Part of what I like about The X-Files is the way it never loses track of the human toll exacted by all the dark goings on. It's a series grounded in a dark, sci-fi fantasyland, to be sure, but it's a fantasyland adjacent to the world in which we live, one in which people slip through the cracks every day, sometimes thanks to the neglect of the government. Look past the plot of "Fallen Angel," and you get a sad portrait of a lost soul named Max, a conspiratorial-minded epileptic UFO enthusiast who gets swept up in forces beyond his control and suffers terribly for it. There's no happy ending here and Max's fate makes the fate of our heroes that much more questionable.
But let's double back. At some point it must have occurred to Chris Carter that the show would have trouble coming up with different variations on the classic UFO mythology. After all, there are a limited number of tropes to employ: Wrecked spacecraft, cattle mutilations, abductions, crop circles, and, err… space ghosts. To keep returning to UFO lore, the show would have to find ways of keeping those elements interesting. Ultimately they settled on a series of slow reveals spread out over the course of episodes that were themselves filled with slow reveals. (In time the show ran out of ideas, but it took a while.) Here we spend an hour dealing with a single incident, and the hour ends with as many questions as answers. We learn that a UFO has crashed. It's apparently home to some kind of invisible creature that, ultimately, can disappear again, taking Max, who may have been abducted in the past, with it. In other words, we've inched forward and learned very little.
It's not just a tease, however. This episode finds Mulder redoubling his commitment to investigating what somebody higher up doesn't want him to know. And it finds Scully drawn further into an alliance with the man she was at first sent to watch. Those episode-ending scenes before the big scary authority figure would seem like padding if they weren't doing the important work of establishing what our heroes are up against and that they're in it together, even if Mulder's seeming ally, the mysterious Deep Throat, may not be working alongside them after all.
It's a strong entry even before we get to that, if one distinguished largely by Scott Bellis' sympathetic performance as Max. The various alien-related incidents, particularly the climax, are staged quite well, but without Max we just get Mulder and Scully chasing a mysterious downed object and coming up empty-handed. With Max, we start to realize the stakes for which they're playing.
- That downed Libyan fighter cover story? Really weak.
Now we're on a roll. Here's a creepy episode that has eugenics and identical twins. Like I said, creepy. It's also one that leaves the mythology behind, despite a fake-out opening that suggests otherwise. This episode is the sole contribution from Kenneth Biller and Chris Brancato, a writing team that had previously worked, however improbably on 90210. They seem to have parted ways after this. Brancato went on to work on Tru Calling and other series while Biller moved on to Star Trek: Voyager, Smallville and Dark Angel, the lattermost of which touched on some of the genetic engineering themes explored here.
We open on a mystery. Two men are killed on opposite sides of the country at exactly the same moment under similarly mysterious circumstances. Their two daughters bear more than just a little resemblance to one another. It's a given that with almost any mystery the solution is going to be a letdown, but this episode does a nice job building slowly and offering some shocks along the way. It had been years since I'd seen this and I'd forgotten most of the developments up to and including the reveal that the kids themselves were evil. (Also forgotten: That the episode inspired the shitty '90s band Eve 6.)
Again, the intersection between the world of The X-Files and the world we live in helps. On the other side of Nazi Germany, eugenics had gone from being a source of intrigue to a source of horror, but thinking along eugenic lines haunted the 20th century even after the fall of the Third Reich. If humanity can be perfected through selected breeding, what are the implications for the imperfect among us? And what will the next, genetically superior generation think of their inferior forebears? "Eve" answers the question with a fairly chilling, "Not much." And why would a perfected generation treat us with anything but disdain?
It's a nicely realized episode, too. From the girls' dead-eyed performances to the descent into the madhouse, to the gap between the Litchfield Project's instructional video, dry, dated tone and its horrific implications. (Shades of Lost there, no?)
One final thought before we move on: Like a lot of X-Files episodes, the unresolved ending here leaves the door open for the series to revisit this story and yet it never does. Is that a flaw? Or is the general reluctance to avoid sequels good for the show? Maybe we should revisit the question when we get to "Tooms."
And then the roll ends. I'd somehow avoided seeing this episode before. Then again, I didn't exactly seek it out, since, like "Space," it has a reputation as one of those entries better left behind in the first season. It's not as bad as its reputation, thanks largely to an amusingly hammy performance from Mark A. Sheppard as the villain, a man who can control fire. (Battlestar fans will recognize him as the colorful attorney who's turned up in a few episodes over the last couple of years.) He's clearly having fun playing a bad guy who takes sadistic joy in the superpowered trump card he holds against the rest of humanity.
As for the rest of the episode… At least it's nice to know Mulder got laid at some point in the past, although I have a hard time buying Amanda Pays' Phoebe Green as an irresistible femme fatale. It's not that Pays isn't attractive enough. I just don't see Mulder as someone who would be snowed by her routine, even a decade ago. They just don't seem like a couple. (And of all the tombstonesto have sex on top of, why Arthur Conan Doyle's?) Is that alone why Mulder keeps making Sherlock Holmes references this time out? Scully seems none-too-happy to have her in the picture, either. Is that jealousy or professional annoyance?
I remember reading that Duchovny in particular didn't care for this episode, singling out Mulder's suddenly introduced (and never again referenced) fear of fire. It seems both contrived and unnecessary. Who, after all, isn't afraid of fire? And yet, the episode fails to make fire seem all that scary. There are some cool effects shots here and a not-bad villain, but nothing that really takes root or sets the series apart. Viewers would have to wait a week to get to another great episode. And so will we.