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We needed your help. We knew you could be manipulated.

The X-Files
2.17: End Game

I’d hazard you can count the number of X-Files two parters where the conclusion lives up to the opener on the thumbs of one hand. That’s certainly the case with Colony/End Game. I doubt anyone honest on the production team would deny they came up with the Arctic circle for reasons of an Ice Station Zebra style set alone and then worked backwards to “integrate” it. It shows.

Mulder: After twenty-two years, why come back?
Samantha: I've explained to you...
Mulder: No, no, you've explained only what you had to! I know next to nothing about these people you call your parents or about the man who wants to kill them.

Frank Spotnitz – his credited TV debut – is tasked with picking up Carter’s loose ends, although he’s the one who cops the blame for bringing back Samantha. Actually, the Samantha plotline is by far the best idea here, but because there’s so much else going on, it never has the time to develop in a rounded or plausible way. Like the sub plot (ahem), Mulder’s behaviour in the episode reflects that they (the producers) know she’s not really his sister, rather than in any way reflecting how a brother would respond to his sister being returned at long last (swapping her for Scully). Unless he’s an absolute tool (…) he’d know how iffy the exchange would be, yet he goes ahead anyway. As Rob Shearman notes, the sequence as played lacks any weight, when it ought to be the mother of all deals to deal with.

Scully: Are you sure that it's your sister?
Mulder: Why would you even question me on that?
Scully: Because back at the motel, Mulder, it was you but, but it wasn't you.
Mulder: Well, it was her.

Mulder is given cause to question his sister’s story, but not nearly enough, such that, after the exchange goes south (who’d have thunk it), he’s back to railing uselessly against any suggestion that things weren’t as they appeared. And then, of course, he has to eat crow. Hybrid clone sis is quite upfront about the deceit: “We needed your help. We knew you could be manipulated”. I always felt it was a mistake to close off the Samantha threads the way they are here, in part because Leitch’s performance is so good and could have offered much more meat in future episodes. But no, the Bounty Hunter dispatches them all and we’re left with a couple of token appearances (5.2: Redux II and 7.2: The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati), the option taken instead to go with Samantha Jr clones.

Scully: Did you find what you were looking for?
Mulder: No. No. But I... I found something I thought I'd lost. Faith to keep looking.

Less satisfying still is the half-baked validation for the frankly risible notion that Mulder would manage to get out there to that sub and then elicit a confirmation: “She’s alive. Can you die now?” After all the episode’s deceit, he chooses to clutch hold of this. And, as it turns out, it is yet another lie. Likewise, “We know where your sister is” from Samantha is the last thing anyone should believe at that point.

X: I’ve killed men for less.

I submit (ahem) you’ll have a bit of trouble remembering the plot of End Game, aside from the sub bit at the end, because it resolutely fails to go anyplace interesting with the luxury of double the time to tell the whole story. I’ve mentioned that the cliffhanger doesn’t cop out, perhaps because Carter et al (including Rob Bowman on his fifth episode and bringing the necessary polish) couldn’t resist the thought of Mulder beating up Scully. Which he duly does. The exchange, as I’ve also mentioned, leaves much to be desired, although it does lead to Skinner becoming invested in the proceedings and thus his altercation with X (I rather felt this wasn’t as satisfying as it should have been, and that Skinner shouldn’t have “won out”).

The episode picks up on 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask’s alien virus lore (which will later feed in to the black oil). There, Scully gives a concise lecture on gene therapy, whereby a virus is cloned inside a bacteria “in order to inject it into something living”. Gene therapy makes use of retroviruses, as namechecked here: “a type of virus that inserts a copy of its RNA genome into the DNA of a host cell that it invades, thus changing the genome of that cell”. This DNA altering method is, of course, of the ilk we are currently facing on a global scale. Just not necessarily with the immediately adverse effects Mulder experiences here.

In End Game, exposure to the Bounty Hunter’s toxic blood triggers this, as we saw with Agent Weiss in Colony, whereby his blood “curdled like jelly” due to the retrovirus triggering a “massive production of red blood cells”. Luckily for Mulder, when he’s exposed in icy climes, it is “inhibited by cold”. This quality does rather leave some questions hanging, though. It’s evident that similar processes are at work with clone-hybrid Samantha, as it’s her decomposing corpse that inspires Scully’s cold thesis. But one has to presume “Their blood is toxic, human exposure to it is fatal” does not apply to alien-human clone hybrids, or indeed just straight alien-human hybrids, or Mulder would have suffered more than nasty burns in The Erlenmeyer Flask.

If all of this sounds like an insurmountable poser once someone is infected, don’t worry: “Transfusions and an aggressive treatment with antiviral agents have resulted in a steady but gradual improvement in Agent Mulder's condition”. Yeah, I’ll buy that gobbledegook as meaning “it was science that saved Agent Mulder's life”. You go, Scully.

If I wanted to, I could have killed you many times before” is the story of Mulder’s arc mythology life for always tenuous reasons, and if the “showdown” on the sub is entirely inane in reasoning and unsatisfying in terms of character and motivation, Bowman does deliver the proceedings superbly. It’s a great set, and the claustrophobia of the interior scenes is palpable. End Game doesn’t deliver anything satisfying in terms of theme and character, but it nevertheless ticks over very serviceably. In that sense, as a first-foray into the movie format proper (remember those arc VHS releases?), it’s entirely adherent to its cinematic influences.

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