I have to admit, I’d forgotten how good this two-parter is. It’s that rarest of rarities in the show (or indeed, most shows): a story where the second instalment noticeably trumps the first. It also plunges the show back into the murky terrain of just what it is Mulder is dealing with: aliens, or simply an entirely corrupt and obfuscating government? We know how that ultimately goes in series lore, of course – and short of the alien Bounty Hunter being Tartarian, it’s been very clearly established by now that ETs are present and peppering the continuity – but it speaks to the makers’ relationship with the “truth” that they’re still willing to debate its meta-content rather than doubling down.
Scully: Mulder, this is even hokier than the one they aired on the Fox network.
Nisei functions as your classically building opener, and despite being credited to Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz and Howard Gordon, shows little sign of a troubled realisation; it was planned as a single mythology episode, expanded when the logistic difficulties of the train action led to Goodwin suggesting it should be nixed altogether. Structurally, the trail of government-sanctioned experiments leading Mulder and Scully on a trail is a very familiar one (1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask), all the more so for the now-explicitly volunteered/sighted presence of living human-alien hybrids, an alien craft under a tarp, and the cover-their-tracks actions of the Red-Haired Man (Stephen McHattie) – see also the likes of the Alien Bounty Hunter and 2.10: Red Museum. That the tape Mulder buys – $29.95 plus shipping, and not his usual fare – leads to an explicit link to Scully’s abduction is, shall we say, on the convenient side. But I guess it’s a small and exclusive world of human-hybrid collaborators. Mostly, however, this two-parter functions at a pace and with an action movie gait that makes positives of its more standard tropes.
Mulder: It’s widely held that aliens don’t have blood, Scully.
At this stage, Carter et al are clearly spreading the net of US government complicity further afield than the most famous example of Operation Paperclip. The story specifically namechecks the Japanese Unit 731 that conducted horrific biological and chemical warfare research on human test subjects during the Sino-Japanese War and World War II, whereby those perpetrating these war crimes were granted immunity by the US in exchange for information gathered (Carter et al would later take in Russian gulags for good measure). In a sense, this represents the global community Mulder references in respect of the satellite scam. At the uppermost level, they’re all in this together, whether nominally perpetrators or perpetrated upon, and any gesture towards past atrocities being in the past is recognised for the lie this is (even in fictionalised form).
Lottie Holloway: Did you have an unexplained event in your life last year?
With regard to the Scully plotline, the only way to impact her blithe rejection of the facts is to make things personal for her, so she meets a MUFON group whose names were in a briefcase of the “high-ranking diplomat” Mulder detained (in one of the two-parter’s “Action Mulder” scenes, he gives chase and even manages, despite encountering some persuasive martial arts, to apprehend him). Here, we see a doubling down on science as the instrument of disease and distress, all those who have received implants now ravaged by cancer. Despite this, Scully concludes “Mulder, that’s still a fantasy” when confronted by his conviction of an alien-human hybrid. As we shall see, though, the second part offers a decent parry to Mulder’s proposals, and it’s made plain as day that, however much classic abduction imagery is utilised in respect of Scully’s experiences (and relating back to those of 2.5: Duane Barry), her encounters have very much been with humans.
Scully: Believing's the easy part, Mulder. I just need more than you, I need proof.
Mulder: You think that believing is easy?
Indeed, in terms of the show’s lore, the Japanese scientists may be working for the Syndicate, but as with the (suggested) nuke lie, every nation wants a piece of the alien pie. The episode is intentionally playing with the essential unreliability of perception and reported information. As ever, all that can be construed for certain is that the government cannot be trusted. Even the key train car autopsy is presented in the context of fakery due to the then-current Ray Santilli alien autopsy video (later mocked in 3.20: “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space”). On the one hand, it’s in the show’s interests to be very literal regarding ETs, particularly if it is one day to the ends of faking an alien invasion (“The bright white place”). On the other, it wants to emphasise that the truth is endlessly layered (both Senator Matheson and next episode’s X emphasise the limits to what they know, specifically with regard to the all-important alien-human hybrid).
Mulder: I get tired of losing my gun.
As noted, this is an Action-Mulder fest, whereby we see him giving chase, dropping in a harbour, and in a great gung-ho cliffhanger, leaping onto the roof of a train against the warnings of X and Scully. While the profusion of rail cars in the episode is accounted for by the presence of a secret railroad (and has form going back to 2.25: Anasazi), keeping a (train) track isn’t helped any by the switching of car numbers (82954 to 82517), unless intentional (the latter is the one they end up going with, which inevitably adds up to 23).
Skinner: This is bigger than me, you, or the FBI, Agent Mulder.
The correlation between the first car (the alien corpse sourced from the crashed craft) and the second (containing what Mulder believes to be the alien human hybrid is also thus unclear. Other than both involving the Japanese and centring on the same shipyard, and that the contents of the briefcase pertaining to both; additional to which, elements here (a salvage ship looking for a submarine) will soon resurface in 3.15: Piper Maru. Robert Shearman made some valid criticisms of this one, on the side of the internal logic of Mulder pegging about the place, dodging black-ops teams, but I think they’d land more resoundingly if Nisei didn’t ultimately amount to much. Skinner’s here, of course, in perma-grouch mode, on the one hand rebuking his agents but on the other, apparently keeping very loose tabs on their movements and lacking any interest in the specifics of why he’s copping so much grief over their case.