X-Files Flashback: ‘Vienen’

Season 8, Episode 18
Director: Rod Hardy
Writer: Steven Maeda

The X-Files‘ “Vienen” is a minor miracle of an episode within the series canon in that it manages to, at least for a single outing, make the nefarious black oil relevant again within the context of the series itself. Additionally, it marks an official handing-off point between the recently resurrected Fox Mulder and the reluctant John Doggett for control of the X-files. Although the episode’s overall plot is definitely in a minor  key, there are moments here and there throughout the episode that are of merit, giving Season Eight a slight uptick in quality as it begins to wind down.

Some of the best X-Files episodes usually take place in isolation, so it’s fitting that the majority of the action in “Vienen” takes place on an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. There, the crew celebrates while watching a hockey game on a television with exceedingly poor reception. Unseen by others, a worker, Simon de la Cruz, sneaks away with a butcher knife and fatally stabs another man working on the rig’s communication equipment. When another man finds Cruz destroying the equipment, he attacks Cruz, knocking him down before his body begins to glow a brilliant white. Back at the FBI headquarters, Mulder conveys the details of the case to Doggett as Cruz’s body washed up with radiation burns covering the majority of his body, similar to previous cases where black oil has been involved.

After overstepping his boundaries significantly, Mulder secretly joins Doggett on the oil rig to investigate the events with the information that the rig has recently discovered a new source of oil within the Gulf. While the two men begin conducting their investigation, Scully performs an autopsy on Cruz and discovers a deposit of dead black oil in his skull, concluding that Cruz may have some sort of immunity to the black oil due to his Native American heritage. Conditions on the rig escalate as Mulder and Doggett are trapped by the entirely infected crew who have been using the rig’s communication gear to contact aliens. Mulder destroys the radio, causing the crew to sabotage the site. As a helicopter arrives, the rig begins to implode, and Mulder and Doggett leap to the water below. Back in D.C., Mulder takes the blame for the rig’s destruction and is immediately sacked by Deputy Director Kersh, handing off ownership of the X-files to Agent Doggett.

It’s been a long time since we’ve experienced the mysterious black oil. Where it once was tedious and overused, the black oil makes a bit of a welcome return, giving a different flair to Season Eight that harkens back to earlier, better days. The events of “Vienen” are fairly standard, offering no significant surprises within the narrative. Yet, it does feel like more than just a last gasp for credibility within the show. Doggett and Mulder’s continuing dislike for each other eventually plays itself out in a vaguely Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid way, a tie echoed in their comic jumping sequence as the rig begins to break down. The episode feels as if David Duchovny and the writing team are trying to tell the X-Files faithful that it’s ok to like Agent Doggett from here on out as their relationship moves from one of contempt to one of mutual respect. Even though Agent Doggett isn’t specifically infected with the black oil, he at least sees it and realizes there are indeed events at hand that are not of this Earth. That perhaps Fox Mulder isn’t quite as full of shit as he perhaps once thought he was. This acceptance and awakening to the black oil effectively indoctrinates Doggett into the X-files and paves the way for Mulder to step back.

My only real complaint with “Vienen” is the cartoonish characterization of Alvin Kersh (played by Grey’s Anatomy‘s James Pickens, Jr.). He’s less a character within the story than an evil foil, a face put on all of the series’s mistrust and dislike of general American government activities. Kersh stomps around the halls of the FBI, growling at everyone with a stern authoritarian tone. He even goes so far as to put Scully in her place, surely a capital offense within the series itself. And all of that is fine if Kersh were actually written as something of a human being. As presented, he’s simply a figure of a government getting in the way of the truth – an idea of Carter’s (I suspect) and not a character in the best sense of the word. As such, his presence becomes exceedingly tiring and a real drag on any episode he infects, no offense to Mr. Pickens, Jr.

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