"Fear. It's the oldest tool of power. If you're distracted by the fear of those around you, it keeps you from seeing the actions of those above."
REVIEW: Episodes with haunted machines are probably my least favorite. They don't fit the world at all. Thankfully, the show gives us other theories for what's going on. One too many, as it turns out. That a stealth-sprayed insecticide would inflame phobias and cause people to "go postal" requires some suspension of disbelief - that all hallucinations similarly manifest through electronic screens - but Mulder's conclusion that someone is behind it all, sending subliminal messages to the experiment's "control group" requires even more. First, the messages don't appear to be subliminal. They last too long and are only seen by those affected. They're hallucinations. And second, they come out of devices that couldn't possibly be controlled by Mulder's "overlords". Even the cheeky ending, where Mulder gets a goodbye message, should be understood in the context of his own exposure to "LSDM". It's possible the chemical is being tested on people by the Conspiracy - the reference to Full Metal Jacket evokes a plot to create killers - but we certainly don't need to complicate the plan with subliminal messages.
The first premise plays on true events, the DDT scare of the '60s, and that's why it has the ring of truth. Similarly, the postal employee who ends up going to a campus clock tower with a sniper rifle, recalls true, horrifying events, only made acceptable to viewers because the other murders were more fantastical, and thanks to William Sanderson is a sympathetic character. Between this episode and The Host, the X-Files seems to be moving towards "man-made" horrors, as opposed to blaming aliens or evoking folklore. The big man-made horror, of course, is the Conspiracy, and Blood is another episode that uses paranoia to good effect. Is there a better symbol for the Conspiracy than a lone gunman? The episode brings back the always-entertaining Lone Gunmen to remind you it is.
Director David Nutter uses cool tricks to make us feel the victims' fear. Close-ups of the triggers. Striking electronic messages, which he uses to amusingly fake us out re: Mulder's mental condition. The lighting that makes the mechanic look like a rapist. The suspense when Mulder gets way too close to the same woman while she rummages around her knife drawer. The jump cuts as poor Ed fires his rifle repeatedly. The lady pressing the door buzzer until it needs to be ripped out of the wall (been there, in fact, don't try the doorbell, it won't work). The Vertigo shot in the infinite staircase. A lot of fun details, though it might hit a little close to home in today's "shoot-out America".
THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Can the use of this insecticide be an "honest mistake"? Well, would they be spraying with stealth helicopters - vehicles associated with Men in Black, etc. - if it were?
REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Pushes the premise out of bounds, but still has a lot going for it. Suspense, directorial flair... but who else misses Scully's more active participation?