The X-Files #226: Brand X

"Can't blow the whistle with a mouth like that."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: A new brand of cigarettes causes bugs to hatch out of your lungs!

REVIEW:
After seven seasons, it's finally Morley's turn to get a starring episode. The Cigarette-Smoking Man, the best known smoker of the brand by far, isn't featured however. Instead, we get an entirely different take on a "Cigarette-Smoking Man". This one, Darryl Weaver smokes super-cigarettes laced with tobacco beetle eggs that are carried in the smoke and hatch inside anyone who breathes it in, except Weaver. Don't look at the premise too hard, it may be harmful to your suspension of disbelief. I suppose that when you're trying cover up something, you do stupid things like feed this guy - played with brutish wit by Tobin Bell - more super-cigs, lets your secret get out. But when people start dying, the good tobacco scientists start wanting to play ball with the FBI, to the distress of the tobacco company's lawyers.

So if there's a problem with Brand X, it's that its intent is a little unfocused. It's at once a critique of cigarette companies (à la The Informant) and their product, and of genetically engineered organisms (the super-bugs evolve by feeding on the super-plant). It basically shows smoking ISN'T the big enemy here, but GEOs, with sympathetic scientists who just want to do the right thing, including create a safer cigarette, and nicotine actually being the solution to the problem! There's also something odd about getting us into this story by having Skinner, an assistant director of the FBI, personally acting as a bodyguard for the whistle-blower who dies first, which is a little hands on no matter how important he is to that grand jury investigation. Weaver, for his part, doesn't kill on purpose necessarily. It's just a byproduct of the brand he smokes (so stop giving him more of it, Morley's!) and seeing the fog roll in with him is really a red herring to make us think he has supernatural powers (cool though). That too sort of lacks focus, and in the climax, it seems like Skinner should have shot him the minute he tried to light a cig, treating it just like a deadly weapon, which would have clarified the metaphor at work in the episode. But no, Skinner is close enough to several puffs of smoke to make us believe he should be infected with beetle eggs. Hm.

And for all that, it's still an entertaining episode. The body horror certainly meets expectations. Bugs are gross. Maggots are gross. People with their faces and airways torn off is gross. And when Mulder legitimately gets infected to the point where he has to get his lungs hoovered, it's one of those rare moments where you wonder how the character will make it out alive. The nicotine remedy has some twisted logic to it, but I wouldn't call it great. At least his treatment gave him a craving for nicotine, and after all, his bio-dad probably passed on his genetic predisposition. But I don't know if they're trying to turn that craving into a cliffhanger of sorts, like this is the REAL horror, nicotine addiction, because the rest of the episode doesn't support it. Just a cute punchline, possibly.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - A good villain and an interesting horror-mystery, if only it knew what it wanted to say.

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