till the end of the series. He’s more absurdly reckless than ever but in a way that let’s you know he’s somewhat conscious of his charms and he knows those who love him will forgive him. He hangs up on Scully in the train car knowing that she’ll figure out what he’s about to do and knowing that she’ll love him for it even as she hates him for it.
Scully’s doing a lot of zigging while Mulder zags this season. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re at odds, but they’re not quite the unified front they were pretty much all of Season 2 and most of Season 1. This distance becomes even more pronounced over the next few episodes. So in the end, who’s right? Does Mulder’s belief in an alien conspiracy hold up despite the current evidence to the contrary? Or has Scully stumbled upon a greater evil, that these men are using aliens as a cover story to hide their insidious crimes. It seems as though there’s a little of both going on. Dr. Ishimaru/Zama certainly had his own agenda. Exactly what that was we’ll probably never know.
I couldn’t talk about this episode without discussing Mr. X and his Sophie’s Choice; rather than save the leper or hybrid or whatever you choose to believe it is, from the train car as he was sent to do, X rescues Mulder’s foolish behind instead. This may be his best moment in the entire series, but that’s hard to say since he’s had some fabulous ones. What’s X’s motivation? He once said in “One Breath” (2×8) that he used to be a man much like Mulder and more and more it appears that he really still is. We never find out why he chose to help Mulder after Deep Throat died and, ruthless as he is, it seems out of character for him unless he has a soft, tootsie roll center that he’s keeping hidden inside a hard candy shell. (I’ve only had one cup of coffee as I’m writing this so you’ll have to excuse me).
Come to think of it, the supporting characters steal a lot of the show in “731”. We’re also introduced to the Red-Haired Man of the not so red hair, yet another worthy adversary gone too soon. How can you not love an assassin that fixes his hair in the mirror after a kill? I appreciated the fact that no one is safe on The X-Files and that pretty much every character outside of Mulder and Scully are in danger of being killed off in the blink of an eye. But seeing Red-Haired Man’s quick demise I can’t help but wonder if Chris Carter & Co. were a little too quick on the trigger sometimes. Characters were gone just as they were starting to make an impact.
On a final note, isn’t it a little strange on some level that Scully so easily dismisses the idea of aliens? Has she already forgotten Purity Control?
A juicy little tidbit is thrown out early on in the episode that because of her implant, the conspirators may have had access to Scully’s every thought for the past year. What an awesome concept. If only it had been explored further.
Oh the adorably dorky Agent Pendrell, does anyone else wish Scully had noticed him a little more? I suppose the earth shattering news he delivers to her would distract any girl, but he’s just so pitiful that it’s sweet.
It’s a rare mythology episode indeed that doesn’t feature CSM. He makes little more than a cameo appearance at the end of the episode, just so that we remember that he’s still pulling the strings.
Priceless X-Files Moment #385: Mulder’s life hangs in the balance as Scully reads off a number that will either save him or kill him and all she can say is, “Yeah… yeah I’m pretty sure.”
Agent Pendrell: This kind of neural network could be not only collecting information, but artificially replicating a person’s mental processes.
Scully: You could know a person’s every thought.
Agent Pendrell: Frightening.
Scully: Well done, Agent Pendrell. Keep up the good work.
Agent Pendrell: Hey, thanks. Keep it up yourself!
Agent Pendrell: [To self] “Keep it up yourself”… what a doof.
Elder: The ruler of the world is no longer the country with the greatest soldiers, but the greatest scientists.
Red-Haired Man: You’re going to die. You know that?
Mulder: What do you care? You were trying to kill me anyway.
Mulder: We’re both going to die in here. The difference is, I’m going to die quickly. As an employee of the National Security Agency you should know that a gunshot wound to the stomach is probably the most painful and the slowest way to die. But I’m not a very good shot. And when I miss… I tend to miss low.
Scully: Mulder. I think I’ve got something here.
Mulder: What is it?
Scully: I think I may have a code for you. I’m watching Zama punch it in to a keypad in one of the train cars.
Mulder: What are you watching?
Scully: Your alien autopsy video.
Mulder: You mean I might get my $29.95’s worth after all?
Mulder: I don’t need an apology for the lies. I don’t care about the fictions they create to cover their crimes. I want them held accountable for what did happen. I want an apology for the truth.