X-Files Flashback: ‘Tempus Fugit’

Tempus Fugit

Season 4, Episode 17
Director: Rob Bowman
Writer: Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz

The X-Files returns to its central mythology storyline in unexpected ways with “Tempus Fugit,” the first of a 2-part episode arc. While it appears deceptively simple at the start by focusing on a seemingly alien-caused plane crash, the episode then spirals into multiple directions that, of course, can’t be satisfactorily resolved until its upcoming conclusion. As I’ve said before, it’s difficult to review and form coherent opinions around a 2-parter and only seeing its first half. Still, “Tempus Fugit” is a dense episode that, at times, becomes incredibly difficult to follow.

The prologue begins on Flight 549 with Max Fenig, popular alien abductee from early in the series, on the flight, terrified of a man seated toward the back of the plane. This strange man gets up to go to the bathroom and begins to assemble a zip gun. Before any other actions are taken, the plane begins to violently shake with brilliant white lights emanating from outside – brilliant white lights that recall UFO activity from elsewhere in the series. After Mulder conducts an impromptu birthday celebration for Scully, they are approached by Max Fenig’s sister, Sharon, who tells them of the plane crash. After investigating the crash site, they discover a few anomalies – a missing nine minutes from most wristwatches being the primary oddity. Elsewhere in the crash site, two mysterious agents find the body of the would-be assassin and use acid to erase his fingerprints and facial features as well as steal his zip gun. Max Fenig’s seat partner is the only person on the flight to be found alive, but he is suffering from extreme radiation burns similar to those who have been exposed to the white lights before in the series.

Now, here’s where it gets tricky. Sharon reveals that she isn’t really Max Fenig’s sister but is later abducted by aliens. The air traffic controllers who were communicating with Flight 549 have information on the crash but have been told to keep the secret. One of the two controllers is found dead from a “suicide,” causing the other to divulge what he knows to Mulder and Scully – basically that there were three aircrafts in the vicinity the night 549 crashed. The air controller believes one aircraft shot another one down – possibly a UFO – which caused the 549 crash accidentally. Mulder begins to search for the potentially downed aircraft in a lake and eventually finds it and an alien body submerged under the water. Scully, meanwhile, takes the surviving air traffic controller back to D.C. where he is almost murdered by a Man in Black, but the attempt is accidentally foiled by Agent Pendrell, Scully’s biggest fan, who is shot in the process.

Whew. Deep breath.

It is difficult to formulate an opinion on all of this given that I’ve been effectively cut-off in the middle of the action, so some of my lingering questions about the episode are natural questions to have. I don’t know the end of the story. As a mythology episode, the goings-on are fairly typical – government conspiracy, UFOs, a dead alien body, etc. It’s becoming the bizarre norm around these parts. It is a nice turn of events to experience it without the Smoking Man seemingly holding court over all of it. I can only assume he’ll show up in the next episode as he tends to be the one pulling the strings with these kinds of stories. But we’ll have to wait until the next outing to see that and really to form a coherent opinion about the overall story itself. It’s just that difficult to review “Tempus Fugit” when it’s not a complete work.

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