X-Files Flashback: ‘Død Kalm’

Season 2, Episode 19
Director: Rob Bowman
Writer: Howard Gordon, Alex Gansa

“Død Kalm” (and I’m making every effort to maintain the fancy, international punctuation here) gives us Mulder and Scully aging together, staring to the abyss of an unnatural death due to old age, and still failing to express their true feelings for one another. Even though the episode is marred by rapid-aging makeup that makes them all look like extras from Dick Tracy, “Død Kalm” is still an entertainment because you’ve really never seen much like it before. Given the unique plot and the casual moments of Mulder/Scully tenderness, it isn’t a great episode, but it still merits a high five if not a full on embrace.

The prologue begins when young crewmen of the USS Ardent are abandoning ship, referring to “what happened to the others.” After a few hours, the same men are picked up by another vessel, but they have all aged decades.  Mulder hears whispers of the discovery and, along with Scully, sets out to find the root cause in the Norwegian Sea after all crewman eventually die of old age. They find a local captain, a long way from his native Florida, who will take them into the spot where the ship was last seen. There, they run into the vessel, which now appears ancient and fully corroded. Someone living on the boat manages to escape using their boat, so Mulder, Scully, and the captain are all stranded, isolated, on the Ardent. Over the course of the episode, Mulder and Scully discover that the ship’s drinking water has been contaminated (there are vague references to green lights glowing in the sea), and the only water fit for drinking is the recycled waste water.

When the captain locks himself with the clean water supply, the ship ruptures, causing his room to flood. Now aging some fifty years, Mulder and Scully hunker down, prepared to die together. Scully shares with Mulder a touching secret from her last near-death experience – that death isn’t really that scary, and they can approach it without fear. As they pass out, a rescue crew appears and takes them to a nearby hospital. Based on Scully’s on-board observations, the doctors are able to provide an aging reversal process that effectively cures Mulder and Scully. The Ardent, Scully is told, sank not long after their rescue, so the cause of their rapid aging is lost forever at sea.

The X-Files attempts an isolation theme once again, but this episode is uniquely plotted and original enough to overlook the thematic repetition. The ship is appropriately claustrophobic, allowing for interesting sound and lighting effects in the fog and inside the ancient ship. There’s an attempt at “the killer on-board,” but that is quickly abandoned for the real meat of the episode – Mulder and Scully aging rapidly nearly to the point of death. Their old-age scenes, again marred by really overdone makeup, are kind of touching. They effectively convey through their performances an impression of how the characters would interact with each other at that advanced age.

And that makeup… Well, you can’t have it all, I suppose. Rather than beat a dead horse, I will look to particularly strong performances by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson to highlight “Død Kalm.” As my great friend Craig Kennedy said, “[The X-Files is] using its confidence to color outside of the lines a bit. Love it when a show gets to that point.”

Literally couldn’t have said it better myself.

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