The X-Files: “Anasazi”

An Ancient Enemy

by Sarah Stegall

copyright ©1995 by Sarah Stegall

Writer: Chris Carter
Story by: David Duchovny and Chris Carter
Director: R. W. Goodwin

The day Chris Carter finally shuts down “The X-Files”, he can go back to work for Disney–designing roller coaster rides. Friday night’s season finale, “Anasazi”, was a cliffhanger with thrills for everyone. UFO buffs got the Majestic 12 documents, one of the oldest and hoariest of conspiracy theories. Skinner fans got a dust-up between Mulder and Skinner. Technology fans got The Thinker and his ice-breaking code. The Ratboy-Must-Die squad at least got to see him beat up pretty good. Even the romantics got a scene they’ve been waiting for–Mulder falling into Scully’s arms. I finally got to see Frohike in a hat and Mulder in plaid.

A computer hacker breaks into and downloads secret Defense Department files, and hands them over to Mulder. They implicate not only the government, but Mulder’s own father, in a cover-up whose roots date back to the Holocaust. It is no accident that the alarm is sounded not by the FBI, the NSC, or the CIA, but by the Axis powers: Italy, Germany, and Japan. Nor is it coincidence that Cancerman speaks German. Nazi genetic experiments and the “research” of the infamous Dr. Mengele are not often explored in contemporary drama; to drag these nightmares into our own decade is brilliant and terrifying. We link into the “racial purity” theme already introduced in “Colony/Endgame“, which brings the enemy more clearly into view while further obscuring his motives. Is Cancerman a Nazi holdover? Or a pawn of alien overlords? Or something even more sinister?

Meanwhile, Mulder is falling apart both physically and emotionally, alienating nearly everyone around him. He even tries to distance himself from his partner, but Scully will not permit him to destroy himself, even if she has to shoot him for his own good. It’s a novel way to show one’s loyalty, to be sure, but it works. She brings him to the edge of the cliff, so to speak, risking her career to save his life and his quest. She cannot go all the way with him, however, and Mulder has to go on alone to discover the secret his father died trying to tell him. In a boxcar buried in the desert, a pile of mummies holds answers–and more questions. The horrors implied in the smallpox vaccination scar on the ‘alien’ body made it all worth waiting for, and even linked up with the first season’s finale, “The Erlenmeyer Flask”.

The most interesting conversation in “Anasazi” was probably between Mulder’s father (Peter Donat) and Cancerman (William B. Davis). I saw echoes of Walter Skinner and Fox Mulder in Cancerman and Bill Mulder. Is this what Mulder has to look forward to, twenty or thirty years down the line? Will we someday see Fox Mulder racked by doubt and guilt? Will we see Skinner as cold, as remote, as arrogant, as the slippery Cancerman? Worse yet, will Scully’s continued commitment to the corporate mind-set of the FBI bureaucracy turn her into the hatchet man Cancerman has become? Cancerman has been Moriarty to Mulder’s Holmes, the shadowy figure of evil, always obscure, always pulling mysterious strings, always shielded from direct view by his dark organization. Mulder got him out into the light this time, and it will be interesting to see whether he stays there.

I give high praise to writers Duchovny and Carter for this episode, both in terms of the canon and in terms of simple storytelling. The characterizations were at an all- time high, with Scully at her coolest, most professional, most competent, but still allowing us to see the warmth and compassion she hides so much of the time. Duchovny got a chance to show his talents again in the scene where Mulder’s father dies in his arms. Mulder’s call to Scully–dark, desperate, and anguished–is Fox Mulder at rock bottom and David Duchovny in top, Emmy-quality form. Almost as subtle was the look of triumph on his face as Mulder spun the mysterious DOD tape and saw the first of the secret documents- -followed by angry disappointment as he finds himself hoaxed yet again. This episode explored the boundaries of Mulder and Scully’s relationship, those prickly outer regions where her ambition and her innate conservatism collide with his dedication to “the quest” and his free-wheeling tactics. Both of them went right to the edge this time: Scully found the limits of her loyalty (“You’re on your own, Mulder”), and Mulder’s disregard for Bureau procedure put Scully’s career on the line.

Best of all, “Anasazi” once again widens our view of “The X-Files”. As in “Colony/Endgame”, we get tantalizing glimpses of a larger conspiracy, linking all the alien X-Files cases into one massive, convoluted deception. Are there really aliens abducting humans at random? Or are “alien abductions” a diabolically clever lie to hide the real horrors of genetic experimentation? Or are the tests part of a devil’s bargain between the government and alien intelligences? We end the second season even more paranoid than when we began, a neat trick.

The art direction on this episode was as good as ever, with superb lighting and the usual outstanding camerawork. I was intrigued by Scully’s bedroom, since that room so often reflects its occupant. Her bedroom is spare, clean, brightly lit, and looks to have been decorated by nuns. (Mulder does not even *have* a bedroom, which also tells us something about this conflicted and many-layered man.) I appreciate the directing details: the mirror business in Bill Mulder’s bathroom, revealing his assassin standing in the shower behind him, Mulder with his father’s blood literally on his hands, the slimy shadows that hide Alex Krycek. The tainted-water clues hit me out of left field–they were very subtly threaded through the episode until Scully unraveled them with her usual perspicacity. I was gratified to see that Mulder got in a couple of really solid punches in this episode; it’s nice to know he can make ’em count when he needs to. I enjoyed the in- jokes, too: executive producer Chris Carter and producer R. W. Goodwin appearing as FBI agents to grill Agent Scully in Skinner’s office. Since this is the end of the season, I will indulge myself and note one “favorite” scene. When Mulder wakes up in Scully’s bed, sleepy and befuddled, I couldn’t help but recall a recent quote from Duchovny himself: “I’m naked in bed. Whoever I am, wherever I am, I hope I’m not in trouble.” A good actor always draws on his own experience….

There was only one real goof in “Anasazi”. A rabbi will eat pork during Passover before a Navajo elder will approach a dead body, even the corpse of an alien. The Dine’ are as famous for this cultural taboo as the Amish are famous for their non-violence. Eric is no more likely to bring his grandfather a corpse than I am. Certainly, the entire neighborhood would not be standing over the body. Observance of so deeply ingrained a social imperative has nothing to do with education or superstition, it has to do with respect for one’s religion and one’s traditions. The problem could have been avoided by substituting any of the neighbors who surround the Navajo: I believe Apache and Pueblo cultures have no such taboos when it comes to the dead. This was a matter of not doing one’s homework.

Scully and Mulder climbed out on a big limb Friday night and fired up the chainsaw. Mulder may be dead, Scully may be unemployed. Where we go from here is anybody’s guess. I will lay odds that Mulder survives, but other than that, as Carter is so fond of saying, “Anything can happen.” It’s going to be a long, dry summer.

Normally I don’t review two-parters until they’ve both aired, but I know Chris Carter won’t sleep nights until he gets a report card. This one gets five sunflower seeds out of five. Cut, print, wrap…and hit the beaches, guys. See you next September.