X-Files Flashback: ‘F. Emasculata’

Season 2, Episode 22
Director: Rob Bowman
Writer: Chris Carter, Howard Gordon

I’d lamented on Twitter the other night that I often forget not to snack when I’m watching The X-Files. It’s not a show that easily lends itself to that particular activity, which is ultimately a good thing. Nobody really needs to each when watching TV anyway. But The X-Files occasionally underscores that fact with an extraordinarily gruesome episode. “F. Emasculata” is one such episode.

It begins in a rain forest as a scientist gathers samples of indigenous insects. Passing under a vulture sitting in a tree (a sinister omen if ever there was one), he stumbles upon the decaying carcass of a wart hog that was attracting other vultures. Examining the body closer, he becomes aware of a pulsating pocket of pus that quickly ruptures and covers his face with a cloudy, pus-like substance. Later, the man is dead, also covered with the same pustules. Flash forward to a prison in Virginia where a prisoner receives a mysterious and unrequested package. Inside is what appears to be a ham hock with the same pustule on it. Soon he and most members of his prison ward are infected with this mysterious illness with a mortality rate of 100 percent. Two unknowingly infected prisoners escape the prison with the obvious looming danger of spreading the disease.

Mulder and Scully are called into the prison under the pretense of tracking down the prisoners, but Scully quickly notices the prison quarantine. She inserts herself into the situation as Mulder leaves to find the escaped prisoners with the assistance of federal marshall Dean Norris (Breaking Bad‘s Hank). Scully finds her way to the crematorium (resembling an ancient Roman brick oven) and inspects the bodies that are targeted for burning. A doctor claiming to be associated with the CDC (Charles Martin Smith, The Untouchables) warns her of opening the sealed plastic bags but is struck in the face by an exploding pustule. He later shares details – he actually works for a pharma company – with Scully as he becomes infected and nears death. Scully is suspected to be infected herself, but she turns out not to be. Eventually all infected members of the prison die and are burned, the mysterious illness effectively contained.

Outside of the prison, the two escaped convicts spread the disease to a handful individuals as the live larvae causing the pustule is only spread through the eruption process. One convict eventually dies after infecting two people, and the remaining, infected prisoner tries to escape the country on a bus to Canada. Discovered by Mulder and the federal marshalls, he takes a teenage boy prisoner, holding him exceptionally close to the near-ruptured pustule. The prisoner is eventually shot by a sniper, killing all those who can attest to what amounts to an elaborate pharma conspiracy to test the plague on a controlled prison population. Mulder later approaches Skinner with his theory but is shut down from coming clean to the press about the pharma company’s gross negligence by the Smoking Man.

“F. Emasculata” contains plot holes as wide as its victims’ vacated pustules, but that’s hardly the point. Instead, it’s a very compelling tale of a viral outbreak, much like the mid-90s film Outbreak or Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion. Given the disgusting nature of the infection, viewers sit white-knuckled waiting for the next person to get sprayed with that cloudy substance. There are effective supporting performances, but really the star of the episode is the accomplished make-up and special effects. The rupturing is incredibly realistic and completely disgusting. I could not bear to watch it, but I could not look away either. The plot is incidental because the terror comes from the spread of this biological entity, the interestingly named “”F. Emasculata.” Is the “emasculata” bug a take-off on the common horror theme of pregnancy and emasculation? It’s an interesting theory to contemplate if not one that is readily supported by the material within the episode.

Finally, “F. Emasculata” becomes the best diet program you’ll ever need. Anytime you feel like eating, just watch this, and the urge will fade away into the ether. At least, that’s what happened to this viewer.

I may never eat again.

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