"Mind control?" "57 channels of it."
REVIEW: This isn't the first episode to deal with subliminal messages, but unlike Blood, which had a ridiculous delivery process, Wetwired taps into existing technology and habits, and seems a much more reasonable way to create instant Manchurian Candidates. That said, the glitchy effect given the hallucinations, making it seem like virtual reality is being projected into the subject's mind, is a step too far in the wrong direction. It's an effect I will love in Chris Carter's Harsh Realm, but here, it's an absurd reminder that video is responsible for the mind control. I also take exception at Scully's mundane explanation that violence on television is related to the rise of violence in the West. That is such a stick-in-the-mud, facile and untrue argument, and given that The X-Files IS a violent show, makes her unsympathetic to her viewers.
Of course, when the video feeds her an unhealthy dose of paranoia, she turns against Mulder just like she's turned against us violence fetishists. She sees Mulder yucking it up with the Cigarette Smoking Man and questions her partner's every move, has a bug-searching montage, and ends up swinging a gun in her mother's face. If they could somehow have managed this more slowly, and without any obvious telegraphing (because by then, we know full well she's been "infected"), it might have actually have made the episode more interesting. We know Mulder isn't really talking to Cancerman, and we know where he goes instead of Pandrell to get the TV widget analyzed, so there's no question for us. Imagine if we didn't know; that would have been a much more intriguing mystery. And what does it tell us about their relationship if the subliminals are simply amplifying existing anxieties? That she's always been afraid she would betray her? To the Conspiracy?! They have it backwards. SHE was the one who started working at the X-Files with a secret agenda. I'm also wondering what turned her "off", in the end. It just seems to... happen. And how about that bombshell revelation that Mulder is color-blind and thus, safe from this kind of subliminal technique. Where did THAT come from? And was it necessary? He hardly ever watched the tapes and was nowhere as exposed as Scully was.
The paranoia the episode fails to stimulate in the audience with the treacherous Mulder hallucinations, it still creates in other ways. The opener, with a man who sees everyone as a Bosnian war criminal and tries to kill them, is a strong one. Stronger yet it seeing X with the Cigarette Smoking Man, revealing just how close the inside man is to the action. It certainly seems to connect Deep Throat and Cancerman much more closely. The actor who plays X - and his wondrous 'stache - wasn't available to play many of the scenes, so a messenger credited as the Plain-Clothed Man was assigned to deliver the early exposition. It makes sense given what Mulder calls X's cowardice - though the dude is as cool as ice (and just as treacherous), not letting Mulder goad him into revealing anything - and increases the show's overall paranoia. Given the effect the investigation had on Scully, it wouldn't have been far-fetched to call this a trap, but because Mulder tarries (if not by much), the evidence is destroyed, as was predicted/threatened. What X has asked Mulder to prevent is what he himself was ordered to do. Nice confrontation between then, and then shocking reveal that X reports directly to Cancerman. He's right to be afraid of discovery! We're definitely close to a season finale when we're reminded like this of the show's larger world, so in addition to those two conspirators, we also see contributions from Skinner, the Lone Gunmen, and Scully's mom.
THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: The government and the Syndicate are after mind control, and it features in many episodes. Blood also had subliminal instructions beamed to chemically-prepped subjects. The copper tube hidden in the cable box is another take on the idea, and based on how advanced it appears to be, could be alien tech. The Syndicate is basically activating killers more or less randomly. These are tests, nothing more. The Big Picture X refers to, however, goes beyond commerce and politics, so what could it be? Turning humanity into compliant slaves for aliens? Simply preparing our species for a society-changing public encounter an alien culture? That remains to be seen.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Has suspenseful elements and a good role for X, but reveals too much, too soon, to be truly effective.