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The Erlenmeyer Flask

This was the episode that kick-started the mythology. "The Erlenmeyer Flask" featured the first appearance of the toxic alien/human hybrid, the introduction of the terms "Purity Control" and "trust no one" and the unfortunate demise of Mulder's original informant, Deep Throat. If you want to understand the intricate details of the mythology, you have to see this episode. It was a tightly-woven finale to season one and it ranks high among the series' best episodes.

So here's what happens:

It all begins with a car chase. A sickly-looking man is driving at ungodly speeds through a dock area, but he hits a dead end and it appears that the chase is over. The man tries to scale a chain-link fence, but he's surrounded by officers. Game over, right? Wrong. The man overpowers three officers, then turns around and is met with a nice electric jolt from a stun gun. This has absolutely no effect -- he plucks the jolters from his chest, then turns and runs up a gangplank toward the water. The stun-gun wielding police officer trades-up to a pistol and fires two shots into the man. Two shots to the back would slow most people down, but not this guy. He runs at breakneck speed up the plank and hurtles into the water. Officers rush up the plank, but the only sign of the man is a puddle of green ooze that's dripping from the edge of the dock. This leaves only two possible explanations: The man is a lost cast member from Nickelodeon's "You Can't Do That On Television" or he's an alien/human hybrid. You make the call.

Later that night Mulder receives a phone call at his apartment from his buddy Deep Throat. He's told to turn to channel eight, and Mulder, being a good investigator, promptly inserts a blank tape into his VCR and begins recording a news report detailing the escape of the man we saw at the beginning of the episode.

The next morning, Mulder and Scully are pouring over the same tape down in the X-files office. Scully thinks Deep Throat is pulling Mulder's leg, but Mulder ignores everything she says and concentrates on the screen -- intent on finding a detail that will explain why Deep Throat deemed this an important case.

Down at the docks, Mulder and Scully speak with a local police officer who tells them that three different government agencies have been investigating this case. It's all a bit fishy (pun intended) since the oozing man was originally pursued because of a simple traffic violation. The man's body has yet to be found and Mulder gives the officer attitude, so the officer asks why the FBI is interested. Mulder lies, claiming that the suspect matches a description of a federal fugitive. There's one problem with this little white lie -- the suspect's description hasn't been released. Whoops.

With his pride a bit wounded, Mulder and Scully travel to the impounding area to check out the suspect's car. Mulder frets and whines, claiming he doesn't know what to look for. He examines the outside of the car, comparing the vehicle with digital photos he printed out from his videotape. Close inspection reveals that the car the police have impounded isn't the one seen in the news report from the night before. The car in the report had a sticker in the lower-left-hand corner of the windshield, the bugger in front of them is stickerless. Oh yes, it's all coming together now.

Back in the office, Scully concludes that the sticker they saw on the videotape is a caduceus, which is the adopted symbol of the medical profession (you've probably seen it -- it's a staff with two snakes twined around it). The agents use their keen investigative skills to determine that the car must be owned by a doctor. Digital analysis of the tape reveals a partial Maryland license plate number, so Mulder has the plate traced and within minutes they connect the car with its rightful owner -- Dr. Terence Berube.

Dr. Berube doesn't run a nice family practice in the suburbs. He works for the Emgen Corporation, and when Mulder and Scully drop by his lab to ask questions he gets all huffy and insists they leave him alone. While Mulder grills Berube about his stolen car (a car he didn't know was stolen until Mulder mentioned it), Scully sticks her finger in a monkey's cage and almost has it chomped off by a reject from "Outbreak." Berube reprimands her -- the monkeys are vital to an experiment and they shouldn't be prodded by FBI agents. Mulder inquires about this oh-so-important-angry-monkey experiment but Berube gets huffy again so the agents politely leave.

In the hallway outside Berube's lab, Mulder is fired-up to chase down a speculative lead but Scully isn't enthusiastic. She doesn't want to follow her partner over hill and dale pursuing lame leads provided by a secretive source named Deep Throat. Mulder tries to defend his contact, but Scully doesn't buy the act. She tells her partner off, then enters the ladies room where she presumably curses Mulder out and wonders why she ever joined the FBI (but this is all speculation).

A dejected Mulder returns to his apartment, but he's met outside his building by Deep Throat. Mr. Throat is disappointed with Mulder's level of commitment. He expected his young contact to work through the night, desperately trying to fit the pieces together. Mulder isn't in the mood for Deep Throat's "Obi Won Kenobi crap" and basically tells him where he can shove his light saber. To carry the Star Wars motif even further, Deep Throat utters this Yoda-esque comment to Mulder: "Don't give up on this. You've never been closer." Mulder watches him walk into the darkness and judging by the look on his face, he hasn't a clue as to what Deep Throat is talking about.

Back in Berube's monkey lab, the angry doctor is visited by a tall, intimidating man. The man wants to know where Dr. Secare is. And who is Dr. Secare? Why, he's the skinny fugitive who took a swan dive into the harbor. The tall man knows that Berube is covering for Secare and he doesn't have time to dally around a lab trying to get answers. At first Berube feigns ignorance and tries to use his "my work is very important" excuse, but the tall man isn't as polite as Mulder and Scully. Instead of leaving the doctor to his all-important experiments, he wraps medical gauze around his neck and throws him out a window.

At the same time, the local police are bringing their divers out of the harbor. The search for Dr. Secare has been called off. As the police boat skims away, Dr. Secare's very-alive form pops up from the briny depths.

The next morning Mulder and Scully stop by Berube's lab and find a teeming crime scene. Scully reads from a police report and says that investigators think Berube trashed his lab then hanged himself with a roll of medical gauze. Mulder thinks the report is a crock. Scully reads on and we learn that Berube was involved in the human genome project -- an effort to map all human genes. While Scully reads, Mulder rifles through Berube's things and finds a flask containing a dark-red liquid and marked with the label "Purity Control." He asks Scully to analyze the liquid while he checks out Berube's residence. Scully isn't happy.

Mulder arrives at Berube's modest home and lets himself in through a basement window. He finds a recent telephone bill with one number repeated over and over. Enlisting the help of the ever-anonymous "Danny" at the Bureau, he runs a trace on the number. While he waits for Danny to call back a different call comes through and Mulder impersonates Berube. The caller is Dr. Secare and he's not in good shape. He's been in the water for three days and he's bleeding green blood from a sucking chest wound. Secare collapses in a phone booth and a passerby cuts off Mulder and calls an ambulance. Mulder hangs up and the phone immediately rings again, but this time it's Danny with the results of the phone trace. As Mulder writes down the address of Zeus Storage, he glances out the window and sees a suspicious van drive away from the curb.

While Mulder crawls through windows and looks through Berube's personal effects, Scully has the Purity Control liquid analyzed at the microbiology department at Georgetown University. One of the resident geniuses -- Dr. Carpenter -- is impressed and confused with the sample's initial results. She orders a round of tests to further study the contents of the flask.

As Scully waits for results, the scene shifts to an ambulance that's transporting the very ill Dr. Secare to the hospital. The EMTs try to release built-up pressure in Secare's chest cavity, but they're met with a blast of super-toxic tummy fume that knocks everyone in the ambulance out. Secare staggers from the back of the parked ambulance and runs off.

Mulder travels to Zeus Storage and on the way he speaks with Scully via cellphone. She's received preliminary results on the Purity Control culture and something very weird is going on in that little flask. The liquid contains cloned bacteria housing a virus. The only time you nestle a virus inside cloned bacteria is when you're working in the realm of experimental gene therapy (so Scully says), which means Berube was involved with some pretty elaborate stuff. Additionally, the bacteria they're dealing with may have existed millions of years ago, but it's never been seen before.

The importance of Scully's find is lost on Mulder because he's found some weirdness of his own. Using a set of keys he lifted from Berube's desk, he enters room 1056 of Zeus Storage. Inside, he finds two rows of large tanks, each housing a living, red-headed human. The naked beings are alive and breathing beneath the water, seemingly healthy and content in their submerged slumber.

Later that night, Dr. Carpenter shows Scully some disturbing DNA results from the Purity Control sample. The gene sequence from the bacteria sample have a fifth and sixth DNA nucleotide, which means they can only be extraterrestrial. Scully's mouth drops.

Mulder, meanwhile, tries to nonchalantly exit Zeus Storage, but he's chased by three dark-suited men. Mulder bolts through an alley, scales a wooden fence and escapes into the night. He arrives home and finds the phone ringing. It's Scully, and she's got big news -- REALLY big news. She tells Mulder about the extraterrestrial nucleotides and he tells her to meet him RIGHT NOW.

Early the next morning, the agents travel to Zeus Storage, but before they enter the building Scully apologizes to Mulder for not trusting his instincts. She also says, for the first time in the series, that the science she has previously considered to be gospel cannot explain what they've found. Mulder isn't impressed, but he does a decent job of faking sincerity.

Mulder and Scully enter Zeus Storage, but the humanoid creatures Mulder found the night before have been moved out. In fact, everything in room 1056 has been removed. As the agents try to understand what's happened, Deep Throat mysteriously enters. He explains that Dr. Berube was conducting human/alien cloning experiments. Six terminally-ill volunteers, including Dr. Secare, were given alien gene therapy. All soon recovered from their illnesses but they also developed unusual strength and the ability to breathe underwater (which is pretty convenient if you need to hide in a harbor). Unfortunately, Berube's experiments were too successful. Secare was never supposed to survive. When it was learned that Secare was living in the outside world he was deemed too great a risk by the powers-that-be. Deep Throat says that the agents must find Secare before the conspirators do -- he's the only proof they have.

Scully goes back to Georgetown to speak with Dr. Carpenter, but when she arrives she learns that Dr. Carpenter was killed, along with the rest of her family, in a car crash the night before. The alien cleanup process has begun.

Mulder travels back to Berube's house where he finds Secare hiding in the attic. Secare is curled in a dark corner, but alien boy has some life left in him so he and Mulder tussle. The wrestling match comes to an end when a gas-mask-wearing man shoots Secare in the back. The toxic gas emanating from his chest sends Mulder to the floor, gasping for air and clawing at his poisoned eyes.

Scully tries to get in touch with Mulder but he's been taken captive by government agents and he's unable to answer his perpetually-ringing cellphone. Scully rushes to Mulder's apartment, but once again, Deep Throat is waiting outside the building (maybe he lives nearby). He tells Scully that Mulder has been kidnapped, but there might be a way to get him back by making a deal. The conspirators' original alien tissue sample is stored in a high containment facility at Fort Marlene in Maryland. Deep Throat thinks he can get Scully inside the facility, but she'll have to find the goods. If she can smuggle the evidence out of the building he believes Mulder's captors will trade the agent for the sample.

So it's off to Fort Marlene we go. Looking completely uncomfortable, Scully walks through the building's hallways, sporting a fake ID. Upon reaching the cryology department on the seventh floor, she's asked for a project ID by a guard. In a moment of pure Scully genius, she says "Purity Control" and gains access to the motherload. Inside the frozen room she finds a cylinder housing a teeny alien corpse. It resembles a hairless Furby, but that's a conspiracy unto itself.

Scully kidnaps the little alien and meets Deep Throat later that night on a dark bridge outside of D.C. She hesitates giving him the package but he demands that she hand it over -- Mulder's captors are expecting him to make the drop. He wins the argument and Scully retreats to her car. From her side-mirror she sees a van approach. Deep Throat emerges from his car and hands the package to the tall man who murdered Dr. Berube. Scully glances back and watches as Deep Throat is shot point-blank in the chest. The van's back door opens and Mulder is pushed out just before the van zips away. Scully checks on the dying Deep Throat, who does his Yoda impersonation to the end, uttering the now ubiquitous phrase "Trust No One." (A personal favorite for somewhat obvious reasons)

A day or two later, Scully receives a call from Mulder who informs his partner that the big-wigs are shutting down the X-files. Mulder vows to continue working, saying he'll never give up "as long as the truth is out there." It's an inspiring moment and the first in a long line of truth-oriented calls to battle by Mulder.

In the final scene we see The Cigarette-Smoking Man walk through a dark warehouse. He places the small alien corpse/bargaining chip in a generic cardboard box, then calmly exits through the door to the Pentagon's basement. The corpse has been filed into oblivion and Mulder and Scully are back at square one. Bwahahahaha!

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

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