Had they not painted this as a mythology episode, I might have enjoyed it more. The plot, while weird, was interesting. The acting was also good. Despite these two positives, the show didn't come off right. It was slower than a "Millennium" episode (which is pretty damn slow) and it certainly didn't convey the end-of-season excitement I was expecting. Hopefully the finale will instill the proper sense of awe.
Anyway, here's what happens in this trippy story:
Wallace and Angela Schiff are a young married couple who have just arrived in their motel room after a day of hiking through the woods of North Carolina. Wallace has thoroughly enjoyed his day of hopping over logs and climbing steep inclines, but Angela isn't a fan of the L.L. Bean lifestyle. After expressing her dislike of the outdoors, Angela soothes her angry attitude with a hot shower. While washing beneath the stream of water, Angela has a flashback. In the flashback she's trapped in a dark space. Yellow goo is slithering over her head and face and she's screaming -- it's not a pleasant image.
Shaken by the flashback and suffering from a headache, Angela asks Wallace to hold her. As the couple embrace on the bed the scene morphs and the bodies of Wallace and Angela become skeletons. The skeletons are laid out in a field, still embracing. Is this a case of skeleton nookie or is something more sinister happening in the wilds of North Carolina?
Days later, Mulder is in the X-files office with Scully, trying to convince her that embracing skeletons are worth investigating. Scully's arms are folded and it's obvious she's suffering from a severe case of Skepticism. Despite Scully's attitude, Mulder continues, explaining that the hugging skeletons were found three days after the Schiffs were reported missing. This in itself isn't overtly odd, but the bones have been picked clean of skin and tissue. It's rare for a body to decompose in three days, especially when the weather has hovered around 70 degrees.
Scully explains it this way: "I'd say it looks like a double murder -- possibly one with ritualistic overtones. The bodies may have been stripped then skeletonized possibly by boiling or by the use of some kind of acid solution." (Remember this, it's important).
Mulder, however, has a different theory. The Schiffs were found near Brown Mountain, which, as all good UFO buffs know, is a hotspot for atmospheric weirdness. While meteorologists and scientific-types write Brown Mountain's unexplainable light shows off as weather anomalies, Mulder and his paranormal buddies see the lights as a possible abduction area. He believes the Schiffs were nabbed by grays then exsanguinated and stripped in textbook, cattle-mutilation fashion. Scully, fed up with Mulder's theories, asks him why he never looks for the easy answer. Mulder counters with a very sound argument. He asks his rolling-eyed partner how many times he's been wrong in the six years they've been working together. The answer: He's NEVER been wrong. With that, Scully shuts her yap.
Now that Scully's argument has been flushed down the toilet, the agents travel to Asheville, North Carolina to begin their investigation. Upon arriving in the rural town, the agents travel to the Boon County morgue to view the very-skinny Schiff bodies. Scully slaps on the latex and pokes around the bones, quickly discovering a gooey yellow substance dripping from a femur or a tibia or one of those bones I should have learned about in Bio. The Medical Examiner claims the substance is "bog sludge" but Scully isn't so sure. While Scully stares at the goo and ponders its place in the cosmos, Mulder gets directions to the location where the bodies were found. The agents split up -- Scully stays in the lab to run tests while Mulder pulls an investigative Thoreau out in the woods.
Scully's goo experiments prove fruitful. Tests reveal that the Gak-like substance bears an uncanny resemblance to stomach bile. The only thing that separates the goo from real bile is chitinase -- a digestive enzyme found only in plants. Has Eugene Victor Tooms been reincarnated as a venus flytrap?
The similarities to Tooms are lost on Mulder because he's too busy enjoying the comforts of a sport utility vehicle. Using the vehicle to travel to the remote crime scene, Mulder reaches the area and inadvertently runs over a cluster of mushrooms. The contents of the mushrooms disperse in the air, sending spores deep into the nostrils of woodland creatures and curious FBI agents. Mulder starts to look around and within seconds he sees a man in a red jacket dart from behind a cluster of rocks. The man bears a striking resemblance to Wallace Schiff.
The dead-but-oddly-spry Schiff squirms his way into a small cave opening. Mulder's diligence sends him squirming into the same hole. As he worms his way below-ground the opening widens and Mulder walks into a large subterranean cavern. Schiff is trying to hide behind a nearby boulder, but Wally never learned the fine art of concealment so Mulder is able to spot him easily. Seeing that the gig is up, Schiff tells Mulder that aliens abducted him and his wife. The crafty aliens used the LAPD's manual on "How to Plant Evidence" as a guide in creating fake skeletons to be used as decoys. If everyone believes they're dead, Schiff explains, no one will investigate their disappearance. Schiff also tells Mulder that Angela is still with "them." Being with "them" is generally something you want to avoid.
Mulder decides that he'd rather not join "them" so he looks for a way out of the cavern. In a stroke of good luck, an opening materializes behind him. Suddenly a bright light shoots through the newly-created hole. Schiff runs for cover, realizing that the light is coming from an alien spaceship. The grays have dropped by to say hello and see if Mulder and Schiff would like to be subjected to a couple weeks' worth of probing tests. Seeing as neither guy particularly enjoys alien proctological exams (or human proctological exams for that matter), the men hide.
As all of this is transpiring, Scully arrives at the wooded crime scene in the Medical Examiner's truck. She's unsure of what the yellow goo is, but seeing as it digests anything that gets in its way she deems it worthy of further investigation. On a personal level, she'd rather not see her partner fall in a vat of the stuff. Scully finds Mulder's tracks and tromps into the hills. Following her partner's path, she accidentally steps on a mushroom and releases the same spores into the air. Paying little attention to the destroyed fungi, she moves on, quickly discovering the small hole Mulder squirmed into. Oddly, she doesn't hear or see the alien spaceship that is searching for Mulder and Schiff at the same time. Has her skepticism made her blind to alien spacecraft or is something else going on?
Unable to find Mulder and Schiff, the aliens retract their probing beam and drive away. In their wake is Angela Schiff -- alive but in need of serious regression therapy. Mulder delicately questions Angela, asking her to relay her experience. She delivers a textbook abduction scenario: bright light, featureless examination room, weird implant, yadda, yadda, yadda. It sounds nice (in an alien abduction kinda way) but Mulder can't figure out why the skeletons were left behind. The grays NEVER do that. Before he can reach a conclusion about the skeletons, the aliens sneak up on the cave and shoot their beam back into the cavern. Wallace and Angela run for cover, but Mulder has had enough of the alien intrigue. For years he's been chasing these buggers around the globe, but those days are over. With a determined look he walks straight into the light. "Helloooooo boys, I'm heeeeeeere!""
The scene immediately switches back to Mulder's apartment. Mulder answers Scully's knock and lets her in. Scully is shocked to see Wallace and Angela Schiff sitting on Mulder's couch, but their appearance is nothing compared to the visitor hiding in Mulder's bedroom. Quietly, Mulder opens the door to his dark bedroom. Scully watches as a naked little alien peeks its head from around a corner. "I abducted him," Mulder says with a twinkle in his eye. Scully's jaw hits the floor with a dull thud.
The agents walk back to Mulder's living room where Scully admits that Mulder has been right all these years. Despite hearing these words, Mulder is still distressed. The skeletons don't add up. Scully tries to convince her partner that the skeletons were a decoy, but her words cause Mulder's head to throb. Suddenly, the screen fills with the yellow goo and the room starts to move. Mulder looks at the Schiffs and as he stares their bodies melt away beneath a stream of yellow gunk. He darts his eyes back toward Scully and she too melts away. The scene fades to black and slowly reemerges inside a dark cavern. Mulder stands amidst strings of the yellow goo. The substance spills over his closed eyes and the inert agent moves his lips as though he's dreaming.
While Mulder dreams in pools of bile, Scully arrives at the cave entrance with the Medical Examiner. The pair finds tracks going in and out of the cave, which is a change from when Scully first found the area. Looking around the perimeter of the cave, the Medical Examiner discovers a skeleton. Scully's face wrinkles as she realizes the skeleton may be Mulder.
Dental records confirm that the bones are Mulder's. Back at the morgue, Scully tries to find an explanation. Maybe Mulder fell in a pool of the stuff and melted away or maybe he picked a fight with the wrong mushroom. Both are good theories (particularly the one about the mushroom) but there's a problem, none of the digestive yellow goo was found on Mulder's remains. "I just think we need to look for the simplest explanation," the Medical Examiner suggests. "I'd say we're looking at a murder. One with ritualistic overtones. I think his bodied was stripped and then skeletonized. Possibly by boiling or use of an acid solution," the ME concludes. Sound familiar?
Back in D.C., Scully presents her report on Mulder's death to Skinner. Her boss believes that her conclusions are correct, but Scully is doubtful -- verrrry doubtful. Her report suggests that Mulder was murdered in a ritual, but Scully believes something paranormal was involved. Skinner assures her that her findings are the right ones, but his words do little to soothe Scully.
Shortly after, Scully goes to Mulder's apartment to attend a wake for her deceased partner. Grim-faced people dressed in dark suits are sipping on beverages and talking about all the wacky things Mulder used to do. The Lone Gunmen are also in attendance -- Byers is in a suit, Frohike is dolled up in leather and Langley is decked out in a tuxedo T-shirt. Byers tells Scully that he agrees with her findings; it's clear Mulder was murdered in a ritual. The Gunmen vow to find Mulder's killer, but Scully can't believe what she's hearing. Her findings are acting as an obstacle to the truth. Faced with this, she lashes out and demands that Mulder be found. As her voice rises, Scully's head throbs with pain. She grips her right temple and the scene is suddenly obscured by yellow goo. The goo recedes just as a knock sounds at the door to Mulder's apartment.
Scully answers the knock and Mulder walks in, a calm look on his face. As he turns to greet his partner, the people in the room disappear. Mulder sits down on his couch and explains that he was abducted by the grays. His voice is steady as he recounts his experience. Scully discovers that Mulder's story is full of holes -- he doesn't remember how he was returned or what happened to the Schiffs. Scully's scientific side springs into action -- too many things don't add up. She realizes they're in a hallucination, a hallucination caused by the mushrooms they stepped on in the field. Her voice quickens as she continues. She believes that the Schiffs were digested by a giant fungal organism. The organism uses the hallucinogen to keep its prey still while it devours it. As Scully says this, Mulder sees himself covered in the yellow goo.
Seconds later, Mulder's hand breaks through the North Carolina soil and he crawls toward the surface. Scully follows and both agents collapse on the grass, gasping for air after their trippy near-death experience.
Having saved themselves from the mutant Portabello, Mulder and Scully present their report to Skinner. Tests have revealed that the hallucinogenic fungus covers at least 10 acres, most of it underground. Now that various state and federal agencies are containing the area, Mulder and Scully are convinced they've settled the case. For the first time, there aren't any loose strings dangling into paranormal regions. But that can't be right. They never solve an X-file. Mulder's face is set in consternation as he mulls this development. He asks Scully if there are any drugs that wear off once the user realizes he or she is under the drug's influence. Scully says there aren't any. Mulder's eyes light up and he asks his partner why they don't have wounds from the digestive enzyme. Scully searches her encyclopedic mind and cannot find an answer. Mulder realizes that the hallucination is still in progress; they never escaped the clutches of the evil mushroom. To prove they're still hallucinating, Mulder draws his pistol and fires three shots into Skinner's chest. Skinner sits passively as yellow goo drips from his wounds. Mulder proves once again that he's always right.
Being right means little if your flesh is still dissolving. Thankfully, the X-file god was looking down on Mulder and Scully (again). Skinner and a squadron of mask-wearing investigators search the North Carolina field and find Mulder and Scully under a patch of loose topsoil (another gift from the X-file deity). The agents are slapped on stretchers and rushed to a contamination van. As they're being wheeled toward the van, Scully pays homage to Orson Welles by uttering a single, yet vitally important word. "Mushrooms," she says with the same vigor as Charles Foster Kane on his deathbed.
Thankfully, Scully's dying word isn't "mushrooms." Both she and Mulder are loaded onto the contamination van and driven to a hospital where they're slathered in Tinactin. Within a few short days the effects of the fungus are eradicated and both agents are allowed to carry on their merry way. Meanwhile, a little boy named Gibson is still missing and an army of gray aliens is preparing to colonize the Earth.
Note: This review originally appeared at Ontap.com. It's reprinted here for archival purposes.