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I think that if you prepare people well enough to believe a lie, they will believe it as if it were true.

The X-Files
5.13: Patient X

Season Five’s continuation of the mythology arc has been rocky going. Despite a bracing volte-face handed to Mulder, Carter et al haven’t really known what to do with it, probably because they set it up with the inevitability of it, in turn, being revealed as misdirection (gotta get those aliens in the movie!) Nevertheless, this is the closest the show – by necessity a proponent of the ET-government collusion narrative – gets to the essential psyop-ness of the management of the conspiracy movement, of whistleblowers and official or leaked reports (regardless of any truth therein, the key is control and misdirection). This two-parter makes Mulder’s non-belief an outright impediment to the investigation, refreshing in itself.

Cassandra: During my last several abductions I have experienced no fear whatsoever. And it was the absence of fear that allowed me to communicate with them and them with me. They've told me that I am an apostle, here to spread the word of the dawning of a new age of supernatural enlightenment.

With hindsight, of course – not that we haven’t seen some of this previously too – Scully becoming the believer to her partner’s scepticism is nothing very special, but her character is much better served by being paired with Veronica Cartwright’s Cassandra (I know, on the nose) Spender. It isn’t that she hasn’t encountered abductee group contacts before, but rather that Cartwright’s such a good actress, and the character comes with a ready supply of layers requiring responses: a true believer, and yet we are now overtly shown that her belief – that her abductions are positive in a religious sense – is false. Carter and Spotnitz overtly play with cult associations (Chris Owens’ Spender characterises her membership of a “UFO cult”; there’s a government/CIA component to be addressed with cults generally, as Dave McGowan identified), and will go further in the second part. It’s a cult that promises apotheosis in death, very resonant of rapture and Heaven’s Gate-esque tropes.

Cassandra: Now is a time of war and stress among the alien nations. The ... the different races - they're in upheaval. I will be summoned to a place, just like Duane Barry.

In Cassandra’s experience, through turning her onto the “truth”, Mulder has served as a limited hangout; “Oh, that story saved my life”. He’s fed her the message, but the message lacks the full kernel. Cassandra’s overtones are of a prophet announcing an angelic war in the heavens. She views the manifestations as greater than her, when the motivations are, in fact, less than positive (“They're here to deliver a message. Except ... something has gone wrong. There are ... there are other forces at work”). Which is not to suggest the Rebels are positive either. Perhaps the chief aspect of the Rebels plotline to note is that it’s disappointingly… pedestrian.

Well-Manicured Man: In the final phases before it begins, there will most likely be assemblies.
Second Elder: We're years away from that.
First Elder: If we're to believe their timetable.

While the early stages of Mulder’s Season Five disbelief allowed for subjective persuasion, Spotnitz and Carter open up the canvas again here; we have the Well-Manicured Man, Krycek, Marita, Black Oil, Alien Bounty Hunters, Alien Rebels, all of them shown with an objective camera’s eye. At the same time, there is a pull back, that those operating via the hidden hand (the Syndicate) are only as apprised of the truth as their masters dictate; such is the stuff of all good conspiracy yarns.

A government could, for example, believe in aliens because the “aliens” tell them that’s what they are. The idea that, ruthless as they are, the Syndicate are merely pragmatic, rather than “evil” for evil’s sake (i.e. having an invidious cause they believe in), is perhaps a weakness (in that they’re never that impressive anyway); the prospect of a vaccine gives them a chance to rebel, even if they choose to overrule Well-Manicured Man. Nevertheless, it’s an effective illustration of the essential inconsequence of presumed rulership and control, askance as they are at developments outside of their comfort zone (“A new weapon being tested?”)

Kyrcek: Well, look who's answering the bat-phone.

Should we choose to substitute ETs for the coof – or nukes – we have a recognition that certain lies or paradigms, despite all appearances to the contrary, require international complicity to perpetuate mankind’s – the masses’ – ongoing deception. Thus, Krycek is now working with the Russians and getting high and mighty with the UN (“Your authority isn't recognized here. Only your lies”). Which is fair comment, obviously. And underlines that Mulder’s disillusion with ever getting to a truth is justified.

Mulder: Before the exploration of space, of the moon and the planets, man hailed that the heavens were the home and province of powerful gods who controlled not just the vast firmament, but the earthly fate of man himself and that the pantheon of powerful, warring deities, was the cause and reason for the human condition, for the past and the future, and for which great monuments would be created on earth as in heaven. But in time man replaced these gods with new gods and new religions that provided no more certain or greater answers than those worshipped by his Greek or Roman or Egyptian ancestors. And while we've chosen now our monolithic and benevolent gods and found our certainties in science, believers all, we wait for a sign, a revelation. Our eyes turn skyward ready to accept the truly incredible to find our destiny written in the stars. But how do we best look to see? With new eyes or old?

Mulder’s ruminative opening trawl reflects this conundrum, and his panellist opposition to the authenticity of the abduction experience has much to commend it on purely objective grounds. Ultimately, belief is in the eye of the beholder (“… this woman presents no good or credible testimony apart from the feel-good message that she promotes”). And if the groundwork for belief has been successfully laid, be that in virus theory, a freemasonic universe or (standardised, prescribed) ETs, then “if you prepare people well enough to believe a lie, they will believe it as if it were true. And if you tell them a really big lie, like there are aliens from outer space, much more than a small one, they will believe in it”.

Mulder attests that he doesn’t discount aliens, “I just question mindless belief”. He professes that if, you see through the veil “you become awake, as if from a dream, realising that ... that the lies are there simply to protect what they're advertising” (this being “just the military”). Of course, the answer doesn’t have to be the one Mulder forwards, and it doesn’t preclude, as noted, the military believing in ETs themselves, or further still ETs actually existing, but the basic premise that whatever comes out of the government – particularly that which is apparently leaked – is to be treated with healthy scepticism is fundamentally sound.

Mulder: The conspiracy is not to hide the existence of extra-terrestrials. It's to make people believe in it so completely that they question nothing.

Again, one could substitute virus theory – or nukes – for the above and just stand back and watch the plandemic script unfolding like clockwork. Kim Manners does a good job with the episode, one that, given its pitch, has little time for humorous asides. I did like Scully’s “You look constipated, actually” to her partner, however, since that’s a common attribution for Mulder’s lengthy monologues.

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