The seventh season didn't start with a bang, but it wasn't a bust either. "The Sixth Extinction" plodded along, but it held my interest, specifically because it sets the stage for a very interesting conclusion to this three-episode story arc. A good mythology episode leaves you with questions, and "The Sixth Extinction" certainly came through in that respect.
Enough of my drivel. Here's what happens in the seventh season premiere:
Scully is camped on a deserted beach on the Ivory Coast in West Africa. She's alone in her tent, working into the night. As is common when Scully is alone, she's reciting a soliloquy in her mind as she gazes at Important Documents. This time, her inner-thoughts are directed toward the bedridden Mulder, who lies in a padded cell thousands of miles away. As Scully looks at satellite photos that show a large, round spaceship half-buried near her campsite, her inner voice goes on and on about Mulder's "beautiful mind" and her need to keep working and "make the connections which can't be ignored."
As she's looking at documents and thinking to herself, the light in her tent starts to flicker. She removes her designer glasses and a big, ornery, winged bug settles on the papers next to her. Being a scientist, Scully doesn't flinch at the arrival of this monstrosity. More of these winged harpies attach themselves to her light, so she moves to turn it off, but as she dims the bulb she sees a reflection in the lamp's glass -- a reflection of a tall, lanky black man dressed in native garb. Now THIS makes her flinch, but when she spins around to confront her guest, he's buggered off! Vanished! Completely gone in every respect!
Scully grabs a machete (apparently her gun wasn't available -- or maybe she wanted to be more dramatic) and runs into the night, but outside she finds nothing but sand, water and a cool night breeze. Her visitor is gone. Returning to her tent, she hears a loud buzzing and as she peeks her head inside, she realizes that the entire tent is covered in winged bugs (locusts? grasshoppers from hell? minions of the Dark One? It's not clear). If Scully shared Mulder's enthusiasm for swarm documentaries (as seen in "Chinga") she'd have a healthy respect for a swarm situation, but Scully doesn't watch Fox specials so she unwisely moves into her tent to turn off the lamp. Bad move Scully. Within seconds, Scully is covered in the winged beasts. She screams and bats at the air, but it's to no avail. Has God decided to punish Scully or is it a simple case of too little bug spray? Perhaps we'll never know.
As Scully pummels locusts in Africa, Skinner visits Mulder in his padded cell at the Georgetown Memorial Hospital. Mulder has had an active summer at the hospital. His daily regimen starts at 8 a.m. when he uncurls himself from a fetal position and gets the juices flowing by bouncing off his padded walls for five hours. After pushing himself to the brink of death, he settles against a wall and looks at a small spot on the ceiling. This keeps him occupied until the early evening. At 7:30 p.m., orderlies let him watch "Jeopardy!" because this is the only thing that comforts his over-stimulated brain. At 8 p.m. the orderlies sedate the agent so they can run tests, but it usually takes at least an hour for the staff to unclamp Mulder's jaw from an orderly's arm, leg, ear or whatever appendage happened to get in the way. This is an exciting schedule that could keep most people alive for decades, but Mulder has a wee little problem -- the constant activity in his brain is killing him and the longer he goes without rest, the faster his end approaches.
When Skinner enters the padded room to visit Mulder it's clear that Mulder's brain has made significant strides in its quest to cease to be. Mulder is crumpled on the floor. His eyes are dark and sunken (which makes his huge nose even BIGGER) and his skin is covered in a sticky sheen of sweat. He doesn't appear to recognize Skinner. "Agent Mulder, can you hear me?" Skinner asks. Mulder's reply is a blank stare and a slight twitch in his index finger. Suddenly, he lifts his finger, crooks it at the knuckle and shouts "Red rum! Red rum!"
Skinner is no fan of "The Shining," so he turns to go, but before he can reach the doorway, Mulder jumps to his feet and flings himself at his boss. Skinner is driven against a nearby wall as Mulder chokes him with his forearm. The doctor sounds the Loony Alarm and orderlies rush in, but Mulder flings Skinner to the ground and continues choking the burly assistant director. With wild eyes and a pulsing forehead vein, Mulder is completely off his chump. At last, the orderlies subdue the crackpot alien chaser and Skinner moves out of the room. In the hallway, Skinner wipes the blood from his nose and cleans his glasses with his tie. That's when he notices that his shirt pocket has been torn. Looking at the ripped fabric, he sees that Mulder has slipped something to him. It's a shred from his hospital gown with the words "Help Me" written in blood.
As Mulder's condition goes from bad to very bad, Scully is visited by Amina Ngebe, a biology professor who used to work with the deceased Dr. Merkmallen (the scholar who discovered the original alien relic in "Biogenesis"). Scully was under the impression that her effort to excavate and examine the seaside spacecraft was a secret, but Ngebe tells her that word is getting around. Ngebe pauses, noticing that millions of wings, legs and guts are sprayed on the walls of Scully's tent. Scully explains that big, nasty bugs swarmed her the night before. She also says she was visited by a man who vanished into thin air. Ngebe's eyes narrow and she tells Scully not to mention any of these things to the team of locals who are excavating the ship. Locust swarms and vanishing men are not good signs.
Omens aside, what Ngebe fails to ask is how Scully could be attacked by locusts the night before, but still look washed and refreshed the next morning. "Just how do you do it Dana? Is it that Herbal Essence stuff?"
Scully's beauty secrets will remain a mystery because at that very moment, one of the excavation workers begins to thrash in the surf. In his native language, he screams "The water, it boils!" He staggers toward the shore as the rest of the crew struggle to bring him to safety. Spotting the victim, Scully jogs, "Baywatch"-style, toward the waves, intent on saving this well-boiled man. Unfortunately, when she arrives there isn't much to save because the man has been successfully plucked from the surf and is now on his way to a hospital where his mysterious burns will be treated. Ngebe sidles next to Scully and says "You see? This is a bad omen. This really, really sucks." Scully glares at her with a look that could launch a thousand locust swarms.
Back in the states, at 11:32 p.m. to be exact, Skinner sneaks into the Georgetown Hospital and visits Mulder. Mulder is doped three degrees from oblivion and restrained to a bed. He's unable to speak and barely able to move. Skinner whispers to Mulder, telling him that he wants to help, but he has no idea what to do. Mulder makes a tapping motion with his finger and Skinner recognizes this as the international symbol for "I need a pen so I can write a message on your palm." Mulder scrawls two letters on Skinner's palm; "K" and "R." Could the next letter be a "Y?"
We're left to wonder because the scene switches back to the Ivory Coast where night has fallen and Scully is lying in her cot, assembling another monologue in her head. Before she can finish her mind composition, a light illuminates the side of the tent and a motor is heard outside. Scully carefully moves toward the tent's opening, grabbing her trusty machete as she emerges into the night. A man is sitting behind the wheel of a jeep, but as Scully approaches he gets out of the vehicle, turns on a big flashlight and darts toward the water, yelling something in a foreign language. Scully turns back toward the tent, but she's surprised by the pasty Dr. Barnes -- the homicidal professor who killed Dr. Merkmallen and is probably in league with Krycek. Scully lifts her machete and prepares to "go caveman" on the doctor, but Barnes appeals to her scientific side, saying that he can interpret the symbols on the spacecraft. Before he can go farther, the man from the Jeep yelps from the shoreline. Scully, Barnes and Ngebe (who has finally woken up) rush to the man and watch in horror/fascination as red, bloody water laps at the base of the spaceship. For those of you keeping score we've got 1 swarm of locusts, 1 burning via boiling sea and 1 ocean full of blood. Theologians would agree, this is a Biblical mess in all respects. As if that weren't enough, Scully glances toward a nearby jetty where she spots the Vanishing Tribesman. She blinks and the man disappears. Weirdness abounds.
The mystery of Mulder's palm message is revealed as Skinner walks into a decrepit apartment building and knocks on the dilapidated door of Michael Kritschgau's apartment. Alas, Mulder wasn't asking that Skinner find Krycek (which Skinner probably appreciates); instead he wants him to track down the man who sneaked Mulder into the basement of the Pentagon ("Redux II"). When we last saw Kritschgau, he was blowing the whistle on the government's nefarious UFO cover-up, but his efforts were for naught and now he's living in a dung beetle palace. Kritschgau is hesitant to help Mulder, but Skinner uses a Jedi mind trick (and a really puckered look) to convince the haggard former conspirator to help the ailing agent.
Unrelated Sidenote: Someone should alert Phil Farrand to this scene. When Skinner enters Kritschgau's apartment building, the intro text says it's 5:05 a.m., but when Kritschgau answers the door, he says it's 6 a.m. Did Skinner get lost?
Nitpicking aside, Kritschgau accompanies Skinner to Mulder's hospital room where he sees that Mulder is being mistreated. Watching a nearby brain scan, Kritschgau recognizes the tell-tale signs of mind reading. This impresses Skinner to no end. In fact, it impresses him so much that he loads Mulder into a wheelchair and darts down the hallway to the Drug Room. Kritschgau's conspiratorial knowledge kicks in and he grabs a syringe and loads it up with 1,000 milligrams of Phenytoin, a drug that will slow Mulder's electrical impulses to a manageable level and lift him from his catatonic state. Skinner protests, but Kritschgau will have none of that. "Lookee here, cueball," he snaps. "You're the one who woke me up at 5 am. or 6 a.m. and demand that I come down here to help!" In a moment of sheer clarity, Skinner realizes that Mulder specifically requested Kritschgau because he knew Kritschgau was the only one who had seen this type of syndrome. With this conclusion planted firmly in his bald head, Skinner injects the drug into Mulder and seconds later Mulder emerges from his "Awakenings"-like state. His first words are a warning. "They're coming," he says.
"They" are the evil Diana Fowley and an unnamed doctor, who have just discovered that Mulder isn't in his bed. But wait! When they enter Mulder's room Skinner is standing over the restrained agent, doing his best to look concerned. As the years have progressed, Skinner's lying abilities have improved, and now he's at the point where he can feign ignorance somewhat effectively. When Fowley starts asking questions, Skinner pulls rank and dismisses her from the room. Fowley's lip sneers and wee little horns pop from the top of her head, but she leaves without incident. With the wicked witch out of the room, Mulder tells Skinner that he knows Krycek is blackmailing him (that storyline began with "S.R. 819") and he also knows that Fowley is in cahoots with Old Smokey Bastard (OSB for short). With the revelations out of the way, Mulder turns his attention to Kritschgau, telling him that his psychic abilities are alien in origin. Kritschgau, the fervent anti-alien activist, scoffs at the notion, which is exactly what Mulder was hoping for. With Scully detained in Africa, Mulder's usual sceptic is unavailable, so he wants Kritschgau to play the role of "detached, doubting scientist." He needs a non-believer to prove his alien psychic theory.
Speaking of detached scientists, Scully has disregarded the Biblical omens and continued deciphering the odd symbols that line the outside of the spacecraft. Dr. Barnes might be a murdering bastard, but he's proven helpful in translating the alien language. Using the Barnes Book of Alien Translation (ISBN: 0-1013-1121-7), Scully has discovered that the top of the spacecraft is covered with genetic information -- DNA, the double helix, Watson and Crick, etc. The rest of the spaceship has markings that correspond to all of the world's religions -- "science and mysticism conjoined" is how Scully eloquently describes it. As Scully and Ngebe marvel at their findings, Barnes enters Scully's tent. His eyes are wild and he's spouting gibberish. His gibberish turns dangerous when he picks up the machete and waves it at Scully, telling her that this is HIS discovery and no one is going to take it away! Bwahahaha! The evil scientist settles by the doorway, machete in hand and declares that "no one leaves before me."
In other news, Kritschgau and Skinner are still working on Mulder. Kritschgau, despite being ostracized by the government, is able to get his hands on expensive equipment that can test Mulder's psychic abilities. Here's how it works: Three small TV screens are turned away from Mulder. Each time a UFO image appears on the screen, Mulder should tap the top of the screen to show that he sees it in his mind. During the first run, Mulder has five percent accuracy, which suggests that he's got the gift, but he's not a psychic prodigy. Skinner knows better -- Mulder is always a prodigy. He tells Kritschgau to speed up the images on the screen and sure enough, Mulder starts tapping the screens in rapid succession, each time correctly spotting the UFO image. His low original score wasn't because he's a crappy psychic - he was thinking too fast.
Once again, darkness falls on the Ivory Coast, and when night comes, weird things happen. Tonight's Biblical event is a resurrection. Earlier in the day, Barnes caught a bushel of fish, which he stashed in a burlap bag. You can imagine Barnes' surprise when the dead fish begin to flop and flap in their burlap tomb. Barnes marvels at the flopping wonders and as his attention is diverted, Scully lunges for a wooden chair and smashes it into Barnes' pasty, wrinkled face. Scully and Ngebe scuttle to the Jeep and dart into the night. Reaching the main road, the pair zips toward the police station, but their trip is halted when Scully's buddy -- the Vanishing Tribesman -- appears in the road. Scully demands that Ngebe stop, and she does, but the confused look that spreads across her face shows that she doesn't see the man. Scully looks at the road and the man disappears, but when she looks back at the driver's seat, Ngebe has been replaced by the tribesman. As you might expect, this scares the bejesus out of Scully. To make it worse, the mysterious man says "Some truths are not for you." His accent suggests he's from Australia, which is really weird, but that fact is lost on Scully because the tribesman reaches out to touch Scully on the forehead. She freezes, and as his fingers make contact, Scully jumps. Suddenly, Ngebe is back in the driver's seat and the tribesman has vanished (again). Scully's breaking point has been crossed. Mysterious Australians touching her forehead is too much to take. She's going back to D.C.
Since Mulder responded so well to Kritschgau's first treatment, Skinner and Kritschgau figure that if they dope him up with a huge dose of Phenytoin he might be able to walk out of the hospital (there's a reason these men aren't doctors). As logical as this sounds, Skinner has misgivings about jacking Mulder up on drugs. Kritschgau says that Mulder is proof -- living, breathing proof -- and they need to get him out of the hospital. Skinner relents and Kritschgau injects a monster shot of the wonder drug into Mulder's already-frazzled system. Mulder's eyes flutter as he comes back to the living, but just as he starts to reanimate, Fowley and a doctor burst into the room and demand to know what's going on. The gig is up and Skinner tries to explain, but before he can get the words out, Mulder shakes and clenches in a seizure. Is the seizure due to the Phenytoin or is Mulder having an allergic reaction to Dirty Diana Fowley? It's a toss up.
Mulder's seizure passes and sometime later Fowley steals a quiet moment alone with her former lover. Now we've seen some scary things on the X-files -- Flukeman, the Peacocks, Victoria Jackson -- but I contend that this scene is one of the most frightening in series history. Fowley goes on and on about loyalty and love and desire and mushy stuff. Watching Fowley's cracked face spout kind, unconvincing words was scarier than seeing Ma Peacock roll out from under the bed or watching Flukeman gnaw on a sanitation worker's back. Where's Scully when you need her?
Unfortunately, Scully was unable to inflict pain on Fowley because she was just arriving in D.C. Marching into Skinner's office (wearing the same clothes she's been wearing for the last few days but still looking great) she demands to know what's happening to Mulder. Skinner explains that the excrement has hit the fan and it's unlikely she'll be able to see her partner. Au contraire, Mr. Skinner, Scully has her ways.
Another Irrelevant Sidenote: This is a quiet scene, but it's pivotal because Scully suggests that Mulder's ailment could be extraterrestrial. Yup, you read that correctly. Scully is saying that Mulder's gift is from the aliens. Seven years and she's finally a believer. Talk about stubborn.
With that important series moment out of the way, the scene shifts back to Africa, where we see that Dr. Barnes has been a bad, bad boy. In the afternoon, he hacked his driver with the machete (that weapon should have been a guest star), but that night the driver comes back to life and runs out of the tent. Being a complete idiot, Barnes walks toward the water, where he's met by a very angry dead man. A little-known footnote to the Double Jeopardy clause clearly states: "In the event one is murdered and henceforth returns to the living within 14 working days, the murdered is permitted to smite the original killer without fear of prosecution."
While Barnes bleeds to death on the Ivory Coast, Scully uses her charms (and her medical credentials) to gain visitation rights to Mulder. Her partner has lapsed into a catatonic state, but Scully knows he can hear her. She greets him with her customary "Mulder, it's me," but this time she says it with a quiver in her voice. Unlike Dirty Diana Fowley, Scully sounds and looks sincere as she begs Mulder to hang on. She tells him she's found the key "to every question that has ever been asked." This key can save Mulder, but she needs to discover how.
Unfortunately, the key that Scully is placing her faith in appears to have been ripped from its seaside locale. The final scene shows Ngebe and a squad of police finding Barnes in the surf, but in the distance it appears that a large, empty hole is the only remnant of the spacecraft. Did CSM smuggle it to the basement of the Pentagon?
And with that the episode ends and a thousand questions come swirling into our minds. Will Mulder make it? Where's Krycek? Where's CSM? What's Fowley up to? Will Scully make the world happy by hacking Fowley to bits with that machete? Will Skinner's nanovirus flare up again? Is Gibson still in that reactor?
Note: This review originally appeared at Ontap.com. It's reprinted here for archival purposes.