September 2013 saw 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 “Darkness Falls”.

Darkness Falls X-Files season 1 img 1If you go down to the woods today

Nature can be a cruel, cold mistress. Like the earlier episodes “The Jersey Devil” and “Ice”, this whole episode is built around not messing with nature, that the world outside of our homes and cities is unforgiving, dangerous and doesn’t want us back.

Opening with panicked loggers seemingly trying to escape the forest they’ve been working in before sunset, the loggers are eventually surrounded by glowing green dots. As they scream, there’s the faint sound of wings folding and mandibles crunching that gives the viewer a hint as to the true nature of the horror that has just enveloped these men.

“Rugged manly men, in the full bloom of their manhood,” Mulder describes the loggers after the opening credits. Setting up this contrast between the perception of who these people are and what it is eventually revealed to have done them in works really well. Size, we come to learn, doesn’t matter.

Darkness Falls X-Files season 1 img 2Eco-terrorism

Before Swampy, before people standing or sitting in the way of fracking companies – the early 90s’ notions of what eco-terrorists were and whether they really stood for something or were a bunch of “tree huggers”: it’s something that does get explored in this episode. At this point in the 90s, people new acid rain was bad, that CFCs had fudged the ozone layer, that nuclear is very dangerous, but the general public didn’t know just how important trees are.

Anyway, how Chris Carter writes the eco-terrorists in this episode is perhaps not as favourable as it could be. As with several other episodes that deal with activism, Carter’s portrayal of activism is more Fox News than The Daily Show. The “monkey wrenchers” are treated with little sympathy from the start.

Darkness Falls X-Files season 1 img 3Cocooned

It amazes me how Carter manages to make spaces feel the opposite of what they are. Cities feel small (“The Jersey Devil” episode) and here the big, huge forest they’re in bears down on them like this oppressive bubble. Salvation is more than a day’s hike away, this is made clear when Mulder, Scully, the ranger and the logging guy encounter one of the monkey wrenches. The big outdoors is made to feel small.

The dangers the darkness brings with it just helps to boost the claustrophobic atmosphere that is at complete odds with how people would normally view this kind of landscape. It’s this reversal that helps make the episode really, really creepy.

Darkness Falls X-Files season 1 img 4Lying dormant

One of the things I really enjoy about this episode is the theorising around where the “mites” may have come from. The idea that something that is hundreds of thousands of years old could be brought back into the present and terrorise them is a repeat of what happens in “Ice”. The change here is that this is more of an external threat than an internal one.

Regardless, there are arguments, there is a lack of cohesion – even between Scully and Mulder. The slow descent into distrust and paranoia that affects the wider group is wonderfully acted out by the agents and the forestry official. Of this feeds nicely into their genuinely huge need to escape the forest before things get too dark.

One thing this episode does a good job of reminding us is that Mulder and Scully aren’t invincible, they are vulnerable. When Mulder says later, “I told her it was going to be a nice trip to the forest,” it just has a hint to the somewhat dangerous nature of a lot of the work that the pair do.

What did you think of this episode? Let us know in the comments below.