CIGARETTE SMOKING MAN: It's too late for your heroics now.
MULDER: I don't believe that!
CIGARETTE SMOKING MAN: You don't want to believe.
Six weeks—and five episodes—ago, rabble-rouser Tad O'Malley (Joel McHale) went off the air.
He picks a helluva time to resume broadcasting.
It all starts with Mulder pulling yet another disappearing act. At this point, I think micro-chipping him might be best; every time he takes off, things go from bad to worse for Sculls and Co.
In less than a day, hospitals are overrun with victims suffering from anthrax, Spanish influenza, rubella—hell, even the plague. While Scully watches in horror, everyone around her is stricken in one way or another.
What the hell is going on?
Apparently, the apocalypse that the Season Nine finale foretold back in 2002—the one scheduled for December 22, 2012—it's secretly been in progress behind the scenes. Humanity has been bioengineered to self-destruct since the 1950's—everyone's DNA manipulated through mandatory vaccines and exposure to environmental triggers.
And now, the day has come when the world's timer runs down to zero. The population's immune system has been stripped away, and every contagion on earth has begun to burn out every man, woman, and child.
Except for Dana Katherine Scully.
Which sucks, but I have to say: if only one woman was left behind to represent humanity, we couldn't do much better than Scully/Gillian Anderson, Our Lady of Science and Skepticism.
Why Scully, though? Because she has alien DNA—a fact they have to hammer home roughly thirty times throughout this episode—which was given to her during her initial government abduction and testing, the same ordeal that left her (supposedly) barren and blighted by cancer.
Those wacky Syndicate scientists, man. They sure do make a mess when they're mucking with your genetics.
Mulder learns all of this when he confronts everyone's least favorite nicotine-y asshole (and the world's worst father), the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), last seen fifteen years ago engulfed in a ball of flames.
Pretty sure the man is 75% cockroach—what'll it take to actually put him down for good? A direct meteor strike? A Tsar-bomb?
He may still be kicking and plotting against humanity, but the multiple murder attempts, billions of cigarettes, and time itself have certainly not been kind to Ol' Smoky; he's currently rocking a Phantom of the Opera look, complete with a missing nose and gaping cheek hole that would make even Lord Voldemort shudder.
Meanwhile, Scully learns all of this from old friend Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), who left the FBI a decade ago under mysterious circumstances. The circumstances being that CSM made her an offer she couldn't refuse, and now she's his…personal assistant? Nurse? Secretary?
Whatever the actual job description, I'm sure she has a real hard time keeping his daily planner properly organized:
Monday: Slaughter thousands of innocent children.
Tuesday: Squash with Krycek's ghost.
Wednesday: Mock Mulder's life-choices (again).
What I wanna know is:
Where the hell is John Doggett?
And in what universe would Reyes, loyal friend and fellow truth-seeker absolutely devoted to Scully and Mulder's cause, swallow CSM's bullshit and actually help the crusty bastard? It's not just implausible, it's downright impossible to believe.
Anyway, now that Scully realizes her alien DNA (let's shout that again for those in the back: SCULLY SUDDENLY HAS ALIEN DNA BECAUSE IT'S CONVENIENT TO THE PLOT) is inoculating her from the rampant diseases/Spartan virus that's afflicting everyone else, she promptly sets to work creating a vaccine.
And because this is TV land where the science is made up and rules don't matter, she has some handy IV bags in only a couple of hours. She begins administering them to the doctors and Agent Einstein (Lauren Ambrose), introduced last week and already a more helpful member of Team Spooky than Reyes.
Then it's off to find Mulder and Einstein's partner, Miller (Robbie Amell), who have escaped CSM's nefarious lair and are now stuck in the world's worst traffic jam, dying of the plague or something. Scully's dismayed to find Fox in such bad shape, and tells Miller that only stem cells will save him now.
“Where are we going to get stem cells?” Miller demands, speaking for everyone. They're not exactly abundant on a congested interstate.
“We have a son!” Scully reminds us—in case anyone skipped the last five episodes—and it would be great to think all of that foreshadowing about William is about to pay off. But the observant will note that there's only a minute of screen time left and—in true X-Files fashion—an alien craft suddenly appears overhead and zooms a tractor beam of light over Scully.
DAMMIT, CHRIS CARTER. WHY MUST WE ALWAYS DO THIS??
…You'd think we'd know better by now, twenty + years in: that nothing is ever truly easy on this show, that Carter and Co. gain power from our suffering, and that—
REALLY? YOU'RE GONNA DO THIS AGAIN? JUST AS DANA WAS GOING TO SAVE THE WHOLE DAMN WORLD LIKE THE SUPERHERO SCIENTIST SHE IS? YOU'RE JUST GOING TO SLAP ON THIS CLIFFHANGER WHEN YOU HAVEN'T EVEN OFFICIALLY CONFIRMED ANOTHER SEASON WILL BE MADE?
Excuse me. I've got to go and punch some walls or something.
* * *
*Takes a deep breath*
Okay. I feel a little better now. I think I can be a bit more objective.
As a whole, this episode was a ride—there was a very real threat/problem to address, a sense of urgency and a fast enough pace to keep us glued to the screen, and Scully got to ScienceTM her way to a solution.
It's always great when the show lets her be the medical whiz it claims she is, and seeing the fate of everything ride on a woman and her knowledge is a refreshing change of pace. Too often in these scenarios it's a male action hero coming through in the clutch.
And, I appreciate an apocalyptic story when it's humanity's own mistakes or efforts bringing about our downfall. There's a reason why Stephen King's The Stand remains my gold standard for end-of-the-world fiction. The commentary CSM lays down about global warming and mass animal extinctions, about our destructive natures and excesses leading to this catastrophe, was spot on.
While some may love The X-Files’ propensity for casting aliens as the ultimate threat, I appreciate that this finale didn't take that route. It's always been the government, the men in power, and those operating in the shadows who are truly frightening. Having humanity collapse from the inside is so much more tangible and interesting.
But, on the negative end of the scale, so much of the dialogue—always portentous and purple when scripted by Carter—was repetitive or maddeningly vague. Reyes working with/for CSM struck a definite sour note with me—totally out of character given her previous appearances.
And have I mentioned how infuriating that cliffhanger is?
Still, this was a solid, gripping episode that mostly satisfied.
If only we'd gotten a few more answers/resolutions—or at least the confirmation of more episodes to come. I suspect this climax was Carter's way of taking us all hostage; we should never negotiate with terrorists, but this might be the exception to prove the rule.
I'm looking at you, FOX. Make the right call.
See also: The X-Files 10.05: “Babylon”
Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. Come find the angie bee at Tumblr.