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X-Files Episode Guide: Darkness Falls

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X-Files, Season 1, Episode 20

Rating:
Star4
Star
Star
Star
Star

Written by Chris Carter
Directed by Joe Napolitano

There are only two real problems with this episode. The first is that it's such an obvious rip-off of Ice that one might as well just call it Ice II: Revenge of the Mites. But as will turn out to be the case with a lot of episodes of X-Files, that's not strictly speaking a bad thing. There are enough differences, and pretty critical ones that only the most devoted nitpicker could argue over the similarities. And finally being able to use some of Vancouver's natural beauties in a proper setting gives this episode an atmosphere as well the unique feeling of being trapped in the middle of wide open spaces.

The other problem is, of course, the lack of an ending. When you set up a scenario where Mulder and Scully are trapped, with no hope of escape, you know, by the standards of series TV that they will be saved at the last moment, no matter how implausible the circumstances--- and the fact that that happens even after they have been trapped by the wood mites can only take the edge of what is really a scary little tale Better to have done it in a cliffhanger near the end of the season.

This is, by a pretty substantial margin, Carter's best script of the season, mainly because it's also one of the more simple scripts he has put forth. Stripped down to it's essentials, our heroes go out with a ranger and a logger to find out what happens to a logging team in the Northwest, and they find out exactly what happens, and it damn near kills them. Admittedly, the premise is a little harder to believe than some of the ones that the series will put forth--- insects, as Scully reminds us, are attracted to the light, not vice versa. But the special effects and the setup are so striking that we find ourselves forgoing it, in favor of watching our heroes face the fact that the only thing keeping them from being entombed by a cocoon is a single electric light powered by a generator with only a finite amount of fuel. We saw what happened to the loggers in the teaser, we know what horrors await when the sun sets.

Viewed a certain way, one could view this script as an argument in favor of ecology and preserving nature over the stripping and cutting the loggers have been doing. (The episode did receive an award from the Environmental Media.) But wisely, Carter decides not to make that much of this--- and points to him for doing so, it's a rare act of subtlety for the man. Instead, he sticks to the situation, and the terror that is lurking out there in the dark. There's also an added irony that after Spinney the eco-terrorists goes to such lengths to preserve the trees, he sets up a scenario for a denouement where entire forest is all but burned to the ground.

The ending, of course, can only come as something of a disappointment. Still, there is something more than a bit unsettling than the fact that our heroes, for all intents and purposes, lose the battle to nature. We will end up seeing episode after episode where their efforts to succeed our thwarted by the powers that be; it's somehow more frightening--- and paradoxically satisfying--- to see that our heroes can be brought down by Mother Nature just as easily.

This episode is one of the more frightening ones of the first season, mainly because we can detect the actual fear in Mulder and Scully. It's also Carter's first episode where he seems to have a better understanding of his central characters than at any other show we've seen so far. It's absent the usual quips and cockiness as soon as they end up in the woods, and it leads Mulder to the realization that for all his cleverness, he is far from infallible. And watching the iron fisted Scully slowly succumb to terror the lower the generator gets on fuel shows a level of humanity that she goes to a great deal of trouble to keep buried.

The writing isn't perfect, and the special effects are still at the stages where the terrifying insects look like static. But the fact remains Darkness Falls is definitely one of the better episodes of the first season, one that shows what Carter is capable, and for once, what our heroes are not.

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