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The Pine Bluff Variant

"The Pine Bluff Variant" had a cool name and a cool concept, but it tried to do a little too much. Despite some problems, the episode still contained some important elements -- most notably a return to form for Mulder and the welcome reappearance of our old buddy Skinner.

The whole shebang begins in a D.C. park where a joint FBI-CIA team is trying to close the net on Jacob Haley -- a radical right-wing militant with a penchant for bio-weapons. It appears that Mulder, Scully, Skinner and a host of other agents have Haley trapped, but things go astray after Haley hands an envelope to the arms dealer he met minutes before. The dealer develops a very nasty skin condition that renders him quite dead. In the ensuing melee Haley runs, Mulder pursues and Scully bolts from her post only to watch as Mulder intentionally lets the Haley escape.

Scully drops by the office early the next morning to review the surveillance tapes and she's transfixed on a scene where a figure resembling Mulder clearly makes contact with Haley then lets him vanish. When Mulder arrives she confronts him, but he retorts with a pathetic non-denial denial. All that searching for the truth has turned him into a horrible liar.

Later that day the CIA and FBI team up for a big meeting where everyone sits really close to one another and the lighting is dim and mysterious. Grim looking secret agents are quite upset because not only did Haley get away, but he also ran off with $50,000 worth of guns. So now he's got guns and bio-weapons and the feds aren't exactly sure how they're going to catch him.

At the same meeting, Scully reports that the skin rash that killed the arms dealer is a man-made super weapon that can be spread through injection or contact -- not exactly the kind of thing you want floating around the populace. Skinner drops more bad news on the assembled crowd when he announces that Haley is engaged in a power struggle with New Spartan leader August Bremer. So now they're facing two angry militia leaders who don't seem to mind the use of incurable bio hazards.

While the feds mope about their predicament, Bremer finds a little time to catch "Die Hard with a Vengeance" at a small theater in Gables Corner, Ohio. After requesting fresh popcorn -- "fresh, fresh, hot" popcorn -- Bremer appears to spray his friendly little bio weapon somewhere near the concession stand. Later that night, two teenagers sneak into the movie house and find an entire theater has decomposed while watching John McClane battle Hans Gruber's brother (I'm a big "Die Hard" fan too).

Meanwhile, Scully secretly follows Mulder to the Aaron Burr Motor Court where Mulder is contacted by Haley. Scully uses her keen investigative skills to find Mulder (she also made 'shippers everywhere weep after declaring that she's "not even close" to being Mulder's wife). A few minutes later Haley's Gimp picks Mulder up and takes him to a secret militia meeting place.

Scully begins to track him but her efforts are thwarted by a fleet of dark sedans and a small army of well-dressed secret agents. She's hauled into a government building where Skinner and a shady U.S. attorney working on the case are waiting. Skinner can see she's on the verge of kicking his ass so he tells her the truth -- Mulder is working undercover to break the New Spartans up and bring the bio-weapon wielding bastards to justice. Apparently the anti-government speech Mulder delivered earlier this season at MIT (see "Patient X" for more detail) hit home with the Spartans and they contacted him for help with their evil plot.

Back in militia-ville Haley's skinhead Gimp brings a blindfolded Mulder to a dank, conspiratorial location where Mulder finds plenty of opportunity to display his smart-assed wit ("Is this the Pepsi challenge?"). Haley tests Mulder's loyalty by letting the gimp break most of the fingers on his left hand. In classic Mulder fashion he doesn't break even when most of his hand is curled in a Verbal Kint pretzel. Mulder's resolve convinces Haley he can be trusted so now Mulder can enjoy all the perks of being a radical right-winger.

By now the Ohio movie theater massacre has been revealed and Scully and Skinner drop by to see what happened. Scully determines the method of delivery to be through touch since the two teenage boys escaped harm, thereby ruling out an airborne virus.

Later that night Scully surprises Mulder at his apartment and confronts him yet again -- but this time he knows the gig is up. While setting his newly-broken hand Scully tells her partner about the bio-nastiness at the Ohio theater. She draws upon their previous experiences to suggest that the theater murders were yet another super-secret government test. This exchange would be all well and good if August Bremer weren't monitoring the entire conversation from his car.

At 3:14 a.m. Mulder drops by FBI headquarters to meet with Skinner and that highly-suspect U.S. attorney. Mulder tells them that Haley and crew want fund transfer schedules for federal reserves, which suggests they're going to rob a bank. Skinner senses that things are about to get really screwed up and suggests they regroup but the attorney conveniently mentions that he anticipated such an action and has the information they requested readily available. Yeah, sure.

At the Centers for Disease Control Scully learns that the bio-toxin is actually a very angry, super-engineered strain of streptococcus -- one that can survive exposure to the environment. Any kind of contact activates this little bugger, something previously deemed too sophisticated for even the Russians. If the Russians didn't do it, that could only mean the toxin was created on American soil.

While Scully delves into the exciting world of bio-warfare, Mulder meets with Haley at yet another low-rent motel and gives him the federal reserve schedules. He's thanked with a blindfold and a reluctant trip to the New Spartan club house. The Spartans are gearing up for what appears to be a bank heist and they want Mulder to come along for the ride.

Scully contacts Skinner and tells him that the CIA and the government are probably the engineers of this bio-weapon, and the parties involved may be sending Mulder on a suicide mission. Skinner again shows his allegiance to the agents by withholding this information from the shady U.S. attorney. Later that morning Scully shows her genius once again by realizing that the bank heist is merely a ploy -- the real plot is to spray the money with the bio-weapon and systematically infect anyone who ends up with a little jing in their pocket.

After the heist Mulder is dragged to yet another Spartan hangout, but things turn a little nasty when Bremer plays the tape of Mulder and Scully discussing the Spartans' activities. Mulder and Haley are dragged off, presumably to be offed in the woods, but Bremer hands Haley the keys to a sedan and tells him to clear out. Bremer, Mulder and the Gimp go for a little walk to an eerie hollowed-out building. Bremer tells Mulder to kneel, Mulder stares him down, then drop to the ground. The Gimp cocks his glock, a shot rings out and the Gimp's body hits the grass. Bremer tells Mulder to run to the car he's parked on a nearby road, causing Mulder to ask just who the hell this guy is -- but of course we don't find out.

Things are uncharacteristically tied together when Scully and the other agents successfully contain the contaminated money. In the closing scene a dark sedan drifts to the side of the road, horn blaring. Inside is the quickly decomposing corpse of Haley and the infected set of keys Bremer handed to him minutes before.

This was an interesting episode simply because it tied together earlier events (Mulder's speech, bio-weapons and more government tests) but the show simply tried to do too much in too little time. Nonetheless, it had the fun feel customary to all mythology episodes and I'm sure it will factor into the season finale and the movie.

Note: This review originally appeared at Ontap.com. It's reprinted here for archival purposes.



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