"S.R. 819" is one of the best episodes in series history. It has everything I love about this show -- a great plot, good acting and the prospect of intriguing, exciting developments. After a half-season of comedy and Emmy attempts, we finally get down to business with a real X-file. Bravo to the X-files crew for showing us they've still got the goods.
So here's what happened in this stellar nanotechnology tale:
It's 9:29 p.m. at St. Katherine's Hospital and Walter Skinner is taking the phrase "having a bad day" to a new extreme. The Big AD is rigidly lying on a hospital bed -- his head and arms are covered with purple and yellow veins that pulse with every heartbeat. He's stable, but he's obviously careening down the slippery slope of life. A doctor asks if he can hear her, and his mouth moves as he tries to utter something. She leans closer, he whispers an inaudible name and suddenly his heart monitor flatlines. They juice up the crash cart, but the doctor sees his horrendous condition and lets him die. That's right -- Skinner is dead and the rest of us are wondering what the hell is going on.
Skinner may have left the building but his internal monologue is still functioning at full capacity. The camera pans away from his mottled head as Skinner ruminates about straddling the fence and not taking sides. He says that in life he tried to play the middle without picking an allegiance, but now death has picked a side for him. Skinner's monologue ends as a blue hospital sheet is draped over his lifeless body.
Using the wonders of television technology, the scene shifts back 24 hours to the South Street Gym where a very-much alive Skinner gets his kicks in a boxing match. At first Skinner manhandles his opponent, easily driving him into the corner and showing him who his daddy is. But Skinner's vision blurs and his swings become exaggerated swipes. He takes a vicious right to the nose that spirals him down to the mat.
With his bell officially rung, Skinner is taken to the hospital where he's examined and cared for by Dr. Plant. He appears to be fine -- a little groggy -- but fine. As he waits for Plant to return to his room, Skinner's cellphone rings. A computer-synthesized voice greets him with some cryptic news -- apparently he has something in him that will render him quite dead in 24 hours. Before Skinner can ponder the mysteries of voice synthesis, Dr. Plant enters to give him a final examination. Skinner is alright but he's sporting a nasty bruise on the right side of his chest. It looks like he took a powerful shot to the chest, but Skinner doesn't remember receiving such a blow. Ah, the plot thickens.
Whenever presented with a mysterious bruise, the best remedy is to go to work. Skinner does just that. At 10:21 p.m. he walks past Mulder on his way to his office in the FBI building. Mulder is busy shooting pencils into the ceiling, so when Skinner goes by he decides to pay him a visit. Mulder walks into the dark waiting room adjacent to Skinner's wood-paneled chamber and finds his former boss sprawled on the leather couch next to his assistant's desk. Skinner says he's having problems with his vision and didn't think it wise to navigate the streets of D.C. while seeing double. Mulder, sensing a medical emergency, calls Scully.
She arrives at 11:09 p.m. dressed to the nines in one of her official FBI suits, which suggests she sleeps in those things. Skinner's garb is significantly less tailored. His shirt is untucked and it's obvious he's quite uncomfortable. Mulder tells his partner about the computerized death threat and the two agents snap into their investigative roles. Scully approaches the problem from the medical side while Mulder pushes Skinner's recollection through the last 24 hours. At first Skinner is testy, but as he works through the recent past he remembers being grabbed by a man earlier that morning. The bald, goateed-man had asked for the time but he also touched Skinner's right wrist with a gloved hand.
The trio search through that morning's FBI surveillance videos and find a snippet of the same goateed-man entering the building directly after Skinner. Scully recognizes the man as Dr. Kenneth Orgel, a famous physicist and an adviser to a senate subcommittee on ethics and new technology. It appears that Scully is a long-time subscriber to "Physicist Playmates Monthly" -- she knows too much about Dr. Orgel not to be. His turn-ons are Quantum physics, nanotechnology and long theoretical walks on the beach. Turn-offs include overzealous third-world terrorists and people who fake cold fusion.
But I digress.
Now that they've got a lead on Dr. Orgel, Mulder cross-checks his name and arrival time against the FBI sign-in sheet and sees that Orgel was coming to visit Skinner. Skinner didn't know about the visit, but now that his bloodstream is teeming with a poison Orgel may have given him, he decides it's time to question the good doctor.
Mulder and Skinner travel to Chevy Chase, Maryland while Scully goes to St. Katherine's hospital to examine Skinner's medical chart. At 11:32 p.m. Mulder and his very-peeved ex-boss bang on Orgel's door, and Orgel feigns ignorance. He slams the door, prompting Mulder to unholster his glock while Skinner covers the back door. Mulder tries busting through the front door but a shot rings out and he hits the ground. Skinner punches into the house through the back door and he sees Dr. Orgel being held at gunpoint by a thin, dark man with a sissy pony tail (fortunately, it's not Steven Segal). Skinner has the man in his sights, but a second evildoer emerges from a dark doorway and pistol whips Skinner on the back of the neck. The ailing AD crumples to the ground as Mulder bolts through the front door. The two men rush Orgel through the back door and Mulder pursues. For once, Mulder actually catches up to a suspect and he wrestles the pony-tailed man to the ground. The other kidnapper pushes Orgel into a nearby sedan and it speeds off.
Mulder's prisoner spouts nasty things in a foreign tongue, which elicits plenty of manhandling and barbed comments from Mulder. Skinner checks the man's credentials and realizes that the pony-tailed fool in front of them has diplomatic papers. Diplomatic papers are the holy grail for all aspiring terrorists because it means they can do virtually anything without interference from the authorities. The same holds true in this case so Skinner releases the man. As he walks off, Skinner tells Mulder that the pony-tailed man is a Tunisian diplomat named Alexander Lazreg. Skinner's vision might be blurry, but he gleaned a decent amount of information from a passing glance at Lazreg's credentials. With the police on the way, Skinner orders Mulder to search Orgel's apartment, looking for a tie between him and the Tunisians. Skinner would do it himself, but the toxin in his system is starting to flare up and a vein in his neck has decided to pulse through the skin. Searching a physicists' apartment ranks low on his "To-Do" list.
At 1:06 a.m. Scully visits Dr. Plant at St. Katherine's hospital. He takes her to the lab where she finds Skinner's blood samples. The samples have yet to be tested, so they should be in their pure liquid state. But Scully finds something odd -- the bottoms of the vials are filled with a black, grainy substance. Skinner definitely has something in him, and from the looks of it, it's clogging his veins.
Scully and Dr. Plant run tests on Skinner's blood and learn some disturbing things. The substance is pure carbon, which in itself is a mystery because carbon shouldn't act as a poison. But when they view the curious substance under high magnification they see the mayhem it's causing. The little buggers are multiplying and therefore clogging Skinner's bloodstream. Skinner is in desperate need of a human Roto-Rooter.
A little over an hour later -- at 2:33 a.m. -- Mulder has made a significant mess in Dr. Orgel's den. He's shuffling through files, but the clue he's looking for isn't hidden within stacks of documents, it's perched in a wastebasket in the corner of the room. In the basket, Mulder finds a photo contact sheet that shows Dr. Orgel posing next to Senator Matheson. Mulder hasn't called on Senator Matheson in years, but now seems like as good a time as any. (For anyone who doesn't remember the senator, he played a small but important part in the early years of the series. He provided Mulder with leads, most notably an extraterrestrial contact signal that sent Mulder to Puerto Rico in "Little Green Men." Since then, the senator has only been mentioned in passing).
At 4:01 a.m. Mulder visits his old buddy at home, but Matheson isn't thrilled to see him. The years have been hard on Matheson, because the once-healthy senator with a penchant for extraterrestrials has become a shell of his former self. He's gaunt and his hair is a bit disheveled and when Mulder asks for help in piecing this mystery together, the senator gives him nothing but political double-talk. Mulder knows that the few pieces he's uncovered are tied together by a senate resolution -- S.R. 819 -- and Matheson is involved. Matheson claims that S.R. 819 is a funding bill that will provide money and supplies to the World Health Organization while also giving medical technology to third-world nations. It sounds benevolent, but somehow it's leading to Skinner's demise. Matheson gives Mulder little to go on then ushers him out the door.
At roughly the same time, Skinner has trailed Alexander Lazreg (the Tunisian diplomat) to a parking garage. He finds Lazreg's car but before investigating he pauses to examine the growing vein in his neck. As he cranes to view his pulsing mess in the rear-view mirror, a bullet cracks the windshield. Skinner ducks below the dashboard and Lazreg -- the shooter -- walks toward the driver-side door. Skinner takes two quick shots that send Lazreg running for cover. A game of cat-and-mouse ensues as a tired and fragile Skinner tries to find his elusive Tunisian buddy. As he darts his pistol between cars, Lazreg emerges with his gun trained on Skinner's back. Before he can fire the kill shot, a sedan squeals around a corner, smacking Lazreg and rolling him over the hood. Skinner blurrily sees a long-haired, bearded man driving the car, then collapses.
Long-term X-files fans know that if you give Scully a couple hours in a lab, she'll work miracles. At 6:14 a.m. she does it again. She finds that the carbon in Skinner's bloodstream responds to movement, which means it has behavior. When stimulated, it multiplies then solidifies in an orderly fashion -- in essence, it's leading to a fatal heart attack. Just as Scully cracks the carbon conundrum, a nurse rushes in with news that Skinner has been taken to D.C. General after being found in the parking garage.
Scully and Dr. Plant (Skinner's doctor from the beginning of the show) arrive at D.C. General just as a surgeon prepares to lop off Skinner's arms. The surgeon thinks that a massive vascular problem is the cause of Skinner's ailment, but Scully sets her straight -- it's not his arms, it's his blood. Scully's authoritative tone puts the surgeon in line and saves Skinner's appendages.
At 8:58 a.m. Skinner's assistant arrives at work with two minutes to spare. Any later and she would have been demoted to being Spender's assistant -- a fate on par with Tantalus'. Mythological references aside, the assistant finds Mulder rifling through Skinner's office. Organization isn't Mulder's forte and he's strewn papers across the floor, desperate to find information about S.R. 819. He finds what he's been looking for in a classified envelope sitting on the assistant's desk.
Mulder meets Scully at the hospital, where he learns that Skinner's prognosis is pretty bad. Fortunately, Mulder is assembling the pieces of S.R. 819, so Skinner still has a fighting chance. Skinner was investigating S.R. 819 for trade infractions -- the resolution included a suspicions clause allowing the exportation of new technology. As it stands, S.R. 819 hinges on two things: Skinner's report and Dr. Orgel's analysis of the new technology. Now that Dr. Orgel has been kidnapped and Skinner is lying on his deathbed, it appears that S.R 819 contains some pretty heady stuff. Before Mulder and Scully can reach any conclusions, Skinner's cellphone rings. Mulder answers it and hears a computer-synthesized voice. He realizes that whoever is orchestrating Skinner's illness is in the building, so he pokes around a corner, and that's when he sees the long-haired bearded man (the same one that ran over Alexander Lazreg). The man is hunched in a corner writing something on a palm-sized computer, but when he sees Mulder he bolts. Another parking garage chase ensues, but the long-haired man escapes after abandoning his sedan and stealing a woman's car.
The long-haired man calls Senator Matheson to alert him about "a new threat" to S.R. 819. The man is holding Dr. Orgel captive and he's using him as a bargaining chip. He directs the senator to an abandoned power plant where he'll find Orgel. Matheson arrives at the plant and inside discovers Dr. Orgel strapped to a table and suffering from the same vein-clogging ailment as Skinner. The light is murky, the music emanates in low tones and you just know that Dr. Orgel is a goner. Matheson unstraps the doctor, but it does little good because the long-haired man is watching from above. He uses his hyperactive Palm Pilot to increase the frequency of the replicating poison in Orgel. The senator steps away, aghast at Orgel's screams and the pulsing, popping veins lining the doctor's squirming body.
A little after 12 noon, Mulder goes to the FBI impound garage to get a report on the long-haired man's abandoned car. Forensic evidence is sparse, but inside they've found hairs from an expensive wig, and the dirt on the tires was caked with dirt laden with PCB's. PCB-saturated dirt is only common around demolition sites and old power plants. This, apparently, is enough for Mulder to go on.
At 5:32 p.m., Skinner is on his last legs. Scully arrives, asking him if she can attempt a radical blood-filtering procedure to save him. Skinner, of course, agrees, but he has other things on his mind. He gives a poignant speech saying he should have been more of an ally to Mulder and Scully, he shouldn't have played it safe. It's suggested that if Skinner somehow makes it through, he'll become a major part of the X-files. Scully touches his veiny hand and her simple caress sends Skinner's mind reeling. He flashes back through the last 24 hours, recounting the scene in the FBI hallway when Orgel asked for the time, then he sees the gym, then the hospital and the parking garage. In each place he remembers spotting the same long-haired man. He tells Scully the man's image will be on the FBI surveillance tape, so she rushes away with the new lead.
Half an hour later, Mulder arrives at the abandoned power plant where he sees Matheson's BWM parked nearby. Inside, he finds the senator standing over the empty gurney that recently supported Orgel. Matheson has been expecting Mulder and he breaks the bad news that Orgel is dead. Mulder doesn't take this news well, so he grabs Matheson by the lapels and accuses him of lying. He knows that Matheson is covering for the "new technology" included in S.R. 819. That "new technology" is nanontechnology -- a previously theoretical belief that atom-sized machines can be used in various capacities. Well it's not theoretical anymore because the angry machines are busy at work in Skinner's system. Matheson quivers and warns Mulder that if he pursues this investigation they'll kill him. Mulder is unphased -- years of chasing conspirators has hardened him and a pathetic warning from a weak senator doesn't even make a dent. He leaves, vowing "I will stop this!"
Mulder may have vowed to stop the mini-machines, but he's too late to save Skinner (or so it seems). The scene is the same one we saw in the teaser. It's 9:33 p.m. and Skinner flatlines. The blue death shroud is draped over Skinner's body. He's pronounced dead, but out in the hallway the long-haired man uses his Divine Palm Pilot to resuscitate Skinner. The man lowers the frequency of the atom-sized machines in Skinner's bloodstream and Skinner gasps back to life beneath the sheet. The doctors crowd around, tending to the newly-living AD. While Skinner sucks life back into his body, he looks into the hallway and makes eye contact with the long-haired man. The man looks eerily familiar, sporting the same rodent-like features as a certain double-agent who turns up a couple times each season. The pulsing veins in Skinner's face begin to retract as the long-haired man disappears.
Three weeks later, Mulder and Scully welcome Skinner back to work and give him the low-down on their investigation into S.R. 819 and the mysterious long-haired man. Scully found the man on the surveillance tapes and Mulder explains that S.R. 819 was withdrawn the night before. You'd think Skinner would be happy about the news, but his desire to be Mulder and Scully's ally has waned. Mulder is gung-ho to pursue the investigation, but just as it looks as though Skinner will be joining forces with the dynamic duo, he closes the case. Mulder and Scully are baffled.
Later that night, Skinner walks to his car in yet another parking garage. Someone is sitting in the backseat, but Skinner isn't surprised -- he tells the intruder he's been expecting his visit. The man sits in the shadows, clutching the palm-sized device used by the long-haired man. "I can push the button anytime," a familiar voice says. Skinner angrily asks what's going on, and from the darkness emerges the face of Alex Krycek. "All in good time," he says as he conspiratorially exits the car.
And that's it. Who knows what's going to happen? Will Krycek and Skinner join forces? What is Krycek up to? Does he have a plan or is he simply causing mayhem? The prospects are great and I'm looking forward to February's myth episodes. If the second-half of the season is as well done as this episode, we're all in for a good time.
Note: This review originally appeared at Ontap.com. It's reprinted here for archival purposes.