September 2013 sees the 20th anniversary of the first airing of The X-Files. To celebrate this on The Hex Dimension, I’m providing you with retrospectives on episodes and I’ll also be covering the films at the points that they fit into the series’ chronology. So, without further ado… welcome to “Space”.
The opening, with the whole “face on Mars” thing is interesting mainly due to our continued fascination in media with the Red Planet. From the Mysterons of Captain Scarlet to Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars (obviously made after this X-Files episode) to the attention being thrown at the planet from the thousands who have signed-up to go on a one-way mission there – Mars is both otherly and mysterious to us.
This is an episode that seems really ambitious from the start. Apart from the copious amounts of library footage, the fact that the episode is based around NASA is really interesting. Think about it – far more in the public eye than branches of the military in terms of the PR it has had since the start of the Luna missions, NASA equally has its share of huge secrets within the Space Program. “Why the cloak and dagger routine?” asked by Scully once the opening is over really demonstrates this public body with enormous secrets to balance with its public persona.
Mulder does this apt run-down of why sabotage could be happening and goes from terrorism to those wanting to cover-up the existence of extra-terrestrials. And while the opening didn’t necessarily make it clear, by this point it’s becoming apparent that the mystery here is probably not of human origin.
One could say “Space” is the show’s exploration of a continued governmental and public dissatisfaction with the United State’s space programme at the time. With the Hubble Space Telescope suffering massive technical problems two or so years before this episode takes place, the Challenger tragedy, and the Cold War very much over – the point of the space programme was very much under scrutiny at this point, especially with the International Space Station project beginning to pick-up steam in 1993.
It really does feel that this episode, along with the usual X-Files case stuff going on, does offer a small analysis on the changing role of space exploration and projects in the 1990s before current telecommunications systems really took-off. A moment later on the episode really emphasises this when it’s discussed what the cost of a failed, launched mission would have meant in terms of tax payers’ dollars:
“You only make the front page today if you screw-up.”
Following on from “Ice” the camera work in “Space” is also great for the environments used. Whereas there was the claustrophobia and limited scenes of the station in the previous episode, the NASA sets are big and ballsy. It does feel like we could be at Houston and everything seems so open and transparent, which is a great contrast to the events playing out on the sets.
Some great camera moments with the colonel, Scully takes lead on questioning and the camera keeps slowly zooming in on Scully, the colonel and Mulder as the questions and responses are bounced around. It’s quite possibly a visual cue to highlight the suspicion we should hold this character in, considering the episode’s pre-titles opening.
Despite the stunning sets and suspense, the special effects at work are perhaps what really let this episode down. The apparition that regularly appears doesn’t come off well and it seems poorly done in comparison to other paranormal phenomena portrayed in earlier episodes.
Where the parasites of “Ice” were reasonably convincing, when they weren’t clearly using stand-in maggots, the ghostly image that frequently appears throughout this episode just doesn’t cut in. It seems like misplaced budget. Expect for one moment where it does work while the colonel is in bed.
The paranormal elements in this episode, despite all the subsequent alien shenanigans that do happen in the various seasons, this particular flavour of ET is not revisited. Which is a shame I suppose, but then it seems that Carter prefers his aliens to be closer to the potential for body horror, rather than incorporeal.
“Hey, Scully, we send those men up into space to unlock the doors of the universe, and we don’t even know what’s behind them,” says Mulder towards the end of the episode. This element of detached awe for anything from space rarely resurfaces in the show, which is interesting as this episode was written by series creator Chris Carter.
What did you think of this episode? Let us know in the comments below.