Friday, October 11, 2013

1x04: Conduit

It seems to me the best blogs, the ones that last, are frequently the ones that are rooted in obsession.  You know, one day you look at the X-Files and you see something more than you did the night before. Like a switch has been flicked somewhere.  And the show that was just a show is suddenly the only thing you can think about.

It actually felt kind of dirty and wrong to mess with that quote (from S6's Rain King).  I love that episode. Can't wait to get there.  But first, 1x04, Conduit.

As we go forward with these reviews, I'm going to keep the following themes in mind:

1. The show is as much about Scully's journey toward becoming a believer as it is about the paranormal events she and Mulder encounter.

2. Scully is only a skeptic when viewing things from a clinical distance; when the shit hits the fan, she acts on Mulder's crazy beliefs because she knows it will keep her alive.

3. Mulder isn't right nearly as often as he thinks.

4. The evolution of the Mulder/Scully relationship - not just the romantic involvement that eventually occurs, but their dynamics of trust and distrust, the changing ways they view each other, and the friendship that grows over time.

5. Assault on a federal officer never seems to lead to jail time.

6. Mulder is kind of a dick.

7. Hotels, car rental places, and apartment landlords must be crazy to rent to FBI agents.

8. The enormous top-secret government conspiracy actually really sucks at keeping things quiet.

9.  There are some serious homoerotic undertones in this show.

10. The X-files department is super toxic to anyone who comes close to it.

11. Mulder and Scully are both terrible at their jobs.

I reserve the right to add more items to this list as the series progresses and you can't stop me!

Just a little note before we start: I've seen this series multiple times, so I'll be referencing characters and plots and events that haven't yet occurred. There will be spoilers.  If you're seeing this series for the first time and reading this reviews, consider this fair warning.

So, welcome to 1x04, Conduit.  This is one of those early season episodes that I always forget about because the abduction mythology wasn't firmly established yet.  Plus it always felt like a weird mix of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Poltergeist to me.

Anyroad, we open on a lakeside in the middle of some woods, where a couple of kids are having a campout while their mom sleeps in the trailer nearby. Ahh, family camping. What could possiblye go wrong?

Well, this is the X-Files, so, a lot. Everything starts to shake, spilling the mother out of her bed. A bright light fills the trailer.

When the shaking and the light fade away, one of the kids starts screaming and the mom rushes out to see what's wrong - burning herself on the doorknob of the trailer, which has become scaldingly hot. The little boy starts yelling that Ruby is gone, and sure enough, they can't find her. The mom looks up to the sky and screams her daughter's name.

Cue opening credits. 

At the FBI Headquarters in the J Edgar Hoover building, Blevins hands Scully a folder on Mulder's latest assignment request (this was back when he still bothered filing paperwork ahead of time): the abduction of an Iowa teen, presumably by aliens. Blevins is, of course, less than thrilled that Mulder wants to waste bureau time and resources on a tabloid headline. Scully tries to defend him but it all comes out rather weak, probably because he never told her about this case in the first place. #6.

Blevins pulls out another casefile, an X-file actually, and hands it to Scully, who opens it to reveal this:

Blevins tells her that Mulder initiated the X-file himself and asks if Scully knows about it.  She reveals some of the same information from the pilot about Samantha's abduction, reminding viewers of his backstory and his motivation for opening the X-files in the first place. I'm assuming we're all fairly familiar with this story, so I'm gonna skip her rehashing.

Blevins asks her if she thinks Mulder's "personal agenda" has clouded his judgement, and Scully very firmly says no.  He says he's going to deny Mulder's request, but Scully asks for time to talk to her partner and then make a recommendation.

Cut to the basement office, where Scully is pacing in front of Mulder's desk, trying to convince him to drop the case. She asks him what sources or evidence make this case more credible than - and she picks up the tabloid sitting on his desk - the 100-year-old woman with a lizard baby.

God I miss those crazy tabloids. All I ever see now is celebrity gossip. What ever happened to good old American bat babies and three-headed monkeys, I ask you?

Mulder responds that the lizard baby wasn't born anywhere near Lake Okobogee, and seems all indignant when Scully doesn't have a fucking clue what that means. He even gets all up in her face about it.

Pretty sure that counts as sexual harassment, Mulder.

He whips out the slide projector again in what is fast becoming one of my favorite nostalgic habits of his. He starts talking about UFO hotspots and how a bunch of girl scouts spotted a UFO there in 1967. He gives Scully a file with the names of those girlscouts - and one of them is the mom from the teaser, Darlene Morris.

Little aside here: Mulder, look at all this evidence you've pieced together. You couldn't have shared one iota of this with Scully BEFORE filing a request for a formal investigation?  You were going to drag her along on this thing no matter what, but you didn't see fit to tell her that you'd be dragging her halfway across the country maybe a couple days ahead of time? Who's gonna water her plants?  Her neighbors must be sick and tired of all these last-minute phonecalls. "Hey, my douchebag partner is dragging me out of state again with no notice to go chase slime monsters or whatever, will you make sure my philodendron doesn't die?" Not to mention the fact that, y'know, she got called before their freaking section chief to justify this investigation and didn't know word one about it.  That really inspires the FBI to have confidence in the working relationships of their agents.  #6.

I know Scully's supposed to be a surrogate for the audience, and it's better storytelling to have Mulder reveal all of this after we see that the bureau is questioning his sanity and motives, but it really makes him out to be a jerk.

Anyway, The Sculder arrive in Iowa at the home of Darlene Morris. She invites them in and Mulder starts touching a picture of Ruby as a young kid in what is kind of a creepy way.  Of course we know that he's thinking about his sister, but anyone else looking in might see it as a touch of pedophilia. Scully notices him doing this but doesn't say anything, just looks at him with sympathy.

Darlene and the Sculder gather around the kitchen table and discuss Ruby's disappearance over a cup of coffee. Darlene mentions that it happened "just like it was before," and Mulder brings up the UFO incident in 1967.  She asks him if "they" took her, and there's a long pause in which a lot of tense glances get thrown around. Mulder doesn't answer, but instead asks if he can go talk to Kevin, the little boy.

He leaves, and Darlene tells Scully that every time she tells this story, people get this look in their eyes... the same look of disbelief that Scully has right now.

I can only imagine they sit there in awkward silence as Mulder goes into the living room to talk to Kevin, who's sitting in front the TV just watching static. Mulder asks Kevin about his nightmares, but the kid doesn't want to talk - he's more interested in drawing 1s and 0s on his pad of paper.  Mulder asks to see what he's doing, and as he looks at the page, Kevin points at the TV and says, "It's coming from there."

Cut to Mulder in a scene that would not happen today: talking on an actual corded landline and sending a freaking fax to his tech friend, Danny.  Mulder promises him tickets to Redskins game if he can figure out what it is.

Our heroes talk to the city sheriff, who tells them that he assumes Ruby ran away from home, and not for the first time.  The sheriff thinks that Darlene's story is the result of an overactive imagination, and that Ruby has been a source of trouble for a long time. "Something bad" was going to happen to her eventually. Shit, talk about blaming the victim there, Sheriff. I hope no one ever comes to you with a rape case.

Mulder and Scully leave the building and find a note on their windshield.

They follow the note-leaver into a library (hey look, it's not a diner this time!) and she asks them if they're looking for Ruby.  She tells them that Ruby was supposed to meet up with her boyrfriend, Greg, up at the lake the night she disappeared... to talk about the fact that Ruby was pregnant.  She says they were planning on leaving town, and that Greg worked at the Pennsylvania Pub.

A woman nearby conveniently knocks some books of a shelf, and Mulder and Scully are momentarily distracted.  When they turn back, the girl is gone.

How do these random people keep getting the drop on trained FBI agents? Why don't they, I don't know, go looking for her? It's a library - generally only one door, and a lot of hard-to-hide-in aisles on the way.  #11.

Our agents head to the pub, which is a 90s vanilla version of a biker bar - lots of bearded dudes in leather with big bikes. Mulder and Scully try to blend in.

Mulder asks the bartender where they can find Greg Randall - and hey, the bartender's, uh, that guy!

Pretty sure he was also Moose on a couple episodes of Step By Step.
Y'know, the big guy, who was in Revenge of the Nerds and who I always think was in Rookie of the Year but wasn't. Always plays some monstrously large, generally dumb bad guy.  IMDB says his name is Donald Gibb, but I'm gonna call him The Ogre for clarity's sake.

The Orge, upon seeing Mulder's badge, mumbles something about Greg being in trouble again.  He says Greg called in sick 3 weeks ago and hasn't been seen since - but if they see him, they can tell Greg he's fired. Scully hands him a card with their hotel information on it, in case he hears anything, and as they turn to leave, Mulder spots a tattoo on the Ogre's arm.  He asks about it, putting on his "I don't believe in that hooey" face, which gets this reaction from Scully.

Who are you and what have you done with my nutbag partner?

The Ogre tells them that they should head to Lake Okobogee sometime, where you can get a killer sunburn in the middle of the night.

Bet this makes him real popular with the ladies.

Cut to Scully's hotel room, where she's woken up in the middle of the night by voices and someone trying to open her door. She goes for her gun and someon kicks down her door - causing a fair amount of damage to the frame. Now who's gonna pay for that? #7. Men in nondescript suits shine flashlights in her face and demand to know where Mulder is.

Dana Scully: totally hot and with great hair and makeup, even when rudely awakened at 5:30 am by men with guns knocking down her door.

Now we're in Mulder's room and the door-busters are asking him about a document.  They show him a copy of Kevin's "artwork," which Mulder says just looks like a bunch of ones and zeroes. They threaten him with D6 (whatever that is), he's obstructing justice and blah blah blah. Eventually they tell him the papers are a fragment of a highly classified defense satellite transmission. They threaten him some more, but he has nothing to tell him and they leave after getting a clandestine phone call.

Finally, gratuitous shirtless Mulder action.

Scully comes in and Mulder's all pissed, saying she shouldn't have told the suits where he was.  She tells him those guys were NSA and they think the boy might be a threat to national security. Mulder scoffs, but doesn't have a good answer when Scully asks him just how Kevin came across this top secret information in the first place.
Back at the Morris house, the NSA guys are being total jerks and taking everything, including scooping all of Kevin's toys into a big evidence box, throwing all his books on the floor, and ripping his drawings off the wall.  NSA - a class act since 1952.

Our agents pull up to the Morris house while all this is going on. A crowd of neighbors has gathered to watch as two agents escort Darlene and Kevin to waiting cars with tinted windows; Darlene tries to console her son as they are separated. Back inside, one of the NSA guys pulls out a stack of the ones-and-zeros papers. Mulder finds a broken piggy bank on the floor and sets it gently on the dresser.  He makes some barb about the NSA guys sure doing delicate work, but they ignore him and bustle out, satisfied they've got what they needed.

When I first saw this episode, I thought they were exaggerating the assholery of the US government.  But these actions seem almost gentle compared to some of the shit that's come to light in the last few years. MULDER WAS RIGHT.

As Mulder watches them from the window, he notices that the roof of the camper (the one from the teaser) is burned black. He grabs a ladder and climbs up to the roof, where he scrapes up a piece of the roof, which crumples to ash at his touch.

At the regional FBI office, a random employee tells M&S that, aside from that one fragment, they haven't found anything in all 77 pages of Kevin's 1s and 0s that could possibly be construed as a security risk.  Scully asks if it was all just random 1s and 0s, but the woman tells her no - there was actually an incredible range of different data in it: the Vitruvian Man, a DNA double helix, a snippet from a Brandenburg concerto, Koran, Shakespeare...

(Never mind that even one of these bits of data would be at least a couple KBs, with each KB represented as over 327,000 individual 1s or 0s. Kevin's writing's not that small. There's no way he fit all that shit into 77 pieces of construction paper.)

Mulder says it sounds like someone's switching channels, but the ladies just sort of stare at him, either unable to answer or wondering what the hell he's talking about.

In the hallway, Darlene and Kevin are being escorted out of the holding area; Darlene ignores Mulder and Scully as she walks by them.  Mulder tries to talk to her, but Darlene is super pissed about the whole shitstorm they brought down upon her house (understandably). All she wants is her daughter back and for them to be left alone. She storms away and warns them to keep away from her family.

Please, look at this jacket Scully is wearing in this scene:

That's a plaid jacket with multi-colored lapels. For crying out loud, wardrobe, that's not right.

In the car, Mulder is once again behind the wheel for the sole purpose of taking Scully someplace she wouldn't otherwise go - in this case, Lake Okobogee.  He tells her that he "just knows" Kevin is somehow the key to finding Ruby and that he was affected in some way by her abduction, creating a link to who or whatever took her.  After a brief pause, Scully gently tells him:

SCULLY: Mulder, I know what you're thinking. I know why this is so important to you... I know. But there is no evidence indicating an abduction.

Translation: Mulder, you're projecting your own experiences with Samantha onto this case, like you will with literally every missing-girl case we'll encounter for the next 7 years. But there's no such thing as aliens, so get your head in the game.

That is not the face of a rational individual, and I wouldn't want to be in a car with him when he's making that face.

Cut to the campsite where Ruby disappeared. Scully points out how close they were to the tree line and how easy it would be for someone to come out of the forest and grab her; Mulder points out that the trees are all burnt at the top as if exposed to extreme heat. Scully thinks it could have been an electrical storm.

He also finds a section of sand that's turned to glass, and asks her if an electrical storm could do that.  Uh, yeah, Mulder; lightning will strike sand and often sometimes turn it into glass. It's called a fulgurite. You'll point this out yourself in 3x03 DPO. But you're going to ignore that now for the sake of being contrary and say something had to be out here producing a lot of heat to melt the sand, scorch the trees, and burn the roof of that camper.  Lightning could have totally done any and all of that, as well as accounted for the bright light that Darlene saw from the camper... maybe even scrambled Kevin's brain a little.  I'm actually kind of amazed Scully doesn't try to point any of this out, but it's the early seasons and I guess the writers are trying to get us more on Mulder's side.

They poke around a little more until Scully spots a white wolf in the woods. She points it out to Mulder and he goes chasing after it into the woods. Nice work there, Mulder, very professional. Is this wolf supposed to be some sort of spirit guide or ghost, or is Mulder just in the habit of chasing woodland creatures for shits and giggles? #11.

Mulder finds the wolf and its buddies clustered over a shallow grave, and fires a shot into the air to drive them off.

Scully comes running up to him (he does tend to get ahead of her with those long legs of his) and he starts to remove stones from the grave. She tries to stop him, telling him that he's disturbing a crime scene (#11!), but he says he has to know if it's her.  ("Her" probably means Ruby, but he's projecting so hard right now we can't be sure he isn't actually talking about his sister.)

Scully takes hold of his arm and shakes her head. They exchange an intense look over the grave, and it seems Scully has talked him down..


A few hours pass, as the scene is now crawling with police officers and coroners taking photographs.  Scully is looking intently at Mulder and asks him if he's okay; his eyes never leave the gravesite as he says he's fine.

The coroner pulls a few more stones off the grave and reveals a male caucasian - so neither Ruby nor Samantha.  They find a wallet on him which IDs him as Greg Randall. Scully comments that he's Ruby's boyfriend, and the sheriff says Ruby had a lot of boyfriends.

That's fucked up and kind of misogynist, Sheriff.  This kind of thing is a trend in TXF: local law enforcement being judgemental, narrow-minded douchebags constantly at odds with Mulder and Scully, who are just trying to find the truth.  Half the time, the local cops are in on whatever's happening and trying to cover it up, as we saw in the pilot and again in Deep Throat. I'm gonna put this on the list as #12: Local law enforcement are portrayed in an extremely negative light.

Mulder examines the wallet and finds a ton of cash in it, as well as a piece of paper with a doctor's appointment on it:

Back at the sheriff's office, Mulder is comparing the handwriting on the doctor's note to the note left on their car earlier - they match. The sheriff, in what is his first helpful act the whole episode, tells them that he's friends with Doctor Fowler and can find out who had that appointment.

Cut to the girl from the library being escorted down the hallway by two cops. They put her in an interrogation room, where Mulder and Scully start asking her questions. They know that she's the one who's pregnant, not Ruby and can prove Greg was the father. The girl (now identified as Tessa), who has already waived her right to an attorney, says that Greg promised her they would be in LA by Christmas. She says she was nowhere near the lake that night, but Mulder accuses her of waiting for them there and killing them both. He's very dramatic about the whole thing, banging on the table and making "BAM!" noises, being the total bad cop in this scenario.

He keeps asking where she buried Ruby until Tessa finally screams that Ruby wasn't even there that night. Mulder asks how she would know that, if she wasn't there herself.

Cut to Mulder and Scully walking down the hallways. Scully tries to tell him that Ruby is probably dead, and that Tessa is lying to them about killing her like she's lied about everything else.  She tells Mulder it's over and they should just go home and let local law enforcement handle this, but he won't let it go.  He leaves the station and Scully rushes after him; he tells her he has to talk to Kevin, even though she points out they want nothing to do with them anymore. He keeps walking away, and she calls out to him:

SCULLY: Mulder, stop. Stop running after your sister. This won't bring her back.

MULDER: Come with me or don't come with me, but until they find a body, I'm not giving up on that girl.

Scully pauses a moment, and then she follows him.

That's been happening a lot, and it's not going to stop any time soon. Scully will have a moment where she thinks about leaving him, or letting him leave her, but in the end she chooses to stick with him. It's almost cute that she's trying, at this point, to heal or at least soothe his old wounds; and even when it doesn't work, she'd rather follow this broken maniac than leave him alone with his madness. #4

Interestingly, in the original script, Scully first says, "They don't want to have anything to do with you..." then amends, ""  As if Scully is either hesitating to lump herself in with Mulder and/or realizing that others have already done so.  I prefer the spoken line (where she just says "us") over the written because I think, at this point, Scully's pretty much resigned to being an "us."

Anyway, Moose and Squirrel pull up at the Morris house and knock, only to find the front door unlocked and nobody home. They call out for Kevin and Darlene but no one answers; the TV has been left on and there's a kettle boiling on the stove, so clearly something's wrong here.  There's also a huge swathe of binary papers spread out over the floor. Scully goes to check the upstairs but stops as she reaches the top and looks down in the living room. She calls Mulder up, amazed, and they look down on the spread out binary pages...

which make up Ruby's face.

It's nighttime now and M&S are driving up to Lake Okobogee... with Mulder behind the wheel again because there's no way Scully would agree to that.  She tells him it's a long shot to look and the Morrises could be anywhere, and Mulder drops one of his more obsessive and character-defining lines:

MULDER: You know, when I was a kid, I had this ritual. I closed my eyes before I walked into my room, because I thought one day when I opened them, my sister would be there. Just lying in bed, like nothing ever happened. You know, I'm still walking into that room, every day of my life.

Yep, no psychoses here.
Okay, I get that he's depressed and traumatized over what happened to his sister... but there is no way this guy passed all the psych tests required to get into the FBI. Like the federal government is going to let someone with this many issues carry a gun.

They spot Darlene's camper van on the side of the road and pull over, but the camper is empty. They follow a trail into the woods and hear Darlene cry out as she trips and falls. They find her still getting up and she says Kevin has gone on ahead because she couldn't keep up with him... but that "it's here."  Scully stays behind with Darlene (of course!) while Mulder runs on ahead.

Just to be clear, this is 3 out of 4 episodes where Scully hasn't been present for the big paranormal event; and in the one remaining episode, said paranormal event tried to eat her.

Mulder spots Kevin just as a bright light appears in front of him.

The little boy walks towards the light as becomes more defined - it's several smaller lights, belonging to a bunch of motorcycles; Mulder reaches him just as the bikes do and pulls him down to the ground as the bikes pass around them.

As the last of the motorcycles drives away, Kevin starts telling Mulder that "she's back," but Mulder tells him she's not, no matter how much they both wanted that bright light to be her.

Then Scully screams his name, and Mulder runs back towards her with Kevin in tow.  The script actually reads:


I love it when they do that.

Mulder and Kevin find Scully performing chest compressions on an unconscious Ruby as Darlene looks on.  Ruby is naked and appears to be covered in Scully's hideous plaid jacket. Mulder runs off to get help.

Later at a hospital, M&S walk down a hallway while Scully reads Ruby's chart: no head trauma, no traces of drugs, no electrolyte abnormalities, but a sky-high white blood cell count. Mulder asks if there was an "attendant reduction in the lymphocyte population or a release of gluco-cordacoids" (aw, he's so cute when he uses big words) and Scully says there were both. Mulder tells her that these are symptoms of prolonged weightlessness, like shuttle astronauts experience.

And look, it's that hideous cranberry suit! WHY did they dress the redhead in such ugly red tones? WHY!?

Gillian Anderson, on behalf of women everywhere, I sympathize with the unfortunate clothing choices you made (or were made to wear) in the early 90s. Let she who has never worn shoulder pads and giant brass buttons cast the first stone. (Okay, I was 7 when this episode aired, but my leggings collection qualifies as enough of a catastrophe, right?)

They head into Ruby's room and ask her if she can tell them anything about where she was.  Kevin tells her it's cool, Moose and Squirrel are in the know, but Ruby says "they" told her not to talk about.

Pictured: a sane and cogent individual capable of giving testimony.
Mulder tries to press her, despite Ruby being clearly afraid, but Darlene comes in and tells her she doesn't have to say anything; Darlene then pulls the agents out into the hallway with her and gives them the old "we just want to forget this ever happened" routine.

Mulder tries to convince Darlene that Ruby should be stronger and less disoriented in a few days or weeks, but Darlene doesn't want her talking to them or anything else, and besides she hardly remembers anything, and she doesn't want her daughter to be ridiculed like she was.  As far as she's concerned, Ruby spent the last month on the back of a Harley Davidson. Mulder asks what they're going to tell Kevin, but she just says "I'm sorry" and goes back to Ruby's room. Mulder tries to follow, but Scully puts her hand on his shoulder and stops him, then he turns and storms away.

In the final scene of the episode, Scully sits along and listens to the tape of Mulder's hypnotic regression, as he talks about his sister's abduction. He talks about lying in bed unable to move (which will be retconned later), hearing her call for him; Scully picks up a photo from the file of Mulder and Samantha as kids. In a transition that I just love, Mulder is now the one holding the picture as he sits in a church.

Mulder starts to cry, and his voice on the tape describes how he can't move or help her.  The doctor on the tape asks if he's afraid and he says no, because there is a voice saying that she won't be harmed and will return someday.  Mulder-in-the-church gets down on his knees and begins to pray.

The doctor asks Mulder-on-the-tape if he believes the voice. The screen fades to black and we hear him answer, "I want to believe."

I do love that last scene, as well as the introduction of Mulder's obsession with his sister spilling over into unrelated missing-persons cases - this will happen again and again, and not just when he suspects alien involvement.  I just don't get how Kevin's sudden ability to write in binary has anything to do with his sister's disappearance; it doesn't fit in with any of the later mythology, as there's no evidence that he's gotten an implant or anything that would allow alien communication. Mulder theorizes that "they" are talking to him, but if so, they're not telling him anything useful. It's more like he's got a busted chip in his brain that's picking up random radio signals. In fact, that would have made a really cool plot for another episode - abductee goes crazy picking up mixed signals from a malfunctioning implant. The way it was handled here just comes across as too Poltergeist-y, and TXF is too good to be that lame.  I guess this is just one of those hindsight problems that arises when early episodes are written before the mythology really gets going. It all solidifies pretty well eventually, but these first-season abduction eps are just all over the place.

Firsts: Mulder projects his sister's abduction onto another kidnapping case, Danny, shirtless Mulder, Mulder interrogates someone, "MULDER!" "SCULLY!", the hideous cranberry suit.


  1. I didn't realize that was the NSA! The truth IS out there.

    I totally agree with you about the unfortunate clothing Scully had to wear. Why did the wardrobe people hate her character so much?

    1. The only possible justification I can come up with is that they were trying to make Gillian Anderson (who was 23 when she was cast, if I recall correctly) look old enough to be a doctor/FBI agent. Unfortunately, they went a little too far and made her look like a 60-year-old man.