January 10, 2016
The X-Files 2.9, Firewalker: The One Where Josh Lyman Gets Homicidal
Summary: We kick off at 2:45 a.m. at the California Institute of Technology’s Volcano Observatory in Pasadena. A tracking station in Oregon has sent them an emergency transmission from something called Firewalker, which is now not responding. The research team sees video feed from a volcano showing what appears to be a dead body. The researchers see a shadow before the feed goes staticky. The team wonders what’s happening in Oregon.
The FBI will find out! One of the researchers, Pierce, takes news footage to Mulder and Scully so they can see an interview about Firewalker, a robot being sent into a volcano to collect samples. Its creator, Daniel Trepkos, is super-passionate about the importance of his invention. Pierce tells Mulder and Scully that Firewalker, Trepkos, and his team sent the distress signal and are no longer responding to calls. Firewalker’s camera shows a dead seismologist, Erickson, with a shadow passing over his body.
Pierce tells the agents that he left the project a while ago after a fight with Trepkos. He was the Salieri to Trepkos’ Mozart, unable to keep up with Trepkos’ genius. But Pierce started worrying that Trepkos was going crazy. He became controlling, and he could be responsible for whatever happened. Mulder resists getting involved, since this isn’t a typical FBI case. Scully, however, is ready to go. She assures Mulder that she’s ready to get back to work after her time away.
Pierce and the agents head to the Cascade Mountains and see that some of the team’s instruments have been damaged. Pierce checks them out while Mulder and Scully look for the team. They find more damaged equipment and no electricity. Also, someone’s watching them. The watcher attacks Mulder, then says he made a mistake. He’s Ludwig, the descent team’s robotics engineer. He says he thought Mulder was Trepkos, and was just trying to protect himself.
Ludwig explains that Trepkos exhibited strange behavior, but Ludwig respected him because he could see things people only dreamed about. He gets the electricity back up, then tells two other team members, Tanaka and Jessie, that it’s safe to come out of hiding. Jessie reveals that Trepkos has bipolar disorder but is usually fine when he takes his medication. Mulder finds Trepkos’ notes, though Jessie says he destroyed most of his work. One page has the words “new life form” underlined.
While Pierce looks for team members in the woods, Mulder and Scully disagree over the behavior of the people they’re with. Scully thinks they’re just on edge because they’ve spent so much time with an unstable man. Mulder, however, thinks that Ludwig knew he wasn’t Trepkos when he attacked. They decide they need to talk to Pierce. Pierce, however, won’t be talking to anyone soon. Trepkos finds him in the woods and garottes him, declaring, “No one can leave.”
The agents and the other team members find Pierce’s body after dark and radio for extraction. Mulder tells Scully they can’t leave until they find Trepkos. He thinks Trepkos found a subterranean life form in the volcano. Scully argues that nothing could live in the extreme heat and gas of a volcano. Mulder points out that Trepkos found something made of silicon, and there has to be evidence in the lab. Maybe Trepkos didn’t destroy his work – someone else could have.
Scully says that, from a medical point of view, everyone’s suffering from post-traumatic stress, so they need to get the team out of there. She goes to talk to Jessie, who says that Trepkos started acting strangely after Firewalker’s first descent. He locked himself in a room for three days and stopped taking his medication. He said they were polluting his brain and Jessie was polluting his body. She only came on the trip because of Trepkos, but now she’d rather be anywhere else.
Mulder listens to a recording Trepkos made about losing sleep over his research. Trepkos says he just wants to “stop this descent.” The building starts to shake, and Tanaka tells Mulder that there has been a lot of seismic activity lately. Mulder recommends that Tanaka let Scully examine him, since he’s sick, but Tanaka refuses. Then he collapses, so Mulder goes to get Scully. Ludwig tells Tanaka to cooperate so they can get out of there.
Scully tells Mulder again that they need to leave, Trepkos or no Trepkos. She contacts a search-and-rescue team, and Mulder and Ludwig take Tanaka to meet them. Mulder notices something strange going on under Tanaka’s skin. Before they can get to the landing site, Tanaka takes off through the woods. He falls down a hill and starts convulsing. Then something really gross bursts through his throat and I have to take a break.
Scully examines the gross thing and determines that it could be a fungus, but of an unknown genus. She thinks Tanaka was infected by a spore that outgrew its host. Mulder says he found sand in Tanaka’s lungs, the waste product of a silicon-based organism. Ludwig points out that that sort of thing doesn’t exist. Scully remains skeptical as well (of course). Jessie thinks Trepkos would have told the team if he’d discovered something like that.
Scully accepts that a microbe could have caused Trepkos’ dementia, even though no one else on the team has exhibited strange behavior or signs of illness. Since they don’t know how the microbe incubates, the team will have to quarantine itself. Mulder informs the search-and-rescue team, asking for a CDC team. All he can tell them is that they’re dealing with “a biological agent of unknown origin.”
Mulder wants to find Trepkos, since his discovery could change what humans know about the origin of life. As Ludwig eavesdrops, Scully tries to talk Mulder into letting her come along: “I’m back and I’m not going anywhere.” Mulder wants her to stay in the lab and finish Tanaka’s autopsy so they can learn more about what they’re dealing with. I’ll tell you what you’re dealing with – a gross thing I don’t want to look at anymore.
Mulder asks Ludwig to help him find the cave he saw in Firewalker’s video footage. Ludwig doesn’t think Trepkos is there, and Mulder shouldn’t go looking on his own anyway. He wants to stick close to Mulder, who has a gun and can protect him and Jessie from Trepkos. The two men head to the cave, where Ludwig is promptly hit with a flaming projectile. It’s a flare fired by an angry-looking Trepkos. He then pours gasoline on Ludwig’s body and sets it on fire, telling Mulder that Ludwig isn’t who he’s trying to kill.
Back in the lab, Scully’s also working with fire, trying to culture the spore. She determines that the spores have to be ingested immediately after their release; otherwise, they’re harmless. Scully goes to give Jessie the news that there’s a good chance no one else has been infected. Too late! Jessie has a gross thing in her throat now.
In the cave, Mulder asks Trepkos what Firewalker extracted from the volcano. Trepkos tells him the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Trepkos thinks there are things in the earth that should stay underground. Mulder tells him that he came to investigate Erickson’s death, but Trepkos can tell that Mulder wants answers about things he can’t explain. He wonders what Mulder would do with those answers.
Trepkos says that Firewalker extracted something that looked like a rock. Erickson broke it for analysis, releasing the spores. Trepkos had separated himself from the group by the time the spores started infected everyone else. They’re parasites looking for hosts. Trepkos destroyed his work and killed Pierce so no one could leave and infect anyone else. Mulder realizes that since Jessie’s infected, Scully’s in trouble. But Trepkos won’t let him leave.
The lights go out in the lab, the better for Jessie to be creepy. She handcuffs Scully to a table as the spore tries to make its way out of her throat. While Mulder runs back to the lab, Scully tries to use a hammer to break the handcuffs. Once she’s free, she locks Jessie in a room so the spore can have privacy when it bursts out of her throat.
Mulder fills Scully in as they’re joined by Trepkos. He notes sadly that he told Jessie the expedition would change her life. When Mulder calls for extrication, he reports that there are only two survivors. Scully says that people will want to question Trepkos, but Mulder knows he won’t talk. Mulder and Scully are taken to a facility for quarantine, and Mulder reports that Trepkos and Jessie were never found. As Trepkos takes Jessie’s body to the cave, Mulder says that his is the only record of what happened.
Thoughts: Trepkos is played by Bradley Whitford, best known as Josh on The West Wing. Ludwig is played by Leland Orser, who’s been in everything (and who’s married to Jeanne Tripplehorn, which I didn’t know). Jessie is played by Shawnee Smith.
So…this episode is basically “Ice” with a few details changed, mixed with Alien and maybe a little Heart of Darkness.
Fire wheover cut Jessie’s bangs. They’re distractingly awful.