The X-Files #81: Tunguska

"I'm leaving the window rolled down. If I'm not back in a week, I'll call Agent Scully to come bring you a bowl of water."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: Black oil imports take Mulder and Krycek to Russia, and Scully and Skinner to Capitol Hill.

REVIEW: It was about time Chris Carter put some time in the mytharc, or the entire show really (ramp-up to Millennium?). This is to be a two-parter, and we begin in medias res with Scully offering testimony before Congress and just about ready to resign or expose the Conspiracy, which is a pretty good hook, I must say. As we get into the story proper, there's a good mix of body horror/alien stuff courtesy of black oil, and espionage thriller elements. While we're used to seeing the Cigarette Smoking Man fairly regularly, it's the return of Krycek - weasel of weasels - that takes things up a notch. No explanation is given for his escape from the UFO bunker (so see The Truth), but no one asks because they don't know that he was. He spends the whole episode lying, clearly, and it's fun to see Mulder (and Skinner!) literally treat him like a dog (at least he gets to throw a guy off Skinner's balcony after being chained there all night), until reluctantly adopting him as an untrustworthy sidekick. (Meanwhile, Scully hazmats with her own sidekick Pendrell, aww, cute.)

The plot hinges on black oil being imported into the country inside space rocks, in part thanks to ludicrously inept customs agents who open hazardous materials canisters like they're gonna find tennis balls in there. The 1908 Tunguska event provides at least one source of body-possessing oil, which Mulder immediately thinks must have been a UFO crash, but given black oil's properties, could just as well have been a kind of biological weapon drop. That sends the boys to Russia, looking for all the world like British Columbia, which wouldn't have been THAT obvious if the episode ALSO visited the Well-Manicured Man on his very similar ranch. Both sequences make use of horses as well! Ties the two "locations" way too tightly.

So after the Russians capture Mulder and Krycek Planet of the Apes-style (horseback and whips), they're taken to the local gulag, and eventually, Mulder is - OH GOD NO!! - infected with black oil! Ahhhh! That whole sequence is really creepy, claustrophobic, and really, quite strange. Note also the evolution of the black oil effect, giving it a more leech-like look, both over and under the skin, before smoking up a person's eyes. Jury's out if I like this better though.

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: The next episode will probably explain it, but with no memory of it and going by what we see here, it looks to me like Krycek is manipulating Mulder into getting himself oiled. We don't know how he escaped the bunker, so someone must have released him (the Cigarette Smoking Man, working from his own agenda, and here once again feigning incompetence when the Syndicate is angered that Mulder somehow got to Russia?). Krycek then sends Mulder information on potential terrorism, joins his quest even after enduring violence and humiliation, makes sure he curses Mulder in Russian so he'll be brought along on the trip (an otherwise forced moment), and not seen in the cliffhanger despite there being a lot of test subjects in the room. Was it all an elaborate ruse to get Mulder possessed? Is Krycek himself already (re)possessed by the oil? We get too much information from untrusted characters to believe the narrative.

- A strong thriller and the return of two great antagonist, one human, one not, leading up to a terrific cliffhanger. We can forgive its production and plot weaknesses.



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