July 15, 2017

The X-Files 5.15, Travelers: Patriot Games

Posted in TV tagged , at 1:32 pm by Jenn

Mulder is probably getting a glimpse of his future here

Summary: It’s 1990 in Caledonia, Wisconsin, and a sheriff is accompanying a landlord to a house where the tenant, Edward Skur, needs to be evicted. Skur won’t open the door, so the landlord lets himself and the sheriff inside. The two men brave a horrible smell to search the house, finding a long-dead body in the bathtub. Someone suddenly attacks the sheriff, which was a bad move, since the sheriff has a gun. The attacker tumbles down the stairs, and when the sheriff goes to him, the man says, “Mulder.”

In D.C. (still in 1990), Mulder goes to see a man named Arthur Dales, a former FBI agent. Dales opened a file on Skur in 1952 – a file that starts with an X. Mulder thinks that means it’s unsolved; Dales corrects that it’s just been designated that way. Mulder wants to know why Dales’ notes have been censored, and why someone wants the case buried. The report says that Skur disappeared 38 years ago while being investigated for a horrific murder. He’s the man the sheriff shot in the house.

Dales thinks that now that Skur is dead, there’s no reason to talk to Mulder. But when Mulder introduces himself, he notes that Dales recognizes his name. Dales mentions HUAC, the committee that investigated communists in America but found “practically nothing.” He thinks that’s exactly what they wanted to find. Mulder’s a little dense and doesn’t get the connection. Dales says maybe he’s not supposed to get it. He won’t be letting Mulder in today.

Mulder watches a newsreel about the HUAC while reading over the file about Skur. He finds a card confirming that Skur was a communist. As the narrator talks about travelers working as spies in the State Department, Mulder recognizes his father on the newsreel. He returns to Dales’ apartment the next morning, threatening to subpoena him if he won’t cooperate. Dales reveals that Skur worked for the State Department, like the elder Mulder. Mulder asks if his father was involved in the death of the man Skur was suspected of killing 38 years ago.

Dales finally lets Mulder in, telling him that Dales liked to remove his victims’ organs and tissue without tearing their skin. Mulder says the coroner can’t figure out how that was possible. Dales doesn’t know, but he does know why Skur did it. Mulder brings up Skur’s communist leanings, though Dales doesn’t consider that significant. Skur was “just another name on a list,” a suspected State Department spy.

We flash back to Leesburg, Virginia, in June of 1952. A young Dales and his partner, Agent Michel, go to Skur’s house and arrest him for contempt of Congress in front of his wife and young kids. Michel finds Skur’s card identifying him as a communist, but Skur claims Michel planted it on him. Dales has a moment of sympathy for Skur’s family, but Mrs. Skur just tells him to leave.

After work, Skur goes to a bar, where he gets a call from Michel telling him that Skur’s dead, having hanged himself in his cell. He thinks the communists’ leaders tell them to kill themselves if they’re captured. 1990 Skur tells Mulder that he wasn’t sure what to tell Mrs. Skur, so he sat in his car in front of the Skurs’ house and drank for a while. In the flashback, Skur returns to the house, alive and well. Dales chases him down the block, and Skur ambushes him, opening his mouth and letting out a probe-looking thing. A neighbor hears the noise and frightens Skur away before he can hurt Dales.

Dales returns to work in D.C. the next day and sees photos of a dead Skur. Michel is sure that Skur is really, truly dead, and whoever Dales saw at the house the night before was someone else. After all, he was drunk; this could be a case of mistaken identity. Michel urges Dales to leave Skur’s name out of his report, but the report has already been filed.

Someone from the Department of Justice calls Dales, summoning him to meet with Roy Cohn in the Attorney General’s office. (There’s another man there, looking very CSM-esque, but that’s never followed up on.) Dales knows that Cohn prosecuted Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and is now working with Joseph McCarthy to rid the country of communists. Dales says he’s not political, but Cohn says everything is. He brings out Dales’ report and starts talking about secrets, especially ones that need to be kept from the public “for the greater good.” Dales catches on that Cohn wants him to take references to Skur out of his report.

He clearly doesn’t want to, but Dales amends his report anyway. He’s about to look at a heavily redacted file on Skur when Michel calls him away. They head to Chevy Chase, Maryland, to investigate a murder, though the scene is quiet, with no police officers around. They go into a house where a German record is playing; Dales recognizes the song playing as one he heard the day his military unit arrived in Berlin during World War II. They smell a “hospital smell” that Michel thinks might be formaldehyde, then find a dead body.

The police arrive, claiming that the FBI called them, not the other way around. The dead man is a doctor, and a nurse called the authorities when he didn’t come to work. Dales finds and pockets a note on the back of a bar coaster that reads, “Come alone.” He goes to the bar that night and meets with Bill Mulder. Dales thinks Bill killed Skur, but Bill says he tried to save him. If Dales isn’t careful, the killer will get him, too. Meanwhile, Michel goes home, and the music in the background tells me that something bad is about to happen.

Bill tells Dales that Skur isn’t a communist – “all of these men” are. Skur, Gissing, and Oberman are all patriots working in the State Department. Dales recognizes the other two names from a censored report. Bill tells him that Gissing and Oberman killed themselves because they couldn’t handle what they’d become. He thinks Skur was targeted for murder, but he escaped and now wants to clear his name. Bill is willing to risk his career and his family to make sure the truth gets out so Skur is saved.

Michel turns on his TV and watches a McCarthy hearing while his cat makes a mess. At the bar, Bill tells Dales that he can’t arrest Skur’s pursuers – “it’s…political.” This makes Dales think that McCarthy and Cohn are involved. Bill confirms that Skur wants vengeance for what McCarthy and Cohn did to him, but now he thinks Skur and Michael are part of the conspiracy. Dales rushes to the phone to warn Michel, but it’s too late – Michel can’t come to the phone because Skur is choking up something gross-looking that forcing it into Michel’s body.

Dales accompanies other officers to the crime scene, where the coroner is no Scully. Cohn arrives and tells the authorities to take Michel’s body to Bethesda, since he’s a veteran; he ignores them when they say they need to perform an autopsy. Cohn threatens to have Dales interrogated for ties to communism in order to keep him away from the investigation. “See?” he says, satisfied that Dales will keep quiet. “You’re a patriot again.”

Dales ignores the threat and goes back to his office to look into Gissing and Oberman’s deaths. He asks for their files, and though the clerk says they’re missing, she recognizes one of the names from an X-file. Dales wonders why unsolved names are filed under X instead of U. The clerk explains that she put them under U until she ran out of room; the X drawer has plenty of room. She’s familiar with the file and tells Dales that a German doctor was found dead in his office at the VA last week. Gissing was found dead nearby, apparently dead of suicide. Dales wonders how Gissing killed the doctor. “That’s why it’s an X-file,” the clerk says. “They don’t know.”

Gissing’s body is still at the morgue, so Dales goes to examine it. He has a scar from recent surgery, and Dales asks the coroner to cut him open, thinking that will help him figure out how Michel died. The coroner finds suture in Gissing’s esophagus, indicating that something was sewn into it from inside his body. The something is alive, and looks like a big spider, and will be featuring in my nightmares for at least the next two weeks.

Dales goes to Skur’s house to try to get Mrs. Skur to confirm that her husband is still alive. He thinks Skur was discredited as a cover-up for whatever was done to him, Gissing, and Oberman. They thought they were receiving surgery for their war injuries, but they really underwent xenotransplantation. Nazi doctors experimented with this method of grafting a different species into the human body – Dales thinks they continued those experiments on the three men. He wants to expose what happened, and he needs Skur to help him.

As Dales leaves, Cohn and Mulder arrive to whisk him away. Mrs. Skur heads into a bunker, where her husband is hiding. He’s getting worse and thinks it’s too late for Dales to help him. He can’t help himself anymore. Mrs. Skur is the unlucky next victim of her husband’s now-uncontrollable urge to kill.

Dales is taken to FBI headquarters to meet with J. Edgar Hoover. He tells Dales that in less than seven years, the Soviet population has grown by more than 400 percent. The U.S. is now outnumbered 8 to 5, and there’s a serious threat of the Soviets ruling the world. The U.S. needs to use the Soviets’ methods to ensure survival and scare their enemies. Dales gets only one chance to prove his patriotism.

Mulder sends Dales off to try to get Skur to trust him so the FBI can ambush him. Dales wonders if Bill’s plan all along was to use him to get to Skur. Bill just says he follows his orders. Dales waits for Skur in the bar, and the FBI use surveillance equipment to listen in as Skur says he’s been turned into a killing machine. Dales assures Skur that he doesn’t want to kill him, and Skur says he knows. Then he tries to employ his gross killing thing on Dales. Bill wants to go in and help, but he has to stay put in the car. Dales can handle himself, however, and he uses handcuffs to secure Skur.

In 1990, Mulder laments that Bill got involved with the bad guys. Dales says no one is really free to choose. If Mulder keeps looking into old X-files, he’ll suffer the same fate as Dales and be banished. Mulder still wants to know why Skur said Bill’s name as he died, but Dales doesn’t know. Mulder then asks how Skur got away and was able to hide out for 38 years. Dales says he heard various stories about Skur’s fate, and wondered if someone with a conscience let him go. A flashback to 1952 shows that that’s exactly what happened – and Bill was the one who set him free, in hopes that someday, the truth would come out.

Thoughts: There are three noteworthy guest stars in this episode:

  • 1990 Dales is played by Darren McGavin, who was the show’s first choice to play Bill Mulder.
  • 1952 Dales is played by Frederic Lane, who usually plays villains, so it was nice to see him as a good guy.
  • Skur is played by Garret Dillahunt.

I know this show can get pretty gross, but Skur’s method of killing is really up there on the list. I may not eat for a while.

I guess we’re supposed to see Bill as a hero, but…he let a killer go. If Skur kept killing people over the next 38 years, it’s Bill’s fault.

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1 Comment »

  1. thexratedfiles said,

    i never liked bill mulder. poor mulder got stuck with not one but TWO crappy dads.


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