X-Files Flashback: ‘Nisei’

Season 3, Episode 9
Director: David Nutter
Writer: Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, Howard Gordon

You can feel it coming on like a migraine… You know the sensation: the four-door sedans, the faceless men in dark clothes and trench coats packing heat, and the casual alien references. Yes, it’s time for a mythology episode. Despite all the good will of the past few episodes – the amazing cinematography, the taut scares, and even the unexpected gore – The X-Files returns to mythology blandness in “Nisei,” an episode that wraps around and around itself, nearly choking on its mythological misdirection.

The catalyst for the return is a videotape that Mulder buys in a magazine on a whim. On the videotape is what appears to be an autopsy of an actual alien. Scully is, of course, skeptical, but Mulder believes that its ordinariness is a sign of truth behind it. He’s right. In the prologue, we see the autopsy and the aftermath as a collection of men in black open fire on the operating doctors. Mulder and Scully’s investigation of the tape eventually lead them into two separate directions. She meets a group of women, some of whom “recognize” Scully from her supposed alien abduction. One thing is for sure: they all share the mysterious chip implanted in their neck that Scully found and removed a few episodes ago. Bewildered and unwilling to dig deeper, Scully is told that they all suffer from Stage 4 cancer, an unfortunate side effect of the alien experimentation. Mulder’s story takes him to a naval shipyard where he is almost killed by men in black while he explores a docked ship. Returning at night, he sees what appears to be a giant UFO in a hanger. Eventually stumbling on the train car in which the autopsy was originally filmed, he drops from a bridge onto the train to gain entry despite warnings from Scully (via X) that his life is in danger. Earlier, Mulder glimpsed what appeared to be an alien, alive and walking, in a hazmat suit, and he is driven to investigate. To be continued…

While mythology episodes certainly are not my strong suit with the series, “Nisei” ultimately feels flat and uninspired when compared to some of the more mature and creatively staged episodes we’ve recently seen. Chris Carter had a hand in writing this one, and he writes with big ideas and big sequences whether they make sense or not. Mulder’s escape from the men in black involved him jumping into the water some five seconds after a soldier passed by him is ridiculous – like they wouldn’t hear him immediately. Aside from gaps in logic, the plot line meanders in all kinds of weird directions, starting from the videotape to the Japanese government official to the shipyard to the cluster of alien abducted women to the alien autopsy train. The story is meant to dazzle and deliberately confuse us with its elaborate conspiracies into all reaches of local, national, and international government. Yet, the elaborate conspiracy chokes the life out of the episode – we’re so damned determined to move to the Next Cool Thing that we can’t rest and enjoy some of the eccentricities that have grown to color the show in interesting ways.

That’s not to say “Nisei” is a total failure of an episode. Scully’s scenes with the abducted women are fantastically eerie in a Stepford Wives kind of way. They’re so serene and calm about their past, present, and future that Scully (and the audience) are overwhelmed by the events. Scully’s abduction is most likely the key to evolving the series further because it serves as the proof she (and we) need of Mulder’s broader, more fantastical theories. Exposing Scully to the mythology in this manner works on many levels, and I wanted to spend more time with it.

Instead, we get action star David Duchovny, leaping from boats and onto trains like he was Tom Cruise. But that’s a different set of aliens altogether…

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