In this monster of the week episode, everything’s going a bit wrong aboard a Russian ship moving “cargo” from the Ukraine… Thing is, they’ve got more on board than what they expected. As a member of the crew is sucked into the nastier end of the ship’s sewage treatment, a crewman cries, “Flush the tanks!”
Mulder starts off where we left him, but is finally getting a reassignment, courtesy of Assistant Director Skinner. It’s not surprising that Mulder thinks he’s just been assigned to a regular murder case, but the way the investigation develops enables Mulder to realise that he does still have some allies, though it takes him some time to see this.
“Being jerked around from one meaningless assignment to another,” Mulder proclaims to a room that he doesn’t realise is filled with senior FBI staff. Not initially being impressed with the case he has been given, Mulder is all angst and loathing. But again, like the previous episode, it is Scully who tries to resolve things, to try and reach back to the way things were before.
Scully’s examination of the dead body from the case Mulder has been assigned to is probably one of the grimmest scenes in the entire season. Everything starts out all fine, you just have close-ups of Scully and the hint of gore from her tools and then finally the camera pulls out and you see the body of the Russian crewman from earlier. Or at least what is left of him. Severe decomposition and internal organs looking more external than internal – it’s pretty disgusting.
The subsequent reveal of the parasite inside the corpse is just the tip of the amazing effects in this episode. The creature that’s the subject of this episode is an amazing piece of work. That’s a man in a suit and make-up that took hours to complete. Not CG. It moves effectively in the water and looks pretty damn freaky and scary. Its offspring are also pretty convincing.
I really like about this episode for its use of location and sets. They built the internal sewers used in the episode, huge tanks with iffy looking water, and actually filmed on location for the exterior sewage treatment plant shots. That means that the crew and cast had to put up with some pretty horrendous smells while on location, now that’s dedication.
One of the more interesting aspects of the story for this episode, and like several of the ones from season one (like “The Jersey Devil episode”) is that it builds upon using urban myths for the story. It plays with the tabloid based ideas of alligators and potential mutants living under the feet of the US public. In fact in one scene, Scully actually takes to the tabloids, after having a paper shoved under her door, to have a look to see if there have been any similar incidents.
This is perhaps one of the best monster of the week episodes. What’s more unusual is the fact that the creature was set to be institutionalised. No one really knows what to do with it and it’s one of the few cases where the authorities actually get their hands on the monster. And there’s some lovely juxtaposition on screen when they try to process the creature. The fact that it’s too much for the machine of bureaucracy is amply reflected in its subsequent escape and Mulder pointing out that the case should have been an X-File.
Meanwhile, I do advise against going down into sewers while not wearing wellies. Fans of this episode should read the season 10 comics.