“It ranks right up there with getting a pony and learning to braid my own hair.”
The episode opens with a newscast. A reporter, in an outfit that defines the early 90s professional ladies look, talks about the 1977 rover mission to Mars. We see closeup pictures of the red planet. One looks like a sculpted human face, but a NASA official denies it being evidence of an alien civilization. Later that night, that man dreams about being in orbit and wakes to see the Mars face form on his ceiling and rush towards him.
Yes, that’s really what happens.
Space is pretty much the low point of the season. Maybe even the series. It takes some great topics – space travel, alien civilizations, astral possession – and somehow makes them incredibly dull.
Mulder is contacted by the NASA communications commander, Michelle Generoo, who believes there’s a saboteur at work, preventing the space shuttle from launching. This threatens the entire space program, so him and Scully go to investigate. Mulder meets one of his childhood heroes, astronaut Captain Marcus Aurelius Belt (yes, that’s really his name) and is giddy as a schoolboy while Scully takes her skeptic role way overboard.
There are a number of major issues with this episode.
First, the special effects. They’re just terrible. At one point, the Mars face gets superimposed onto Captain Belt’s face and it’s laughably bad. This episode was intended to be a money saver so they used a lot of stock NASA footage of the space shuttle but never actually showed any of the astronauts in the space shuttle. The episode mainly took place in the communications command center and intercut stock footage and the result was quite dull.
Second, Scully. I know, she’s the skeptic, but in this episode she takes that skeptic role and runs so far with it that she becomes a total buzzkill. She’s so blasé about the whole idea of space travel. I don’t believe she never wanted to be an astronaut. She’s a scientist, how is space not interesting to her? Who can watch a space shuttle take off, from the command center no less, and not be moved? Is Scully a robot?
Third, the cardinal sin of X-Files, this episode is completely lacking in humor. There’s a distinct lack of witty repartee between Scully and Mulder. Without the give and take of its two leads, the X-Files magic just isn’t there.
Also, since Dahakha pointed it out, I can’t help but notice Mulder invades the personal space of so many women on the show. How did I not see it before? At one point he’s trying to calm down and get information from Generoo, and he rests his hands on either side of her waist as he talks to her. Whyyyy?
In the end, it seemed that Captain belt had been possessed by Mars face during a previous trip to space, who was making him sabotage operations. And it did this because…? Mars face also:
- appeared in a ceiling
- appeared outside a car and caused it to crash
- took over Belt’s face
- broke the space shuttle
The concept of being possessed by some astral force while exploring space is not a bad one, but the decision to have the Mars face represent this made it hard to take the episode seriously.