X-Files Flashback: ‘Space’


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.




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  1. Avatar
    Chris 7 years ago

    I think you covered it. Just a poorly written episode. The concept of being out alone in the dead black of space when you are completely vulnerable and encountering some type of malicious entity out there is, by itself, a pretty cool idea. However the execution couldn’t have been worse if they had tried. It’s like they wrote a much larger episode, had to cut it down, and accidentally included all the cut scenes instead of the finished product. The one moment where I thought they recapture my imagination was when they flash picture of the infamous (if you grew up in the 80’s as a geek) Challenger o-ring. But alas, they still fell short by following up with literally no explanation at all for what was happening or why. DISAPPOINTED!

    1. Avatar
      Clarence Moye 7 years ago

      “It’s like they wrote a much larger episode, had to cut it down, and accidentally included all the cut scenes instead of the finished product.” – that’s exactly what it felt like.

  2. Avatar
    Voodooman 6 years ago

    Just watched this episode yesterday and fetl same way. Just when i started watching it and alsmost imediately wanted to skip it, still remember that feeling from times i was kid about 20 years ago – even back then i never liked this one and was bored and also left wondering wtf was that alien ghost? im still wondering if this was one of grey’s abilities or it was another kind of aliens from Mars? I dont even get how it became a ghost, the jedi way like obi-wan, you know, psychokinetic transformation of own body into pure energy form, or it just dies and its lost sould wondered aroud space? Yeah, it really had some potential in later mythology but was forgotten, probably for good… or now? This makes me think more about starlight ghosts that took Samantha. could there be some connection to alien’s ability to transform body into pure essence?

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