X-Files Flashback: ‘Tunguska’


Season 4, Episode 8
Director: Kim Manners
Writer: Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz

The mythology episodes of The X-Files are, to borrow a recently used phrase, like a box of chocolates – you literally never know what you’re going to get. Sometimes, they’re action-packed extravaganzas that overshadow the narrative weaknesses. Sometimes, they’re deadly serious, turgid dramas in which the audience is swallowed by wordy drama. With “Tunguska,” its latest entry into mythology, the results are pleasantly somewhere in between. Achieving the right balance of action and dramatic tension, the episode is surprisingly good, topping out as one of the best mythology offerings in its four seasons.

The action begins, as the pretentious would say, “in medias res” with Scully testifying in front of a congressional hearing, refusing to divulge Mulder’s current location. We flash back 10 days to a generic government employee trying to enter the country in Honolulu and becoming detained by customs. Carrying a mysterious briefcase, the man is provided a full body cavity search as customs agents break into the briefcase, revealing its contents to be the mysterious black oil substance. Later, Mulder and Scully participate in an FBI crackdown on an operation suspected of planning to build a large bomb. After arresting many, Mulder finds Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea) in the midst of the action and arrests him. Krycek and Mulder become tied at the hip for much of the episode, resulting in an odd buddy road trip comedy.

They eventually end up in Russia to investigate a massive mining operation that may contain an alien object that fell from outer space a hundred years ago. A portion of that asteroid was secured by Mulder and Scully earlier and was tested in a lab. After it was cut open, the black oil erupted and bled into the investigating agent, rendering him in a waking coma. While Scully deals with that, Mulder and Krycek are eventually captured in Russia and are nearly tortured. The episode ends on a cliffhanger where the captured Mulder and others are pinned down in chicken wire and doused with the black oil. We close as it seeps into Mulder’s body.

As I’ve said before, it’s difficult to judge 2-part episodes without knowing the entire picture. However, this first half is fast-paced enough and often crazy enough to warrant a pass from me. I liked the exchanges between Mulder and Krycek as well as the persistent spreading of the black oil. The more strict conspiracy aspects of the episode – mostly dealing with the Smoking Man interacting with Skinner and the Well-Manicured Man – seem to interfere in the intriguing actions related to Mulder and Scully. The Smoking Man’s activity all seems to be aligned with underscoring the danger and risk Mulder and Scully are entering into with their covert actions. It’s not something that really needs to be underscored, honestly. We clearly know the agents are risking their lives. The non Mulder/Scully scenes just feel superfluous.

Overall, “Tunguska” is a good start, and we’ll have to see how it settles in the next chapter. I applaud the writers putting Mulder directly at risk with the black oil experiment. We know that it can leave bodies without harming them. It will be interesting to see what they actually do with this development in the very near future.

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