The X-Files #9: Space

"Look. There are about 17,000 things that can wrong with the shuttle, and about 17,000 people to make sure they don't."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: A NASA mission controller is haunted by a ghostly alien who sabotages the space shuttle.

REVIEW: I imagine Space doesn't have a whole of fans, but I do like the setting. What can I say, like Mulder, I'm a bit of a space race nut. So to me, this paired down NASA, with its slow pace, file footage and over-cheery radio coms feels rather authentic. Unfortunately, Mulder and Scully don't have a whole lot to actually DO there. There's also the fact the alien in this story, though apparently of the race responsible for preventing humanity to get out to the stars (or at least to Mars), isn't linked to the Greys the mytharc seems to be about, and isn't featured again (see The Truth for my attempt at connecting it with the rest anyway, but I'm not sure I'm convinced). This early in the show, there's a quest to find the show's tone and theme, so writers are evidently pulling ideas from all sorts of unexplained phenomena, from ghosts to UFOs to - in this case - the pic of the face on Mars. Sometimes these fit the show, sometimes they don't. And arguably, this time it doesn't.

Perhaps it's the juxtaposition of X-Files fantasy and NASA reality. Though I found it interesting that the fictional NASA director/former astronaut had something to do with a number of real-life catastrophic NASA failures like Gemini VIII's, connecting Space's events with the loss of the Challenger was going a step too far, too soon. The accident was the 9/11 of its day, a shared tragedy shown again and again on television and still resonating with viewers in 1993. Heck, it resonated with me today! Gemini VIII or Apollo 13 didn't cost any lives, which makes a big difference, I think. Though the setting offers some verisimilitude, that can play against it. So we're asked to care for capcom's husband up in space, but we never meet him. And our FBI agents having the run of the place makes it seem even smaller than the production values force it to be. Fiction and fact don't coexist very well.

Or perhaps the problem lies with the monster of the week, which asks us to believe in too much. It's not just an alien that wants to sabotage the space program, it's also a spirit that possesses astronauts and flies off to melt mechanical parts, shut down systems or just scare you into crashing your car. AND it's got the same face as that mountain on Mars, so presumably its people built a civilization there. That's a lot of "unexplained" in one premise, and if we're believe the ending, where Belt throws himself out a hospital window to kill the alien inside him - and there are many reasons to find this clunky, not the least of which is that the alien was quite able to enter and leave him at will - Mulder and Scully have as little to do with its demise as they did investigating it. They're just witnesses in this, but the audience still sees far more than they do.

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Ok, so the show tells us aliens are real. It also tells us ghosts are real. So why not alien ghosts? There need be no discrepancy between the "Mars alien" and the Greys. They look similar, the only difference is that this one is ethereal. Well, what if it's a dead Grey's spirit doing exactly what we saw the previous (human) ghost doing (in Shadows), i.e. causing accidents, acting on some obsessive impulse?

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Though it has a genuine atmosphere, it's like Scully and Mulder are just tourists, dropped into another show completely. Their lack of agency sinks the episode below the show's usual levels.

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