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And you're worried that all your life, you've been seeing elves?

The X-Files
2.1: Little Green Men

I well recall the slight disappointment when the second season opener arrived. Was this the payoff to all that palpable excitement of The Erlenmeyer Flask? A limp retread of previous plots (1.10: Fallen Angel, 1.17: E.B.E.) varnished with some up-against-it dressing in the form of our protagonists’ now ex-X-Files status? The passage of time has done little to change that response. Little Green Men serves its remit of reconfirming the show’s credentials to newbies, but that remit is disappointingly coy.

Glen Morgan and James Wong furnished an episode with the most Chris Carter-y Mulder monologues you ever did hear, which leads me to suspect Carter probably penned them himself. Their theme was “the idea that we all have to fight our own little green men and carry on”. Which is, well, sure… More interesting is how much they immerse the episode in the “factual” iconography and lore of NASA’s exploration of space as a means to project the feasibility of extra-terrestrial life.

Mulder: On August 20th and September 5th, 1977, two spacecraft were launched from the Kennedy Space Flight Centre, Florida. They were called Voyager. A gold-plated record depicting images, music and sounds of our planet, arranged so that it may be understood if ever intercepted by a technologically mature extra-terrestrial civilization. Thirteen years after its launch, Voyager One passed the orbital plane of Neptune and essentially leaving our solar system. Within that time, there were no further messages sent. Nor are any planned. We wanted to listen. On October 12th, 1992, NASA initiated the high-resolution microwave survey. A decade long-search by radio telescope, scanning ten million frequencies for any transmission by extra-terrestrial intelligence. Less than one year later, first-term Nevada Senator Richard Bryan successfully championed an amendment which terminated the project. I wanted to believe but the tools have been taken away.

Mulder’s paean to lost dreams of alien contact, as the authorities lose interest in and sight of the mission, has a certain poetic flair and zeal. But Voyager’s poster boy for alien contact is – as the accompanying recording illustrates – one Kurt Waldheim, a choice serving to emphasise that deceit and corruption are at the heart of both the UN and NASA, a tissue of lies as pervasive as the fake space graphics illustrating Mulder’s monologue. Mulder’s universe, for all his fascination with the unexplained, is defined by the explicable, and its underpinnings dictated by his masters and those who edict that parameters of the predominant paradigm.

Troisky: Ohio State has a radio telescope that conducts electronic searches for extra-terrestrial intelligence. In August 1977, my buddy, Jerry Ehman, found a transmission on the print-out like this. He was so excited, he wrote "wow" in the margins…. A signal thirty times stronger than galactic background noise. It came through on the twenty-one-centimetre frequency which no satellite transmitters are allowed to use.

Morgan and Wong – even in their soundbites concerning the episode – emphasise the importance of solid, grounded reality. They’re using core scientific exploration of the universe to lend weight to their extra-terrestrial theme. This is expressly intentional, even if, like the later Contact, the theme comes back to the importance of the universe within (or the family we hold closest). SETI is referenced later, of course, and again underpinned it in its ET projections through the “definable” science of satellite systems (“The ‘wow’ signal is the best evidence of extra-terrestrial intelligence”).

Senator Matheson: This is the first selection of music on the Voyager spacecraft. The first. Four and a half billion years from now, when the sun exhausts its fuel and swells to engulf the earth, this expression will still be out there, traveling four and a half billion years. That is, if it's not intercepted first. Imagine, Fox. If another civilization out there were to hear this, they would think "what a wonderful place the earth must be." I would want this to be the first contact with another lifeform.

They double down on this when Mulder visits Senator Matheson (Richard J Barry, here ultra-sympathetic, but couched in his usually playing unsympathetic types). Mulder’s greatest benefactor – who joins the dots on the benefactor in high places referenced in Season One – shares his passion, at least on the surface. And again, the emphasis is on the poetry of the universe – the model that is infinite, and vast, and will continue being infinite and vast in a vast span of infinite time in the future when our insignificant and fragile forms have long since been blotted from the cosmic record – this time as suggested by Bach. The other takeaway here is that, as with Deep Throat, Mulder’s mission is ordained from reasonably high in the establishment, the corrupted establishment he knows not to trust but which so likes to bait the hook. We have a similar dependency on benefactors in Mulder’s later anecdote:

Mulder: Have you ever been to San Diego?
Scully: Yeah.
Mulder: Did you check out the Palomar observatory?
Scully: No.
Mulder: From 1948 until recently, it was the largest telescope in the world. The idea and design came from a brilliant and wealthy astronomer named George Ellery Hale. Actually, the idea was presented to Hale one night. While he was playing billiards, an elf climbed in his window and told him to get money from the Rockefeller Foundation for a telescope.
Scully: And you're worried that all your life, you've been seeing elves?
Mulder: In my case... little green men.

Mulder’s tale of George Ellery Hale and the elf has been “debunked”. It’s documented in Hale’s “Little Elf”: The Mental Breakdowns of George Ellery Hale, where it asserts (interestingly) that the appearances of the wee fellow were often associated with a ringing in Hale’s ears. The elf advised him “on the conduct of his life”. Now, fair enough, the letter referenced advises that “a little demon stands by my side, and every few minutes prods me with the suggestion that, after all, the book is not interesting, and that all my attention belongs to him”. Which lends itself to the figurative explanation for his neurosis. But it’s worth noting that W Sheehan and DE Osterbrock focus on this and disregard the referenced contributing remarks of Doctor Hunnicutt. Quite aside from recoil at the idea a man of science, even a man of science experiencing psychological problems, could legitimately see little green men, the most interesting element of this is Hale’s tie with Rockefeller.

We have a man espousing the rigours of material science who, on whatever level, is tied in with a much less scientifically plausible definition of reality. One who, in Mulder’s take, went to the Rockefeller Foundation, an organisation not insignificantly responsible for a stranglehold on western and thus global definitions of our – scientific – reality, both in body and the greater natural world, for a grant to build an observatory that would further – scientifically – define our reality.

With all this couching of Mulder’s quest in the “real” world, Morgan and Wong opt to make his emotional journey noticeably soft centred. He tells Scully his mission means nothing without evidence – something he has learnt from her – and that without it, even the fate of his sister comes into question. As well it should, since it later turns out not to have transpired as he believed. The inconsistency of Mulder’s flashback (in which we see his sister levitating prior to abduction) has been cited by Carter as relating to vague memories resulting from hypnotic regression, but my thinking would be that this seems to be a dream and is thus subjective: Mulder is shown to awake suddenly, directly following the sequence.

The meat of the episode finds Mulder given twenty-four hours to get to Vancouver-not-fooling-anyone-it’s-Puerto Rico. If that comfortable and highly convenient lead-in time sounds familiar, it would be because Mulder gets “twenty-four hours before the entire area is sanitised” in Fallen Angel. Quite how Senator Matheson is delaying the Blue Beret UFO Retrieval Team, authorised to use terminal force, is anyone’s guess, but it seems massively unlikely.

That might not matter so much if Mulder had something interesting to do when he got there. Instead, we he waffles into a tape recorder, encounters an idiot Puerto Rican native (that’s how he’s been written) and experiences a sub-Close Encounters light show complete with spindly ET apparition at the door. Which, I suppose, goes to confirm his projections in a rather elliptical way. And yet, Mulder turns out to have been very wrong in his conclusion: “They came, Scully. The ones who took her. They were here”.

Cigarette-Smoking Man: Your time is over... and you leave with nothing.

If this is really rather rote stuff – the heralded first sighting of an alien is ultimately bets-hedging – the arrival of the Blue Berets and Mulder and Scully’s escape is a top-notch piece of suspense from director David Nutter. Added to which, the subsequent scene, in which Skinner grows a pair and tells CSM to get the hell out of his office, is the first clear sign of an ADS on Mulder and Scully’s side, even if that will mix and match with strained relations over the years.

Answer Phone: Mulder... you hounded me to have lunch with you today and then you don't show. You're a pig.

Other elements of note. Mulder’s secret life as a would-be lothario isn’t up to much. I can’t figure out why there’s all these clock-and-dagger meetings between and surveillance of the duo, except that Morgan and Wong are pursuing their E.B.E. themes. I mean, what exactly are they being watched for? Discussing X-Files in their spare time? Scully doesn’t get much of a look in here, which will be common to the first part of the season, aside from guessing Mulder’s password. And being on the receiving end of a real stinker of a cute line: “Are you okay, Agent Scully? You kind of sounded a… little spooky” (OUCH).

Mostly, though, I’d have been much more interested in seeing a whole episode of Mulder in The Conversation/French Connection dog-end surveillance detail than this rather pedestrian affair. Little Green Man is quite engaging at its opening and closing, but it goes into moribund territory when it’s trying to restate the show’s essential values.

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