X-Files Flashback: ‘Terma’

Terma

Season 4, Episode 9
Director: Rob Bowman
Writer: Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz

The X-Files‘s overarching mythology is now all about “the black cancer,” the mysterious oily black substance hidden in Martian rocks and sealed tubes that infects human hosts. The subject and direction of the recent mythology episodes has lurched from topic to topic – bees, aliens, human/alien hybrids, smallpox, etc – and I’m assuming they all somehow tie in together to make a logical conclusion. Or maybe they don’t. Maybe The X-Files goes the way of Lost by wrapping up the series but explaining nothing at all. Time will tell… In the meantime, the incremental pieces that forward us along toward any kind of conclusion become more varied, frustrating, imaginative, and outlandish episode by episode. “Terma” resides more one the frustrating side.

Despite hopping all over the world to multiple locations, not a whole lot happens in this episode. We return to Russia where Mulder has seemingly recovered from his experience with the “black cancer,” the black oil substance we’ve encountered multiple times now over the course of the series. He manages to escape the prison and captures supposed double-agent Krycek along the way, although they become separated after Mulder has an accident in his getaway vehicle. Mulder is taken in by kindly Russian peasants while Krycek, ever the object of beatings and torture, meets a group of test subjects who have all removed their arms to avoid further testing. They forcibly cut Krycek’s arm off to save him from further treatments. Gee, guys. Thanks. Thanks a lot.

We discover that the mysterious Russian man who evaded Mulder and Scully in the last episode is actually a former KGB agent who kills a doctor working with the Syndicate to develop a vaccine against the black cancer. He then tries out the vaccine on known sufferers before killing them. Mulder returns to America, saving Scully from further contempt-of-court imprisonment in her Senate hearings, and the pair attempt to track down the KGB agent by following his trail of bodies. They are eventually led to an oil field in which a massive explosion destroys the remaining black oil-containing rocks. The KGB agent evades capture and returns to Russia where it is revealed that he was hired by Krycek all along.

Honestly, all of that seems like a complete waste of two episodes to me. In The X-Files, unless you’re taking a time-out with a “monster of the week” episode, each mythology episode has to advance the plot in some fashion. I’m not really sure that either recent episode actually did that. At the end of “Terma,” we are nearly back where we started with only an antidote and an armless Krycek to gain. Did we know Krycek was bad? Of course we did. Did we know he was a double agent? Probably – it’s not a surprise anyway. The sojourn to Russia didn’t really tell us anything unless we are to revisit the camp later in the series, and it offered up a whole nest of plot improbabilities – Russian peasants helping Mulder return to America undetected – that the writers clearly wanted to avoid.

“Terma” is entertaining, of course, as Chris Carter is becoming more adept at delivering a balance of action and conspiracy drama. And it’s becoming a perverse joy watching all the nasty things they do to Alex Krycek that he completely deserves. Yet, the black oil/cancer is starting to feel like Lost‘s smoke monster – much ado about absolutely nothing. At least my expectations have been properly set, allowing me to appropriately react to these episodes when they pop up.

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