5.14: The Red and the Black
The most noteworthy aspect of this two parter is that it almost – but not quite – causes me to reassess my previous position that the best arc episodes are those that avoid tackling the greater narrative head-on, attempting to advance the resistant behemoth. It may be less than scintillating as far as concepts go, but the alien resistance plot is set out quite clearly here, as are the responses to it from the main players.
Of course, the relative lack of CSM is probably not coincidental to its success, and a blessing (way). As such, the bookend is only intriguing if (a) you find CSM intriguing and (b) you find the Spender plotline remotely so also. Spender mostly acts the jerk store to Mulder, illustrating the latter has done himself far too much reputational damage ever to recoup the costs, were he ever to go the whole hog. That said, the video of young Spender faking his abduction experience recollections is an effective demonstration of the tentacles of cult influence, tentatively extending itself as it does into the realm of trauma-based mind control (“This second cult suicide in Southwestern Pennsylvania” announces the news feed, both reinforcing the point and identifying that the media veneer is never what it seems).
Well-Manicured Man: Do you see what this means? Resistance is possible. We have the weapons and the magic in hand.
In contrast, the Syndicate plotline is entirely apposite, with the Well-Manicured Man representing an essential “moral” stand his fellows lack, such that, even if the vaccine fails, “we have a new alliance to be made”. Krycek in all this is, as he’s ever been, something of all-purpose tool (in both senses of the word). His little meet cute with Mulder, in aid of winding him up and setting him off again, is undoubtedly contrived and not entirely plausible, although Duchovny and Lea make it memorable with some (improvised?) interplay as Krycek kisses Fox on the cheek with a “Good luck to you, my friend” before leaving him a gun.
Krycek: Kazakhstan, Skyland Mountain, the site in Pennsylvania. They’re all alien lighthouses where the colonization will begin, but where now, a battle’s being waged. A struggle for heaven and earth. Where there is one law: Fight or die. And one rule: Resist or serve.
Mulder has scoffed at his doomsaying – “There is a war raging, and unless you pull your head out of the sand, you and I and about five billion other people are going to go the way of the dinosaur” – and it’s notable too that Krycek’s language invokes similarly religious language to Cassandra (references to heaven and earth).
The actual denouement, in an episode efficiently directed by Carter at short notice – Rob Bowman was doing reshoots on the movie – is one of his few missteps; it’s evident that, when he doesn’t attempt to indulge his auteurish “flair”, he’s actually pretty good (see also Duane Barry). In this sequence, Mulder stumbles into the confrontation between an Alien Bounty Hunter and a floaty Alien Rebel and… shouts “No!” and raises his gun? Why? What was he attempting to achieve in respect of either party? All of this quite aside from the floaty effect looking tres cheez-e.
Mulder: Described and then interpreted into a linear narrative, a, uh, gestalt impression of a subjective, nonlinear experience.
By some distance, the episode’s highlight is Anderson’s quite gripping regression performance, a showcase of just how good she is when she isn’t straightjacketed into the level-headed/perma-incredulous science role. There are nice touches here – Mulder taking her hand – before the pull back of his yet again throwing out the testimony. The return to abduction without a standard cliffhanger resolution makes for an effective choice, although I do wonder if its coincidence that, following the response to Max, the makers introduce another abductee, only for her to disappear and then return a season later.
Skinner: Over the past five years, I’ve doubted you, only to be persuaded by the power of your belief in extra-terrestrial phenomena, and I’m doubting you now, not because of that belief, but because extra-terrestrial phenomena is frankly the more plausible explanation.
Mulder: Then I suggest you put that in your report.
This leaves only one arc episode to go before the movie, and the beginning of an increasingly rocky patch for the already rocky conspiracy arc, as the makers manage to throw in some good ideas, but appear entirely without the wherewithal to sustain them in a coherent or compelling manner. So probably best just to savour The Red and the Black as good while it lasted.
First published by Now in Full Color on 24/05/22.