Written by Alex Gansa & Howard Gordon
Directed by Daniel Sackheim
In the first season of The X-Files, the majority of the episodes were written by three writing units, Carter himself, Morgan & Wong, and the writers of this episode. Alex Gansa & Howard Gordon are significant for being the first group of writers to become famous for their work after they left The X-Files. (Gansa left after the first season; Gordon stayed on until Season 4.) The two had worked as a unit for the cult hit Beauty and the Beast. When Gordon left the series, he would briefly work for both Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Angel, before reuniting with Gansa to become the driving force behind 24, one of the first great shows of TV's new Golden Age. They are currently the head writers of Showtime's Homeland, a series which until a few weeks of this writing (its currently December 2013) I thought would also be a great show.
What does all of this have to do with The X-Files? Well, anyone who's been a fan of either series know that Gordon and Gansa thrive in making unbelievable situations absolutely brilliant, even if it doesn't make much sense at the time. But for reasons which surpass the understanding, they were never as capable as some of the other writers at taking the supernatural and strengthen it with reality. One can see their struggles with the concept of the series in their debut episode. They don't seem quite comfortable with either making this a straight procedural or completely paranormal, so they try to do both, and end up not doing well with either. Part of this could be written off as the simple problem that they have no idea what direction this series will take--- many scripts in the first season will suffer for that reason. But the main problem with Conduit they seem determined to try and lead us down as many blind alleys before eventually leading us... well, that's another problem.
They clearly don't have a grip on the central characters either. From before the teaser, Mulder seems determined to put an X in this file where it may not belong. In doing so, he pisses off local law enforcement (nothing new), theorizes outlandishly (ditto) and seems to be personalizing this case. One of the problems with the show was that they never got a clear idea as to how best to handle the Samantha Mulder abduction storyline--- it will literally change from season to season. And right now, Mulder seems determined to see his sister in this case where she most assuredly is not there, but which Scully seems determined to remind us of with every backward glance. It's very frustrating, and it equally irritating that we seem to keep being lead down one blind alley after another. The mysterious woman who seems to be unearthly is actually a friend of Ruby's, who's later revealed to be a murderer. Kevin keeps looking at the TV screen and drawing binary code that seems to be vital to something, but is just fragments of the whole. They find a shallow grave near her abduction, but it's belongs to someone else. By the time we mistake a motorcycle gang for aliens, one wants to grab the writers and say "We get it! Nothing on the X-Files can be taken as what it seems! Now make up your damn mind!" But they don't and we leave with Ruby reunited with her family, but no answers of any kind available. It doesn't give you faith in the writers, especially when you realize that this is one of the BETTER scripts Gordon and Gansa will write for this show.
There are some good moments, but like the fragments the FBI reads from the document that Kevin is drawing, they're only moments of brilliance. Carrie Snodgress gives a believable performance as Mrs. Morris, the woman who initially wants to convince anybody that something horrible has happened to her daughter, and by the end just wants the FBI to go away. The segment at the bar where Mulder takes the point of most resistance when he tells the bartender he doesn't believe in flying saucers. And when Scully looks at the massive enclave of data that Kevin has been drawing is revealed to be a pictured of the missing Ruby--- that's pure crystal in an episode that's most Flintstone's jelly glass. And they're fragmented enough to almost make you think that this episode is worth your time.
But as will come to be the case with a lot of Howard Gordon scripts, the key word is 'almost'. There will be moments of shock and awe that will register overwhelming the dullness of the story. This will work better in episodes that are more Monster-of-the-week. Unfortunately, at this stage in the series development, the writers are trying desperately to find a unifying theme between every story, another big problem with Season 1. So rather that having some kind of supernatural vengeance, we get maudlin close-ups of Mulder and Scully trying to connect this somehow to Samantha, especially in our first listen to Mulder's memories of what happened the night she was abducted. And Howard Gordon has problems with showing traditional humanity, no matter what series he's working for.
I'm not saying Conduit is a complete waste of time, either--- in tone and acting, it's pretty solid. But for a series to be considered workmanlike at this stage in the game is never a good sign for the average viewer. Like Mulder, we want to believe that the series is capable of greatness, but at this stage, with this episode, it's hard to be convinced.