Tempus Fugit 4×17: Let me buy him a drink too.

"Welcome back, Kotter!"

I’m going to start with a bit of an unusual premise here and say that “Tempus Fugit” and it’s follow up episode “Max” (4×18) aren’t really mythology episodes at all, instead they’re more like the pre-mythology conspiracy episodes of Season 1; think “Deep Throat” (1×1), “Fallen Angel” (1×9), and “EBE” (1×16). Taken at its most basic, this is your standard The Aliens are Here and the Government Won’t Admit It fare. What elevates the story is that this time it’s personal. “Tempus Fugit” is an episode about the casualties of war, the lives that are being lost whose deaths and whose pain will be meaningless unless Mulder and Scully can ultimately find a way to unravel this whole alien thing. Otherwise, Mulder and Scully could just as easily go the way of Max and Pendrell, and all those who were collateral damage will have died in vain.

The actual and potential loss, largely represented by the incredibly realistic crash site, is sobering. Mulder and Scully have precious few family members left for Chris Carter to kill off so he had to find another way to remind the audience of what’s at stake in this quest that Mulder and Scully are on and he did so by killing two friends and a whole plane full of people. It’s not all fun, games and Black Oil.

Speaking of the Black Oil, where is it? Here, not only is a character from Season 1, Max Fenig, brought back, but the mythology plot is subject to a rewind as well. There’s no Syndicate, no CSM dropping ash all over the place, no Krycek simpering. It’s just a straight up alien abduction meets government cover up. Mulder back to unreservedly and unwisely blasting his opinions from the rooftops rather than playing his hunches close to the vest, another throwback to earlier Seasons when Mulder got on his superiors’ nerves not by his actions but with his words. He never knew when to reel it in.

In the sense that they hark back to a simpler time in The X-Files, these elements are welcome. But in some ways it’s a little too late because now I’ve been conditioned to expect otherwise. Consequently, I spent the entire episode trying to figure out how what’s happened to Max fits into the overall mythology at large. The problem is I’m not sure it does. It’s more like a side plot.

Are the aliens that abducted Max the same ones that are working with the Syndicate? I find that hard to believe since the Syndicate seems to be secretly scared to death of those aliens, but a lone fighter pilot easily defeats these aliens. Speaking of which, how is it that creatures who possess technology we can only dream of and who can manage to travel light years to earth without a problem are no match for our military? That takes the bloom off their rose, doesn’t it?

I have no proof, but I’d be greatly surprised if these are the same aliens behind the plans for colonization. They’d need a lot more power. And besides, if I were them, I’d start colonization early if those human peons started shooting down my ships.

And the Verdict is…

I confess that I’m still not completely sure how I feel about this one, and I’ve been stewing on it for a good while. On the one hand, it’s good to see Max again and I enjoy that element of continuity and the nod to long time fans by giving them the payoff of bringing back a much loved, if oft forgotten character. On the other hand, why do I still feel a little bored?

Sure, we get that great birthday scene between Mulder and Scully, opening the window a little more into their quite comfortable and predictable relationship. That’s worth the price of admission. And Mulder’s short but sweet vigil beside Max’s body is poignant and memorable. Likewise, Scully’s last tender moments with Pendrell are just shy of heartbreaking. But still, I can’t help feeling like all of this isn’t leading much of anywhere. This is only the first in a two-parter, however, so I guess we’ll see.

In regards to the more technical end of things, director Kim Manners has almost outdone himself with that airplane crash. It’s almost too realistic… I have to not watch it too closely lest I have flashbacks during my next airplane flight. And that crash scene looks exactly like what we saw a few times too many on the news during the 1990’s. It’s just stellar work from everyone involved.

But did they have to kill Pendrell??? I’m going to miss that little geek.


Nagging Questions:

How could Max’s sister’s motel room fall from 29,000 feet as Mulder says? Wouldn’t the aliens have had to take the whole motel lest someone notice a few walls missing? Forget that, why not just take the person alone???

Would Mulder have remembered Scully’s birthday if Scully wasn’t dying?

Random Observations:

It’s only funny when Mulder says, “We’re not gonna make it” because we know very well that he is.

I sincerely doubt Mulder and Scully would have been allowed in that TSA meeting or even less likely at the crash site.

On a related note, I realize that in order to keep things fresh and interesting, Mulder and Scully constantly have to be forced into new situations. Even so, why does Mulder going diving without experience feel like too much of a stretch to me? Combine that with Mulder and Scully’s free access to an airplane crash investigation and I’m starting to wonder how much disbelief I can suspend. It’s somehow less jarring to my rational mind to watch a mutant grow a new head.

Best Quotes:

Scully: Mulder, you have never remembered my birthday in the four years I’ve known you.
Mulder: That’s the way I like to celebrate them, every four years. It’s like dog years that way.
Scully: Dog years? Thank you.
Mulder: You’re welcome. Oh, I got something for you.
Scully: Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.
Mulder: It’s just something that reminded me of you.
Scully: What? An alien implant?
Mulder: Two actually. I made them into earrings.


Scully: Oh, please tell me this isn’t leading to something really embarrassing.


Scully: You sure know how to make a girl feel special on her birthday.


Motel Manager: Look at this! I don’t know what kind of game she was playing in here. She blew the door right out of the jamb. I doubt insurance will cover it.
Mulder: Does your policy cover the acts of extraterrestrials?
Scully: We’ll take care of it.


Bruce Bearfield: Have you worked at this depth before?
Mulder: Not exactly.
Bruce Bearfield: What exactly is your experience?
Mulder: Once I got a quarter off of the deep end of the Y pool.

14 responses to “Tempus Fugit 4×17: Let me buy him a drink too.

  1. It’s interesting that your biggest criticism of the episode is actually the main reason why I love this two parter so much. I adore it for the fact that it keeps things simple, it doesn’t rely on the ever deepening mythology elements and is simply, along with its second instalment, an entertaining, UFO thriller. It never bothered me as such that we didn’t get the Syndicate, or black oil, or all that stuff and instead allowed the series to have some fun with aliens with a thrilling, emotional ride such as this, that we can get something as cinematic as these two and enjoy the ninety minutes it offers without having to keep up with what’s gone before.

    Agree with you though on Pendrall, I think it tips the episode into a bit of emotional cruelty. Don’t get me wrong, I admire a television show that has the balls to kill of the quirky, comic relief in such a matter of fact way (hell, the death is never shown on screen, in fact it almost looks as if Pendrall is going to make it and we have nothing to worry about, so we cut to the next scene and have Scully tell Mulder and it really comes as a nasty shock), but come on, the guy was a teddy bear and he had a crush on Scully and he made a lovely addition to the growing roster of characters on the show. Damn you Chris Carter.

    • I wouldn’t really call it a criticism. I actually like the fact that it harkens back to the root of The X-Files which is vague, shrouded conspiracy with uncertain motives. Well, I suppose that can be used to describe the Syndicate’s dealings as well but they’re more nefarious than any obscure mention of “the military.” The only problem is that I’m conditioned to start looking for mythology clues at this point and when I look, there are none to be found. It’s like trying to just read a book after taking too many literature courses, nigh impossible.

      But poor Pendrell!!! They really didn’t have to kill two bumbling, lovable characters in one episode. They could have at least waited till Season 5 to give him the boot. At least then they could have utilized him more. I feel like his character could have become a bigger piece of the ensemble. And, dang it, he should have at least gotten some kind of a date with Scully. Buying her drinks and then collapsing in a pool of his own blood does not count.

      Then again, we’re still talking about his death, aren’t we?

  2. I get the reading analogy there, I appreciate that and I know exactly what you mean, it’s interesting that Carter and Spotnitz went in this direction though at this stage in the series, given the enormity of Memento Mori, I imagine it would have been expected that a major CSM/Syndicate/Krycek/Black Oil two parter was on the cards again, yet I love that you can watch this one and not have that working knowledge. As for the aliens, I can only guess that they might actually have been the Rebels, but that’s a guess and also I know I’m bringing that subject up way too soon, so I’ll shut up about that now.

    A Scully/Pendrell date? Would have been sweet come to think of it. Kind of wished that they didn’t kill him when he was drunk either, but at least he took a bullet for her.

  3. Does anybody else think that if Scully had promised Pendrell a date as the EMTs rushed him off, he would have totally pulled through?

  4. I see the minor concern about where this falls in the bigger mythology, but this episode has so much else going for it. We spend, as you said, almost the whole episode without being fettered by any of the baggage that normally comes along with the conspiracy stories, giving us a more or less ‘pure’ old-timey X-File.

    But two things are different: first, the scope is much large in that it’s a Bigger episode. The production value of this one is off the charts (planes, PLANES, MORE PLANES), so it lacks some of the ‘cheese’ of Season One. Second, at the exact perfect moment, when Pendrell is lying on the floor of that bar dying, as Scully is trying to help him, her nose begins to bleed. It is a subtle reminder that suddenly drags us, kicking and screaming, back into the ‘present’ of the X-Files continuity.

    This is not a ‘classic’ episode existing in a vacuum of the other elements of the series. Those things happened, and their cost and toll are real and growing.

    One of my favorite episodes of Season 4, easily.

    • Very well said. Good point that it’s an “old-timey” episode, but so much grander than anything we see in season 1.

      With this episode, I agree it’s refreshing that not TOO much is going on – it’s nice to finish up a mythology episode without feeling utterly confused. But as Tom says, there’s still plenty happening. Planes, heartbreaking deaths, birthdays, and nosebleeds all make for a ton of action.

      • I’m going to third the opinion that Tempus Fugit and Max happen on a much grander scale than anything we saw in Season 1. But somehow, I still enjoy EBE much better. And then Fallen Angel… maybe I just enjoy that one better for nostalgia’s stake. Who knows?

  5. Agent Venkman

    I always figured that “Mustachioed Man” was an operative of the Syndicate. Like Crewcut Man or Silent Willy. I actually like that not mythology every episode must have CSM, Krycek or the Black Oil, it gave things a larger scope. The grey aliens recovered from the crash site make me think these are the same aliens that are part of the main mythology storyline.

    One final thing, when Mulder says the room ” looks like it dropped from 29,000 feet”, he is not being literal. He is just being a smartass and linking the single person abduction from the hotel room, with what he assumed was Max’s abduction gone wrong in the plane.

  6. The birthday line was an error. Mulder remembered her birthday in 3×05

    • 3X05 is “The List”. There is no mention about Scully’s birthday in that episode. In season one Lazarus episode mulder gives Scully an card, (two months early) but that’s part of a test he did for jack.

      • There is a brief mention of Scully’s birthday in “The List” when Mulder jokes, “I remembered your birthday this year, didn’t I Scully?” Since Scully neither confirms nor refutes this, though, we have no way of knowing if whether he actually remembered or not.

  7. Pingback: Season 4 Wrap Up: Stand back, Scully. It’s loaded. | Musings of an X-Phile

  8. Hey, I completely agree with you about “Tempus Fugit” and “Max” not being mythology episodes. I think they’re easily mistaken for mythology episodes because they’re a two-parter, and we’re used to two-parters being the mythology episodes. But the second half of Season 4 breaks this pattern, putting the mythology storylines in one-off episodes like “Memento Mori” and “Zero Sum”.

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