X-Files Flashback: ‘Blood’

Season 2, Episode 3
Director: David Nutter
Writer: Glen Morgan, James Wong

“Blood,” the third episode of The X-Files‘s second season, clearly identifies how significant an influence the writings of Stephen King had on the series. I’m not specifically referring to particular monsters or random madmen. No, to know King’s early writings is to understand the source of his horror: the corruption of the ordinary. His horror stems from ordinary people or items – a meek high school girl, a hapless father, a clown – that are twisted into objects of terror. Horror, typically, doesn’t stem from the extraordinary. It comes in the guise of the banal, and few episodes of The X-Files understands that as well as “Blood.”

We begin with a mild-mannered postal employee Ed Funsch (character actor William Sanderson, Newhart, doing some really tremendous work) receiving the bad news that, due to the usual layoffs and cutbacks, he’s going to lose his job. After returning to his station, the machinery in front of him begins to spout out ominous instructions: “Kill. Kill. Kill ‘Em All.” And he’s not the only one. Several people experience similar messages conveyed through electronics during situations in which they are faced with their greatest fear – claustrophobia, rape, and blood. Many of these individuals kill unwitting bystanders, and local law enforcement requests the assistance of Mulder in investigating the crimes. With the aid of the ever-autopsying Scully, Mulder determines that an advanced chemical sprayed at night to control the insect population around the town’s orchards. This chemical contains components which could cause hallucinations and heighten fear, if properly triggered. Finally, after multiple influence attempts, Ed finally cracks and takes to a nearby bell tower on a college campus. He opens fire on the crowd but is eventually overcome by Mulder. At the end of the episode, Mulder, who was accidentally doused with the chemical, receives a message on his cell phone saying, “All done. Bye bye!” Thus, we never discover the source of the trigger messages.

I reference Stephen King as a base for exploring the episode given the multiple instances of deadly violence erupting from everyday people. The theme runs through some of his greatest work such as The Shining and, most directly correlated to “Blood,” Needful Things. The horror here stems from the unexpected outbursts that lead to murder. When are they coming? Who will attack? Why are they killing? What is causing this? No answers are given, which contributes to the overall sense of dread baked into the episode. Another interesting aspect of the episode to consider is the location of the opening and closing scenes which are direct references to true-life crimes. Poor Ed is initially seen in a Post Office sorting facility, and the phrase “going postal” didn’t come to fruition in the early 90s all on its own. Then, Ed finally snaps and begins shooting from a bell tower that very strongly resembles Charles Whitman’s bloody rampage at the University of Texas in 1966. These are both true-life examples of the mundane evolving into acts of horror something that “Blood” shows us again and again.

You do wonder, if this episode were made today, would there be a scene invoking a murder within a school yard or a movie theater. None of the crimes in “Blood” happen in extraordinary ways – somewhat of a departure from the crimes most commonly associated with The X-Files – but that’s the point of it all. “Blood” hypothesizes that anyone can kill given a warped sense of motivation. He’s going to rape you. They’re coming to get you. There’s not enough air. The true horror which still stands today is not knowing the real reason why these things happen.

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