Detour 5×4: That’s pretty sophisticated for government issue.


All the boys and girls...

We’re going to skip over the issues of preserving the environment and encroachment upon nature in this episode because, well, they already speak for themselves and we have more important things to attend to. Save the earth later, philosophize about Mulder and Scully now.

From the moment we open on our two leads, this episode is already memorable. After many, many days of angst, the team is back together and they’re both very much alive! There isn’t a dark rain cloud hovering conspicuously over their heads either.

That doesn’t mean they’re not in immediate danger, however. They’re on the road headed toward an F.B.I. team-building seminar and if their destination weren’t bad enough, their companions ensure that this will be the road trip from hell. Seeing Agent Stonecypher and Agent Kinsley together, we realize how lucky we are to have Mulder and Scully.

If I were to compare the humor of this scene in the car where Mulder and Scully exchange conspicuously knowing glances to, say, the hilariously underplayed scene in “EBE” (1×16) where we first meet the Lone Gunmen, or even to the entire episode of “Humbug” (2×20), it’s certainly a little more exaggerated and self-conscious than humor on The X-Files used to be. Not that I’m necessarily complaining, because it is funny and at this point, The X-Files is pretty much at the height of its popularity so if they indulge their audience a little bit by playing up Mulder and Scully’s partnership, so be it. It’s been well earned.

This was the meat and potatoes episode I was craving as an emotional resolution to Scully’s cancer after “Redux II” (5×2). Not only is it classic in every sense of the word, it harkens back to The X-Files’ early era. Think of those rag tag team adventures out in the middle of nowhere that Mulder and Scully used to go on in episodes like “Ice” (1×7) and “Darkness Falls” (1×19). We haven’t had one of those since “Firewalker” (2×9), which is a sad shame when you think about it. Then there’s the blessed fact that there’s a lot of  “Scullay!” and “Mulder!” being bandied about which instantly makes for quality entertainment. And finally, where I was looking for a post-cancer “conversation on the rock” a la “Quagmire” (3×22), we get the now famous “conversation on a log.”

God Bless Frank Spotnitz.

Now, here’s the thing about writer Frank Spotnitz: up until Season 8, he rarely ever (officially) wrote episodes by himself. He was Chris Carter’s right hand man when it came to the mythology, so much praise is due. And he was also a member of the “John Gilnitz” trio along with John Shiban and Vince Gilligan, the three of them together penning some of the most memorable episodes of the series including “Leonard Betts” (4×14) and “Dreamland I/II” (6×4/5). But you’ll notice a trend… he was a team player.

“Detour” is his first solo effort since Season 3’s “731” (3×10) and if you can believe it, setting aside the group venture of “Leonard Betts”, his first Monster of the Week episode since Season 2’s “Our Town” (2×24).

Well, we waited long but we were not disappointed. In some ways, “Detour” resembles “Our Town” in its use of dark humor. Where Scully once nibbled on greasy chicken wings while surrounded by boiled human bones, now she and Mulder team-build by piling up corpses rather than office furniture.

Oh, yes. Such hilarious shenanigans would have been enough. But Spotnitz doesn’t stop there. Instead he delivers one of the most memorable scenes between Mulder and Scully that The X-Files ever graced us with. You all already know where this is going.

Just like the writer was brave enough to stop the story and give Mulder and Scully a few minutes to have at it over nothing for the audience’s sake, I’m about to stop in the middle of this review to post this little conversation in the entirety of its glory… because it deserves it… and because I’m about to discuss it at length.

Prepare to scroll.

Disclaimer: The following is not intended to encourage sleeping bag nakedness in any way. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

Scully: You were an Indian guide, help me out here. [Trying to light a fire]
Mulder: Indian guide says maybe you should run to the store and get some matches.
Scully: I would but I left my wallet in the car.
Mulder: What are you doing?
Scully: Trying to open my gun. If I can separate the shell from the casing, maybe I can get the powder to ignite.
Mulder: And maybe it’ll start raining weenies and marshmallows.
Scully: Do I detect a hint of negativity?
Mulder: No! Yes. Actually. Yeah.
Scully: Mulder you need to keep warm, your body’s still in shock.
Mulder: I was told once that the best way to regenerate body heat is to crawl naked into a sleeping bag with somebody else who’s already naked.
Scully: Maybe if it rains sleeping bags you’ll get lucky.
Mulder: ……
Scully: You ever thought seriously about dying?
Mulder: Yeah, once, when I was at the Ice Capades.
Scully: When I was fighting my cancer… I was angry at the injustice of it, at its meaninglessness. And then I realized that that was the struggle, to give it meaning, to make sense of it. It’s like life.
Mulder: I think nature is supremely indifferent to whether we live or die. I mean if you’re lucky you get 75 years. If you’re really lucky you get 80 years. And if you’re extraordinarily lucky you get to have 50 of those years with a decent head of hair.
Scully: I guess it’s like Las Vegas. The house always wins. Oh! [Separates the shell from the casing] Taa-daa!
Mulder: Go girl. Hey, who did you identify with when you were a kid, Wilma or Betty?
Scully: I identified with Betty’s bustline.
Mulder: Yes! I did, too.
Scully: Could never have been married to Barney, though. Their kids were cute.
Mulder: But where are they today?
Scully: [Powder flashes but doesn’t ignite.] Moth Men. Really?
Mulder: Yeah. But there seem to be only two of them.
Scully: [Scully maneuvers Mulder into her lap.]
Mulder: I don’t want to wrestle.
Scully: Come over here, I’m going to try to keep you warm. [Strokes his arm]
Mulder: [Winces]
Scully: Sorry.
Mulder: One of us has got to stay awake, Scully.
Scully: You sleep, Mulder.
Mulder: You get tired, you wake me.
Scully: I’m not gonna get tired.
Mulder: Why don’t you sing… something?
Scully: No, Mulder…
Mulder: If you sing something I’ll know you’re awake.
Scully: Mulder, you don’t want me to sing. I can’t carry a tune.
Mulder: [Mumbling] Doesn’t matter, just sing anything.
Scully: …Jeremiah was a bullfrog.
Mulder: [Slowly and silently looks up.]
Scully: Was a good friend of mine. Never understood a single word he said… but I helped him drink his wine…
Mulder: Chorus.
Scully: Joy to the world… All the boys and girls…. Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea… Joy to you and me…

Oh, dear. Now I feel a little teary eyed.

If I had one wish for The X-Files in retrospect, it would be that we could have had just a smidgeon more of moments like this. In fact, if some subsequent seasons lacked anything it was a chance to listen to Mulder and Scully shoot the breeze with each other for more than just a line or two. Scenes like the one above, where Mulder and Scully just sit back and kick it in conversation, should’ve happened at least once a season.

“Detour” is one of the best examples of why I love Season 5. This is tense, this is scary, this is touching, this is imaginative, and above all else, this is fun. Not even fun just for us as the audience, but for the characters too! There they are, lost in the woods with no food and water, one of them injured, and being hunted by Moth Men. And yet, I’ll be darned, Mulder and Scully are enjoying themselves.

Fundamentally, here is what makes The X-Files great. Some shows try to be scary and succeed. Some try to be funny. Some try to be mysterious. But how many can work in all the elements with such balance to give you 42 minutes of television that leave you grinning the whole time? Somebody tell me. Most lean too hard in one direction or the other. The X-Files knows just what to do.

Verdict:

You can put me down as one very satisfied customer. I’ll even sign the guestbook for this one.

Is the X-File itself that compelling? Well, the Moth Men are about as interesting as boogey men ever are, but the episode isn’t so much about how freaky they are as it is creating a threat that pushes Mulder and Scully into a precarious corner because that’s where we can watch them shine.

Make no mistake, “Detour” is a post-cancer arc celebration. It’s written all over Mulder and Scully’s faces how glad they are to be back in form. Maybe that’s why being lost in the woods doesn’t bother them so much. And the truth is, they’re only reflecting what the audience is already feeling. This episode is a really satisfying way of acknowledging that sentiment.

And Chris Carter, if you’re reading this and there’s an X-Files 3, a mere five minutes of Mulder and Scully shooting the breeze wouldn’t hurt anybody. Much love. Peace.

A+

Musings:

Scully’s “How could you leave me here??” face when Mulder ditches her in the car with the Geek Squad = Awesome.

Scully is openly flirting. Now we can be sure she really did have a near death experience.

Mulder clearly wasn’t expecting a response to that line about sleeping bags. Who here thinks the look on his face spoke volumes? Just us shippers?

That little factoid Scully delivers about ticks really freaks me out.

Mark Snow does a particularly great job with the score in this one. Those primitive drums…

Fact: Mulder picks up on things no normal human should.

Best Quotes:

Agent Kinsley: I couldn’t believe how hard it was not to use the word “but!”
Mulder: I’m having that same problem right now!
Agent Stonecypher: Have you ever been to a team seminar, Agent Mulder?
Mulder: No. You know, unfortunately around this time of year I always develop a severe hemorrhoidal condition.

———————-

Scully: Mulder. We’ve got this conference. They’re waiting.
Mulder: Yeah. How do I say this without using any negative words, Scully?
Scully: You want me to tell them that you’re not going to make it to this year’s teamwork seminar.
Mulder: Yes. You see that? We don’t need that conference. We have communication like that, unspoken. You know what I’m thinking.

————————

Scully: You know, Mulder, sometimes I think some work on your communication skills wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
Mulder: I’ll be back soon and we can build a tower of furniture. ‘Kay?

————————

Scully: It sure is beautiful, though.
Jeff Glaser: That’s what happens. People get to looking around, next thing they know something eats them.
Scully: What do you think killed those men?
Jeff Glaser: Nature is populated with creatures either trying to kill something they need to survive or trying to avoid being killed by something that needs they to survive. If we become blinded by the beauty of nature we may fail to see its cruelty and violence.
Scully: Walt Whitman?
Jeff Glaser: No, When Animals Attack on the Fox Network.

————————-

Mulder: Witnesses described them as primitive looking men with piercing red eyes. Became known as the Moth Men. I got an X-File dated back to 1952 on it.
Scully: What would that be filed next to? The Cockroach that ate Cincinnati?
Mulder: No, the Cockroach that ate Cincinnati is in the C’s. Moth Men is over in the M’s.

————————–

Mulder: Too bad we don’t have any office furniture. [Piling up corpses]
Scully: I can see us now.
Mulder: Go team! There’s plenty more bodies, we may have won the honey-baked ham.

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53 responses to “Detour 5×4: That’s pretty sophisticated for government issue.

  1. Ah, much love for Detour – truly. I adore this episode and Frank really is such an old softie. I can remember my friend and I in high school constantly joking about sleeping bags after watching this.

    The only thing that killed me… but I guess I actually love it, in a way – was how Mulder just got up and left after Scully came to his room with booze and cheese. Clearing wanting something… and he just leaves!!!

    I think he might have been a little freaked out and I hope he kicked himself later, but I guess that’s part of his charm because he sees so many things – like you said, things normal people don’t. BUT an attractive woman, one he’s close to and cares about deeply, comes onto him and he bolts out the door to follow a lead. It’s actually pretty funny, in hindsight. 😀 But I did kinda feel for Scully because she looked let down.

    I just love the scene in the woods, it will ALWAYS make my smile and you’re right on that – I wish there had been more classic conversations ala “in the car,” “on the rock,” etc. Their banter and chemistry is legendary.

    • In a way, it’s comforting that Scully almost dying of cancer ultimately didn’t change much. Mulder will still be Mulder. The man can’t resist an X-File. But, I’m with you. I remember throwing some unhappy words at my TV screen after that scene. The thing about Mulder, it’s hard to stay mad at that character for long.

  2. I find the sleeping bag scene is so much more touching/scintillating/sexy/fun/interesting/enjoyable than any time the dynamic duo kissed (actually every time there is a kiss I cover my eyes like I’m watching a horror film. For realsies. You can ask my boyfriend).

    Also, I want to let you know that I only have 1 episode left in the series. I don’t know what I’ll do with myself after that.

    • I’m not quite that bad but I do have to watch through my fingers, so I can relate. But, yep, my all time favorite moments between Mulder and Scully don’t involve overt romance… please, modern television, take note.

      Oh my word, woman, that’s an emergency! You may have to do what I did: Start all over again.

    • Definitely can’t agree on that one… I drool openly when they kiss. Sigh. 🙂 BUT I agree on their banter is sometimes sexier than any PDAs. Example – in Trevor when Scully suggests spontaneous human combustion – Mulder’s reaction is so sexy. 🙂 Also, the flirting in Rush, oh I’ll stop now because I could SO keep going!

  3. I can not stop laughing at your disclaimer about sleeping bags! Seriously though I remember think oh god let it rain sleeping bags when I watched this one. If only for scully sake as she got totally ignored when she went to his room. I also agree that the best moments are of them just talking like to normal people. Anyway great job again. I told you this would probably come out crazy as I am coming off a pot off coffee and dead tired.

  4. Joy. To the World.

    Never will a less enthusiastic rendition be heard, but that’s what makes it so freaking hilarious!

    The look on Mulder’s face when she starts singing is PRICELESS. And when he calls for the chorus, well, I just lose it at that point. :::grinning like an idiot:::

  5. It owes so much to Quagmire, yet I can’t help but love this one so much. If I’m ever in the mood for an X File and I just want to pick an episode at random, I could easily watch this one, it’s charming, funny and beautifully well done. A real highlight if you ask me.

    • I never realized before I watched it this time how similar it is to Quagmire in some ways, but maybe that’s why it feels like such a classic. There were funny lines I’d never caught before even!

  6. Detour is also one of my favorites (“Thank you, Jesus”). The M/S chemistry is great.

    I did not think about it until now, but this is the first real “monster” MOTW stories since Kaddish (4×15), 13 episodes back. I wish they had more shows like this. It reminds me more of the early years of the XFs.

    • I hadn’t thought about it, but you’re right, which is probably why we were all itching for an episode like this by this point. We did have Elegy, but like you said, there was no “monster” in that one.

  7. Back in the day, when I had to record episodes onto a VHS if I wanted to see them again, I labeled one such tape as “Maybe if it rains sleeping bags . . .” because it was pretty much my favorite line ever. Such a great episode! This is one of those eps I might show to someone to introduce them to the X-Files: it’s got humor and great M/S moments and it scares the crap out of me.

    And I totally agree with you on the M/S talking thing–they have the most entertaining conversations, flipping from philosophizing about nature’s attitude toward death to discussing Betty Rubble’s bust. It reminds us that they’re more than just their jobs and gives us a chance to see them relaxed around one another. We definitely need more moments like that.

  8. This is a fantastic episode and one of my favorites, proven by the fact that I had a giant grin on my face the whole time I was reading your review. I love that it’s a classic MOTW and I can just pop it in and watch it as a standalone any time (which I have done . . . repeatedly), and I love the classic M/S chemistry.

    I, too, wish we had seen more of them just shooting the breeze about anything and everything. For me, this episode also harkens back to the birthday scene in the bar at the beginning of Tempus Fugit — a little glimpse into the more personal side of their relationship as we rarely got to see it.

  9. It’s me again. I just rewatched the episode–inspired by this blog–and I noticed something I hadn’t really before. At the end of it all, it’s Agents Stonecypher and Kinsley who save the day (and it’s Agent Stonecypher who points out that the mothmen are following people out of the woods to kill them, inadvertently saving Scully’s life). For all that Mulder thinks they and their love of team-building activities are ridiculous, his going-rogue approach to the investigation almost ends in disaster, and their by-the-book, thorough, well-staffed search is probably the reason they found M&S and were able to save them. That’s not to say M&S wouldn’t have gotten out on their own–and certainly Michelle holds some of the blame for their not being prepared for a wilderness emergency–but it’s interesting that for once, they’re saved neither by Mulder with his passion and intuition nor by Scully with her reasonable analysis of the facts (or sudden embrace of Mulder’s crazy theories)–they are rescued by their antitheses. No idea if that was deliberate or if Spotnitz was trying to say something by it, but it’s interesting, isn’t it?

    • Hooray! I’m so glad you decided to watch it again.

      That’s a really interesting point and now I’m thinking that “Detour” is like “Darkness Falls” in more ways than three.

      1. Both take place in a deep, dark forest.
      2. Both involve a team investigating a mystery in the woods.
      3. Both mention tree ring dating.
      4. Both show Mulder and Scully ultimately being rescued by others.

      The only difference at the end is that Mulder and Scully were on their way out of the hole thanks to an especially effective exercise in team building. I don’t know if they would have been able to save the victims and drag themselves out of the woods, though. I doubt Spotnitz was saying anything by it, since the mystery would never even have been pseudo-solved through traditional methods. More than likely, he just needed a way to get Mulder and Scully out of the hole. Still, it’s a rare episode nowadays where Mulder and Scully don’t deliver themselves.

    • Emily Michelle

      Rewatching this episode yet again, and I discovered a new little gem I’d never noticed (watching with headphones helps pick up background conversations, I guess): the night after the mothmen nearly attack the family in their house, Mulder and Scully are there investigating the crime scene. Scully comes down the stairs and you hear the tail end of Lewis’s response to Mulder’s questioning: “It started chasing me down the hallway. I went out Bo’s door and there was a big ugly guy with a badge”—referring to Mulder. No idea whether Lewis realized that the guy interviewing him was the guy with the badge, but it made me laugh a lot. And a big change from the usual response that Mulder gets in other episodes. (Daryl, no! Not the face!)

  10. I really enjoyed your review of Detour…your utter enjoyment and appreciation of the episode is evident in your writing. I always consider this to be one of the highlights of Season Five (if not the entire series) due to it’s perfect combination of of mystery, dark humour and clever and intelligent character interaction (that’s code-speak for perfect shipper moments, haha).
    Frank Spotnitz always seems to be remembered for his mythology input throughout the series, and it is episodes like this that highlight he’s more than a dab hand at ‘MOTW’ episodes too.
    I think this episode also works as a great introductory episode for a new fan if you wanted to show someone what a typical XF ep is likely to contain…it pretty much has everything really!

    • Agreed! This is a perfect, well-rounded episode to show to the uninitiated.

      “…due to it’s perfect combination of of mystery, dark humour and clever and intelligent character interaction (that’s code-speak for perfect shipper moments, haha).” ❤

  11. I find the relationship between Mulder and Scully to have changed in this episode. Mulder I think is still overjoyed at Scully’s cancer remission… so many huge grins on his face. I think you see him grin more in this episode than you do in all of season 3 combined. I like to think Scully’s cancer brought them both to reality – not necessarily about their undying love for each other or anything (LOL) but just in general – they’ve loosened up.

    Anyway, I love love love this episode. I love their dynamics, I love that this is a non-mythology episode (because frankly, we need a break). All-in-all, a much needed ep.

    • Yes, yes, yes! Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I don’t think so. They’re both more lighthearted than usual. And DD and GA are too good at acting not to take their characters’ immediate history into account. I love that you pointed out how much Mulder smiles in this one… a whole different tone.

  12. There’s one thing I don’t understand. Mulder convinced Scully that they have to find this creature, because it’s dangerous to the people. Then they discover that there are two of those creatures in the woods, Yet they decide to leave, even though they got rid of only one o them. Isn’t the other one still dangerous?
    P.S. I love the: “- Mulder! – Sculleeey! – Mulder! – Sculleeeeey!”
    Always puts a smile on my face. 🙂

  13. Really enjoyed the episode. Still, I can’t get over how he pronounces “conquistadors”. Might be that I’m from the SW, so when ever someone makes the “qui” into “qwee” on a Spanish term I just get vexed. Like, is it Mulder that doesn’t know how to pronounce that word properly or was Duchovny the culprit?

  14. This is probably the very first episode I re-watched as “an adult” (according to my age, not necessarily my behaviour) that actually had a MOTW that scared me.

    Luckily there was enough MS banter to lighten the mood. But I will look under my bed before I go to sleep tonight. Or I’ll just stay up and binge-watch some more episodes.

  15. Haven’t got huge love for this one. Some great scenes/lines but I think the set up annoys me – Mulder and Scully just happen on an x file whilst on their way to something else. Too Murder She Wrote

    • It’s true. They’ve resorted to what a lot of mystery-based shows eventually fall back on. The problem stumbles upon the problem-solver rather than the other way around.

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  19. For some silly shipper fun, Google the next verse to Joy to the World.

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  21. Am I the only here that find some resemblance between this episode en the movie Predator ?
    The forest, an (or several) invisibile creatures hunting down the heroes …

  22. The moment when Scully is pulling Mulder over to her and his delivery of the line, “I don’t want to wrestle.” is so great. It is so funny, yet so natural, I still wonder if it was an ad lib as Duchovny is known to be a witty guy. Regardless, that’s one of those rewind & watch & rewind & watch moments. I think I chuckle every time.

  23. Jocelyn Schumacher

    Just watched this again, and besides loving all the M/S dialogue, I really loved the ending, when Mulder rushes back to the hotel looking for Scully *knowing* that she is the strong one the moth man will go after! ❤

  24. As long as they are together, they are safe. It’s tangible in this episode. Just warms my shipper heart.

  25. This is a great review! I really enjoyed reading it! I especially loved your point about how despite the danger and touching moments, the episode is essentially fun. I never noticed it before you pointed it out, but the episode is very much a post-cancer celebration! The two are happy to be out and about doing their thing together without the threat of one of them suffering death. Their conversation points to it! Inspite of such danger, the two converse about meaningless things! i echo your wish, I too wish we had more MS conversations like these.

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