As you can see, I am not exactly the fastest poster in the west! But here's another one!Travelers
5 X 15It’s an X-File.
Yes, unsolved cases. I file them under X.
Why don’t you solve them under U for Unsolved?
That’s what I did until I ran out of room. Plenty of room in the X’s.
*This episode, like Unusual Suspects, takes place before the official reopening of the X-Files by Mulder and, therefore, prior to the first season of the show. Also, like Unusual Suspects, it was also filmed and aired as part of the fifth season. I wonder if there’s some kind of psychology there with the fifth season producing, not one, but two flashback episodes.
*Okay, since we last saw Agent Mulder, chatting up the Lone Gunmen, newly formed, two days over a year and a half has passed, from May 19 of 1989 to November 21 of 1990.
*In the interim, much has happened; Tiananmen Square has devolved into a massacre, Bush the Former has appeared on television with his bag of cocaine, both Seinfeld and The Simpsons have premiered on television, the Hubble telescope has been launched, Gorbachov has been elected the first president of the Soviet Union as the Cold War slowly closes, the IRA has stepped up its violence in Britain, the trials of those involved in the Exxon Valdez oil spill are underway.
*Just two months before this episode, Iraq invaded Kuwait, setting the stage for the first Persian Gulf War. I remember hearing this news at Sonic.
*Also, since Mulder states in the body of the episode that the events of the teaser took place ‘last week’ and the 21st and 22nd of November are a Tuesday and Wednesday, this episode actually could actually start as early as Sunday, November 11th or as late as Saturday, November 17th.
*So, important events that either just barely predate these events or else take place concurrently: Milli Vanilli is confirmed as a hoax by their producer and the World Wide Web is christened as such.
*Okay, on to the episode proper.
*Okay, once again, that is a big ass “1990” that they throw up on the screen.
*The teaser isn’t bad. One might argue (I haven’t decided entirely if I will yet, but I’m pretty sure) that’s it’s the best part of the episode.
*A sheriff shows up to evict an “Edward Skur” from a tumble down house only to discover something unspeakable in the bathtub, a horribly mutilated human corpse. He is attacked and shoots his attacker. As Edward Skur dies, an odd green liquid around his mouth, he is able to say one word: “Mulder.”
*I remember watching this the first time on FX with a friend. As Skur repeated, “Mul . . . Mul . . . Mul . . .” my friend and I tumbled. We shouted Mulder’s name in unison with Skur and then started applauding. We were kind of . . . strange, I guess.
*Then again, it’s a good thing I applauded at the beginning of this episode, since I didn’t exactly get any more chances. Am I giving away too early that I really hate this episode?
*November 21, 1990, a slightly more stylish Mulder than we saw in Unusual Suspects, at least in the haircut department, goes to visit one Arthur Dales, retired Special Agent from the Bureau. He is played, wonderfully, by Darren McGavin. McGavin, of course, was the title character on the short lived Kolchak, Night Stalker, the television series that Carter has always claimed as the main inspiration for The X-Files.
*I should just ask at this point if anyone here has allowed their X-Files obsession to actually take them to this proto-X-Files series? Anyone here actually watched
The Night Stalker? I tried to watch it. I watched one episode and found it absolutely awful. McGavin is a charming lead, but the production values were just incredibly low.
*In the year and a half since Unusual Suspects, Mulder has moved from Violent Crimes to Behavioral Sciences.
*Mulder produces an X-File on Edward Skur, the very first X-File of the series. Dales fills him in on what the X-Files really are.
*Mulder does the first of countless hair flips, dedicated mostly to flashing a wedding ring in front of our faces. This episode, a completely negligible and inferior one, in my opinion, especially given its premise and the fact that it immediately follows Patient X/The Red and the Black, a great myth arc two parter, managed to garner way more controversy than it actually deserved, in my opinion, solely due to this ring.
*Previously, of course, there had not been (and still has not been, if memory serves) any indication whatsoever that Mulder’s character had ever been married. Dropping it in here like this seemed, apparently, to come off like a real character betrayal to many people on the net, especially, it seemed to me at the time, the Shippers, since they obviously believed that M&S were supposed to be soul mates written from time immemorial or whatever.
*An example of the hoops people jumped through to get this to not be about Mulder being married; I recall someone stating that they figured that Mulder had previously had a partner that had been married who had been murdered and Mulder was wearing his dead partner’s wedding ring in order to remind himself that he needs to get vengeance on his killer.
*Occam’s razor being temporarily suspended apparently.
*Only on the X-Files would a person wearing a wedding ring definitely NOT mean that he was married.
*Duchovny later stated, after the big flap started, that wearing the ring had been a joke on his part and that he had simply slipped it in. That
is patently untrue, however; Duchovny’s hair flips are idiotic by the very in your face nature of them; this tic I don’t recall Mulder ever exhibiting before and he is forced, because he has to do it with the wedding ring hand, to do this brushback with a very unnatural gesture with the wrong hand, bringing it up across his face instead of just using the natural hand. It’s completely clear that he was being directed to do this and his comments that it was just his joke was an effort by the show, I think, to try to walk back from it, after they saw just how mad some people got about it.
*Frankly, I don’t see the big deal. So Mulder was married at some point. A lot of people get married; a lot of people that you wouldn’t maybe expect to get married get married. My bet is this wasn’t a very long marriage; Mulder’s FBI file, that we saw in Unusual Suspects, definitively states that he is single in mid-89 and this is late 90. Given Mulder’s odd character, his inability to accept anyone else’s theories while clinging to his own with bulldog tenacity, his tendency to ditch people and his incommunicativeness, I can see a wife leaving him after a very, very short marriage. And I can see Mulder just deciding to never, ever talk about it again. This makes perfect sense to me. I don’t particularly see how it negatively impacts the Mulder-Scully relationship to have this chapter of Mulder’s pre-Scully life revealed. Others, of course, differ.
*And, believe me, I am, in no way, trying to get that fight started again. It was pretty brutal, so hopefully we’ve all moved on enough to just agree to disagree. I think we can surely all agree it was a pretty lame decision by the show to shoehorn it in like this in this episode with no prior groundwork laid and that it’s best just consigned to obscurity, which is basically what the show decided to do with it (again, to the best of my memory) by never referencing said marriage again. I may not see why exactly some people got so upset about it, but I agree it’s pointless and stupid the way it’s done here and a bad idea poorly executed.
*You know what would be hilarious? If they did a “Special Edition” DVD release of this episode, like Lucas with Star Wars, and edited the ring off Duchovny’s hand. Or just edited out those annoying hair-flips altogether. That would be a riot.
*McGavin decides to answer Mulder’s question about how Edward Skur knew his name by ranting about HUAC and finishing up with, “They found . . .practically nothing. Do you think they would have found nothing unless nothing was what they wanted to find?”
*Hair flip 2!
*Mulder flees to his apartment to watch old newsreel footage of the McCarthy hearings.
*The announcer refers to Communists in America as “fellow travelers,” thus giving us our title phrase. I’ll talk about this at the end.
*Mulder wears glasses in this sequence and they’re totally different from the ones that he wears in the bulk of the series.
*Mulder catches sight of his dad sitting behind McCarthy, which sends him back to Arthur Dales early next morning with coffee and Hair Flip #3 for good measure.
*”My father and I don’t really speak,” Mulder says to get Dales to tell him about Skur.
*McGavin doesn’t quite make this stuff sing; no one could, this stuff. But he is affable.
*Anyway, as Dales narrates his dealings with Skur and Bill Mulder back during the McCarthy days, we get a nice long flashback.
*Mulder smokes in this episode. Does he do that anywhere else? I don’t recall.
*Best thing about this episode? Production values, easily. The fifties sequences are beautifully soft focus. A sort of golden haze seems to float through everything and all the lights are surrounded by glowing halos.
*And you know, all the X-Files has really been missing is the hats, so we finally get those.
*A little period dialogue: “You planted that.” “I’ll plant one in your kiester, Bolshevik.”
*Big, big problem with this episode? David Moreland, the actor who plays Roy Cohn. Cohn was, of course, a homosexual; to say he was a closeted homosexual is to be completely redundant, given the period; to be homosexual was basically to be closeted, unless you were very, very lucky and completely uninterested in politics or a career. The ironies of a closeted homosexual, in a period when being homosexual was enough to end your career, spending his career ending other people’s careers for being Communist . . . well . . . you get the ironies.
*But Moreland plays Cohn as incredibly campy. I kept thinking of Billy Crystal, if you want me to be honest, so Cohn is not quite so menacing as he might have been, if you get my drift.
*I love the file on Edward Skur; there are seven places on the page that haven’t been redacted. “Communist Sympathizer.” *12 lines of black marker* “Edward Skur.” *nine lines of black marker* That’s just always funny.
*More period dialogue: “I got six pounds of German shrapnel in my can and this Kraut gets to shake hands with the President?” Charming man, your partner.
*It is kind of ironic that the original informant on this show is Bill Mulder. He contacts Arthur Dales and sets up a meeting in an isolated booth at a bar, Deep Throat style.
*Dean Aylesworth, who will also play young Bill Mulder in two other episodes, is just trying too hard though. Dude, you look creepy enough, okay, just stop.
*You know, the attack footage of Skur is the same every damn time. That one eye rolls up and his jaw sort of unhinges and he makes that weird noise, like he’s hocking up a spider or something.
*There is one great bit where the medical examiner tells Dales he’ll have the forensic reports in six to eight weeks. Man.
*A nice scene between Dales and the secretary or whatever. They have a nice discussion about the origin of the X-Files that doesn’t quite contradict what Mulder says in Shapes. Or does it? I dunno, I could see both being true.
*Apparently, when kicking around ideas for a spin-off series, which eventually became The Lone Gunmen, one of the ideas considered was to have a show focusing on Dales and this secretary.
*Actually, that could have rocked hard, if they’d had better stories than this. I like the idea of “X-Files through the years.” You know, can you picture a pair of cool, afro-dudes investigating UFO stuff in the seventies? I love the idea.
*Our first autopsy scene!
*I confess that I actually kind of find this scene deeply hilarious. The reactions are not quite as horrified as you’d expect if you were doing an autopsy and a crustacean the size of a pie plate crawled out of the esophagus.
*David Fredericks who plays J. Edgar Hoover isn’t much better than Moreland as Cohn. He hits all the classic bloviating evangelist marks. Thankfully, at least he doesn’t do the homosexual schtick. I’m actually kind of surprised.
*Hoover does some classic ranting about how he’s trying to defeat the Soviet Menace.
*Mr. Director, your plan to defeat the Communists is to . . . graft crab spiders into the esophagus of some soldiers and send those soldiers against the Communists to pin them to the ground one at a time and vomit that spider into their mouths to devour all their internal organs and then crawl back into the soldier?
*This seems . . . I don’t think . . . this plan of yours . . . it . . . well . . . I mean . . . are we sure this is the BEST
way to beat the Communists? I mean, maybe you could start with some pamphlets or something.
*Skur says the government did it to him to make him a killing machine, but I just question the efficacy of this entire plane. I mean, what if there are two people in the room? Your spider can only get one of them at a time. And what does the dude do while his spider is out devouring a dude from the inside out? Sit there twiddling his thumbs? And how long does that take anyway? Half an hour easy, I’d think, right, to devour every bit of soft tissue inside the human body? I mean, this is a pretty idiotic idea from the get-go and I just don’t see it being workable at all.
*Also, I don’t understand Skur’s dilemma. While the spider is outside of him and eating somebody else from the inside out, why doesn’t he just leave? Or wait until the spider comes out and then smash it with something? I mean, does he like go totally comatose or something, while the spider is outside of him? I mean, that would have to be the case for him to be as helpless as he seems to be, but how brilliant is that? I mean, you don’t want to put your own agent out of commission for forty-five minutes every damn time he has to kill somebody, do you? I mean, this whole plan is just dunderheaded. I mean, I’ve heard some bad plans in my day, but this is just awful.
*Cut back to Mulder, his head in his hands. Or rather, hand. The one with the wedding ring on it.
*Hair flips 4 & 5 during the same line of dialogue!
*Why the hell does Mulder even believe this story? That seems a pertinent question at this point. I mean, if you were in his place, wouldn’t you have pulled your service weapon about halfway through this story and told Dales that you’d blow his head off if he didn’t stop with the fairy tales? I would have certainly. Even by the standards of the X-Files, this episode stretches credulity. And Mulder hasn’t even started looking at the X-Files yet; his worldview at this point must be incredibly naïve; and yet he instantly believes that the FBI put murderous spiders inside people in order to stop Communism? I mean, that just seems stupid to me. I mean, Mulder is, I admit, somewhat credulous, but just because he believes in aliens, he’s not going to believe any ridiculous story that gets handed to him. And you would just have to be incredibly
credulous to even begin to buy this story that Dales is telling. I mean, Mulder would have to either be incredibly more versed in conspiracy lore that he should be at this point in his personal history or else completely mentally incompetent to believe this story.
*The final idiocy comes with the revelation that a conscience stricken and guilt ridden Bill Mulder released Skur rather than return him to the government’s purview.
*Striking as that final image is, of young Bill Mulder walking down that back country road, this is even stupider than . . . well, the rest of the episode.
*Young Bill Mulder wants to atone for his sins. He does so by . . . RELEASING A MASS MURDERER?! Even more, a murderer who literally must
kill, judging from the scene in the bomb shelter where he struggles to keep the crab down but can’t and ends up killing his own wife. And this after he has already killed two people in as many days. And he hasn’t stopped his activities; when he’s shot by the cop at the start of this episode, there’s a brand new body in the bathtub.
*So, for thirty-eight years, Edward Skur has been murdering indiscriminately, at a rate of three to four people a week, all so Bill Mulder can salve his conscience. Next time, buddy, just try living with the guilt.
*In the closing voice over, Dales says he thinks Bill Mulder probably thought that if he freed him, Skur would expose the men who had done it to him. Still, after a decade or so had gone by and he hadn’t, wouldn’t you go and tell him to get in gear or something?
*I think this is an absolute desecration of Bill Mulder’s character. Bill Mulder wasn’t stupid and he wasn’t without moral convictions; that he could live his whole life knowing that Edward Skur was out there somewhere murdering people randomly because of a decision he made would have made his life a living hell. And he long ago would have tracked him down and popped him in the head. Which is, frankly, what he should have done at the beginning. The Bill Mulder of the show, as we will come to know him, was capable of doing bad things and of living with those things. But this? I honestly think he would not be able to live with what this episode posits that he has done. And I think this episode gets his character totally wrong in an infuriating way.
*No wonder Skur was thinking about Bill Mulder as he died; they were practically Leopold and Loeb.
*Well, thus ends one of the dumbest episodes of the entire series, undercut only by episodes as mind numbingly horrendous as The Jersey Devil and Fight Club. I mean, the wedding ring is the least of its frigging problems.
*What makes this so bad is that it’s a great premise. As stated, I love the idea of seeing other agents work X-Files down through the years. A couple of seventies hipster agents, chasing a werewolf through Harlem. A sixties era bureaucrat discovering that Fidel Castro is in league with the literal Devil. An FBI agent in the 1930s discovering that Nazi Germany is trying to obtain alien technology. I mean these could be some great episodes and some nice lo-tech nods, like the tox report taking two months could really add some flavor.
*It’s to this conceit, I think, that we owe the title. I think the implication is of Mulder and Dales being ‘fellow travelers’ themselves, both on the same road, just at very different moments in history. The myth doesn’t come across, however.
*Plus, I like the idea of weaving actual historical figures into the narrative. Sadly, this time, the narrative was a complete disaster that made no sense at all and the historical characters were all played by folks from summer stock.
*No one makes any sense in this episode; Hoover’s grand plot to foil the Communists is idiotic; Bill Mulder acts in a completely illogical and uncharacteristic fashion; Edward Skur doesn’t seem to take time to actually think through his options; and young Fox Mulder doesn’t seem to balk at swallowing the whole story, brainless as it all is.
*Darren McGavin deserved a better guest shot than this. Did he get one? We’ll wait and see. I don’t remember a damn thing about Agua Mala.
*1 out of 4 stars.
*Next time, we’ll jump into the world of the X-Files comic series published by Topps during the heyday of the series. And after getting to know The Lone Gunmen, X, Fox Mulder and his mysterious father, Bill, we’ll finally get a glimpse of Scully pre-X-Files assignment when we check out a couple of flashbacks found in X-Files, Issue #35, N.D.E. Part. 1.
EDIT: Also, I meant to say that I'm hoping someone will show up who really loves this episode and will give a good defense as a counter to my negative review. Fostering discussion is a good thing!