The X-Files #204: Bardo Thodol

"Don't change the ideals; change the people."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: A computer virus leads Frank to a Buddhist temple, where a scientist responsible for cloned hands is dying of a disfiguring disease.

REVIEW: Though made up of two threads, this episode has them converge in a way that's not always believable, even of you decide the Millennium Group is behind the coincidences. Because they may be. Since rejoining the FBI, Frank has gotten involved in more than one case after being sent something by unknown parties (the white noise tape, for example). Could be the Group using him without showing their hand (hands! a motif in this episode), or could be someone else, but it can't be denied these gifts act as hints, clues and lures to some strange crime connected to the Group. So in this story, was Frank being guided to a Group secret, or was in fact guiding a Group assassin to their traitor's location? In either case, an apocalyptic virus put on one of Jordan's video games - and her ease with computers contrasts with Frank's awkwardness in a way that ties into the theme of the new replacing the old - isn't really important except to show the sender's access and to tantalize Frank with a mystery.

The weakest part of this episode IS Frank's investigation, however. Each clue seems to lead him to another clue in a most fortuitous way. The virus uses certain words, which a Chinese translator later uses (lucky) and so on until it's just Frank intuitively picking out a random detail in any given scene and following it to the next bit. It's just some weird luck and not at all satisfying. Emma fares better because her thread is more procedural. Because she is privy to the facts of the case (and so are we), it doesn't feel like we're jumping to undue conclusions. I think the audience is well ahead of the FBI in places, especially when it comes to realizing the crateful of hands is a cloning experiment. But then, we're more willing to accept science-fiction ideas from the comfort of our living rooms than someone who believes themselves in a naturalistic world. I say science-fiction, but that science may be getting help from supernatural sources. What is the point of the red bowl? Why does the Group want to take it back from the scientist? Could it have properties that allow for the creation of viable clones in a way that normal lab equipment never could? Unknown. As with a lot of Group-centric episodes, it doesn't want to give us easy answers. But we know they have a fetish for artifacts (like the True Cross), and that they employ scientists to "create monsters" (from the Barbara Bain episode). Whatever the Apocalypse will be, they mean to survive it through a changed human race (a strong echo of X-Files' colonization arc), the exact nature of which is - here's that word again - unknown.

Peter Watts appears, once again, as a sinister presence. Even Emma's boss thinks it's strange this time. He's tampering with evidence, and shows up at the abortion clinic (somewhat foolishly) confirming Emma's suspicions about the forbidden experiments that go on there. She's just as foolish though, confronting him in the hallway in earshot of her superior. I'm not sure if Emma has gotten paranoid, or if she's just fiercely competitive about this particular, frustrating mystery. There's one line that seems to indicate that she regrets not trying to take down the Group after the revelation that they've been eliminating opposition with lethal force (more of those executions happen here). But she seems to draw a line in the sand here. She pushes Watts' buttons, appealing to his vanity with a taunt about his baldness, and throws in his face that she's just as dangerous a detective as Frank is. Like I said, kind of foolish, but a good scene nonetheless. Meanwhile, Frank is witnessing Tibetan Buddhism's last rites which, like a lot of this episode, seems important, but it's not clear why it is. I don't think I've written this many question marks in my notes before.

- There's just too much happening to make real sense of this otherwise intriguing episode. The Emma stuff is very good, but Frank sleepwalks to his resolution for lack of room to explain things.



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