Season 1, Episode 20
Director: Joe Napolitano
Writer: Chris Carter
Mulder and Scully venter out into the woods of Washington state to investigate the mysterious disappearance (are there any other kind of disappearances?) of thirty loggers. Instead of witches or wolves, they encounter a new kind of parasitic firefly that envelopes its victim in a swarm of sheer numbers and wraps them in a cocoon. “Darkness Falls” has appropriate moments of tension, mostly given to the impending dread of nightfall when the creatures are most active. Yet, the resolution of “Darkness Falls” partially feels like a cheat, so that undercuts much of the good it had accomplished.
The prologue shows the collection of loggers, assembled in the woods debating what action to take to flee some mysterious force. They decide to all make a run for it in mass numbers, but in the next scene only two remain. After one trips and breaks his ankle, another stops to help him but looks up into the sky to see a swarm of insects that glow a faint green light. The insects immediately swarm down on the two men, and we close on their screams. As this is Federal land, Mulder and Scully are brought into the case to investigate as this has happened before in 1934. Upon arrival, they pair up with Park Ranger Larry Moore (Jason Beghe, the former “poster boy” for Scientology heavily featured in Going Clear) and Steve Humphreys, a corporate shill hired to take care of what he thinks is truly causing the disappearances – a small group of eco-terrorists. Arriving at the camp site via foot (their vehicles are quickly dispatched of thanks to booby traps set by the eco-terrorists), Mulder and Scully find a hastily abandoned site and evidence of massive tampering. After further exploration, they stumble upon a cocooned body that has been completely drained of all liquid. Back at the camp site, eco-terrorist Doug Spiney (Titus Welliver, Bosch) arrives and tells them the rules of this forest: stay near the light and don’t go out at night.
The next half-hour is spent with the assembled crew, Mulder and Scully included, panicking over how to survive the next few days alone in the woods without radio or enough fuel to power the generator for an extended period of time. Corporate good Humphreys attempts to escape but is overpowered by the insects. Tension rises as their generator eventually gives out at dawn, forcing Mulder, Scully, and the ranger to flee on foot. They are eventually rescued by Spiney who had attempted to reconnect with his now-dead eco-terrorist buddies. Just as they are about to escape the forest, their tires are damaged by another trap, and the swarm attacks them all. Cut to morning when the FBI backup finally arrives (Mulder was able to rebuild the radio and attempt to contact people for help) only to find Mulder, Scully, and the ranger cocooned inside the Jeep.
Now, I realize “Darkness Falls” is the 20th episode of a series that ran over 200 episodes, so clearly Mulder and Scully weren’t going to die. However, in every other instance of the insects attacks, victims are seemingly frozen in their tracks and immediately incapacitated. Look at Humphreys’ body, frozen in a scream inside the truck. But Mulder and Scully are rescued and taken to a medical facility for treatment, thus ensuring their safety. It was a nice touch having our heroes overcome by the murderous insects, but it’s a little cheat to have them survive the attack.
Still, the sense of dread enhanced by the isolation of the main characters engenders a true sense of fear. Also, the overall message of the episode – don’t cut down trees – works as a natural extension of more traditional horror tropes. As Godzilla was born out of nuclear experimentation, these insects were unleashed by loggers who were cutting down trees they shouldn’t have. And, if all anyone takes from this episode is a message of preserving the environment, then I’m ok with “Darkness Falls.”