Friday, November 8, 2013

1x08: Ice

Hello Starbuck. It's Ahab. People would say to me that life is short; shows, they run by so fast and before you know it, it's over. I never noticed. For me, The X-Files went at a proper pace, there were many awesome episodes, until the moment that I knew, I understood, that I would never see them again - my Mulder and Scully. I never knew how much I loved that show until there were no new episodes. At that moment I would have traded every Doggett, every Reyes, every Princess Bride Guy for one more quality season.  But we're together again, here, on this blog.

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.
12. Local law enforcement is protrayed in an extremely negative light.
13. This show is white-washed as fuck. And almost all the non-whites are villains or stereotypes.
14. Bathtubs are scary, terrible places that should be avoided at all costs.

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

Warning: If you're watching the show for the first time while following along with these recaps, that's awesome, but I've seen this whole series a bunch of times and will probably mention things that happen in the later seasons.  Please keep that in mind if you're the kind of person who hates spoilers.

This week we'll be looking at 1x08 Ice, one of my favorite episodes this season. It's tense and scary and almost completely plausible, which makes it even scarier.  Something about the idea of true isolation has always made me very uneasy, along with elevators and other enclosed spaces, but throw me in a bunker miles from civilization with a group of strangers of whom at least one is a parasite-infest murderer? Nope nope nope nope nope.  Even sexy storage-room-examinations with Mulder and Scully wouldn't make that trip worthwhile.

Okay, maybe it would.

Arctic Ice Core Project
Icy Cape, Alaska
250 Miles North of the Arctic Circle

It looks balls cold up there, you guys.

It's maybe 50'F where I am, and I'm wrapped in a blanket with a space heater on. I could not handle this.

A cute widdle puppy skulks through a trash research lab, stepping around at least 2 dead bodies. A rugged looking guy sporting several nasty-looking wounds lurches into view carrying a gun; he heads over to a console and flips the camera on, and starts saying rather cryptically:

RICHTER: We're not... who... we are. We're not... who we are. It goes no further than this. It stops right here... right now.

Yeah, that's definitely one of the creepier lines in this show.

Suddenly another man rushes up behind him and the two start fighting, slamming each other around the room and throwing serious punches. Guy 1 grabs his gun and aims it at Guy 2, who also has a gun drawn and pointed at Guy 1. They approach each other until each gun barrel is only an inch or so from the other's face.  There's a long pause, and finally Guy 1 takes his sites off Guy 2 and aims his gun at his own head; guy 2 does the same.  The shot moves outside the bunker and we hear 2 gunshots ring out.

Roll opening credits.

At FBI HQ, Mulder and Scully are watching a video from the Arctic Ice Project; Guy 1, alive and happy, is all excited because his team has just surpassed the previous record for drilling into an ice sheet. Which I guess is really cool if you're an ice scientist or whatever. The team all high five each other and make with general, flannel-clad merriment.

"Good work, everyone! Let's never murder one another!"

Mulder explains to Scully that these guys were up in Alaska extracting ice samples that could reveal the structure of the earth's climate back to the dawn of man; there were no reports of any trouble until a week after that first video, when the next transmission was sent... and it was Guy 1, doing his "We're not who we are" bit.  After he delivers that line and gets bumrushed by Guy 2, the transmission cuts off.

Wait. If they killed each other, who sent the transmission? Did Guy 1 have his hand on the "trasmit live feed" button or something up until the fight started? It would have made more sense (and created more tension) to hear their scuffle off camera followed by the two gunshots.  Then Mulder could have explained that it kept broadcasting the empty room until the power went out.

Anyway. Mulder says the Bureau thinks they must be either brilliant or expendable, because they've pulled the assignment to go figure out WTF is going on up north - leaving today, with a 3-day window to get in and out before the next arctic storm makes travel impossible.  Filing this under #6, because it is a total dick move not to tell Scully about a huge sojourn to the middle of frozen nowhere and give her zero time to pack or prepare. You think she has ANY clothing suited to arctic weather? Who's going to pay for her new sub-zero-winter wardrobe?

He even quips, "Bring your mittens" as he walks away. Sometimes I kind of want to punch him in the face...

Doolittle Airfield
Nome, Alaska

This guy (who in my memory always gets replaced with Tom Arnold)

sits around listening to old football highlights tapes on his Walkman (which is intensely weird) while other people do the actual work of loading up his plane. He's Danny Murphy, and he'll be heading up to Frozen Nowhere with Moose and Squirrel. Two more scientists, Lynette from Desperate Housewives and some guy who looks like Lucius Malfoy, show up and everyone flashes ID and shakes hands.

From Left to Right: Not-Tom-Arnold, Moose, Squirrel, Lynette from Desperate Housewives, and Lucius Malfoy.

Their pilot, with the amazing name of Bear, pulls up in his jeep and oh holy crap it's this guy:

That's Jeff Kober, who will always be creepy to me. He played a criminally insane vampire of BtVS (Helpless) and later a guy who dealt the magic equivalent of heroin. He also played bad guys on Charmed, Star Trek Voyager, and Supernatural. He is not to be trusted. Something about the wide mouth and the prominent cheekbones.

Creepy Bear throws a bit of attitude at them and they all get on the plane.

Our unlikely team make it up to the project bunkers and kick down the door to find a whole lot of dead people. They document the scene, and Mulder finds the ice cores melting away in the freezer as all the generators have gone out.

Mulder and Lynette go poking around and are suddenly attacked by the dog from the teaser. Bear manages to wrestle the dog off them and Lucius injects it with a tranquilizer - but not before it gives Bear a nice bite on the hand. Scully examines the dog and finds black nodules on its lymph nodes... and something crawling under its skin.

That sound you just heard was me vomiting in my mouth.

Ew. Ew. Ew ew ew. I hate when things do that. Under-skin crawlies show up a few times in this series and it always creeps me right the fuck out.

In the bathroom, Bear is taping up his dog bite. He looks in the mirror and sees that under his arm he has the same black spots as the dog had.

After a quick commercial break, we come back to find that Scully has finished her autopsies on the pile of corpses and determined that two of them killed themselves and the other three were strangled to death. They also had fever-damage to their livers, but no black spots... which would be good news for Bear except that the black spots on the dog have gone away, which could indicate those spots are just an early symptom.

Mulder finds a pile of satellite photos, which Not-Tom says show the ice to be 3,000 meters thick... but the original team found data showing twice that depth - they were digging inside a meteor crater.

Scully and Lucius are examining blood samples from the dead guys and find ammonium hydroxide, which Not-Tom has also found in the ice samples in levels higher than the earth's atmosphere ever contained. He also found this in the ice:

Scully has found the same organism in guy 1's blood and theorizes it's the larval stage of a larger animal - like the thing crawling around inside that dog. Everyone but Mulder goes into immediate denial, and Bear seizes on the "those guys killed each other" autopsy result to pitch his bid for getting the hell out of dodge. Mulder insists that none of them can leave without proper quarantine procedure, but everyone else sides with Bear on the GTFO train.

Tensions have been mounting this whole scene, and when Lynette reminds them that the dog bit Bear, he's quick to get all up in Mulder's face to remind him that he was attacked too. Scully steps in to calm shit down, and says they should examine each other to make sure no one's infected. Blood and stool samples for everybody!

Bear flips his shit and storms out, intent on getting in his plane and flying off; Mulder puts it to a vote, which is 3-2 (Moose, Squirrel, Not-Tom against Lynette and Lucius) to catch and confine Bear until he checks out clean for creepy worm parasites. He agrees at gunpoint, then smashes the sample jar over Mulder's head and bolts... only to be TACKLED by Scully.

Not pictured: her little cape fluttering in the air as she freaking DOVE at him.

So much spunk in such a small package.

They try to restrain him and spot something moving under the skin at the back of his neck. He starts seizing and Lucius cuts the fucking thing out of his neck oh god it's so gross ew oh why?!?


They to yank out the hideous squiggly thing and it immediately starts spewing BLACK BLOOD all up in Bear's neck wound. Mulder drops the worm in a specimen jar and gets his ass on the radio to call for quarantine and evacuation. The weather has gone to shit, though, so no one can get to them for another day.

Oh, and Bear's dead now, so they can't fly out themselves.

A bit later, we come back to the hideous worm thing all cozy in its ammonia tank

as the team discusses its anatomy and how it's super weird. Scully says she found the creatures in the hypothalamus glands of each dead guy (and she's found another one still alive), which could explain their violent, murderous behavior. It also only appears to kill when it's extracted, releasing a toxin into the host's blood. Mulder suggests the two guys from the teaser killed themselves to protect everyone else.

Moose & Squirrel find a quiet moment together in the room holding all the dead people (don't worry, they're in body bags... the corpses, not Our Heroes), and Mulder says he doesn't know if they should kill the hideous evil worm thing because it's probably an alien, brought to earth by the meteor that formed the crater in which the first time was drilling. Scully is firmly on team kill-it-w-with-fire, not only to keep it from infecting the general population but to keep their own team from killing each other.

Lucius and Lynette are listening in and growing increasingly paranoid that M&S knew this whole time that they were flying into a disaster situation. Lucius points out that Bear's infected blood got all over Scully, but Lynette counters that it got all over Lucius, too. It's getting all Salem Witch Trials up in here, you guys.

Lucius, Lynette, and Not-Tom all barge in on Moose and Squirrel, still arguing, and Lucius subtly insinuates that Scully's got angry-worm fever. She does not take this insinuation well.

"My little feet could totally reach up to kick your frozen nuts."

Mulder steps in and says everyone should get some rest, but Lucius reminds him that they still haven't examined everyone for spots and neck worms yet. Scully insists they do them out in the open, no secrets; she and Lynette strip down to play doctor in one room, and Mulder and the boys do the same in another room.
MULDER: Before anyone passes judgement, may I remind you we are in the Arctic.

Content that no one's infected, they all retire to spend the night in various states of sleepless paranoia in the same rooms where dead men once slept.

Don't worry, Scully, nothing bad can happen with the Bosom Buddies watching over you.

Later, Mulder startles himself awake and hears a noise. He finds Not-Tom's door open, but Not-Tom nowhere to be found. He heads into the lab and finds Not-Tom's bloody corpse stuffed in the freeze... which is of course the moment everyone else choose to walk in and find him like this:

Totally not what it looks like, guys.

Scully is, of course, the only one who believes he's innocent, and says he should have a blood test. Of course, she should know that Mulder is already cripplingly paranoid at the best of times, so now he's convinced that Lucius is going to change the results to make him look infected. She wants to look at his neck, but Mulder waves his gun around and says he's not turning his back on anyone ... so, yeah, way to make yourself look innocent and not-infected, what with the violence the yelling and antisocial behavior.

Scully draws her gun on Mulder, and you can tell by the look in her eyes that she hates having to do it.

MULDER: Scully, get that gun off me!
SCULLY: Mulder, you have to understand!
MULDER: (takes his aim off Malfoy and aims at Scully instead) Put it down!
SCULLY: You put it down first!
MULDER: (angry) Scully, for God sakes it's me!
SCULLY: (pleading) Mulder... you may not be who you are.

There's a long pause where Mulder slowly comes to his senses and lowers his gun. Filing this under #4, because Mulder is learning to trust Scully when he cannot trust himself.

Scully shuts him in a small storage room, and as she shuts the door he tells her, "In here, I'll be safer than you."  Which is reassuring, thanks. She locks the door and stares at it for a long moment, wondering if she's done the right thing.

She heads back to the lab and sees Lynette asleep, but before she can check for a worm lump, Lucius comes in and gets all paranoid that Scully is the only person with a gun and could be infected. She gives him some MAJOR stinkeye, pops the clips from her gun and Mulder's, and hurls them out the door into the arctic wasteland. Lucius, in complete contradiction of his actions like 5 seconds ago, says now isn't the time for "the three of us" to start turning on each other and Scully's all, "Hold up, asshole, Mulder's still one of us and needs our help." You go, Scully. #4

She tries the radio again, but there's nothing but static.

Later, Lucius and Lynette are doing some experiments with infected vs uninfected blood, and Lucius gets super pissed with Lynette makes an honest mistake and puts two drops of infected blood from different hosts on the same slide. They each storm off in a rage, but Scully keeps her head and looks in the microscope to see the two larvae fighting and killing each other.

She gets an idea, and puts the jars containing the giant two worms next to each other - the worms immediately start trying to kill each other.

They drop a bit of science on us: Lucius says it doesn't make sense for a species to kill its own because they need to procreate, but Lynette points out that the worms could be hermaphroditic and reproduce asexually.

There's a joke about Mulder and Scully's lack of sexual relationships in there somewhere, I just know it.

Anyway, they decide to test this two-worms-in-one-host-is-a-cure theory by sticking one of the live worms inside the poor dog.

Look at this image without squirming. I dare you.

After a minute or so, the dog has a mild seizure but then is totally fine, wagging its tail and nomming some kibble and totally not trying to eat anyone's face off. It pooped out both worms, dead.

Scully heads back to Mulder's makeshift cell, wanting to make sure he's infected before they go dropping worms in his ears. She tells him about her discovery, but he knows that if they put a worm in him, he'll become infected instead of cured.

SCULLY: If that's true, then why didn't you let us inspect you?
MULDER: I would have, but you pulled a gun on me. Now I don't trust them. I want to trust you. (#4)
SCULLY: Okay, but now they're not here.
Mulder turns, and Scully pulls down the back of his shirt and runs her hands all over his neck and back. No worm. Scully turns to leave but Mulder grabs her (in a totally not sexual way) and she gasps (in also totally not a sexual way). She tries to turn but he gently pushes her back to facing forward (in a totally not sexual way) and leans in close to touch her neck (in a totally sexual way).

There's no sexual tension in this scene at all, I guess, is what I'm saying. But if you take out those first two sentences and all the parentheses, that paragraph reads like a mild BDSM fanfic scene.

I'm sure there's a fanfic out there where, immediately following this moment, he pushes her up against a wall and they have passionate, paranoid, Arctic sex. (If you know of one, please share.)

Just as Lucius and Lynette are convincing each other that M&S will totally come out and lie and say they're uninfected, M&S come out and say they're uninfected. And maybe it's just me, but they both look a little flush and tousled and sheepish...

Lucius suggests they head back into the main building for a public examination of everyone, and the second Mulder turns his back, Lucius tackles him and Lynette shoves Scully into the storage room / cell. Lynette grabs the worm and tries to drop it in Mulder's ear, but Lucius gets a look at the back of her neck... and there's totally a gigantic evil angry worm in there! He releases Mulder and goes after her, but she flips her shit and runs away, screaming and knocking things over.

Mulder lets Scully out of the cell (thank you for thinking of her, just this one time) and he and Scully corner and subdue Lynette, and Lucius approaches with the worm. Scully takes a moment to remind Mulder that if they put the worm in Lynette, there won't be any left for study, but he knows it's the only way. Lucius drops the worm in Lynette's ear; she spazzes for a bit and then calms.

Doolittle Airfield
Nome, Alaska

Lynette gets loaded into an ambulance in a hazmat suit. Lucius explains (more for viewer benefit than for M&S) that she's going to quarantine along with the dog, but that the three of them have been cleared for release. Mulder wants to go back to the site to find more fun worms to play with, but Hudge tells him that the place has already been torched by "the military, Centers for Disease Control... you oughta know, they're your people." So basically, shadowy conspiracy somebodies.

He walks away, and Mulder tells Scully in a dreamy and cryptic voice that the worms are still down there, 200,000 years down in the ice. She says, "Leave it there."  She walks away, and after a quiet moment to collect himself, Mulder follows.

"Why can't I ever have nice things?"
End credits.

I do love this episode, guys. It's one of the shining gems of season 1. There's so much great acting in it, lots of nonverbal cues to clue the viewer in on the mounting tension and paranoia within each character. Mulder and Scully also have some great moments together, testing and reaffirming the bond that's growing between them. And the creep factor with those worm things is just incredible. Every time they got one near somebody's ear, or showed them crawling under their skin, I got both heebies and jeebies.

Firsts: black alien goo, M&S draw weapons on each other, Mulder actually takes Scully's feelings into account


  1. Yay, Ice! One of my all time favorites, which is a majority opinion I think. This episode is usually found on lists of "What episode should I show my friend to get them interested in The X-Files?"
    So much trust is built between M&S in this episode alone, definitely one of the best of season one. I am a huge fan of John Carpenter's The Thing, so this episode just fills me with joy. I usually watch it with my friends during blizzards when we are snowed inside my apartment, so much fun!

  2. Yes, "Ice" is a fantastic episode!