Season 1, Episode 9
Director: William Graham
Writer: Chris Carter
That was bad.
An episode of The X-Files that begins with the infamous face on Mars has an infinite number of possibilities. Particularly when the entire central mythology of the series deals so heavily in alien lore. The face on Mars captured my imagination as a young child, and I was obsessed with the possibilities of how it came into existence, ignoring the probability that it was a trick of shadows and rock formations. That young child could have written a better episode than “Space.” After he finished pissing all over it.
The central story deals with Lt. Col. Marcus Aurelius Belt (Ed Lauter) who, in the late 70s, nearly died on a space walk as he was somehow inhabited or possessed by a space entity whose face resembles that of the face on Mars. Flash-forward to modern day where Mulder and Scully are called to Houston to investigate a potential sabotage of the latest space shuttle launch. The shuttle is eventually launched, only to massively malfunction in space. All the while, Belt continues to suffer from alien possessions and what amount to night terrors. Against many odds, the astronauts deliver their mysterious cargo and are guided back home to safety after nearly losing all of their oxygen. Belt, finally driven mad by his alien ghost possession, jumps out of his hospital room window to his death.
First, the good about the episode (stick with me here). Mulder is effectively used as he was naturally a space mission enthusiast as a child. He is our guide into the episode effectively explaining as much as possible to Scully (re: the audience) about the jargon, lingo, and events going on around them. There is also a nicely performed wordless scene by David Duchovny when he realizes one of his childhood heroes (Belt) has lied and betrayed his sense of decency and right/wrong. For a moment, Duchovny becomes a disappointed child, a state completely registered on his face. For an actor who has taken a lot of hits thus far in the series, this was a nice, subtle moment.
And that’s really it.
The rest of the episode is riddled with confusing, ineffective events that remain unexplained. Who is this entity? Why is he possessing Belt? Why did Belt sabotage the shuttle? If he sabotaged the shuttle, then why did he help bring them back to earth? What was in the package they’d tried to hard to deliver? Why are Mulder and Scully given carte blanche to run around Houston? Why does that alien ghost attack the mission control commander?
I understand that The X-Files is a show that works primarily in mysteries and, sometimes, those mysteries go unexplained. That’s fine. I have no issue with that at all. However, I have issues with poorly plotted episodes that raise questions of logic and common sense over questions of the unexplained. The episode hides as a “monster of the week” when it’s so clearly a missed opportunity to connect the series into the larger alien mythology in a unique way. It’s not particularly scary when the “monster” has no motivation and just floats around like an outcast from Picture Pages.
It’s just a terrible episode, and I challenge anyone to tell me otherwise. If I’m missing something, then I welcome an explanation. Maybe I’m just dense, but…
That was bad.