June 2, 2018

The X-Files 7.18, Brand X: Meet the Beetles

Posted in TV tagged at 1:14 pm by Jenn

This episode is the best anti-smoking PSA I’ve ever seen

Summary: The FBI is keeping a close watch on a house in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, while Skinner protects the couple inside. The husband, Jim, is supposed to testify before a grand jury, but his wife, Joan, thinks it’s too risky. As Skinner gives the couple some privacy, Jim starts coughing. He doesn’t realize that he’s coughed a bug and some blood into his glass of water. Later that night, Joan wakes up alone in bed and goes looking for her husband. She finds him in the bathroom, dead, with half his face missing.

In the morning, Mulder and Scully come to help Skinner figure out what happened. He tells them that Jim was a biochemist with Morley Tobacco and was supposed to testify against them this morning. No one knows what his testimony was going to be about, but it was big enough that he received death threats. Kersh assigned Skinner to protect Jim, and we can all agree that he did a heck of a job.

Scully looks at pictures of Jim’s body and wonders if someone threw acid on him. Mulder points out that he would have screamed, and Joan would have heard. Skinner tells the agents that they need to close the case ASAP. Scully heads off to do the autopsy while Mulder looks around the house. There are no ashtrays, which means Jim worked for Morley but didn’t smoke. This kind of hit was pretty high-profile; was the killer trying to send a warning to other potential witnesses?

As Skinner and Mulder are about to leave to talk to a Morley executive named Peter Voss, Mulder finds Jim’s glass from the previous night, with the bug still inside. The two men go to Morley, but security is tight. Fortunately, Daniel Brimley, the head of corporate security, just happens to be walking by, and he says everyone’s fine with the agents talking to Voss. After all, Morley definitely had nothing to do with Jim’s death.

Mulder and Skinner ask Voss questions, but Voss’ lawyer keeps him from answering anything, since he would violate his employer’s confidentiality agreements. Skinner threatens to get a federal warrant to search the building. Mulder shows Voss the bug, which Voss IDs as a tobacco beetle. He doesn’t think it’s strange that one turned up in Jim’s house. The lawyer asks what Mulder’s getting at, and Mulder says he can’t answer that, since it would violate FBI confidentiality.

That night, Voss gets home to find a man outside his house. He says that he and Jim had an arrangement; with Jim dead, the man should now have an arrangement with Voss. Voss knows exactly what he’s talking about and hands over a couple boxes of cigarettes. The man says that won’t be enough, and Voss promises to get him more, as long as the man doesn’t come back to the house. The man says he has a theory about how Jim died, but Voss doesn’t want to hear it. The man will just tell him another time, since the two of them will be seeing each other a lot.

Mulder and Skinner meet up with Scully, who found tissue damage in Jim’s mouth and throat. It’s not from any corrosive agents, and his cause of death was, basically, choking. Mulder thinks they’re not dealing with a murder after all. He shows Scully the beetle and suggests that a bunch of them killed Jim. Skinner asks if he’s supposed to tell Kersh that killer bugs were responsible for Jim’s death, as if that’s the most ridiculous thing Kersh has ever heard or will ever hear from this trio.

A man in an apartment building yells through the wall at his neighbor for smoking when he knows he’s not supposed to. The smoking neighbor is the man from Voss’ house, and he’s not about to put out his cigarette. The yeller starts coughing up blood, like Jim did. The next morning, the yeller is dead, and there are beetles all over his room.

Mulder makes an obligatory roach motel joke when he, Scully, and Skinner arrive to examine the body. Skinner notes that this victim, Thomas Gastall, isn’t a corporate whistleblower, so his death’s similarity to Jim’s is especially mysterious. Mulder grabs another beetle and suggests that they didn’t see any at the scene of Jim’s death because they went out a window. Scully’s willing to accept that the bugs spread some sort of bacteria to the two men. That means there might be other victims in the building.

Mulder chats with the smoking neighbor, noting that he’s not surprised to hear about Gastall’s death. The neighbor, who introduces himself as Darryl Weaver, didn’t hear or see anything suspicious, though he’s interested in a possible reward for information. Scully and Skinner are equally unsuccessful at finding any witnesses, and right now have no angles to pursue other than the beetles. Scully decides to get in touch with an entomologist she knows (not Bambi), while Mulder goes to take care of something that’s been “bugging” him.

He goes to Voss’ house and tells him about Gastall’s death and the presence of beetles. Voss doesn’t want to talk, and Mulder accuses him of hiding behind his lawyers. How many people’s deaths will it take for Voss to decide to do the right thing? After Mulder leaves, Voss gets a call from Brimley, who’s sitting outside the house. Voss tells him about Gastall’s death and says they need to come forward. Brimley disagrees, telling him to remember what really matters to him. Brimley will clean up the mess, starting with Weaver, though Voss says he doesn’t know where Weaver is.

Scully’s entomologist friend, Libby Nance, examines the beetle and tells Scully and Skinner that it’s different from the ones she’s seen before. This one has some physical deviations, possibly from genetic engineering. Scully suggests transgenomics, DNA manipulation that occurs on the genetic level. Nance has heard of tobacco companies using transgenomics to alter tobacco crops, in an attempt to create what Skinner dubs super-tobacco. When tobacco bugs eat super-tobacco, they could become super-bugs. But does that mean they’re dangerous to humans?

Voss does, in fact, know where Weaver is, and he goes by his apartment. Weaver calls himself a guinea pig, and though he accepts Voss’ $4,000 bribe to leave town, he won’t actually go. He thinks he has a sweet set-up, with free cigarettes and a nice cash flow. Weaver wants to light up in his apartment, but Voss looks nervous. He warns that Morley will kill Weaver if he tries to blow the whistle on whatever’s going on. Weaver isn’t concerned. Voss leaves, defeated, and doesn’t notice Brimley arriving.

Gastall’s lungs are full of beetle larvae, which is both gross and informative. Scully thinks the larvae pupate in lungs, then exit the body en masse once they’re matured. Skinner notes that Jim didn’t have beetles in his lungs, and they don’t know how the beetles got into Gastall’s in the first place. Mulder has a coughing fit across the room, so the agents have just identified the next victim.

Mulder undergoes a procedure at Asheford Medical Center to remove the larvae from his lungs. (The closed captions say “machine slurping” – thanks, captions!) Scully looks on worriedly, probably wondering if she can ever kiss him again without thinking about beetles. She tells Skinner that the beetles could have laid eggs, so that’s even grosser to think about. She guesses that Mulder and Jim inhaled the larvae in smoke, despite not being smokers. Maybe they were just around a smoker. Now, who would Mulder have been around who smokes? Who, I wonder?

Skinner goes back to Morley with his federal warrant and tries to talk to Voss as other agents search the offices. Voss’ lawyer sticks to his line about Voss not violating confidentiality agreements. Skinner angrily says that this is bigger than that – they’re trying to save lives. Voss says they were trying to do the same thing. Morley knew people would keep smoking, despite the known risks, so they were going to genetically engineer a “safer” cigarette. Unfortunately, the bugs got genetically engineered, too.

The four test subjects were fine at first, but then three of them died. Hey, I wonder who the fourth was? Jim was going to testify about the trials, but he got infected while monitoring a focus group. Skinner asks for the name of the fourth subject, then goes straight to Weaver’s apartment. He’s not there, but Brimley is, along with a few dozen beetles escaping his body.

Weaver stops at a gas station and realizes he only has one cigarette left. (Of course he’s the sort of person who lights up at a gas station.) He goes to buy some beer, declining to buy more cigarettes since his brand isn’t carried there. As some sheriff’s deputies arrive, Weaver flees.

Mulder wakes up after his procedure and learns that Weaver was a Morley test subject. He appears to have an immunity or intolerance to the beetles, and Scully hopes they can use that to treat Mulder. Mulder starts wheezing and struggles to breathe as the eggs in his lungs hatch. His doctor wants to open his chest to get out the bugs, but Scully doesn’t think Mulder’s strong enough. For now, they just need to wait. The doctor says that, sooner or later, doing nothing will kill Mulder.

Skinner goes to Voss’ house with some agents who will provide her protection (because that worked out so well for Jim). Voss’ wife hasn’t been able to reach him at work, so Skinner goes to Voss’ lab to make sure he’s okay. He’s alive, but only because Weaver’s more concerned with getting test cigarettes than killing him. Weaver doesn’t think Skinner will shoot him, despite Skinner’s threats, since he needs Weaver to save Mulder.

Weaver starts to light up, saying that Voss is on to something with his “safer” cigarettes. Cars killed people before they were perfected; eventually, cigarettes will stop being harmful. This is all just part of the scientific process. Skinner again threatens to shoot Weaver, and Weaver again calls his bluff. He notes that he could be the cure for cancer – Skinner wouldn’t risk letting him die. But Weaver’s wrong (Skinner just shoots him in the shoulder, though).

Weaver is taken to Asheford, where Scully notices the yellowing on his fingers from smoking and requests an unusual treatment: nicotine. Two weeks later, Mulder’s healthy and back at work. He and Scully discuss how the nicotine in the cigarettes was actually keeping Weaver alive. He was such a heavy smoker, enjoying cigarettes that weren’t from Morley, that the nicotine in his system killed the beetles before they could kill him. Giving Mulder nicotine acted as a kind of chemotherapy.

Mulder tells Scully that he bought some Morleys, but he’s not going to take up smoking. That addiction can be stronger than heroin. This has been a PSA from The X-Files. But after Scully leaves the office, Mulder takes a look at the pack of cigarettes he just threw away. Oh, Mulder. Scully definitely won’t want to kiss you again if you take up smoking.

Thoughts: Weaver is played by Tobin Bell.

But seriously, what is UP with this show and bugs?

Voss works for a tobacco company and lives in a huge house, but he claims to only have $4,000 in his bank account. I can’t decide if he’s a bad liar or a bad budgeter.

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