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16 February 2013 @ 10:22 pm
X-Files Review: Conduit  
conduit splash


X-Files

"Conduit"

Written by: Alex Gansa & Howard Gordon
DIR: Daniel Sackheim


Blurbbing: Mulder becomes obsessed with solving a case that closely parallels an "encounter" he experienced as a child.


Scene 01: We start with a sweeping shot of a peaceful nightime woods scene where all is quiet and peaceful. We focus on a family of campers around a campfire at the edge of a lake. Since camping is always, always dangerous and since no one learns this lesson, we won't be shocked with things go wrong.

Around the campfire are a teen girl and her younger brother. A single mother is sleeping nearby in the trailer. At first we just pan through the sleeper's trailer before we finally focus on a coffee cup. For some reason, it is full... that seems a waste. But, anyway, the cup starts to rattle and the ignored coffee within sloshes.

Mother is awoken to the jittering of her trailer. As the camper truck starts shaking harder, she's flipped out of the bed while at the same time a bright light floods the interior. [It's all very "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", specifically the abduction of little Barry with the dishes flying around the cabin of the camper....]

After a few moments of screaming, things just as suddenly still. Mother tries to crawl out of the camper, but when she grabs the door handle, she yells out in pain as she is burned. Outside, she can hear her son yelling for her. Using a pot holder, she's able to force her way out of the cabin. Kevin shouts to his mother that Ruby, the teen sis, is gone. Mother desperately searches the area and cries out for her daughter, but she's gone without a trace. Mother counterintuitively -or maybe not - looks skyward and bellows her daughter's name....


Insert Credits/Theme


Scene 02: We come back from credits to find Scully meeting with her boss in the bureau. Not Skinner, but the boss above him that is trying to come up with a reason to defund Mulder's X-File office. He's informing Scully that Mulder wants them to assign a case number to a tabloid headline in regards to a missing teen that was allegedly abducted by aliens. He's clearly annoyed by the petitioning of expenses for a trip to Iowa to investigate, but this is all coming as news to Scully.

She's unable to provide an explanation as to why Mulder hadn't said anything to her.


Commentary: This set up confuses me, as far as internal logic. Wouldn't the FBI be interested in this case if for no other reason than that there is an abduction, let alone the alien theory. If I understand correctly, they wouldn't be able to get involved until there is evidence of Ruby being taken over state lines or until Iowa asks for Federal assistance in the case, but all Scully-boss would have to say is 'denied pending state request for assistance'. I don't understand why he'd have Scully in his office about this, except of course to let us all know about Samantha Mulder. This part feels thinly written to introduce some more of Mulder's backstory, rather than to be entirely sensible.


But anyway, Scully receives a copy of an X-File from her boss involving Samantha Mulder. We found out about Fox's sister vanishing in "Pilot". Here, she gets a name. He asks Scully about what she knows in regards to Mulder's sister's disappearance. She describes what she learned in "Pilot" from Mulder and the crux of the issue is revealed. Scully's boss wants to know if she believes Fox's personal history may be clouding his judgement when it comes to his professional opinions, which she denies, but her boss doesn't seem convinced. Scully's boss tells her he's going to deny the petition, but she asks to speak to Mulder first and then to make a recommendation before he makes a final decision on the matter.

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Scene 03: In Mulder's office, she's pacing as she describes the problem with his wanting the bureau to pay for him to go out to Iowa for this case. But, Mulder has a counterargument: The site where this disappearance has occurred happened at a lake known for its UFO activity. What's more, Darlene Morris is the woman whose daughter has gone missing... the same Darlene Morris who back in 1967 as a girl scout reported the sighting of a UFO. A unidentified flying object also reported by three other girls in her troop, the den mother and a pilot for the National Weather Service. The UFO was later identified by the Air Force as an errant weather balloon, despite the fact that no such balloon had been launched that day any closer than 700 miles away.

Clearly this is intriguing enough for Dana to agree to a trip...


Scene 04: ...And she was apparently able to convince her boss, because we now join our agents in Iowa. They're welcomed by Ms. Morris. Fox overidentifies his sister with the abducted young girl as he's looking at child pictures of her on the mantleplace.

Over coffee, Scully suggests the mundane answer that Darlene's ex husband may have come for his daughter but Darlene reports that what she witnessed at the lake was exactly what she'd seen before. She's surprised when Fox identifies that she's speaking of the troop experience in 1967. When Darlene suggests "they" took her, Fox hesitates and instead turns attention to speaking to her son, Kevin, even though she claims Kev was asleep and didn't witness anything.


Scene 05: Mulder finds Kevin sitting in front of the television watching static and writing in a notepad. Fox finds that what Kevin is writing is a series of 1's and 0's across line after line. Mulder asks after what he's doing. Kevin reports [very Poltergeist-like] that the information he's jotting down is coming from the TV.

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Scene 06: Later at the local sheriff's, while Scully is off speaking to him, Fox is faxing the sequence from Kevin to a contact in the FBI's computer division.

When he rejoins his partner, the Sheriff is repeating that there were no signs of abduction located at the lake and no follow up calls for ransom. In addition, and adding to his skepticism, Ruby Morris has had a history of running away from her mother's home before now. Mulder -- as is his habit, gets snotty and confrontational about the Sheriff's lack of faith in Ruby's mother's statement about what she allegedly saw at the lake -- which causes the Sheriff to point out that Ruby wasn't some innocent prom queen. He uses the lack of evidence with her prior behavior and reputation to write the "abduction" off as her running away with another guy for yet another time.


Scene 07: Scully tells Mulder that he really needs to stop antagonizing local law enforcement on their way out. At their car, they find a note tucked under their windshield wiper waiting for them. It's from a girl waiting across the street. When she knows that they've gotten it and spotted her, she enters the public library.

This mysterious girl claims to have known and hung out once in a while with Ruby. She reports that Ruby was seeing an older guy named Greg who was a local bartender.

According to mysterious girl, Ruby got pregnant by Greg and they were planning on running off together. Before they can get mysterious girl's name, she disappears when the agent's attention is taken by the librarian dropping some books.


Scene 08: The agents pay a call to the pub where Greg works, which turns out to be a biker hangout. Greg is reported to have disappeared three weeks prior. The current bartender, and Greg's boss, is sporting a flying saucer tattoo [a really badly and obviously drawn on tattoo] which causes Mulder to engage him in conversation, playing the extreme skeptic. Bartender-Not-Greg reports that strange things happen at the local lake all the time and if he went out there sometime, maybe he'd see something to change his mind.

He moves aside his hair to show Mulder his severely burned ear. He claims to have gotten a "killer sunburn in the middle of the night".


Commentary: Along with the awful 'tattoo', the problem with this scene is the biker bar has a real feeling of being faux-tough rather than being 'dangerous'. It just doesn't give off a feeling of danger that is supposed to convince us that Ruby was hanging around with a rough crowd. The bartender is awfully cooperative to authority figures, for one. Also, this scene cuts off really suddenly and jarringly as soon as he info dumps about the weird reputation of the lake at night.


Scene 09: The following morning, Scully is awakened before dawn by mysterious shadows outside her motel window. She's startled when her doorknob starts to rattle.

Her gun is across the room on the table, so she rushes for it, but before she can get it from the holster, her room door is burst open. A flashlight blinds her and a man's voice demands to know where Fox Mulder is located.


Commentary: Yes, despite Scully's continued brushes with danger, she still doesn't keep her gun on her nightstand next to the bed within easy reach.


Scene 10: The men turn out to be fellow agents... though not of the FBI. They're from the NSA and are interested in Mulder's fax of the 1's & 0's. It turns out that the "document" he had faxed to the FBI to identify is a transmission from a defense satellite. They want to know where he got it from as a breach in national security.

Mulder refuses to tell them where it came from. Scully isn't so obstructionist when it comes to the NSA. He is disappointed in her, she's incredulous at his being so casual over Kevin's having a fragment of top secret communications with a defense satellite.


Scene 11: Shortly after, at the Morris', NSA agents tear through the house - as is their habit - thereby making sure that no one cooperates with them just out of justifiable spite. Because, that's what government agents do.

Scully and Mulder arrive just in time to see Darlene and Kevin hauled away so they can get "What Did You Do To Us" betrayed glares from Darlene.

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Mulder and Scully meet the NSA agents upstairs just as they're wrapping up, having found more of Kevin's 1's & 0's in his room. Naturally, they've broken open little, innocent Kevin's piggy bank for extra brutishness. Mulder snarks at them. They're smug.

Fox looks out the window of Kevin's bedroom, and notices the top of the camper van, which appears to have been uniformly scorched.


Scene 12: Scully watches Mulder as he uses a ladder to investigate the top of the camper van which shows more evidence of having scorching damage done to it across the whole rooftop.


Scene 13: Later at the local FBI office, Mulder and Scully are informed that there was no actionable breach of security by the Morris' except for the oddness of Kevin having gotten access to a satellite transmission that his local cable satellite shouldn't have picked up. With this clearly being a non-deliberate receipt of the transmission, and with the actual data that was transcribed by him being not security-sensitive, Kevin and Darlene are being released from custody and the NSA is not following up with any espionage/security trespass charges against the family.

Scully wonders if the data fragments were just random gibberish, but computer-agent disputes this as well. The information Kevin received wasn't random at all, it just wasn't secured data. For whatever reason, the security satellite was transmitting bits of human endeavors: DiVinci, Brandenburg Concertos, DNA double-helix descriptions... all of it incomplete and seemingly random, but not meaningless.


Scene 14: As Darlene is released with her son, Mulder tries to explain the misunderstanding. Darlene tells Mulder that she wants them to stay away from her son and herself.


Scene 15: In the car, Scully is expecting that they're headed back to their motel, but Mulder wants to see Kevin again. He tells her that Kevin is the key to whatever happened to Ruby suggesting that he was at his sister's side during the abduction, which caused him to be touched in some unexplained way. He believes that Kevin's receiving that digital information from the television screen isn't just a 'statistical aberration' as FBI computer-woman marked it down as.

Scully confronts Mulder on his wanting desperately to see an abduction where the evidence for such is entirely scant. Obviously, he wants Kevin and Ruby to lead to some sort of revelation about what may have happened to Samantha Mulder years ago.

He reports that he's taking them to the lake to look for signs that something unusual did occur at that lake that may be tied to Ruby's disappearance.


Commentary: I really like this scene for Gillian's acting as Scully is sympathetic to her partner and isn't completely writing off that something UFO-related may still be going on, but she also wants him to really think about the evidence clearly and not be blinded by his need for answers about something in his past that he still struggles with. It's a particularly well acted scene by her striding the line between wanting to help Mulder, while also needing to remain objective about what little they actually have to work with and how it doesn't add up to Ruby's disappearing being anything but mundane.


Scene 16: At the lake, Mulder finds more scant evidence tying the blistering of the camper rooftop to the lake: Tree tops are showing signs of extreme heat and he finds sand that has been solidified to glass. Strange, but as Scully reports, could have been caused by lightning strikes and there is no evidence to suggest that they occurred the exact night that Ruby was reported to have vanished without trace.


Commentary: I have a problem with this whole set up, actually. The problem is the script making a big deal of the heat damage to the camper and then compounding it by suggesting there was this surge of heat going on over the campgrounds by using the trees and the fused sand as evidence. It just doesn't make sense because of what we do know -- if there was this extreme heat going on outdoors (the scorched camper top, the hot doorknob, the cinged treetops, the fused sand) then why wasn't Kevin sporting burn marks? He wasn't so much as left with a sunburn! And why wouldn't all of the trees be showing the same damage uniformly, rather than just the few photoshopped trees we're shown? Finally, what the hell is up with the glass? Why would there have been one tiny spot of sand reaching the necessary temperatures to fuse it into glass, but only is this one tiny spot?

The heat damage is just too specific to push Mulder's suspicions along, while being too random to make logical sense as to what allegedly happened the night of Ruby's disappearance. It's a real script weakness that we're supposed to just let slip by us for the sake of the story.



As Scully is studying the tree tops and piece of glass, Scully sees a small wolf staring at her from the forest edge. She whispers for Fox's attention, and when the wolf takes off for the forest, Fox suddenly chases after it unexpectedly.

He comes across a pack of the same creatures, trying to get under a cairn of stacked stones. Mulder discharges his gun to chase them away, and draws Scully's rush dash after him into the forest.


Commentary: Again, in order to move the mysterious plot with Ruby forward, the script chooses an entirely random and coincidental event to keep the agents going. It's really very clumsy and unconvincing.


Scully asks after the cairn of stones and Mulder confirms that it's a shallow grave. He begins to uncover it, but Scully forces him to stop as this will clearly be a crime scene. He insists that he has to know if it's 'her', and though he's referring to Ruby, he could just as easily be speaking about Samantha.

We get another really sudden and jarring cut to black for commercial.


Scene 17: When we return, we find the local law enforcement ribboning off the shallow grave with police tape. Mulder and Scully are standing nearby waiting for CSI to uncover the remains in an orderly fashion. When they do, it isn't Ruby waiting for them, but a male. (A male whose eyelids twitch.)

A wallet is found with the remains, and the Sheriff quickly identifies the body as belonging to the equally missing Greg Randall, Ruby's supposed boyfriend.

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Fox investigates the wallet before leaving things to the locals and finds a slip of paper with a doctor's name and appointment time.


Scene 18: At the Sheriff's office a bit later, the handwriting of the note in Greg's wallet is compared against the note that mysterious girl left on our agent's windshield. It is quickly apparent that both notes were written by the same hand. Sheriff offers to find out from the doctor who had the appointment referred to in Greg's wallet.


Scene 19: Mysterious Girl, is of course the one who had the appointment with the doctor. This is Tessa. She was actually the one pregnant, not Ruby and Greg had knocked herself up rather than the missing girl. Mulder accuses her of killing Greg and Ruby. Fox pressures Tessa into slipping up that she was at the lake the night that Ruby vanished, but still claims that she didn't have anything to do with Ruby's being missing.

She claims that the night she met Greg and shot him, burying him in that shallow grave in the forest, Ruby wasn't even there. But otherwise, yes, she did make up the entire story about Ruby and Greg planning to run off together and using Ruby's vanishing as a way to deflect attention from Greg also "disappearing".


Scene 20: With Greg's murder being discovered, Scully is ready to hang Ruby's disappearance on Tessa as a probable murder with the suspect refusing to cooperate in telling them where the second victim's body is. She's ready to head home and let local enforcement continue the case. Mulder refuses, sticking with his belief that Ruby was abducted by something in the woods that wasn't Tessa.

Despite Scully's pleading with Mulder to let this case, go, he's convinced that Kevin still has something to tell them even though Scully points out that Darlene doesn't want anything to do with them now and won't let them speak to her son.


Scene 21: She very reluctantly goes with him to the Morris house, where they find the front door unlatched and no one answering.

Inside, they find the television on to a channel of static and more of Kevin's sheet after sheet of 1's & 0's. Even more ominously, the tea kettle left on the stove starts whistling, showing a rushed leaving from the house.

Scully returns from the kitchen to find Mulder studying Kevin's work and not knowing what it is all supposed to mean. She decides to check upstairs. When she goes up the staircase, she happens to look down and is stopped short by what she sees; She calls Mulder to join her on the second floor overlooking the living room.


Scene 22: When Mulder joins her, we see that when you're looking down at Kevin's doodling, his 1's & 0's were written in a specific pattern... his missing sister's face!

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Scene 23: Without anywhere else to go with this investigation, Mulder next decides that they have to return to the lake where he suspects they'll find Darlene and Kevin waiting for Ruby's return. Scully points out what a long shot this is.

When they arrive though, they do find the Morris' camper waiting after all.


Scene 24: Nobody is there, but Scully spots a trail leading deeper into the forest. They take off down it, only to hear Darlene's voice cry out.

They find Darlene on the ground, apparently having tripped. She reports that "it" is there in the forest with them and when Fox asks after Kevin, she reports that she couldn't keep up after him. Dana stays with Darlene but tells Fox to go ahead and go after Kevin.


Scene 25: He finds Kevin heading out into the fog, just as a bright reddish-orange light starts glowing further on [again bringing an image of Barry's abduction to mind].

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Mulder catches up with Kevin, only to find out that the orange lights were a fake-out and that it is actually the motorcycle gang out for a ride around the lake, with Kevin almost getting himself run down.

After the cycles ride off -- apparently not concerned with the fact they nearly mowed down a little kid in the middle of the woods at night, Kevin insists to Mulder that Ruby is back. Fox sympathizes, but has to point out that he doesn't think that she is.

He's interrupted by Scully yelling for him from off in the distance.


Scene 26: When he and Kevin find Scully and Darlene in the woods, they also find Ruby lying on the path. Scully is delivering CPR. Scully states that she's alive, though obviously in rough enough shape as to need chest compressions.


Scene 27: Some unspecified amount of time later, Scully reports to Mulder that Ruby has come out of a coma as they're walking down to her hospital room. She's going over her chart, but can't find any explanation for the coma, though the white blood count was extremely high. Mulder asks after elevated bio-bio-yadda readings, which Scully confirms, mystified. Fox reports that the symptoms match what has been reported by astronauts returning to Earth from their exposure to prolonged weightless conditions.


Scene 28: In Ruby's room, Fox questions where Ruby has been but she's afraid to say. Kevin tells her that it's alright because Mulder already knows about 'them', but Ruby insists she was told not to tell anyone and is obviously afraid. Mulder presses her about who told her that she should keep her whereabouts secret, but then Darlene comes in the room. She tells her daughter that she doesn't need to say anything to anyone about what happened.

Scully offers they can wait until Ruby feels a little stronger, but Darlene is obviously unwelcoming of their continued attention. She summons them out into the hallway to speak to them, as Ruby continues looking afraid in her hospital bed.


Scene 29: Darlene makes her intentions clear about not letting them talk to Ruby about her experiences. She points out her own case as to why... she's spent her whole life being ridiculed for her claims about what she had seen with her scouting troop out at the lake. She doesn't want Ruby - whose story is bound to be even more outlandish - to go through the same thing.

We can tell that Fox is nearly desperate to hear Ruby's story as a way to have another link to what may or may not have happened to Samantha, and Kevin also seems to want him to hear Ruby's story, but Darlene shuts the door in the agents' face, leaving Fox deeply disappointed.


Scene 30: Later, Dana is going through Samantha Mulder's case file as opened by Fox himself for the X-Files. She's listening to his hypnotic session from when he was attempting to piece together what exactly he saw and heard the night his sister vanished.


Scene 31: Over Fox's hypnotic session voiceover, we leave Dana and join Mulder. He's sitting in a church pew and looking at a photograph of himself and his sister at the beach. He breaks down into tears.

The voiceover is his recollection of not being able to move, even to turn his head. He remembers that Samantha was calling his name over and over again. He wasn't afraid, even through he knew that he should be. He tells the hypnotist that there is a voice in his head telling him that he shouldn't be afraid and that no harm is to come to his sister. He claims that the voice is telling him that one day she'd be returned.

The doctor asks if he believes the voice. "I want to believe," hypnotised Mulder answered.


Commentary: I really like this closing scene that really gives Fox a sympathetic cast to his sometimes obsessive and rude behavior. We can see here by him crying alone in the quiet of a darkened church just how desperate he is to find anything that might suggest his sister's fate. And, David handles the crying well.


The Good: I like that the parallels between this case and Samantha's disappearance is shown to have such a deep impact on Mulder from his insistence on making more than the evidence would suggest, to his anger at Tessa for her lying to them, to his opening up to Scully and especially the closing scene.

I liked Carrie Snodgress' work as Darlene Morris.

I like the way that Kevin's transcription of the 1's and 0's ultimately create a picture of Ruby, thereby alerting he and Darlene that she may be coming back to them. (But see other thoughts, because there is some seriously muddled storytelling going on with all of this.)


The Bad: I'm going to put "muddled script" here, because of all of the things mentioned in "Other Thoughts". Ultimately, when taking everything together, this script is pretty messy.


Other Thoughts: I like the story and the interactions between David, Gillian and Carrie but I don't really like this script much. It seems to go off on tangents when it comes to Tessa and the NSA agents and the investigation into Ruby's disappearance. In addition, there are some really clumsily convenient things that happen just to keep the trail of Ruby from going too cold and sending the agents back home before the end of our 44 minutes.

I also don't like the way that the supposed heat damage at the campsite to justify Mulder's continuing to investigate the area for UFOs is so haphazardly used, and indeed the damage itself is so haphazard and badly written into the story without any sort of logical consequences that aren't convenient for Fox's argument.

Another bit of randomness is Kevin's picking up a transmission from the defense satellite: Why would this signal exist? The indication from the script seems to be that the aliens are switching through random data on human culture, using our digital transmissions and that Kevin is a party to these transmissions as he was altered in some imperceptible way by Ruby's abduction since he was there with her. But that doesn't answer why they would then be transmitting this information back to Kevin... it doesn't explain why he'd be picking up on this at all if they're were only receiving it passively as they go about their business... and it doesn't explain why or how the data files that Kevin transcribed would indicate a security breach of National Security or where he was getting the information from that would have alerted the NSA to such a breach. This whole plot point is really badly constructed and then is summarily dismissed as soon as its place in the story is done -- It's nearly a wild goose chase, except that later Kevin's doodling creates the picture of his sister.

Also clumsy? The fake out of the motorcycle headlights suggesting that an alien ship is just over a rise. Cycle headlights are not orangish, which the backlighting behind Kevin in the fog definitely is.


The Score: I was into the mystery of Ruby's disappearance, especially with her creepy brother's possible linkage to her abductors, but at the end of the episode it just felt too random to hold together. It turned out to be a disappointment, actually. It wasn't bad or unenjoyable, but it started out looking like it was going to be a really good story and then just wandered around until it was time for Ruby to come back and not tell Mulder anything. Blah.

3.00 out of 5


-- Next Review: Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 9, Issue 1