As others have noted, there are some not insignificant similarities between Biogenesis and Season 2 finale – generally touted as the best X-Files season finale – Anasazi. You’ve got Mulder going doolally. you’ve got Albert Hosteen (kind of, here). You got a long-dormant piece of unearthed alien evidence that sustains the plot and informs the mythology. And you’ve got the water-cooler-event cliffhanger. And I know this is going to be far from the majority view, but I actually rate Biogenesis higher.
Bible: Genesis 1:28 – And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
Not that Anasazi isn’t also a Top 5 mythology arc episode, but thematically – the show is grappling with some serious thematic/philosophical material here and does so largely with aplomb – and in terms of character – this is a sterling Scully outing, and Mulder’s affliction is entirely more compelling – it edges it for me.
Dr Barnes: Do you know Dr Sandoz believes this writing was from aliens? These are trivial men. They have no patience for the scientific process. They’re happy to read their names in the tabloids. Pseudo scientists. Beyond embarrassment.
Carter and Spotnitz know their terrain going in, such that they pre-empt objections to their embrace of pseudo-science and pseudo-archaeology with a James Randi-type debunker, determined to iron out anything that doesn’t fit with the formula (Darin Morgan had one of these in Jose Chung’s From Outer Space, of course. Dr Barnes – Michael Ensign – is altogether more sinister, willing to kill to protect his corner, which is actually probably the episode’s biggest stretch). They’re choosing to spread their net wider than simply the alien invasion arc, hinging it on the more ponderous ruminations that often form the staple diet of Mulder or Scully’s voiceovers.
Scully: Mulder… Look, after all you’ve done, after all you’ve uncovered – a conspiracy of men doing human experiments, men who are all now dead – you exposed their secrets. I mean, you’ve won. What more could you possibly hope to do or to find?
Mulder: My sister.
What this means this time, though, is that even though the voiceovers’ character is of the usual order of sub-Malick waffling magnitude, it is, this time, entirely germane and apposite (I’m thinking particularly of Scully’s, where she mulls “Whose idea was this? Who had the audacity for such invention? And the reason?”). Notably, she’s the staunch rationalist and a Catholic, not the best of bed fellows, but this episode’s content, running the gamut of evolution, intelligent design, the map of the human genome and religious predestination, all in aid of a Chariots of the Gods/ancient astronauts running theory, makes her the ideal one to mull. Rather than Mulder, where the best he can come up with for pressing on is his sister (this may be why they choose him to go psychic and begin misfiring his marbles).
Chuck Burks: Begs the question, doesn’t it? Why produce a fraud with Navaho writing… in Africa?
I’m trying to recall if the series has broached ancient astronauts – here via panspermia – before, only because it’s somewhat surprising it has taken this long. Obviously, we’ve had ancient crashed spaceships and concomitant black goo (Fight the Future), but the idea of a code that has been responsible for evolution has been a leap too far (Stargate only had ancient influence by aliens, as did 2001, and you need to go to something like Prometheus for the mainstream embracing it). Frank Spotnitz is quoted as being surprised there wasn’t a massive backlash to its displacement of God and religion, concluding “…the reason is because of the way we handle things… we treated the religious side with respect”.
Mulder: (on phone) Scully, that artefact is extra-terrestrial.
Scully: (on phone) Mulder, it can’t be.
Mulder: Did you know what that would mean?
Scully: No, it would mean nothing, Mulder.
Mulder: No, it would mean that our progenitors were alien, that our genesis was alien, that we’re here because of them; that they put us here.
And also pull your punches. Anyone with an affinity for SF/alternate history in the audience would be aware of von Daniken, and the most appealing aspect of Biogenesis is that, while it points the way for the next few episodes announcing man as created not by God but by aliens, it does so by embracing religious iconography and paraphernalia, so instituting its own religious mythology. This is naturally one of the lures of ancient astronauts. And also why they often go to Egyptian mythology, ripe for the evocative trappings, in part thanks to its alleged achievements and mysteries, to pitch their tent. So we have ancient tablets (give or take), with anachronistic and non-local script, that bind themselves together and spin independently, like something out of Poltergeist, and even embed themselves in Bibles, revealing the very verse that with which the artefact is inscribed.
Scully: It’s the idea that Mars or other planets were habitable long before Earth and that, uh, cosmic collisions on these planets blasted microbes into our solar system – some of which landed and flourished here.
Skinner: You’d accept that as plausible?
Scully: Well, almost any scientist would… theoretically. I mean, it’s just a theory. That’s about it, though. You don’t think this has anything to do with his death, do you?
Throughout, there is the sense of the supernatural – if you like – meshed with the scientific (or pseudo-scientific). Scully cannot reject panspermia out of hand because it has recognition – if not acceptance – in the field of science. She’s less keen on the ramifications, of course, from scripts she believes prove the artefacts a fake, to Chuck Burks’ interpretation of the script as forming a Magic Square (a mathematical presentation with occult applications, to attract the influence of planets and their angels or demons during magical practices), thus “explaining” its ability – even as a rubbing – to affect Mulder.
Chuck: Do you know what a Magic Square is?
Mulder: Yeah. It has to do with the occult.
Chuck: Right. Very cool. They first appear in the ninth century in history but, uh… (changes the projector image to a Magic Square) … as the story goes God himself instructed Adam in their use and then handed down the secret to all his saints and prophets and wise men as a way of trapping and storing potential power to the person whose name or numerical correlative exercises that power.
I was hugely impressed with this episode at the time, and inevitably let down by what follows (I note Rob Shearman’s response seems to be almost the reverse, but then, he doesn’t like Jose Chung or Dreamland). I’m as impressed as ever revisiting it. Although the premise isn’t new, the elements aligned make it feel fresh. Rob Bowman is working at peak form (it’s a shame he didn’t shoot all three), and his “Ivory Coast” scenes, in particular, lend the proceedings an exotic lustre (regardless of the errors of language). The blending of old and new, ancient and evolving – the latter in terms of Mulder’s mind schism, with telepathy suggestive of Gibson Praise – is tantalising.
It’s a mythology episode, of course, so much as it would be nice, it can’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Thus, we’re privy to a non-central recognition of the ongoing plans (“…final preparations for mass destruction on a scale that can only be imagined. There appears to be nothing we can do to prevent it. It becomes a question of managing the crisis. Otherwise, we are facing annihilation ourselves”), but it’s very much in a holding pattern until 2012.
Mulder: Is there someone else on this case, sir?
Skinner: Excuse me?
Mulder: There’s someone else on this case – you’re not telling me.
There’s no great need for CSM, Krycek and Diane Fowley to show up, in that respect, but the latter at least, along with Skinner, are effective grists to the mill for Scully’s pronounced distrust. It means there are some first-rate moments, such as Mulder calling Skinner out for someone else being in on the case, and the latter slipping up, leading to Scully accusing both the Assistant Director and Diane of being liars (also on the fine moments front is Krycek duly noting but leaving Mulder lying contorted on the stairwell; one assumes it was he who called Diane, and that she was on the phone to Skinner, before she very suggestively takes off her blouse. Just as well we cut there, rather than proceeding into Full Body Massage territory).
Scully: Why were you with him last night?
Diana: He called me. I found him in a university stairwell. He could barely speak. He said I was the only one who’d believe him– about an artefact.
Scully: You’re a liar.
(Scully starts to leave. Skinner grabs her hand.)
Scully: You’re both liars.
There are debits and credits on the cheap dramatic devices front. Albert stricken seems to be a snub, on one hand, to traditional medicine/ways having any upper hand on allopathic (for whatever reason, he submits to their treatments), but it also represents the standard practice of the show reintroducing a character who has featured before simply to kill them off for cheap dramatic leverage (recent examples including Max and Cassandra). Bill Dow, as the returning Chuck Burk, at least doesn’t get axed, which is nice, as he’s an appealing performer and character. I’d have attempted to keep Doctor Merkmallen (Michael Chinyamurindi) in the story for longer; he’s our access point to this new mythology thread, but he’s promptly dispatched as soon as he arrives on US soil (well, near enough).
Scully: A passage from The Bible on an artefact that you’re saying is extra-terrestrial. And, uh, how did the aliens get it?
Dr Sandoz: They gave it to us. The text came from them. I can prove it.. It’s written here. I’m sure of it.
Scully’s opening narration sets the scene, as The X-Files tends to, for supporting “facts” favouring its fanciful narrative premises. This time, much of what is discussed could be posited as having a Gnostic Luciferian basis – the panspermia premise suggests a false creator (aliens) or demiurge, and its only through evolution (materialism) that we can progress; Mulder is being augmented through “technology” (the manipulation of the genome as laid out in initial codes, and programmed through texts such as the Bible) such that one can see his journey in transhumanist terms. We’re privy to such touchstones of designated lore supporting the freemasonic universe as Mars rock found in Antarctica and CGR (cosmic galactic radiation). Science is verifiable and therefore the universe is verifiable, is the gist of it.
Dr Sandoz: (on phone) I think it’s all here. The map to our human genetic makeup every gene on every chromosome – proof of what I’ve been saying. If only we could find more pieces.
What’s interesting about Scully’s framing, though is that, as she recites chapter and verse of our doctrinal history (let’s be blunt; it’s science-endorsed theory, and worth as much as the paper it’s been scribbled out on), taking in crawling out of the sea four billion years ago as single-celled life, five mass extinctions that included dinosaurs and her citing of humankind’s achievements. Every one of them is of, at minimum, suspect authenticity – “From cave paintings to the bible to Columbus and Apollo 11” – and her opener describing globe Earth viewed “From Space, it seems an abstraction – a magician’s trick on a darkened stage” is almost in the manner of Elon Musk admitting his space car is a joke. She’s laying it out there, the absurdity of the lie we’ve been asked to believe about the way, shape and form of our universe.
Mulder: Don’t you see? All the mysteries of science everything we can’t understand or won’t explain, every human behaviourism – cosmology, psychology, everything in the X-Files – it all owes to them. It’s from them.
Which isn’t to say, as ever with these things, that the conversation itself isn’t intriguing. Biogenesis doesn’t rule out God per se, but the key element for embracing the position The X-Files gestures towards is that kind of humanist-materialist understanding of existence. The veracity of life elsewhere is irrelevant, to the extent that God must be excluded from the equation for the message to be fully assimilated. There’s much food for thought here, presented in a dramatically coherent and intriguing manner; it’s one of the series’ very best myth-arc entries.