"This is the essence of science. You ask an impertinent question and you're on your way to a pertinent answer."
REVIEW: In a way, it's disappointing for the fourth episode to do another (a third!) abduction story. Then again, this early in the series, it's Squeeze that stands out as an anomaly; maybe The X-Files are really ALL ABOUT alien abduction. But no, there's a sameness to those three episodes that would limit the series too much. What really saves Conduit from being forgettable is how it connects literally and thematically with the series' premise and Mulder's personal quest to find his sister. A teenage girl who disappears in a UFO hotspot (and the heat from the spacecraft melting sand and burning tree tops gives that expression a new meaning) brings back memories for him and fuels an obsession to find this Ruby, in the hopes that her fate mirrors his sister's. That earlier case haunts the entire episode. It's brought up by Scully's boss, Scully later calls him out on it, and the coda is nothing but. Scully is a doctor, and though she's chosen to use her talents forensically, she's still trained as a healer, and whether she realizes it or not, she's taken Mulder as a patient. He's a man in need of healing, in need of closure, never having gotten over this trauma. As she listens to a tape of his hypnotic regression therapy, he utters the words "I want to believe" from his office poster, and it takes on new meaning. It's not about proving the existence of aliens so much as it's faith he can one day get his sister back. Then we cut to Mulder praying for her in a church - surprising, because his faith has always seemed from fringe and secular - and I can't help but see a sort of space invaders game in the painted glass behind him.
I've been taught to see such patterns by a lifetime of literary and cinematic analysis, but even if I hadn't, the episode itself lays the foundation for it. Think about it. Mulder himself is a master at decoding patterns. He knows which articles in a tabloid are ridiculous hokum, and which connect to UFOlogy and other X-Files. The boy Kevin receives and writes down binary code, which can be decoded. The agents don't seem to realize that most of what Kevin receives is stuff that's been put aboard all those probes that might one day be encountered by intelligent life, leaving the audience to figure out some parts of the puzzle. And while the staging of the scene where Scully climbs up the stairs and sees Ruby's likeness among the ones and zeroes isn't believable (it would have been obvious even from ground level), it's still a statement about changing one's perspective to see things in a new light, which is what the show is really all about, and represents HER OWN progressive shift in perspective.
Speaking of patterns, the plot takes what circumlocutions we can already expect from The X-Files. There's an element of the procedural, interviewing various witnesses, following red herrings (one engineered by another teenager to cover her own, unrelated crime), with some creepy imagery here and there (psychic kid, wolves unearthing a shallow grave, a biker with a saucer tat and a mutilated ear, strange lights) and authority figures playing the role of antagonist. The latter seems especially important because it recurs twice. Mulder first thumbs his nose at local law enforcement, though the cops are later cooperative and helpful. Then, the NSA show up in the middle of night to grab the little kid who's somehow intercepted a defense satellite transmission, clumsy brutes who are less than helpful and turn the family against the FBI too. When you play on the fringe, even a badge can't necessarily help you. Neat bit of direction: Whenever someone is in a position of authority, they are cast in darkness with bright lights on the party being scared into cooperation - the NSA guys in Scully's room, and Mulder himself interrogating Tessa follow this pattern. The same relationship is created between the dark and mysterious (never-seen) aliens in the story and the abductees below, and then between the bikers riding dangerously towards little Kevin, hidden behind bright headlights. Who has the power is dramatized through cinematography here, but it's generally the question asked by the series. Who runs the conspiracy? Shadows throwing light on everyone but themselves. We're guided to artifacts of their existence, but not to the "shadows" themselves.
THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Again, are we dealing with shadowy government experiments or true blue (grey) aliens? The heat signature of the ship seems different from what we've seen before, and the possibility that Ruby was taken to space, as she shows signs of prolonged weightlessness, as well as the effect it has on Kevin, all speak to a different kind of intervention. Ruby being told not to recount her experience sounds like an element of government cover-up, but hasn't the government been shown to have memory-erasing capabilities? The possibility of a third (and also human) conspiracy to resolve these inconsistencies hasn't escaped me.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - The plot isn't particularly memorable, but the direction, the writing, and the connections they draw with the bigger picture elevates the material.