X-Files Flashback: ‘Paper Clip’

Paper Clip

Season 3, Episode 2
Director: Rob Bowman
Writer: Chris Carter

The trilogy of episodes that bridged The X-Files Season Two and Season Three ends with “Paper Clip,” an episode that improves upon the story arc but lacks the interest and vitality of the best episodes the series has to offer. Lighter on mysticism and big on advancements in series mythology, the episode still confounds and confuses. It proves what other series have faced before – that answering questions with more questions is a frustrating way to grow a series.

The prologue offers a side story about a Native American omen: the birth of a white buffalo. The metaphor is lightly carried through the episode but is never particularly clarified. The real action begins as Mulder interrupts the stand-off between Scully and Skinner who spend much of the episode tracking down some of the men in the photo containing Mulder’s father. Their investigation leads them to one of the men in the  photo, an infamous Nazi doctor who escaped trial and continued experimentation working with the American government. The former Nazi points Mulder and Scully to an abandoned mining facility in West Virginia. There, they uncover a massive series of tunnels containing records on hundreds of thousands of children born since 1955. Scully is in those files. So is Mulder’s sister. When the lights go out, Mulder races out of the facility to see a UFO rising and flying away. Scully has an encounter as well when a handful of tiny green men race by her in the dark, running toward the light.

The Syndicate, a collection of smoking white men in a dark paneled room, sends a collection of (what appears to be) CIA agents to kill Mulder and Scully at the facility. They escape and meet up with Skinner who tells them he will broker a deal with their assailants if they want him to give up the disk containing the top secret files. Meanwhile, Scully’s sister, having been shot by Krycek, clings to life in the hospital despite having been prayed over by the Navajo Indian who saved Mulder. Skinner arrives but is ambushed by Krycek and other agents who steal the top-secret tape. Gee, for a file that everyone wants, Skinner sure is free and easy with it. Anyway, Skinner uses the Navajo Indian to convince the Smoking Man to leave Mulder and Scully alone, effectively reinstating them in the FBI to continue their wacky exploration of the X-files. Scully’s sister dies, leaving Scully crushed and questioning the purpose of it all. Mulder saves her by telling her he’s convinced “the truth” is in the files. Scully replies, saying she’s tired of the truth. She wants answers.


The central action of “Paper Clip” is far more straightforward and interesting than anything in the two previous episodes. Carter effectively forgets the mysticism for more literal action. Well, not completely. There is the strange business of the white buffalo. So, at the end of “Paper Clip” when the white buffalo’s mother dies, the Navajo Indian remarks that something in nature must die so that something else can live. Is Carter effectively comparing the two Scully sister’s to buffalo?

At the end of the day, we’ve really gained very little in advancement of the overall mythology. We know that the Nazi doctor was apparently trying to create an alien/human hybrid, which explains the bodies in the buried railway car. But why on Earth were aliens locked in the facility? Why was the UFO hovering nearby without being detected? Why was the facility locked with a high-tech keypad when there was a rusty back door through which Mulder and Scully easily escaped? These are the questions that plague me still.

I, like Scully, want answers, and I suspect answers will be hard to find. In the meantime, bring on the monsters of the week.

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