X-Files Flashback: ‘Conduit’

Season 1, Episode 4
Director: Daniel Sackheim
Writer: Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon

“Conduit,” the fourth episode of The X-Files, is the first one I’ve seen that fell fairly flat, particularly after the taut and suspenseful “Squeeze.” It jumps back into the overall alien mythology and spends a lot of time revealing the scarred emotional psyche of Fox Mulder. While, on the surface, it makes an interesting flip in gender roles (Scully is cold and reserved, Mulder is an emotional wreck), “Conduit” also features some troubling gender stereotyping and lazy plotting that betrays the strength of the earlier episodes.

The story begins on the shores of the fictional Lake Okobogee where two children (a teenage girl, Ruby, and a young boy) sleep next to a camp fire. Their mother (Carrie Snodgress, Diary of a Mad Housewife) sleeps inside a small camper when she is awakened with by flash of light and screams from her children. Tabloids report the disappearance of her daughter as an alien abduction which is picked up by Mulder. Upon a deeper investigation, they discover both a pregnant best friend, a murdered boyfriend, and the younger brother’s ability to pick up binary codes in the television. Ruby is later found in the woods as Mulder relieves the painful disappearance (probable abduction) of his own sister.

“Conduit” has a lot of problems. First, David Duchovny’s performance is stiffer than normal, particularly in a scene where he plays “bad cop” in an interrogation (slamming his hand down on a desk with a loud “BAM” to replicate gunshots). So far, Duchovny’s performance has definitely been the lesser of the two, but it’s especially poor when he’s given pages of mythological dialogue to spout. Second, there’s a random biker gang presence that has no place in the episode (despite allowing for a comic cameo from Revenge of the Nerds‘ Don Gibb (“Ogre”). The action culminates in a scene where the missing girl’s brother wanders toward a shining light in the woods that turns out to be a random biker gang. Finally, and the biggest problem of the episode for me, is the unnecessary text of teen girls as whores. Ruby is constantly referred to as having many boyfriends or being pulled out of the backs of cars or constantly drinking and vomiting. Her investigation isn’t explored because, basically, she’s a whore who either got what was coming to her or ran away with a man. Then, there’s the whole melodramatic diversion of her friend (the one actually pregnant) killing Ruby’s boyfriend out of jealousy. It’s childish and simplistic plotting that The X-Files should clearly avoid.

After the strength of the earlier episodes, this one felt like a letdown and a step backward in terms of quality. Still, it’s clear that Mulder’s torment over his abducted sister will be a story that we’ll continue to revisit in the future.

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