“F. Emasculata” is famous for being one of the grossest, if not the grossest episode that The X-Files has ever done. It even outdoes “The Host” (2×2). Whatever synapses are misfiring in my brain, I actually love this episode for its gratuitous distaste. I scrunch up my mouth and watch through my fingers every time.
This episode relies largely on the distrust of Big Pharma that was pervasive in the ‘90s. Who are we kidding? It still is. Somehow, it’s easy to believe that a big, faceless corporation would be willing to subject the human race to anything to build its empire. We Americans in particular are distrustful of any large concentration of power and money. I’m only touching on this lightly, but it’s exactly that collective fear that is at the heart of the mythology; there’s a small group of men hoarding their power and saving themselves at the expense of the little guy.
I have to say I had forgotten how much overlap there was in early seasons between the overarching mythology and minor, mini conspiracies perpetrated by the Federal Government. CSM is back for the first time since “One Breath” (2×8) not because extraterrestrials are involved but to give the goings on in this episode a diabolical edge. Enjoyable as it is to see him, I’m not so sure his presence serves the plot. Scully later reiterates everything he says but in a less sinister fashion and with more conviction. Regardless, once again the government is running secret tests on innocent civilians only this time they have a partner.
Those who have been following for a while know that I refer to these types of episodes as “Half-Caff” X-Files. They’re not paranormal or supernatural, instead there’s a science or technology that the government is trying desperately to control. “Ghost in the Machine” (1×6) was the first of its species. I enjoy these types because they tend to be a little more scientific. “F. Emasculata” is not. The science of the disease is never explained. Why should it have been? The thrill isn’t in discovering its cause it’s in watching those horrible boils explode.
Speaking of a lack of science, how can Scully possibly be as stupid as she’s presented??? She’s a doctor. She knows that germs can be spread in a multitude of ways, yet in the face of a contagion whose method of communication is unknown, she opens up a sealed body bag with only a pair of gloves and a cheap mask. If it’s bad enough that the bodies are being incinerated, it’s bad enough that you should put on a containment suit, woman. And then she takes off her mask!! I’m incredulous, that’s what I am. If we’re going to be perfectly honest, it’s because of Scully’s recklessness that Dr. Osbourne dies.
Maybe to make up for the sheer lunacy of her actions in that scene, we later get a glimpse of Heroic Scully. Why does Scully keep from Mulder that she might be dying? Either that’s too heavy a conversation to have over the phone and/or she knows Mulder would stop what he’s doing and go to her rather than put his full effort into stopping this thing. Even if Scully’s stupid, she is sweet.
On a last film school-related note, much of this episode is filmed in shadow. I know, I know. That’s pretty much every episode of The X-Files. But even more so here, when CSM first appears on the scene, he’s filmed almost entirely in the dark except for his eyes. At other moments, actors are lit from a single light source such as the fire from the incinerator or a slot through a cell door creating a heightened sense of tension and drawing our minds away from any holes the story might have. It’s no surprise that we have Rob Bowman to thank for this.
How much should people know? Does the public have a right to know everything? Does knowledge always help, or can it sometimes endanger? “You can’t protect the public by lying to it.” Oh, Mulder, you know better. At least Scully is able to talk some sense into him. This means CSM was right too, for once. Could he be right when it comes to the mythology as well?? If you take it as a whole, “F. Emasculata” is arguing for full disclosure, only I’ll give it credit for acknowledging the risk involved.
Now, while I thoroughly enjoy this episode I’ll be the first to tell you that the whole premise is faulty. Mulder claims Pink Pharmaceuticals conducted this secret experiment to avoid having to go through years of FDA trials and get their drug on the market faster. The whole point of FDA trials, first of all, is that they are a line of defense between manufacturers and the American public that can’t be circumvented; you have to show proof of all your collected data. Ergo, a secret experiment is useless when it comes to getting FDA approval. But what really gets me is that I don’t know what Mulder’s on about since there’s no drug being tested at all! So what would they get approved? They’re spreading a disease just to see what it will do, to understand the science behind it (which vaguely reminds me of the Tuskegee Experiments). It’s not a stretch to conclude that they’re creating a problem so that they’ll have a jump on the competition in learning how to solve it and eventually earn themselves revenue. But there are some serious variables involved before that can happen, as the events of this episode bear out.
I bet you think after all that griping I’m about to downgrade this episode. How could I do that when I enjoy it so much? So the plot has some pitfalls. Whatever excuse they need to bring me those boils a-poppin’ is just fine.
Wouldn’t Pink or the government have warned the U.S. Marshalls that there’s a contagion? These escaped men pose a threat to their testing as they’re outside of the focus group and unmonitored. The situation is tumbling out of control, something they don’t want because that would only draw more attention to what they’re doing. You would think that they’d make more of an effort to contain the situation by preventing others from being infected, if only so that no one would catch on to what’s actually happening.
It’s interesting to see Dean Norris (U.S. Marshall) in his younger days before Breaking Bad, a series he stars in that’s written and created by fellow X-Files alum Vince Gilligan. Plug.
Scully: According to the briefing, prisoners escaped by hiding in a laundry cart.
Mulder: I don’t think the guards are watching enough prison movies.
Smoking Man: In 1988 there was an outbreak of hemorrhagic fever in Sacramento California. The truth would have caused panic. Panic would have cost lives. We control the disease by controlling the information.
Mulder: You can’t protect the public by lying to them.
Smoking Man: It’s done every day.
Mulder: I won’t be a party to it. [To Skinner] What about you?
Smoking Man: You’re already a party to it. How many people are being infected while you stand here not doing your job? Ten? Twenty? What’s the truth, Agent Mulder?
Mulder: What about you? Where do you stand?
Skinner: I stand right on the line that you keep crossing.
Skinner: Agent Mulder, I’m saying this as a friend. Watch your back. This is just the beginning.