X-Files Flashback: ‘The Red and the Black’

Red and the Black

Season 5, Episode 14
Director: Chris Carter
Writer; Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz

There are some episodes of The X-Files that simply don’t resonate with me personally. “The Red and the Black” is one of them. It’s not the episode’s doing. It’s a clear and elaborately detailed outing with which I can’t particularly find fault. Just the same, I can’t seem to find an access point into the episode or anything that I really ultimately care about. There’s a lot of meat there, but I don’t find any of it all that interesting. To me, it’s all a case of much ado about nothing.

The episode begins in a remote cabin in which someone types a letter to his/her “Son” in hopes of a reconciliation. The letter is sent to the FBI. Cut to: the aftermath of the burning victims on the bridge near the Ruskin Dam where Mulder arrives, frantically searching for Scully. She was found off the bridge and is air-lifted to a nearby hospital to be treated for minor burns. Cassandra (Veronica Cartwright) is nowhere to be found, and her son, Jeffrey Spender (Chris Owens), is naturally upset. Mulder is in the hospital when Scully wakes up, but she remembers nothing of the incident.

On the Syndicate side of the house, the Well-Manicured Man (oh, how I hate these names) continuously tries their variation of a Black Oil vaccination on Marita to little effect. He finds Alex Krycek and demands he share the Russian’s vaccination, which he correctly guesses they have since Krycek would never have infected the boy without it. The ultimate goal is to use the vaccination as a defense against a pending alien colonization, which the faceless aliens are apparently also working against by burning the aliens’ tagged abductees. Two of these faceless aliens crash land on an Air Force base in West Virginia, one of whom is captured by the military.

Trying to figure out what happened during her missing time, Scully agrees to undergo hypnosis with Dr. Werber and discloses that, according to the memory unveiled under hypnosis, the faceless aliens started to burn the survivors but were thwarted by another spaceship who killed the aliens and abducted Cassandra. In a conversation with Skinner, Mulder continues to believe that the events are all orchestrated hoaxes designed by the government to cover their clandestine operations. Scully is approached by Jeffrey who claims his mother made him describe an alien abduction experience as a child. In the end, Mulder and Scully go to the Air Force base to investigate the rumor of a crash (as told to Mulder by Alex Krycek). There, Mulder hops the back of an exiting truck which contains the faceless alien. The truck is overtaken by an alien ship, and a confrontation ensues during which Mulder fires at an alien but has no memory of the event. The faceless alien is also now missing. The final scene reveals that Jeffrey Spender’s father is none other than the missing Cigarette Smoking Man.

My hesitation with “The Red and the Black” stems from the incredible amount of detail Chris Carter stuffs into it. We aren’t merely provided detail – we’re suffocated with it. The dichotomy between the mythology and the “monster of the week” episodes is difficult for The X-Files to navigate at times. The creative team, Carter included, clearly doesn’t want the series to be about one or the other, so, when a mythology episode comes around, there is too much ground to cover after a handful of divergent episodes. That said, the performances and craft work behind the episode are as top-notch as ever. That’s typically never a complaint on the series as they are able to deliver fairly convincing special effects on a TV budget.

At its conclusion, though, I simply shrug at what I’ve watched. What, if anything, does “The Red and the Black” mean in the grand scheme of The X-Files. My answer to that is likely the same for the meaning of the mythology itself: much ado about nothing.

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