X-Files Flashback: ‘Max’


Season 4, Episode 18
Director: Kim Manners
Writer: Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz

When last we left Mulder and Scully, they were embroiled in a mythology conspiracy linked to former (multiple) alien abductee Max Fenig and the downing of Flight 549. Mulder had uncovered the wreckage of an alien spacecraft that was attempting to make contact with Fenig and a mysterious object he was carrying. The UFO, however, was shot down by a military plane, causing Flight 549 to crash as well, killing all but one on board. The conclusion to the plot as illustrated in “Max” is effectively a complete wash-out, failing to contribute anything significant to the overall series mythology. This, to me, is a total cardinal series sin.

The episode begins immediately after the actions of “Tempus Fugit” with Mulder arrested for “interfering” with a military operation and Scully trying to save the life of the critically injured Pendrell who was accidentally shot while Scully was protecting an important witness. Skinner arrives on scene to tell Scully her witness will be arrested for bearing false testimony, effectively making him a patsy for the government cover-up of the Flight 549 debacle. Mulder and Scully are reunited – apparently the charges against Mulder (as always) were dropped – and Scully informs him that Pendrell has died. They then visit Max Fenig’s abandoned trailer where they find a video of Max claiming to have proof of the existence of alien life. Mulder and Scully are convinced this object is what Max was carrying on the plane that ultimately caused the convergence of three aircraft.

Later, Mulder finds a luggage claim ticket in Max’s discarded mail and recovers it from the airport under heavy scrutiny by military personnel. During this activity, Scully talks to Sharon (Max’s “sister”) who confirms this piece of technology Max believed was alien in origin existed in three parts, one of which Max had on the doomed flight. Mulder finds another piece in luggage claim and boards a flight to return to Washington. On the plane, the Man in Black responsible for Pendrell’s death sits next to Mulder and demands the object. During the confrontation, a UFO approaches the plane, and Mulder loses nine minutes, having no recollection of what happened to the Man in Black or the object he was carrying. The episode closes with a scene dedicated to Mulder’s birthday gift to Scully.

“Max” and its predecessor “Tempus Fugit” are both very technically accomplished episodes with an incredibly realistic plane crash aftermath and alien abduction sequences taking center stage. However, the overall story as written is exceedingly weak, offering no forward momentum in the mythology storyline. All we know is that there are three objects of potential alien origin in various locations, potentially back in the hands of aliens. We don’t know what these objects are, their function, or really even confirmation on their origin. Instead, we have a tossed-aside Pendrell, no character growth for Mulder, and a recurrence of Scully’s cancer-causing nose bleeds. I’ve long been on the record in general as not really liking mythology episodes, although there are certainly those that have substantial merit as long as they are either interestingly executed or advance the cause in some manner. Ultimately, “Max” fails on both fronts, proving the worst kind of mythology episode there is.

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