The Great X-Files Rewatch: Season Two, Part One
I open my season two write-up with Mulder and Krycek instead of our usual dynamic duo because, for the first few episodes, the two dudes get more screen time together than Mulder and Scully do. Since Mulder’s supernatural investigations have been officially closed, Scully has been shifted off to the FBI training facility where she can instruct the new kids in autopsy procedure and conveniently stand behind pregnancy-concealing gurneys. Mulder investigates a couple cases alone (with frequent phone calls to Scully, because they’re already totally codependent on one another) and then is saddled with annoying apple-polisher Krycek (despite Mulder’s best attempts to ditch him).
Of course, Krycek is revealed to be a double agent in his very first episode, “Sleepless,” a fact that I had forgotten. Krycek witnesses how much Mulder communicates with Scully—and how much their combined talents result in mysteries actually being solved—and then he reports to a bunch of shady G-men that “Scully’s going to be a problem.” Cue Scully’s abduction!
In an action-packed two-parter, a weirdo who thinks he’s been repeatedly taken by aliens takes on a bunch of hostages and then fascinates hostage negotiator Mulder with his eminently proveable claims. In the last few minutes of the first part, the weirdo (Duane Barry) kidnaps Scully from her house, planning to offer her to the aliens instead. The second part is all about the chase—Mulder trying to track this useful weirdo who’s stolen Mulder’s favorite gal.
So the don’t-forget-he’s-evil! Krycek joins Mulder in his race to rescue Scully, which takes them to an out-of-service ski hill. Mulder insists on riding the, the, the thing (the ski-lifty thing) to the top even though the operator is disgruntled about it. Once Mulder’s vulnerable up there, Krycek kills the operator and then sets up a situation where it looks like Mulder is going to get crushed by the ski lift mechanism, or, at best, plummet to his death. And then Mulder gets out of it at the last second. And Krycek makes this face.
Heh. “Blast! Foiled again!”
Scully is mysteriously returned a couple episodes later in “One Breath,” though she’s in a coma with her DNA all screwed up. The uncertainty over whether she will survive is portrayed visually by Scully in a rowboat.
It’s impressive that this early in its run, The X-Files wasn’t afraid to shake up its basic premise by keeping Mulder and Scully apart for so much of the second season. It was partly motivated by Gillian Anderson’s pregnancy, obviously, but it also served the narrative function of making the first part of the season really suspenseful, with everything going to hell in a handbasket and then folding right back in on itself with Scully’s return, the re-opening of the x-files, and the status quo being triumphantly restored.
The season has a strong opener with “Little Green Men,” or as I have previously known it, “that one where Mulder goes all crazy in Peru.” (Imagine my embarrassment at discovering that he actually goes all crazy in Puerto Rico.) Momentously, this episode presents us with The X-Files’s first droning, quasi-philosophical voiceover narration (first of dear God so many to come).
As I previously described, “Duane Barry” and its part two, “Ascension,” are both first-rate; high-stakes action, supernatural mystery, and government baddies all in excess. I was pleasantly surprised by “Firewalker,” an episode I remembered as just average but which actually did a very passable variation on Heart of Darkness in a volcano with Bradley Whitford (Josh on The West Wing) as the Colonel Kurtz figure. I’ve also always been fond of “Aubrey,” in which a small-town detective is having psychic connections to 40-year-old murders which are also being copycatted in the present. The episode is evocative and super creepy, and the psychic explanation walks that fine line between outlandish and plausible. The detective’s boyfriend and chief is played by the subsequently famous and Emmy-laden Terry O’Quinn of Lost, when he still had hair, or an approximation thereof. “Irresistible” is also scary as crap, with a fetishist who kills women so he can play with their hair and naturally, he kidnaps Scully, She of the Glorious Red Locks.
Along with many great episodes, season 2 also has arguably the stupidest (I say this now, but wait until we get up there into seasons 8 and 9). The one completely Scully-less episode is 3, where Mulder goes to L.A. and acts out his grief over losing Scully by screwing around with a woman who is sort of a vampire. Yeah, sort of. The entire thing is kind of gross and porny without being at all interesting. While The X-Files did aliens and ghosts and stigmata and telekinesis and all sorts of other freakish stuff exceedingly well, the show only ever took two shots at vampires. Luckily, it redeems itself with its second try, “Bad Blood,” in the fifth season.
Looking Long Term
From the very first episode, I can see Duchovny taking the role of Mulder more seriously already. Some time there over the show’s first summer hiatus he must have realized what he was in the middle of. This show wasn’t just going to be some low-rent Saturday afternoon supernatural serial with goofy-campy rubber-suited aliens and storylines cribbed from Star Trek and B-movies from the 50s with names like Attack of the Thing!. This supernatural serial had a brain, and even with alien stories was able to bring really interesting psychological, philosophical, and ethical issues into the narrative. Further, the lightning-in-a-bottle chemistry shared by Anderson and Duchovny meant that their characters could experience very moving growth arcs—Mulder changed Scully’s direction, and she changed his, and that’s another element of the show that I can see happening even this early on.
Things are getting GOOD.