The X-Files #51: Paper Clip

"I've heard the truth, Mulder. Now what I want is the answers."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: Mulder and Scully find a secret DNA databank apparently used to track abductees.

REVIEW: While there is certainly some enjoyment to be derived from stories where characters are completely confounded by a Conspiracy, where everything that happens was planned by the Secret Masters, it can be quite fun to see the conspirators panic as well. So while our heroes' victory is, as usual, incremental and Pyrrhic, Paper Clip shows it's not always smooth sailing for members of the Conspiracy. The Smoking Man, whose smoking affectation has always conveyed a sense of cool detachment, momentarily loses it when Skinner tries to make a deal on Mulder and Scully's behalf, and that's a thing of beauty. HE'S SUCH A BADASS!!! The man who seems to be in charge must, in fact, answer to others who could decide to bump him off if they discovered his screw-up. Just as he tries to do to Krycek (where will the would-be assassin go now?). So he lies to them, and the more he lies, the higher the risk of Syndicate reprisals. He's going to give himself a heart attack at this rate. On a narrative level, what we're seeing is a potential fluidity between enemies and allies, the need for villains to perhaps switch teams, if only to survive.

Our agents lose the files, but they've been added to the Navajo's oral history, Windtalker-style, which is what is meant to keep the Smoking Man off our heroes' backs. Is it a bluff from Skinner? I almost hope it is, because there's no way it makes sense unless 1) every Navajo ever has an eidetic memory, and 2) Skinner doesn't tell Mulder he can access those files anytime just by calling his Native friends. No,in The X-Files, mytharc information needs to be delivered with an eye dropper, one drop at a time. Paper Clip lets out several drops, however. We now know (or think we know) that the government took genetic material from everyone in the U.S. when they started vaccinating for smallpox (classic conspiracy theory stuff), that the boxcar was full of human-alien hybrids, that Mulder's father worked on this project with Nazi war criminals, that Samantha was taken to keep Bill in line (after a Sophie's Choice selection), that there are active files in the DNA databank facility on all abductees, and that aliens seem to be using it probably with the cooperation of the Syndicate. By the end of the episode, Mulder and Scully are more resolved than ever to get to the bottom of things and expose the evil organization that consorted with Nazi butchers (hey, it's Gogol from the Bond films!), abducted and mutilated Scully, and killed her sister. I must admit, I got a little choked up at the end there.

Because if there's one thing The X-Files does right, it's capture the political existentialism of the 1990s. People weren't sure who the enemies were anymore, not in the post-Cold War era. It might coincide with a growing political polarization between Left and Right (which to outsiders seems inordinate in the U.S.), and general mistrust in government bodies and agencies, the lessons of Nixon, but also of Iran-Contra. Clinton's scandal was still three years away. The infamous 2000 election, five. So Mulder and Scully are existentialist heroes, trying to find answers and only uncovering more questions, recognizing that they have very little power, and facing defeat every time they dare to use any. At the end of Paper Clip, they abandon any hope of getting justice, and Mulder invokes fate as the force that controls their lives. Rob Bowman's direction is in line with this, and he creates the perfect image to represent their situation in the secret files depository just after the black ops soldiers arrive (were they carried there in the space craft?!): The beams of two flashlights, seeking one another in the dark. That's all this is. No complete picture, and the only sure thing, the only thing either of them can trust, is each other.

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Did I see that right? There are two types of DNA sample containers in the files. One is old, the plastic one is new. Scully's sample is in a new container, indicating it was likely taken (or refreshed) when she was abducted. And Samantha's sample is ALSO in a plastic container, even though she was abducted 20+ years ago. So when did they change container types? If before 1970, then never mind. If later, that would seem to indicate they're still experimenting on Samantha, that she's either a captive test subject or is somewhere, out there, getting routinely abducted. There is recent material on file!

REWATCHABILITY: High - Intense! An episode that's equal parts punching-the-air moments and doom and gloom. I'm almost sorry we have to go back to stand-alone episodes.

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