X-Files Flashback: ‘Alpha’

Season 6, Episode 16
Director: Peter Markle
Writer: Jeffrey Bell

Scully: Don’t underestimate a woman, Mulder. They can be tricksters too.

I’m not thrilled with “Alpha,” the latest “monster of the week” episode of The X-Files, because it very lazily relies on the irrational fear of either wild/rabid dogs or wolves to convey much of its frights. Ignoring the obvious disapproval from PETA, it’s particularly low form of horror ripped straight from Stephen King’s Cujo but with a very specific twist. “Alpha” is effectively made – not a surprise given the level of talent and money behind the show at this stage – but it’s a lazy, lethargic episode that fails to cleanly define the human relationships involved.

“Alpha” opens on a cargo freighter where two Asian men circle a mysterious crate with an animal inside. Quick shots of the contents show a pair of glowing red eyes staring at them from the darkness. Foolishly, the men unlock the container and explore its contents. Later, their bodies are discovered in the now-locked shipping container, and Mulder and Scully are called in to investigate the mysterious deaths. The main players here, other than Mulder and Scully, are Dr. Ian Detweiler (Andrew Robinson who played “Scorpio” in Dirty Harry) and Karin Berquest (Melina Culea from The A-Team). Detweiler owns the crate and claims to have captured a Wanshang Dhole, a species thought to be extinct. Berquest is a sort of Mulder fangirl who calls upon him to investigate the deaths. Scully, of course, is immediately suspicious of the quiet and vaguely autistic woman.

After multiple murders and near-death maulings at the hand of the Dhole, Mulder determines that Detweiler somehow gained the ability to shape shift at night from his many travels to the East. Detweiler attempted to stop the transformations by acquiring high-powered tranquilizers from a local vet to little effect. In the end, it is Berquest who challenges Detweiler as death dog, and they both plummet out of her bedroom window to the ground below. Detweiler is impaled on a fence during the process. After mourning the loss of his fan, Mulder receives a package from her animal sanctuary: she has sent Mulder her “I Want to Believe” poster as a replacement for the one lost in his office fire.

Aside from the extremely conventional stalking/murder sequences of the episode, the biggest problem here to me are the human relationships that are designed to drive the action and character motivations. Scully’s knee-jerk reaction to remain suspicious of Berquest is played off as a near-joke – there’s old maid Scully getting jealous over Mulder again. Yet, her suspicions (as referenced in the earlier quote) are proved to be well founded. Berquest does indeed have designs on Mulder and used the convenience of Detweiler’s tragic shape shifting to involve him. It’s an odd way of getting someone’s attention for sure, but it proves effective for a bit. Additionally, the other central pairing between Berquest and Detweiler is ill-defined and unsure. She apparently knows a great deal about what he’s capable of but chooses to have Mulder guess the truth rather than tell him outright.

Ultimately, “Alpha” is as boring of an episode as Berquest is a character. Nothing truly makes sense here, and it’s the kind of dud typically seen earlier in the series. After a span of creatively inspired episodes, it’s disappointing to encounter such a fundamentally flawed outing.

Call it a dog of an episode, if you will…

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