The X-Files #8: Ice

"We are not who we are."
ACTUAL ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: An alien parasite infects arctic base personnel and turns them violent.

REVIEW: Somewhere between The Thing, The Naked Time and any of a number of Doctor Who stories falls Ice, a claustrophobic paranoid thriller about alien organisms that turn people into violent hosts on an Arctic research base. It's nice to leave "woodland America", full stop, and obviously, there aren't a lot of outdoor scenes, but just knowing the exterior environment is so extreme gives the episode an even more suspenseful feel. The stakes are all spelled out in the pre-opening credits sequence, with two men trying their best to kill each other, then turning their guns on each other to make sure the infection doesn't escape the base. From that, we know the cast assembled for this mission - which includes pre-stardom Felicity Huffman, and faces you'll recognize from a variety of TV shows - will die or become psychotic killers, but we can also fear for Mulder and Scully. What if THEY become infected?

Not that it's that clear-cut when things start going wrong thanks to an infected surviving dog. The plane pilot is the first to go, stranding the team as a surprise snow storm hits. He also serves as an example of what happens when a human being is infected - with attendant body horror and stretchy alien worms - and the hopelessness and paranoia set in. We follow each character into their rooms as they barricade the doors, and/or settle down for a sleepless night. The fear that one of them will have become infected and start attacking the others explodes when Mulder hears a noise and ends up finding a dead team member. Did he do it and not realize it? His crazed paranoia, going so far as pointing a gun at Scully, seems to incriminate him. And depending on how you interpret certain moments, you the audience can't be sure of his innocence or guilt, or of ANY of the characters'. The solution, which involves infecting the infected with a SECOND worm, insuring their mutual destruction is a bit fuzzy, but it does mean you could infect someone who's clean thinking you were administering the cure. The climax will tell. It's quite a physical episode, not only because of the body horror and upsetting thrashing of the infected, but it also features action heroine Scully, introduced last episode, pulling her gun and tackling a guy. Ice has a disturbing sensuality, with various team members disrobing and inspecting each other as the "Siamese fighting worms" force everyone to literally get physical with one another. Again, don't look at the episode's BIOLOGY too closely - it's complete rubbish - that's not what it's about.

Ice also manages some interesting subtext with Xander Berkeley's character Dr. Hodge. He's already paranoid going in, in large part because he doesn't trust the government. He's sure Mulder and Scully know more than they let on, and in fact knew what to expect at the base. We know that isn't true, but it turns the worms into a metaphor for the show's conspiracy. "We are not who we are" could be more than one faction's motto. The U.S. government is working against itself, and you can't know whose side anyone is on. Mulder's paranoia in most shows is an echo of his freak-out in this one. He was perhaps too easy to push over the edge. To Hodge, all government agencies are the same and share knowledge. He's wrong. So how wrong would we be as an audience to believe the conspiracy's right hand knows what its left is doing? And perhaps we should also ask: What if Mulder knew Scully is reporting directly to the higher-ups? Or does he already know?

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: "Worms" that swim under a person's skin becomes a recurring threat later in the series. I wonder if these "arctic worms" have any connection to the life-forms seen later.

REWATCHABILITY: High - A great sci-fi/horror episode in a closed environment, with high stakes and high tension. It pushes the regulars to the brink.

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