S1, E4 – “Conduit”, dir. Daniel Sackheim, written by Alex Gansa & Howard Gordon, originally aired October 1, 1993
At a campground in Iowa, A teenaged girl vanishes in a flash of light before her little brothers eyes.
When Mulder and Scully show up to investigate, the story quickly branches off into two closely connected plots: the first, in very “Twin Peaks” fashion, is the agents peeling back the supposed innocence of the victim, Ruby, and finding out about her seemingly dark history. She’s ‘not exactly prom queen’, as the local sheriff tells them. The side plot (which ends up taking precedence) has to do with how Ruby’s disappearance affected her little brother, Kevin—a boy Mulder immediately identifies with. When Mulder finds Kevin writing binary messages he’s hearing from TV static, it becomes clear there’s something very wrong with Kevin. But rather than go along with the horror trope of creepy children (think ‘Return of the Repressed’), Kevin is depicted more as a metaphor for innocent belief. One of the scenes that stood out to me was the NSA tearing through Kevin’s bedroom for evidence—symbolic of how Mulder’s own investigations are constantly torn down by authority figures.
The Kevin plot ends with Mulder realizing his own obsessions, followed rather abruptly by Ruby being suddenly returned to her family. There’re gaps in her memory, and her captors apparently forbid her from talking. I took this part as an allegory for sexual abuse, especially with Ruby’s mother encouraging Ruby’s silence, saying she doesn’t want their family shamed.
Though not exactly an episode that contributes to the “Mythology” arc, the episode does remind us about Mulder’s personal quest to find his long-lost sister, Samantha. The episode ends with Scully listening to Mulder’s hypno-therapy sessions about the night his sister vanished, as Mulder sits alone in a church, crying. Suddenly, “I want to believe” carries a little more meaning.
S1, E5 – “The Jersey Devil”, dir. Joe Napolitano, written by Chris Carter,
originally aired October 8, 1993
In the outskirts of Atlantic City, a man is brutally murdered by a local urban legend.
Much like Episode 3, “Squeeze”, here we have a ‘Monster-of-the-Week’ episode. Mulder and Scully show up to find Atlantic City—and it’s casino—abuzz with news of the ‘Jersey Devil’. Despite the local law enforcement appearing capable (rare), they seem hesitant to investigate the murders because of the tourists they bring. The week’s mystery was handled pretty offhandedly here, with the episode seeming to focus more on the buds of romance between Mulder and Scully. Here for the first time we see Scully’s personal life: dates, birthday parties, and so on, while Mulder seems too absorbed by his work. There’s something of a milestone developed between the two agents when Scully decides to skip out on her date with a very promising man in favor of helping Mulder dig deeper into a case.
The resolution of the mystery comes pretty anticlimactically: Mulder is jumped by the Jersey Devil who spares him and runs into the woods to be gunned down by the local sheriff. What’s more interesting is the implications the monster brings—she ends up being a beautiful though primitive woman, a missing link of sorts, leading Mulder to philosophize “Maybe we’re just beasts with big brains.” The Jersey Devil was just trying to protect her young the whole time, leaving the viewer with the question of ‘who’s the real monster this week?’
S1, E6 – “Shadows”, dir. Michael Katleman, written by Glen Morgan & James Wong, originally aired Oct. 22, 1993
A woman, mourning the suicide of her boss, is protected from assailants by an otherworldly force.
Though pretty predictable from the cold opening alone, the plot of this episode was really interesting. Finally, the monster-of-the-week being the focus of the episode! And yet… parts of the plot are very problematic in relation to the characters and canon the show has thus far established. More on that later.
Lauren, a young secretary, seems aware of the fact that the ghostly presence of her dead boss, Howard Graves, is watching over her like a guardian angel. The evidence of his ghost are there right from the beginning—Mulder and Scully see the autopsy reports of the two men who seemed to be psycho-kinetically shocked and killed from the inside out—yet this pretty undeniable evidence gets swept under the rug. Even Mulder, defender of the faith, goes along with Scully’s idea that Howard Graves is alive and hiding somewhere.
There’s an intense but nonsensical scene where Mulder witnesses Graves’ ghost save Lauren by choking another assailant…while Scully is of course out of the room. It’s just strange for the show to so blatantly admit the existence of ghosts to Mulder—how can you not believe?! It’s clearly not the first thing Mulder and the audience have seen, but at least the moments that came before were packaged with the possibility of doubt, dreams, mental instability and such.
The focus on the ghost, however, is lost when the investigation shifts from ‘the pursuit of paranormal possibilities’ to a tangible case, namely Graves murder at the hand of his business partner. It’s frustratingly out of character for Mulder to give up on proving the ghost’s existence and instead accept its help in solving the more earthbound case. It was one of the most intriguing episodes so far, but it was resolved so strangely.
You can find my thoughts on Episodes 1-3 here
You can find my thoughts on Episodes 7-9 here