An action-rich and suspenseful mythology story, the second season double-header of “Colony”/”End Game” suggests the inherent and indisputable movie potential of the X-Files franchise. Even today, twenty years later, one can screen these two episodes back-to-back and get caught up in the visual and emotional arcs of the Chris Carter/Frank Spotnitz tale
Interestingly, I often encounter folks who claim not to like the The X-Files Mytharc stories, and complain that such tales are too complicated, or just too difficult to follow.
That argument isn’t exactly air tight, especially in the case of “Colony/End Game,” which offers a dramatic narrative hook as simple (and violent) as that featured in The Terminator (1984).
Here, a powerful, muscle-bound alien bounty hunter -- armed with a trademark alien “stiletto” -- sets about destroying the fruits of an unauthorized hybridization experiment.
Mulder and Scully attempt to stop the assassin/shape-shifter before all evidence of the experiment is lost, but Mulder is thrown for a loop when his long-missing sister Samantha shows up unexpectedly. Now, he must determine the “truth” of the situation.
The set-up with the hired murderer is compelling visually and narratively, and the ostensible return of Samantha packs quite the emotional wallop. Also, the details of the experiment (if not the ultimate purpose of it…) are spelled out crisply and cleanly.
If that plot doesn’t provide the template for the ultimate X-Files movie, I don’t know what would.
Delightfully, the visuals engineered by directors Nick Marck and Rob Bowman only enhance the feature film quality of this epic from 1995. In particular, there are several amazing shots here (in “End Game”) of Mulder walking on the ice, with a submarine conning tower poking above the cracked surface. This sequence is the stuff of legends for X-philes, and was created by bringing over one hundred tons of ice into the shooting sound-stage, and refrigerating the set for something like five days.
The action beats of both parts are absolutely unimpeachable too, with the high-point being a brutal, nearly James-Bond-like smack-down between X (Steven Williams) and Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) in a cramped elevator.
All these efforts pay off richly, and this X-Files twofer remains one of the most thrill-packed and important “movie”-style shows of the entire canon.
An alien flying saucer crashes in the ocean, and deposits a human-appearing but deadly bounty hunter (Brian Thompson) on Earth.
This shape-shifter’s task is to eliminate the participants -- alien, human, and clone -- in a top secret hybridization program first uncovered by Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) with the help of Deep Throat (in “The Erlenmeyer Flask.”
Realizing that evidence is being destroyed, Mulder and Scully race to keep the identical-looking aliens alive. Miraculously, the female of the group appears to be Mulder’s long-lost sister, Samantha (Megan Leitch).
While Mulder deals with Samantha’s unexpected return, and visits his in-shock Mom (Rebecca Toolan) and inscrutable Dad (Peter Donat), Scully unexpectedly tangles with the bounty hunter and is made his captive.
Accordingly, Mulder is forced to trade Samantha for Scully, but soon learns that the woman claiming to be Samantha was a clone based on his sister’s DNA, not the genuine article.
Hoping to garner incontrovertible evidence of extra-terrestrial life, Mulder races to the Arctic. There, a U.S. nuclear submarine, the U.S.S. Allegiance, is immobilized in the ice, ostensibly by the bounty hunter’s downed craft.
Beneath the ice fields, Mulder finally meets the murderous bounty hunter and asks him if his sister still lives…
“Colony/End Game” sees the addition of a remarkable new villain in the X-Files canon: Brian Thompson’s single-minded bounty hunter.
The physically-imposing character and his trademark weapon would return several times in the ensuing years, and he represents something of a departure from the series norm. For one this, this character is extra-terrestrial in nature, and no bones are made of that fact. The series doesn’t attempt to play him two ways. There is not alternative explanation for his presence or mission.
Rather, the Bounty Hunter represents the “alien” side of the conspiracy we detect in many episodes. He is, sort of, the other shoe dropping: the indication that a human agenda is not the only consideration that matters in this (presumably) cosmic game of chess.
And again, like the Terminator, this bounty hunter is unstoppable once he is on the attack. In “End Game,” he is particularly brutal with Scully in a well-choreographed and executed motel room fight, and yet there is also the feeling, particularly in the finale, that for this killer, it’s nothing personal. The Bounty Hunter is doing his job as efficiently as possible, and even seems slightly amused by these obsessive humans and their constant but futile attempts to stop him or get in his way. To enhance the menace of Brian Thompson -- already a huge guy, with no camera trickery whatsoever -- he is frequently seen in this two-parter from a dramatic low-angle.
The events of these two episodes also play as a continuation -- and at times a deliberate inversion -- of the action we witnessed in “The Erlenmeyer Flask.” That episode, the last of Season One, revealed human/alien hybrid experimentation at a warehouse named Zeus, and featured a tense stand-off, and hostage-exchange on a bridge at night. Significant suspense arises in this two-parter when the same set-piece is repeated, nearly note-for-note. There’s another exchange on a bridge at night, and again, an important character is doomed to die there. The repetition of the setting and scenario create a real sense of inevitability and doom. We’ve been here before, and we know it isn’t going to end well.
One of the key mysteries of The X-Files is, simply, what happened to Samantha. Was she really abducted by aliens? Or by forces within the government? Or, perhaps, did Mulder make up the whole incident so he could deal with the loss of his sibling?
A facet of the series I absolutely love is that the writers keep obsessing on this mystery, and keep presenting alternate possibilities. They provide an alternate explanation for Samantha’s disappearance in the fourth season episode, “Paper Hearts,” and then, finally, provide a sense of closure about her in the most touching, tragic way possible in the seventh season two-parter “Sein und Zeit”/”Closure.”
In terms of “Colony”/”Endgame,” this episode suggests that the abducted Samantha at some point became fodder for alien and human genetic scientists. Her DNA forms the foundational research in the hybridization experiment that could, perhaps, save humanity in the event of colonization. But this fact of cloning raises all kinds of moral questions. Can it be said that Samantha is, in fact, immortal now, since her genetic material lives on in so many others? Or, is this a kind of assault, or rape, of her human individuality? Did she consent to the experiments, or was she used against her will?
One of the most intriguing aspects of these episodes is Peter Donat’s opaque performance as Mulder’s Dad, Bill. He plays his cards awfully close-to-the-vest here, so we can’t tell if he is happy to see his daughter returned, or aware that this is, in fact, not his daughter. Given what we know and understand of Bill Mulder’s history in the conspiracy, he must have every reason to suspect what this Samantha really is (a genetic copy), and yet he provides Mulder no clue, and no solace. Instead, he simply complains because his wife’s hopes are raised and dashed. After he gave up Samantha all those years ago, he presumably doesn’t want to relive the trauma it caused his family. He treats the whole thing here like a massive inconvenience, and remains an inscrutable character.
If any character is ill-served in this effective two-parter, it is probably Scully, who is captured and once more made a hostage or bargaining tool. In Season Two, this kind of thing had already happened to Scully in other (great) episodes such as “Duane Barry/Ascension” and “Irresistible.” The end of the second episode redeems Scully, however, since she comes through with the cure that will save Mulder’s life.
Also, Scully pretty clearly has a close encounter here, with the Bounty Hunter. She sees Mulder present in her motel room, and he calls on the phone simultaneously. There is no acceptable scientific explanation for this experience, and yet Scully never professes any belief in anything “extreme,” even though she has witnessed it with her own eyes. I always wondered how she rationalized the experience…
Next week, another brilliant and timely 1990s story: “F Emasculata."