“No one would kill you, Frohike. You’re just a little puppy dog.”
Oh, if he only knew.
Mssrs. Morgan and Wong are back in a slightly different format this time. Rather than co-writing, Morgan authors the script while Wong sits in the director’s chair. In fact, for his directing debut Wong would go on to win the Emmy for Best Direction. That’s no mean feat.
As they would in all four of their offerings this season, Morgan and Wong try their best to think outside of the frame of a typical X-Files episode, in this case changing up both form and content. Besides giving us an almost Shakespearean play quite clearly delineated into four acts, there’s a fluctuating tone to the tale so that we’re never quite sure from one act to the next whether we’re watching a history or a parody, if this is CSM’s view of himself, Frohike’s view, or the view put forth by the seedy magazine Frohike nabbed the story from.
Even more significantly, this is the first episode where David Duchovny doesn’t make an onscreen appearance. He’s essentially limited to a book-ending set of voiceovers. Gillian Anderson narrowly misses this technicality by appearing in a single scene in flashback. At first watch, I remember missing Mulder and Scully. Over a decade later, I appreciate getting a more in depth look at such a fabulous character.
Certainly CSM deserves it by now.
Part I – An Extraordinary Man
Here’s where everything starts going Forest Gump on us. We always knew CSM was a significant man behind the scenes, but just how significant is he? Well, it turns out that he was the lone gunman that day on Dealey Plaza. Oh, and he didn’t always smoke cigarettes.
Actor Chris Owens makes his X-Files debut here. He would go on to play CSM again in flashback, as well as two other memorable characters, The Great Mutato and Jeffrey Spender. He plays the role with such seriousness that you can believe in this young CSM, that he wasn’t always evil, just pragmatic and ambitious, and that it was a downhill spiral from there.
Part II – A Jack Colquitt Adventure
And now we jump forward in time to CSM the would-be Civil Rights activist, AKA author Raul Bloodworth.
This CSM has successfully and speedily climbed his way up the middle management ladder of the netherworld. Young though he is, he’s powerful enough to chastise J. Edgar Hoover to his face. It seems that the F.B.I. has been under his control since long before Mulder and Scully came into play.
But what’s striking is how typically unfulfilling his day job is. He spends his nights typing pathetic manuscripts living off of beer, cigarettes, and unfulfilled dreams. And while his job description requires that he root out Communism in all its forms, he secretly sympathizes with liberal dreamers, thinking so highly of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that he honors him with a more… personal assassination.
At this point, I’m starting to believe we’re hearing less of Frohike’s news article while more of CSM’s sense of self-importance is creeping in.
Part III – Buffalo Wants it Bad
If we thought CSM was stuck in a crappy boardroom job before, now his position has rusted into the downright mundane. CSM has successfully defeated the Communists. But like every man who reaches the pinnacle of his profession and finds there’s nowhere else to go, he’s left weary and unfulfilled. He goes from killing presidents to rigging football games because, well, what else is there to do? Now it’s hard to see this as anything but a parody.
Getting to see Deep Throat again is a real treat. And their brief, opaque and slightly comical conversation is the highlight of the whole episode. It’s hard to put much stock in their talk, however, as some points don’t agree with the larger mythology arc. But since this is fantasy anyway, you can take and leave what you will.
Part IV – Pack of Morleys
And now, like any great hero, it’s time for CSM to have his heart broken.
I love that they work in that flashback to the “Pilot” (1×79), where CSM was more an enigmatic if ominous presence rather than the Darth Vader that he’s become. This way we can consider who he was and who he’s come to be.
He’s no longer an idealist. He’s not even a realist. He’s just a middle-aged man stuck in a shallow life whose memories of youthful dreams grow duller with every year.
I remember at the age of 14 how my best friend and I found that monologue hilarious. In fact, I had it memorized… and tacked up on my wall. That’s 14 for you. Always drawn to the innocent and uplifting.
Now it’s a bit tedious, and, dare I say it? It tries too hard. It’s amazing how our tastes change.
Originally, the title was supposed to be “Memoirs of a Cigarette Smoking Man”, reflecting Morgan’s intention that this be a true account of CSM’s past. Chris Carter came in and added both ambiguity in the title and in the narration. Not only can we not be sure of the accuracy of CSM’s memories, we can’t even be sure the plot is being driven by CSM’s mind or by Frohike’s.
The seriousness of the story was supposed to be driven home by the killing of Frohike at the end of the episode, a plot point that 1013 Productions justifiably balked at. While I enjoy that Morgan and Wong weren’t afraid of thwarting the party line, the desire to kill off Frohike represents a serious misjudgment of the tone of the series. Sure, Chris Carter liked to claim that no one’s really safe on The X-Files. But then, he also likes to say that no one ever really dies on The X-Files either. Just like Deep Throat in this episode, ghosts return without warning.
Why? Because Deep Throat’s presence adds value to the series’ development at this point? No. Because the fans love him and nostalgia is a powerful force.
Even aside from emotional reasons, killing Frohike would have ill fit the tone of the episode, which lent itself to something just short of a parody. Taken as a whole, it makes CSM, as Chris Carter so appropriately put it, “sort of a silly person.” I’m not so sure he can be silly and frightening at the same time, despite the fact that Morgan’s goal was to make CSM a real threat again:
“I told Chris, ‘Look, the Cancer Man is becoming a bore. When you get to episode one hundred and he and Mulder have the guns to each other’s heads, I’m not going to worry, because the Cancer Man has never done anything. I’m telling you right now, you’ve got the Cancer Man as a wuss ball. He’s nothing. He’s got to do something dangerous.’”
Maybe they missed that CSM had both men exposed to the Black Oil’s radiation killed and his henchman, Luis Cardinal killed in “Apocrypha” (3×16). Or that he keeps trying with all sincerity to kill Krycek. Or that he just had X killed in “Herrenvolk” (4×1).
The truth is, whatever the pile of murders on his conscience, the audience will never seriously believe that he’ll kill either Mulder or Scully. We’d have no show if he did. It’s enough to show that he’s willing. Suddenly turning things deadly serious by killing Frohike would have lent credence to the whole tale, which would have made some obvious issues of cannon more of an issue.
Besides, Morgan and Wong created the Lone Gunmen. Why so eager to kill one of them off? (As an aside, it’s interesting how in television you can create something only to find that it’s no longer yours. Not only do they characters take off on their own based on an audience’s response and interpretation of them, but production companies and film studios end up having more of a say in their future than you do.)
The best thing about this episode is that it’s clever, in both form and content. Is it great? I can’t quite call it that because I still get bored at moments, but I appreciate what Morgan and Wong were trying to do here. Once again, they’re pushing the boundaries of the show. In that regard, it’s not as successful as “Home” (4×3) but it’s surely not as polarizing as “The Field Where I Died” (4×5)… thank goodness.
At times the story is a little bogged down by the nitty gritty of History. Because of this, it moves slowly. And there’s nothing paranormal to speak of save for a fleeting view of a dying alien. But looking back on the history of the show, it’s nice to have this change of pace, if only to prove that The X-Files could do it.
Whatever details Morgan and Wong may have missed, there’s a nice thread of continuity with Deep Throat. He mentions having served in Vietnam and in “Little Green Men” (2×1), Mulder claims to have seen his funeral at Arlington Cemetery. That explains that.
Even the acts are filmed in different colors. Saturated 1960’s hues for the Kennedy assassination, black and white for the second act, reflecting the majority of photos of the Civil Rights era.
Who is CSM writing a letter of resignation to? How do you resign from The Syndicate? Do they have a payroll? And why is he purposefully leaving a paper trail??
William Mulder: My one year old just said his first word.
Smoking Man: What was the word?
William Mulder: JFK.
Smoking Man: Catch you later, Mulder.
Smoking Man: What I don’t want to see is the Bills winning the Super Bowl. As long as I’m alive that doesn’t happen.
Third Man In Black: Could be tough, sir. Buffalo wants it bad.
Smoking Man: So did the Soviets in ‘80.
Third Man In Black: What? You saying you rigged the Olympic hockey game?
Smoking Man: What’s the matter? Don’t you believe in miracles?
Deep Throat: I’m the liar, you’re the killer.
Smoking Man: Your lies have killed more men in a day than I have in a lifetime. I’ve never killed anybody.
Deep Throat: Maybe I’m not the liar.
Smoking Man: Life is like a box of chocolates. A cheap, thoughtless, perfunctory gift that nobody ever asks for. Unreturnable because all you get back is another box of chocolates. So you’re stuck with this undefinable whipped mint crap that you mindlessly wolf down when there’s nothing else left to eat. Sure, once in a while there’s a peanut butter cup or an english toffee but they’re gone too fast and taste is fleeting. So you end up with nothing but broken bits of hardened jelly and teeth-shattering nuts. If you’re desperate enough to eat those, all you got left is an empty box filled with useless brown paper wrappers.
Smoking Man: I can kill you whenever I please… but not today.