Season 5, Episode 4
Director: Brett Dowler
Writer: Frank Spotnitz
The X-Files always gets points for originality and unique vision. However, in the span of its hundreds of episodes, a little repetition is bound to intrude. That’s understandable, but when you rip off an episode that wasn’t that great to begin with, the Law of Diminishing Returns most definitely applies. Such is the case with “Detour.”
The episode begins in the remote woods of northern Florida as two surveyors map out an area ear-marked for development. They encounter strange, bark-like forms with red eyes and are quickly killed. Later, a father/son hunting party encounter similar creatures, and the father sends his son fleeing into the distance as he shoots at the near-invisible assailants. Later, we encounter Mulder and Scully chauffeured by two boorish FBI agents to a local team building seminar. When they’re stopped by police, Mulder gladly hops out of the car to survey the situation and integrates himself with the local law enforcement, preferable to the seminar. That night, the missing hunter’s wife and son are further terrorized by the mysterious bark people.
The next day, Mulder and Scully team up with local law and a techie guy with a thermographic camera (a la Predator). They spot the creatures every so often but are quickly picked off one by one when they separate. Mulder and Scully are forced to spend the night alone and share a moment as Scully “sings” Mulder to sleep – she can’t carry a tune in a bucket. In the morning, Scully falls into a hole and discovers a series of underground tunnels populated by the bark people with the bodies of their victims stashed away. Scully encounters a creature but manages to kill it using Mulder’s gun just before they are rescued. Later, Mulder panics, thinking Scully is in danger at her hotel, and races to rescue her. She has finished packing, and they leave the hotel as the camera pans down under the bed to reveal another creature.
The chief complaint of “Detour” is its overwhelming similarity to “Darkness Falls,” another “Mother Nature fights back” episode from early in the series. Both episodes carry a “Save the Environment” message. In both instances, evolved, ancient creatures strive to protect their surroundings by striking out against those who intrude upon it. Both episodes feature Mulder and Scully stranded in the forest, both fearing for and commenting on their lives. “Darkness Falls” was an average episode, so its derivative “Detour” suffers by comparison. There’s nothing bad about “Detour,” per se. It’s just not very interesting or particularly well developed. The origin of the creatures is never fully explored, only halfheartedly mentioned by Mulder when he connects an inscription in the creatures’ tunnel (“Ad Noctum”) to the early Florida-exploring Spanish conquistadors. The connection feels random, silly, and far-fetched even for The X-Files.
In the end, “Detour” is a perfectly average episode, downgraded only because it feels repetitive and redundant. The patent “touching Mulder and Scully” moment also feels like a reach for something bigger, something more substantial in the X-Files universe. And that’s really all there is to say about it.