Revisiting The X-Files season 1: The Erlenmeyer Flask
Our weekly pick of The X-Files season 1 greats reaches its conclusion with series finale, The Erlenmeyer Flask...
This review contains spoilers.
1.24 The Erlenmeyer Flask
The first season’s finale is a suspenseful one, filled with some answers but more questions, government actions that are both shocking and fascinating, and *gasp* the closure of the X-Files. It’s a great episode, and just when you think they’ve revealed as much as can be revealed regarding human/extraterrestrial interactions, they up their game. Shall we begin?
We start our episode with a car chase and a bit of police brutality, always an exciting intro. The suspect is shot on his way into the bay, leaving behind a trail of what appears to be green blood. A stream of law enforcement agencies come in to help look for the injured man, now presumed dead. It is in this atmosphere that Mulder is put onto the case by Deep Throat, and after having a fruitless conversation with the officer in charge of the scene, our team is directed to the impound where the suspect/victim's car was taken. Scully is noticeably detached from the investigation until they find that the car in the yard is not, in fact, the suspect’s, and someone must have switched them out and created a false record. Upon further digging, they discover the owner of the actual car is a Dr. Berube, and decide to go ask him some questions.
The interview in Berube’s animal test lab is a good one. Berube is not immediately defensive and although we know, as good X-Files fans, that he is very much involved in whatever Mulder and Scully are looking for, he keeps his self-possession and sends our team on their way without raising any suspicion. Before they leave, a monkey almost bites Scully’s finger off and once safe from the angry primates, and without any evidence of trickery on Berube’s part, she gives Mulder his dose of reality. Deep Throat gives Mulder wild goose chases because Mulder gets off on it. She’s done with the investigation and will let him run around on his own.
When Deep Throat approaches Mulder after this exchange, it’s clear that Mulder has taken Scully’s words to heart and he gives Deep Throat a piece of his mind. But Mulder will never be able to resist the cryptic, and Deep Throat's parting words, “Don’t give up on this Agent Mulder, you’ve never been closer” pull him in, even when his question “Closer to what?” goes unanswered.
Back in Dr. Berube’s lab, we watch as the good scientist is questioned and killed by an unknown man, obviously some kind of G-man, in an attempt to find the suspect/victim, now named Dr. Secare. On the same night back in the bay, the police finally give up on their search for Dr. Secare, and amazingly we see him surface out of the water. Has he been holding his breath that whole damn time? And why hasn’t he bled out?
Scully and Mulder go to Dr. Berube’s crime scene the next morning. Although the G-man did his best to make it look like a suicide, the story rings false to them. They find that Dr. Berube worked on the human genome project, and while Scully doesn’t see any connection between the research, murder and the original suspect, Mulder thinks it’s an important link. He sends Scully away with a beaker filled with an unknown liquid labeled “Purity Control” while he goes off to investigate Dr. Berube’s home.
In going through Berube’s desk, Mulder finds a phone call list with a large number of calls to one specific number. He contacts an FBI mate, and asks him to trace the location of the number. While he waits for a response, he pockets a set of keys. When the phone rings, it isn’t his contact, it’s Dr. Secare calling from a payphone to try to get help from Dr. Berube. Before Mulder can get a location from him, he collapses and a stranger hangs up the phone to call an ambulance. Mulder’s contact calls immediately after and gives him the address for the phone number. Zeus Storage on Pandora street? OK, seriously? The writers should have done better than that for a creation myth. As he takes down the information, Mulder sees a suspicious van pull away from the front of the house, a van we’ve seen containing the guy who killed Berube using a rifle mic to listen in on Mulder’s phone calls. Dun Dun Dunnnn!
The show cuts to Dr. Secare in an ambulance, bleeding green and apparently unconscious. The paramedics decide to do a needle decompression on his chest; worst idea ever. Air does not come out, but some kind of toxic gas, and as the medics lie dying, the doctor escapes into the street.
In the meantime, Scully has been doing some investigating of her own at the Georgetown Microbiology Department. She has brought the infamous Erlenmeyer Flask to a Dr. Carpenter who is analyzing the compound within. The doctor finds the sample fascinating, saying she’s never seen anything like it. Scully calls Mulder with the results of the initial tests from the “Purity Control” liquid. The bacteria that Dr. Carpenter finds has viruses imbedded in it, and the bacteria itself has chloroplasts, but nothing like they’ve seen before; in short, bacteria like this may have existed before, but not for millions of years, before humanoids crawled out of the sea. And Scully believes the bacteria has been used to clone the viruses inside it in a gene therapy experiment.
Upon hanging up with Mulder, she goes into a room to await the results of further tests. She falls asleep and Dr. Carpenter wakes her with the results. The doctor explains to Scully that only four nucleotides exist in a DNA strand, and that those four nucleotides are responsible for all life on earth. However, the DNA sequence of the bacteria has gaps in it, gaps you don’t see in DNA analysis. And Dr. Carpenter found something extraordinary, a fifth and sixth base pair of nucleotides. To drive the point home, she states that by definition, these pairs would have to be extraterrestrial.
As Scully finishes giving Mulder her initial update, he pulls up to Zeus storage to continue his line of investigation. After a prolonged walk down a very narrow and dimly lit hallway, he uses the previously pocketed keys to let himself into the appropriately terrifying looking unit and finds… five people, sleeping in water tanks, hooked up to some kind of life support, but apparently able to breathe or hold their breath in the water. Chilling. The best part is when one of them actually shifts in their aquarium, very spooky J. As Mulder leaves the storage unit, a van pulls up and G-men get out. One starts to chase him (wow, way to scale that fence, Duchovny) but gives up as soon as Mulder is out of site. Mulder ends up walking home where he picks up a call from Scully. She tells him about the discovery of the extraterrestrial bacteria and he asks her to pick him up and take him to the storage unit. Scully apologizes for not being supportive of the investigation immediately, saying she should have trusted his instincts. She then admits that while she’s always put her faith in science and accepted facts, that after discovering these new bacteria, for the first time in her life she doesn’t know what to believe. Mulder assures her that her mind will be blown even further once they step into the storage unit.
They enter the storage unit, but of course the G-men have cleared it out, and naturally Deep Throat is there to sum things up for us. He claims he doesn’t know who destroyed the evidence, probably some black ops covert organization unknown even at the highest levels of power. Scully wants to know why Berube was killed, but Mulder has put the pieces together; Berube was experimenting with combining human and extraterrestrial DNA and was killed because his experiments were TOO successful. The technology was more important than the results. When Berube discovered that his experiment would be shut down and the subjects would be eliminated, he warned one of them, his close friend, Dr. Secare. That’s when the G-men were called into play. The government couldn’t afford to have a human/alien hybrid living out in the open, too much of a liability. Scully wants to know why Deep Throat gave them so little to go on at first and now is giving them everything. He claims it’s because all the evidence is being systematically destroyed, without it no one would ever believe the story he’s told them. We know the real reason: Deep Throat is really Mr. Exposition.
After leaving Deep Throat, the team decides to split up again, Scully decides to go back to Georgetown and Mulder is going to try to find Secare.
When Scully arrives at Georgetowm, she finds that Dr. Carpenter and her whole family were in a terrible car accident and the scientist is now dead, the evidence effectively eliminated. Mulder goes to Berube’s house and finds Secare in the attic. Secare attacks him and is strong enough to throw him ten feet across the room. Recovering, Mulder claims he can protect Secare just as the G-man shoots Secare from behind. Mulder is then subjected to the alien’s toxic blood, but instead of dying, the G-men tie him up in another corner of the attic while they tape up Secare’s body for removal.
When Scully can’t get in touch with Mulder, she runs into Deep Throat, who convinces her to steal the wellspring, the original alien tissue, from a high containment facility in order to use it as a bargaining chip for Mulder’s life. The next scene is a really excellent one, suspenseful with minimal camera work. A nervous Scully infiltrates the facility and she brainily figures out the project password to get past the security guard and into the room with the alien: “Purity Control” from the Erlenmeyer Flask she took from Berube’s office. Well done!
The little alien is awesome. All big headed and transparent and fetus like. I totally want an ice cube tray that makes those things for drinks.
The climax is gripping. Night on a lonely bridge, Scully meets Deep Throat who insists that he must be the one to make the exchange. Scully is adamant in her distrust of him, but is convinced by his passion to try to keep Mulder alive. The G-man in the van sees her on his way over to Deep Throat, which in it of itself is terrifying. She watches the exchange in her rearview mirror, and once the G-man has the package, he shoots Deep Throat in the chest and they drop a sick and bound Mulder out of the back of the van. Scully checks Mulder first and reaches Deep Throat just as he dies. His last words, of course, are “Trust no one”. The tableau of Scully over Deep Throat and Mulder unconscious in the middle of the road is an excellent one.
Again, the climax would have been the best way to end this, but it’s not an X-Files episode without some sort of wrap up. Thirteen days later, Scully startles awake at 11:22pm, just before the phone rings with Mulder on the other line. He calls to tell her that X-Files have been shut down, and that they will both be reassigned. Mulder says he won’t give up, he can’t give up, not so long as the truth is out there.
The final shot is of the smoking man, back in the same warehouse we saw in the pilot episode. He deposits the alien fetus into a box containing others, walks down a long hall directly towards the camera, shuts the door in the pentagon, and walks away. Fade to black.
That’s it for the first season story arcs and a couple of monster episodes. Hope you enjoyed reliving it all with me, tune in later for a retrospective of spin-off series, Millenium.
Episode's best lines: It being the finale of the first season, all the stops were pulled out to create great dialogue. This makes it difficult to choose the best line, so below we have a few of the fantastic ones.
Scully: I mean this has reached the point of absurdity, Mulder. We’re out here on half a hunch, off of a cryptic phone call, chasing down a clue that’s based on nothing but speculation
Mulder: That’s all we’ve got
Scully: That’s all he’s given us! Who is this Deep Throat character? I mean, we don’t know anything about him. What his name is, what he does…
Mulder: He’s in a delicate position. He has access to information and indiscretion could expose him.
Scully: You don’t know this isn’t just a game with him. He’s Toying with you, rationing out the facts.
Mulder: You think he does it because he gets off on it?
Scully: No. I think he does it because you do.
Mulder (to Deep Throat): But maybe this time we can just cut out the Obi Wan Kenobi crap and you can save me the trouble.
Scully (upon being tasked with the Erlenmeyer Flask): OK Mulder, but I’m warning you, if this is monkey pee, you’re on your own.
Mulder: They’re shutting us down Scully
Mulder: They called me in tonight… and they said they’re going to reassign us to other sections
Scully: Who told you that?
Mulder: Skinner! He said word came down from the top of the executive branch
Mulder: It’s over Scully
Scully: Well you have to lodge a protest, they can’t…
Mulder: Yes they can.
Scully: What are you gonna do?
Mulder: I’m… not going to give up. I can’t give up. Not as long as the truth is out there.
Read Jenni's previous look-back at season one's Tooms, here.
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