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The X-Files - S01E08 - "Ice"
We're off to Alaska, and it's time to go stir-crazy, gun-crazy, and worm-crazy.
Original air date: November 5, 1993
“We’re not who we are.”
After a couple hokey episodes, we’re on to a good one has one of my favourite structures: bottle episodes. Getting your characters isolated into a single location and having the drama play out between them means development; you can’t have bad characters in order to pull this off.
I find that when I look back to my favourite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, they’re the ones where they’re stuck on the ship, needing to figure out a problem.
“Ice” is that, only with… ice.
Do you think that the writers of this episode watched John Carpenter’s The Thing?1
It’s important to realize that because we have so much access to things instantly nowawdays, it probably was a lot easier to make pastiches, homages and references than it is now.
If someone were to make an episode like this in 2023, it would be easily dismissed as too close of a remake; however, in ‘93 you probably couldn’t count on everyone having seen The Thing, or being able to look it up quickly for the sake of comparison. Movies that are iconic now may not have always been iconic, and for a lot of those “bombed on release, but became legendary over time” media properties, there are cooling periods in-between.
Mulder’s “Bring your mittens” singsong here is cute. I like this opening exposition dump because it sets up the premise and also just kind of cuts through the bullshit. There’s a mystery afoot, but we don’t need to have the agents stumble onto it.
I like that we have a supporting cast for this episode, and the two academics open it with “can we see some identification?” Really sets the tone for their personalities/professionalism, but also, watching this again for screencaps, that’s a fun “oh, foreshadowing” line.
Also, the “asking for ID” thing really makes them either seem paranoid, or maybe… part of the conspiracy themselves? This show’s really got me primed for anyone to be someone to screw the agents over (I think last episode’s twist reveal of a mole was really good).
“Well, now that we know who we are, anyone want to take a guess as why we’re going?”
I also like the idea of listening to sports via tape, because I’ve always wondered why recorded sports aren’t as big as they are. My dad (and probably many other Canadian households) have the Summit Series ‘72 hockey games on VHS/DVD, but there isn’t a huge market for like, torrenting matches for posterity.
Great fashion, boyos. Scully’s parka is majestic. Mulder’s v-neck is inspired. That green is what I describe as “early 90’s green.”
Anyways. We make it to Alaska. We meet a brusque bush pilot to take us there.
We get the classic “why are they there, and why can’t they leave?” answer of “well, snowstorm is going to close the window to come back in three days” but it moves in quicker.
Ice is partially spooky because it can be permanent, or at least very old. Learning about permafrost in school (I’m Canadian, duh) was kind of this moment of “Oh, it’s soil that… never thaws?”
Obviously carbon and whatever is going to degrade when frozen, but very slowly. Almost imperceptibally slowly. And I like the idea of that factoring into alien things in this episode because Deep Throat’s “They’ve been here for a long, long time” in Episode 2 means they either don’t want to be found, or couldn’t be.
It’s always funny to me when you have to train a dog to attack an actor, and sometimes it comes off like the dog just wants pets/love.
The panicked “Agent Mulder!” is a great line delivery by pre-prominence Felicity Huffman, who plays Dr. Da Silva.
“He got me.”
And here we go, into the crux of the episode. We’re not quite to the level of “Dog-Thing from The Thing” but we know that dog is bad news, and the people who were there/died also were bad news.
The rest of this episode is one part medical drama, one part paranoia. I think that the dog plays a role that would’ve been filled by having a survivor of the previous group. It kind of removes some tension, but in a good way.
We know that our heroes have a complete understanding of what is threatening them on the base after the dog is sedated, and later, when Bear dies, we don’t have that “something is out there in the base and we don’t know where it is, or when it’s going to strike” threat.
I actually like that, to be honest? It kind of keeps things a bit grounded, and focuses on the interpersonal dynamics; without a villain to rally against, the group turns on each other.
Nice gun you got there, Mr. Chekhov.2
Here’s kind of the introduction of “someone is lying.” It’s always interesting to see how the conspiracy impacts things, even if it’s just “we’re going to publish the wrong depth.”
Or the ice sheet somehow thickened? We thankfully get the space to speculate.
There’s a great video by RedLetterMedia where they categorize Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes as they choose some of their favourites3. Mike Stoklasa (praise be unto him) mentions there’s “Picking up the pieces” episodes: ones where something’s happened, and the crew needs to figure out what went wrong, and why.
This is similar to that, and it makes me consider what we’re seeing beyond “Myth Arc” vs “Monster of the Week.”
Bear’s not looking too good.
Well, that kinda explains that, right?
I like when you have these groups of professionals, and then there’s that one blue-collar or implied-unintelligent person that’s there to react to how crazy something sounds. And now that person has a parasite that feeds off anger.
This is probably what the audience is saying to themselves at this point. This is a very big “We’re leaving” deadpan line from Event Horizon.4
Now, we’re into the meat of things. It’s not just about figuring out what happened: it’s making sure that whatever happened doesn’t get out.
Well, it’s out.
“Is Bear in any condition to fly? If we don’t get out of here in an hour, we don’t get out for days.”
At this point I thought that Bear dying was a good thing for the plot, because it allows for a much more interesting dynamic. Instead of the group needing to resist Bear, they’re now stuck there and needing to deal with each other; I felt it led to a less cliche setup, and maybe the writers knew that.
It also shows the stakes of the parasite, and figuring it out: if it’s removed, the host dies, and if any of them are infected, there are very “kill or be killed” realities at play.
I like the worm’s props in this episode because it gives us something to look at; that “familiar, something you can deal with” is kind of a cool line because it has greater strength within the whole show.
We want to be able to rationalize (like Scully) the things we’re seeing, but we’re also trying to gain power or control over those things. Familiarity means there’s a hope of things making sense because we’ve figured out what’s familiar.
I like that Denny (Chargers football guy) gets to play audience surrogate instead of Mulder. The people in the group are smart, and mostly in their own areas.
I like the back and forth banter set up between Scully and Dr. Hodge in this episode; he’s subtly implying her autopsies aren’t the best they could be, and that puts Scully in a challenging mood for the rest of the episode.
These “Lord of the Flies” scenarios also involve the establishing of hierarchies and leadership, and Hodge might be trying to take a degree of control. He’s already a bit skeptical that the FBI knows more than he does going into this situation.
Thanks. Real productive.
I love this “not here Mulder, not this bullshit, not now.”
It’s interesting to see this argument because it affects the morale of the rest of the group, as well. The FBI are dealing with scientists who are already a bit paranoid, and now those scientists are wondering if those people are compromized.
The “hot box” scenario is a good way to have the viewer guessing whether the person is exhibiting symptoms of infection, or if it’s just the station itself. Otherwise it’d probably be too easy to tell, from our perspective, who’s a danger.
I like Mulder’s reply because it doesn’t erase his dilemma from last episode; the classic “AI has a right to be its own sentient being” thing carries forward here, but instead of saying “these parasites are their own life,” Mulder is positioning himself as defending humanity.
It’s interesting to see the womens’ scene be less titillating than the mens’. I also like the smile they share with each other, because I think this is the first scene they’ve talked.
It’s also interesting that at this point in the episode, everyone is still friendly enough. There’s been some snipping here and there, but that’s to be expected with professionals from time to time; they’re challenging assumptions, and they don’t know each other personally.
That’s about to change, because everyone knows what the potential is.
Despite the argument earlier, this happens, and is cute.
At this point, and with this look, I was convinced that Mulder was infected. But he’s just an idiot.
Yeah, smart move, Dana.
The stakes escalate, and some careless words further mess up morale. We get to see that Mulder isn’t infected, or at least we don’t see him kill Murphy; we don’t know if the parasite would’ve made him forget doing it.
The vibe went from like, 35% paranoia to 85% REAL QUICK.
Look at the fucking pain in Dana’s eyes, here. Her expression!
I’m real surprised Dana just didn’t shoot him here. Up to 100% paranoia.
“What’s that supposed to mean, Fox??”
Again. That expression of just anguish to have to be doing this to her partner.
Because they’re right! Fox comes off as a crazy man here, and it’s this oscillation between “Rational Mulder” and “I’m excited by the unknown, time to speculate like a weirdo Mulder” that just doesn’t serve the moment. Fox realizes what has to be done, and backs down. Smart move.
So we lock him up.
And it’s painful to do so.
“Good, bad… I’m the guy with the gun.”
We’re meant to think not only of the possibilities, but the inventory; who knows where which gun is?
Cute. Dana’s still not giving up on Mulder, even if he is infected.
This grab kinda put me in that “oh he’s infected” camp, because now any act of aggression is going to be perceived as that character having a parasite. It also furthers the Hodge/Scully conflict, with Da Silva on Hodge’s side.
Every conflict is now just “oh, it’s them.”
It’s actually kind of nice that we get a fix for things with a decent amount left in the episode. Figuring this out in another show could just have a cut to everyone getting the treatment, and everything ending up fine.
That’s a very Star Trek kind of thing, but now we have to figure out how to use our remaining worms, and still deal with the paranoia.
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Valid. Mulder’s tone in this is very… comical? Like, it’s very matter-of-fact, and I almost want to say “Okay Mulder, but you gotta understand you were acting like a crazy person over a dead body, right?”
I like that the show tends to have ways for Mulder and Scully to be intimate without having the pretense of romance (yet, I imagine). That smile after Scully found out he wasn’t infected probably launched a thousand ships on BBS boards.
“Fox, maybe tell someone before you grab them in a way that makes us wonder if you’re going to kill her.”
I love how quickly allegiances shift.
When the agents are alone, the scientists conspire. The scientists separate/overpower the agents, and then as soon as information changes, Hodge and Mulder are suddenly allies.
I like the detail of Da Silva’s long hair obscuring the parasite moving around. I don’t know if her not having much presence in the episode made it too obvious that this was the endgame — I didn’t see it coming, and I think I was just preoccupied with all the other possibilities.
Okay, everyone’s on the same team now. We still have a live worm. Now, what happened to those guns?
Yeah you fuck up that room, Felicity Huffman.
I like that she goes for the gun that she previously bagged and handled. Who would keep it loaded, though? Would a scientist know how to load it?
I don’t think that’s a stuntwoman? If so, props Ms. Huffman for taking a tackle.
I like how Scully needs to re-introduce that ethical dilemma from before, and Mulder’s just like “Fuck this noise, I’m done with this” as Da Silva is trying to probably bite him.
I like this shot because it’s very compassionate. Despite all that’s happened, the right people found the right things to do at the right time. They put aside their prior problems to solve things quickly and definitively.
We don’t really see what happens to the scientists after, and it’s not like there’s some sheepish apology. Mostly just some “Da Silva will be fine,” but also the reminder of the world we’re living in.
“You oughta know. They’re your people” furthers the thought the scientists (and the ignorant public) have that the FBI and government agencies are all one monolith. We now know that it’s possible to be inside the system while being at odds with it, but this is a reminder there’s a third group: the public who are relatively powerless to do anything about it.
It adds to Mulder and Scully’s responsibility to do something, and kind of hammers home the shock/trauma of the moment; Mulder doesn’t even get anything out of it, because we’re reminded that the cover-up is all-seeing and all-knowing.
This is kind of a shock and awe ending, where the agents are just tired. They could easily spend the rest of their careers trying to figure out this ice thing, and by now, they just probably just want to go home.
So they do.
A lot of these endings just emphasize Mulder needing to let go, and pick his battles to be the most effective ones. We can’t help but feel for the guy, though.
(That’s a joke. They definitely did.)