Tag Archives: The Ghost in the Machine

One Son 6×12: Two fathers whose paths would converge in a new battle.


They're heeeere!

Two households, both alike in dignity
(In fair District of Columbia, where we lay our scene),
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-crossed G-Men take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Doth with Spender’s death fail to bury their parents’ strife…

“The Mulders vs. The Spenders” doesn’t slide down the throat as easily as “The Montagues vs. The Capulets”, but you get the idea. Once upon a time, C.G.B. Spender slept with Bill Mulder’s wife and the universe hasn’t been at peace since. Now their progeny take center stage. By the end of this epic rivalry, or at least the end of this episode, only one son will be left standing.

And it’s not Jeffrey Spender.

As I said in my “Two Fathers” (6×11) review, what Cigarette-Smoking Man/C.G.B. Spender wants isn’t a family, it’s a legacy. You see, he believes his own myth. His sudden nepotism in regards to his son Jeffrey isn’t born out of sentimentality however he may pose. No, he considers himself some kind of noble hero and his chief desire is to watch his myth carry on into the next generation. In this regard his post-mortem jealousy of his old friend Bill Mulder is palpable; even in death his desires are being carried out through the work of his son (Never mind that Mulder’s paternity is still in doubt. Spiritually, he’s a man after his father’s heart.) CSM is out to prove he’s the better man not by actually being the better man but by manipulating his own son into a position of power over Bill Mulder’s son. Till the bitter end he also blocks every attempt by the Syndicate to heed Bill Mulder’s advice of long ago: Don’t sleep with the enemy.

Oh, how he then must have enjoyed tricking Bill Mulder’s son into accepting the fate his father had fought against, the soul-destroying compromise that he had ultimately left the Syndicate in protest of. Of course, he frames it in such away that Mulder would be damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. If Mulder takes CSM up on his offer of sanctuary with the aliens and saves himself, he’ll have to live with the fact that he abandoned the rest of humanity to its horrible fate. But to refuse the offer would be to insult his father’s gift, to spit on the sacrifice, the Faustian bargain he once made in order to save his son. Is Mulder willing to live up to his father’s ideals by crushing his father’s efforts? The answer is almost “No.”

If Mulder had compromised himself perhaps Spender could have lived. But considering the title of the episode there’s no way both of them would have survived. It’s too bad because I always rather liked Spender. Yes, he’s a brat. But I always felt that he was fundamentally unlike his father and that if he were ever armed with the truth would probably do the right thing. Now that he’s done it, now that he could become an interesting ally to the cause and his possible kinship with Mulder could be explored, down the trap door he goes. That’s so very like you, Chris Carter.

Thank goodness no one ever really dies on The X-Files.

But I’ve skipped ahead. I haven’t even discussed how Mulder made it to his fateful conversation with CSM in the first place. To understand how Mulder ended up breaking into Diana Fowley’s apartment and wound up holding CSM at gunpoint, we’ll need to go back a ways to about right here:

Scully: You tell me that Cassandra Spender is the critical test subject, the one who could prove everything. And yet, who is watching over her? Mulder, I can prove what you’re saying or I can disprove it but not when Diana Fowley is keeping us from even seeing her! Mulder, ask yourself why there is no information whatsoever on Special Agent Diana Fowley. Why she would suddenly happen into your life when you are closer than ever to the truth. I mean, you… you ask me to trust no one and yet you trust her on simple faith!
Mulder: ‘Cause you’ve given me no reason here to do otherwise.

:::Gut-Wrenchingly Painful Silence:::

Scully: Well, then I can’t help you anymore.
Mulder: Scully, you’re making this personal.
Scully: Because it is personal, Mulder. Because, without the F.B.I., personal interest is all that I have. And if you take that away then there is no reason for me to continue.

I have to pause after this whole scene because it’s so intense I need a moment to start breathing again. I mean, literally, I was holding my breath. I think I just saw the life of MSR flash before my eyes.

Mulder and Scully have been building to this moment since at least the movie when Mulder literally begs Scully not to quit the F.B.I., not because she still had any love for the institution, or because she had a vested interest in investigating the paranormal, but for him. His sorry behind is the only thing keeping Scully in this dangerous game. I don’t even believe she wants to solve the mystery of her own abduction badly enough to keep going. She made it clear in that hallway that she’d walk away if she didn’t think Mulder needed her. Now he’s risking losing her all over again for the sake of his history with a woman he’s not even close to any longer. Thankfully, by the end of the episode they’ve already tacitly agreed to pretend this moment never happened.

I’m forcefully reminded of “E.B.E.” (1×16), when Mulder angrily blows off Scully’s warnings only to quietly follow up on her suspicions later. Then too Mulder is reluctant to believe that someone he has affection for and history with could be lying to him. Yeah, he wants to believe. He wants to believe in his friends. That’s why he passively allows his former partner Jerry to use him in “The Ghost in the Machine” (1×6), why he refuses to allow Scully to persuade him that Skinner is dirty in “Redux II” (5×3), and why it takes him so long to realize that Deep Throat has his own agenda in “E.B.E.”. Mulder would normally be willing to hang governments with the circumstantial evidence Scully collects on Diana Fowley, but it will take a lot more than evidence for Mulder to turn on someone he feels loyalty toward. It will take absolute proof.

Too his credit, Mulder trusts Scully enough to do some checking on Diana Fowley against his own instincts. Maybe he remembers “E.B.E.” too. Unlike in “E.B.E.”, though, he doesn’t get the chance to prove Scully right. He barely has time to rifle through Fowley’s underwear drawer like a common pervert before CSM arrives and interrupts his investigation. It’s a testament to just how much his conversation with CSM rocks his paradigm that he forgets afterward to question what CSM was doing in Diana Fowley’s apartment in the first place. No, there was no smoking gun buried at the bottom of her lingerie drawer, but that CSM would arrive in the middle of the night looking awfully at home would be enough for Mulder if he were in his right mind.

But a new thought occurs to me: What if Mulder’s suspicions are aroused but he has ceased to care? After all, he’s willing to give up and give in to CSM’s invitation, what does he care if Fowley is in cahoots with him? For a minute there he’s thinking the Syndicate was right all along.

This may be perverse, but I enjoy watching Mulder’s self-righteousness get challenged. He has the liberty of being an idealist, his father did not. What would Mulder have done when faced with the same impossible situation? Would he have stalled for time and lives or would he have resisted openly and tempted annihilation? From the way he so easily falls for CSM’s guilt trip, I’d say he could have gone in either direction. It’s a good thing he has Scully in his life. She’s the kind of friend who won’t let him give up even when he wants to… even after he’s rejected her… again… It’s a theme that will come back again to play in the Season 7 opener.

Verdict:

Yes, the Syndicate era of the mythology has been wrapped up and tied with a bow. But fortunately, there are still questions left to be answered:

  • Who are the Rebels and why are they fighting the Colonists?
  • Where’s Samantha?
  • Are there any Syndicate survivors left besides CSM, Krycek, Marita and Fowley?
  • Is Agent Spender really dead?
  • What exactly is the nature of Fowley’s relationship with CSM? Hmm??
  • Will Gibson Praise and alien junk DNA become a major factor in the mythology?
  • If serving the aliens is no longer an option, can humanity still resist?

It remains to be seen if these dangling threads will all be addressed, but it would seem that rather than building to a confrontation with a shadowy government of powerful men, Mulder is now looking directly at an all out war with an alien race. If anything, the stakes are higher than they were.

And really, it’s about time for a clean house. There was only so long Chris Carter could have dragged out this tale without the rubber band snapping. Any more unanswered questions without some definitive resolution would have been untenable, so Carter decided it was time to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. So dies the old guard.

It does seem a great injustice that CSM, the one who for so many years has been responsible for pushing collaboration with the Colonists against his colleagues’ objections, should be the sole survivor of the Syndicate’s holocaust. Despite his claims of noble self-sacrifice for the sake of the next generation, the fact that he murders his own son makes it clear that he’s never been working for anyone’s benefit but himself.

But I would feel bereft if Mulder’s greatest nemesis were to die too. I confess to much satisfaction and relief when I see CSM and Fowley selfishly drive away from El Rico. There’s wiping the slate clean and then there’s breaking the slate altogether – at least we can be sure we haven’t seen the last of Old Smokey.

Love it or hate it, “Two Fathers” marks the most significant turning point of the series. It’s only fault is that it’s a somewhat rushed conclusion to nearly six years worth of build up.

A-

El Rico:

How on earth does Mulder recognize a disheveled Marita from that far down the hallway? When did he get telescopic eyes?
I thought the “date is set” and all that. The Colonists are willing to move up the timetable if an alien/human hybrid is successfully created?

Fort Marlene:

Sure, the cost of these DVDs was astronomic back when I bought them, but being able to rewind a scene where Mulder wanders through the halls of Fort Marlene dressed like Michael Jackson on an off day? Priceless.

Ah, the telltale sign that their relationship has changed: Mulder and Scully are uncomfortable in front of each other naked. That’s never happened before.

I’m actually going to miss seeing Mulder and Scully out in the bullpen. At least there she had a desk.

The scene where Scully confronts Fowley is so tense that my stomach still clenches up over a dozen years later. Now that’s acting.

It looks like the number on Fowley’s apartment door is 66. One more 6 and I would have been satisfied.

We never get a clear picture of who Diana Fowley really is in the conspiracy, but her connection to Tunisia is a good indication that she was working for Strughold, the head of the Syndicate himself.

I love that the mass murder of the Syndicate happens off screen. Hearing their screams in the blackness is more effective than watching them burn could have been.

Despite what he says in “Two Fathers”, CSM had and still does have some feelings for Cassandra. I don’t know if we could categorize it as love, but it’s certainly sentimental. Or maybe the writer in him is just caught up in the poetic tragedy of it all.

What is Krycek, the third son, up to? Like Mulder, he’s late for an appointment to save his own behind. But he’s not busy playing the hero, he’s manipulating the situation for his own profit. He figures that alien fetus will be valuable in the coming war. What good it will do him if he misses his ride and dies? I have no idea. So I can only assume he’s already aware of what the rebels are planning, at least to some extent, even before he goes to fetch the fetus.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: The latest in home security. [Indicating the elaborate series of locks on the Gunmen’s front door]
Frohike: Hey, you get through this, you gotta come through me.

———————

Cigarette-Smoking Man: I remember looking over a gun barrel at you once before, Agent Mulder. You couldn’t pull the trigger then. What makes you think you can do it now?
Mulder: [Cocks gun]
Cigarette-Smoking Man: [Quickly] I came here looking for my son.

———————

Kersh: You have answers now? Why didn’t I hear about those answers before?
Mulder: I’ve had answers for years.
Kersh: Then why didn’t we hear about them?
Mulder: Nobody ever listened.
Kersh: Who burned those people?
Mulder: They burned themselves. With a choice made long ago by a conspiracy of men who thought they could sleep with the enemy, only to awaken another enemy.
Kersh: What the hell does that mean?
Mulder: It means the future is here, and all bets are off.
Kersh: Agent Scully, make some sense.
Scully: Sir, I wouldn’t bet against him.

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Mind’s Eye 5×16: I have the same pair of pants.


The blind leading the blind.

First off, in “Mind’s Eye” we have a great guest star in indie movie maven Lili Taylor who gives a performance as the blind yet brazen Marty Glenn that sells the entire episode. I dare say that as solid as the episode is it would have fallen apart with a lesser actress in the central role. Even Mulder and Scully come off more as supporting players in her drama than leads themselves. That’s quite an accomplishment considering the dynamic duo was at the height of their television popularity. I must not be the only one who think so since Lili Taylor was nominated for an Emmy for this performance.

This isn’t the first time Mulder has developed a bit of a platonic crush on a woman who most people would cross the street to avoid. Remember “Oubliette” (3×8)? “The Field Where I Died” (4×5)? Even as early as “Conduit” (1×3) and “3” (2×7) we see Mulder’s unique ability to relate to the women that no one else can and believe them when no one else will. It’s hard not to attribute Mulder’s sympathy toward any Little Girl Lost as a psychological byproduct of losing his sister Samantha at such a young age. It’s hard not to and I wouldn’t try not to because I have no doubt that it is. Still, I also have no doubt that that’s not all it is.

To be sure, it’s easy to see how if by some miracle Samantha returned, after the glow of reunion had faded, would resemble these socially maladapted women to no small degree. If Mowgli resented mankind after being raised by wolves how much more a girl on the cusp of puberty stolen and raised by aliens, let alone by Cigarette-Smoking Man which is another distinct possibility. I’m sure she would feel displaced and misunderstood, the way anyone would who came back from the dead.

But more than that, Mulder himself is like a male version of these women, two steps away from needing a psychiatric intervention. He’s misunderstood, emotionally isolated, jaded and dismissive of people who try to befriend him. The main differences are that Mulder is hopefully proactive, refusing to believe that he can’t change what ails him, and unlike these poor and poorly educated women Mulder is no underdog. He has the power of his position, education, and reading between the lines of his family background, grew up with a decent amount of money to fall back on as well. Maybe that’s why these kinds of women tend to resist his help and maybe that’s why he’s intent on rooting them on.

I wasn’t a big fan of “Oubliette” as it was hard to follow Mulder in his attachment and mentally rally behind a character who walked around as limp as a fish. At least in this episode Marty Glenn has some spice. There are worse emotions than wanting to slap her, like being bored by her altogether.

Verdict:

This episode reminds me of earlier seasons. The resolution is bittersweet rather than satisfying and it’s quiet, without all the typical bells and whistles that we’ve come to expect in episodes of recent seasons. It’s not the most memorable or the most exciting tale, but it is a solid showing in a season that’s especially strong.

One thing that I like is that the writers are getting better at allowing Mulder or Scully to shine for an episode without making the other partner look bad. Mulder connects to Marty without alienating Scully unlike in “Conduit” and “Oubliette” where Scully is antagonistic. In fact, this time around she accepts Mulder’s final hypothesis with in a calm and unsurprised manner. Then again, I suppose it would be disingenuous of her to be taken aback by Mulder’s theories at this late stage in the game.

As I was watching, I remembered originally wanting to dislike this episode because I disliked Marty, but I just couldn’t. True, I’m still not sure I understand Mulder’s emotional response to her, but her story is an interesting one and hey, at least she’s a proactive author of her own tale rather than a passive victim. That’s why out of all the Little Girl Lost episodes this is the only one that passes muster.

B+

Bits and Pieces:

Writer Tim Minear only has one other credit on The X-Files beside this episode, a joint effort with Vince Gilligan, “Kitsunegari” (5×8), the somewhat disappointing follow up to “Pusher” (3×17).

Actor Blu Mankuma makes his second appearance on The X-Files in this episode. He first showed up in the much-panned Season 1 episode “The Ghost in the Machine” (1×6). I wonder how surprised he was and the direction the show had taken since then…

In a rare reversal of roles, Scully runs the opening slideshow.

Coincidentally, the last time The X-Files pulled the “psychic connection” bit we were watching “Oubliette”, another episode where Mulder becomes emotionally involved with a grumpy and misunderstood woman.

Best Quotes:

Marty Glenn: So… I’m all ears.

——————

Detective Pennock: You know, the thing I find most surprising about this case is you. You are one skeptical guy, Agent Mulder.
Mulder: Skeptical?
Detective Pennock: Oh yeah!
Mulder: I’ve been called a lot of things. Skeptical, however, is not one.
Detective Pennock: Yeah, whatever.
Mulder: [Answers cell phone and mutters under his breath] Skeptical…

——————-

Detective Pennock: It looks to me like it [the glove] fits.
Marty Glenn: Somewhere, Marcia Clark weeps.

——————-

Marty Glenn: I’d never seen the ocean before. And now when I close my eyes… or even when I open them… that’s all I see.
Mulder: Well, you’re lucky he wasn’t a fan of the Ice Capades.