X-Files Flashback: ‘Little Green Men’

Season 2, Episode 1
Director: David Nutter
Writer: Glen Morgan, James Wong

I’m told the X-Files faithful don’t much like “Little Green Men,” the first episode of the second season. I’m not completely certain why. I think it’s a thrilling hour of television and shows all the earmarks of a show learning from its first season successes and failures and building upon them. It gracefully transports the audience from a place of despair (the dissolution of the X-files in the Season One finale) and brings us back to believing as we follow Mulder’s personal trajectory.

“Little Green Men” opens with a purposefully stuffy prologue akin to a science class filmstrip circa 1978. It digs into the history of NASA’s Voyager and the attempts made to contact extraterrestrial beings through a golden record filled with evidence of humanity’s glory. One of the listening stations in Puerto Rico, Duchovny explains with his deadpan narration, was shuttered due to government intervention. As the camera breaks through the wall and enters the facility, we see a series of long-dormant machines, all linked together to listen for a return call from E.T. Suddenly, the machines spring to life, and the message sent recorded on the golden record begins to play back to us.

Mulder and Scully, however, now lack the support of the X-files case load. Mulder is wasting away on never-ending stakeouts while Scully gives medical instruction in an autopsy lab. Both are changed people. Mulder, a shell of his former self, is full of self-doubt. He replays the incident of his sister Samantha’s kidnapping – the first time we see the full event – but doubts the validity of the memory and of his own sanity. Scully, on the other hand, has lost her hard, scientific edge. She wallows in the emotion of a motion, in this case the dissection of a human head. Events begin to unfold as Mulder’s secret government connection, a senator who has supported him for years, tells him of the Puerto Rican facility and of the recently received message.

Mulder escapes to Puerto Rico and there finds the evidence he seeks in terms of print-outs. He also finds a local man cowering in the bathroom of the research station. Speaking no English, the man draws a picture of a little green man on the wall of the facility. As Mulder reviews the machines, dramatic weather conditions begin to manifest outside causing the local to fear for his life and flee into the jungle. When Mulder attempts to bring him back, he finds the man’s corpse huddled beneath a tree, apparently dead from shock. Meanwhile, Scully does her best to evade detection and find Mulder on his Puerto Rican jaunt.

At the end of the episode, Mulder has another close encounter with an alien presence similar to the events surrounding his sister’s kidnapping. Rendered unconscious from the experience, Mulder is awakened by Scully who finally tracked him down to Puerto Rico. Just as they begin to investigate and collect evidence, a secret military operation begins to approach with directions to kill anyone in their way. Mulder and Scully manage to flee the scene with capture (or worse). Back in Washington, DC, Mulder is scolded by Assistant Director Skinner but, against the wishes of The Smoking Man, is returned to active duty on his surveillance case. The final scene shows Mulder attempting to make sense out of the seemingly black recording he took from the scene in Puerto Rico.

“Little Green Men” is a graceful blend of the best elements of the series: solid special effects, a tangible sense of threat/danger – often at the hands of our own government, and multiple alien interactions. The episode is densely plotting and atmospheric, but it’s never confusing or meandering. They have a long story to tell, and it’s relayed in a tight narrative. Layered over this is the still close relationship between Mulder and Scully. Even though the X-files are closed, they still maintain contact and their special bond. The trajectory of both characters within the episode take them in fascinating new directions – here is Mulder with a renewed sense of purpose and another encounter to reassure him that “the truth is out there.” Scully, meanwhile, went from a source of doubt and cynicism last year to one of emotion and belief. They even are allowed to share gentle, touching moments which clearly stokes the hint of passion between them. Plus, we actually get to see two “little” green men in the episode when the research station seems to become something of a Close Encounters homage. These events coupled with the ever mounting suspicion from the clandestine government conspiracy are more than enough to warrant a full-bodied recommendation of “Little Green Men.”

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