The X-Files’ peak mythology-arc episode? It certainly seemed that way at the time of the show’s run, weaving as it does ideas ancient (Navajo prophecies) and modern (conspiracies involving aliens) with (literally) buried secrets and a palpable sense of our heroes imperilled. And Anasazi, taken alone and as a season cliffhanger, stands the test of time. Which is not to say the two-part resolution will. Or did when it was first shown.
Zack Handlen of The AV Club had a point in 2010 when he suggested that, retrospectively, this is where “the choice is either to start resolving what's been established, or find a way to convince the audience that the real answers are still on their way”. But I’d temper that endorsement by noting Handlen also considered 2.16/17: Colony/End Game superior; that one’s (two’s) mythology input is far less germane and conducive to the series’ general themes than Anasazi. And a lot, well, sillier. Admittedly, there are things here that, at a pinch, I could see showing up Darin Morgan’s claim of Anasazi as “the kitchen sink episode”. As in, they’re there, to an extent, for effect, rather than to take the story anywhere.
Native American: He said “It should be returned. They will be coming”.
Making Mulder’s dad part of the conspiracy makes sense, in that the arc does need to link back to Samantha’s abductions (but not the abduction) But then blowing his brains out (to double down on the “no one is safe” credo. Actually, no. No one is safe except for the leads, Skinner, and CSM, no matter how many times the latter is killed)? And the rather sloppy coincidence that The Thinker should have broken into the DoD database and snatched all the UFO/MJ-12 files that it turns out are in Navajo when simultaneously in New Mexico at a Native American reservation an alien-human hybrid has been unearthed and the very man Scully will contact to translate the files proffers the view that this represents some serious shit?
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the Bill Mulder/CSM interaction. Having CSM not just being Mr Sinister but engage in an actual conversation with an old colleague, however briefly, is something of a relief. And the difference with Mulder Sr when he greets Fox this time is marked, the surprise registered on his son’s dace when he presents him with a hug, compelled as he is to own up to his guilt. Or would be, if Krychek weren’t about to kill him. The Mulder poisoning plot is also effective, finding our churlish agent taking a swing at Skinner (like hitting teacher, or you dad, with similar consequences). This also has the effect of giving Scully the lion’s share of the proactivity and initiative, which is a pleasant change from her standard back-foot stance.
There’s a succession of appearances from now-regulars – even referenced parties, like The Thinker – but they’re used productively. The Lone Gunmen elicit perhaps Frohike’s best line when confronted by murder in Mulder’s building (“Weirdness”). Krychek is now an express assassin and gleans a prime beat down from Mulder (I like that Scully’s reason for shooting Fox, as excessive as the act may have been, at least carries with it the first glance of coherence).
And the two main elements, of the boxcar and the Navajo do, I think add something rather special. The box car itself, in tandem with the evocative phrase “the merchandise”, offers cogent back story in a way no degree of earnest monologuing or (later) half-baked flashback episodes can. This secret has been buried since the 1950s, giving the lie – or selective truth – to Deep Throat discussing ’80s inoculations as if such activity has been a recent thing. It succeeds in conjuring a sense of the past in both a sinister and urgent fashion. It helps too that the hybrid cadavers are a superbly iconic design, disturbing distortions that don’t resemble anything good.
Albert: There was a tribe of Indians who lived here more than 600 years ago. Their name was Anasazi, it means ancient aliens. No evidence of their fate exists. Historians say they disappeared without a trace. They say that because they will not sacrifice themselves to the truth.
Mulder: And what is the truth?
Albert: Nothing disappears without a trace.
Mulder: You think they were abducted.
Albert: By visitors who come here still.
Generally, when the show has strayed into the overtly spiritual, it becomes rather sappy and facile – unfortunately this three-parter will in part resolve itself through heading in that direction – and it’s asking for trouble when it plunges down the much-travelled path of many a failed apologetic westerner’s epistle in seeking ancient wisdom from infallible indigenous cultures. But in this case, and I stress I’m speaking of the episode rather than all three together, it’s less Dances with Mulder than bowing before to the magnificence of Floyd “Red Crow” Westerman (who was in Dances with Wolves, of course).
You’re inclined to go with whatever he has to say, simply because he brings maximum gravitas to any sentence. It matters little that he summons a veritable cornucopia of magical Native American clichés that suggest he has the all-seeing eye of expecting the spooks, and Mulder. Particularly since he’s also given a sense of humour. We even believe him when he says Anasazi means “ancient aliens” who come here still. It actually means “enemy ancestors” (don’t blame me if that’s wrong; blame Webster’s). Although, that in itself might be a sleight of hand in respect of the show’s alien mythos. Maybe Carter knew the actual meaning and he really meant the actual meaning.
In terms of the hybridisation plotline, Anasazi fits much more seamlessly with the 2.10: Red Museum and 2.5: Duane Barry “feasible” approach than the most recent florid fountains of green blood and dissolving gooey bodies and Terminator bounty hunters. And if you were in any doubt by this point, vaccination = a bad thing. Mulder’s “Oh my God, Scully. What have they done?” is his Chuck Heston moment of being confronted by the deranged depravity of those calling the shots (and administering them). The ones who would create mutations and execute their experiments. Or who would just plain execute them (cue: those ever-rising injury/death stats, quite besides its other nascent properties).
Much more than any other episode, the boxcar evidence has the feeling of excavating the government’s genuine instigation of unspeakable evils; even if these acts aren’t specifically the ones depicted here, you know that somewhere, underground or in a secret lab or both, they have been responsible for similar atrocities. That’s its power.
Bill Mulder: You wouldn't... harm him.?
CSM: I've protected him this long, haven't I.? Your son has been provident in the alliances that he's created. The last thing we need is a martyr in a crusade.
Inevitably, almost as if this is nagging at the production team because they don’t really believe it either, we return to the question of why Mulder is allowed to continue unchecked, and we receive a similar answer to last time. Although, this one, while reflecting Deep Throat and CSM’s earlier utterances, also explicitly suggests CSM has been protecting Fox anyway.
At least some of this is shown to be bullshit later in the episode. After all, CSM tells Bill this while he’s overseeing an operation of drugging up Fox (with LSD? I think not). And if that’s not enough, one has to ask why Krycek is showing up at Mulder’s apartment, if not to shoot him to and plant some murder-suicide evidence.
Even if that isn’t the case, CSM appears to blows a hole in his martyr explanation by blowing Mulder and the boxcar up in the best-ever season cliffhanger (although, I am rather partial to Season Six’s too). One might read CSM’s words two ways, as “Nothing vanishes without a trace” echoes Albert’s words and applies to evidence (the bodies) that should have been thoroughly disposed of previously. But it also suggests CSM thinks Mulder is still there, and he wants to put an end to his interference. Obviously, such an inescapable, impossible situation will merit a carefully considered and clearly defined explanation at the beginning of the following season if Mulder is to emerge alive…
Duchovny again gets a story credit, but whatever elements he suggested to Carter this time, they carry much better than his alien bounty hunter garbage in 2.16: Colony. RW Goodwin does a terrific job directing, his third out of three mythology episodes (previously 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask and 2.8: One Breath). The episode famously painted a Vancouver quarry red to make it look like Mexico. But hey, it’s a lot more convincing than Puerto Rico in a Vancouver forest in the season opener. I may be a little biased on this one, as I still remember my euphoric reaction on first viewing, that this was the best TV show ever, but Anasazi remains a classic 45 minutes of television, regardless of how it does (or doesn’t) resolve itself.