Written by Howard Gordon & Alex Gansa
Directed by Rob Bowman
Let's get out of the way the biggest reason in the world this episode will never completely work: Mulder and Scully survive. This shouldn't be a flaw in a series that's centered around them, but given the scenario that we are presented with---- the characters seemed destined to die of old age in a matter of hours--- there is no believable way that rescue would seem to work. Even the deus ex machina would be less believable than the fact that once our heroes age what appear to be fifty years in a matter of days, there shouldn't be any way at all to bring our heroes back from the dead. This is one major implausibility gap that not even Mulder's logic or Scully's science should be able to breach.
And then there's the next reason that this episode doesn't work, even though it probably goes without saying: the old age makeup for our heroes is dreadful. When the first jump takes place, it's at least buyable, and one can sort of say, it's works. With each progression in the makeup, it looks like our heroes are wearing latex makeup. The makeup department usually does things well, and I'm told that it took three or four hours to make each successive makeup change for the series. Couldn't they have realized in that span of time that the makeup wasn't nearly good enough?
It's a shame, because at least for the first half of the episode, there are some decent ideas on display. The teaser is out and out unsettling, one of the best of the second season, and we feel like we're going to get stuck in what may be a solid conspiracy episode, and--- let's be honest--- a variation on Ice or Darkness Falls, both of which are pretty heavily borrowed from here. The episode is helped by a very good character performance by John Savage as the unfortunate Trondheim --- a man who has the grave misfortune to get pulled in on one of Mulder's excursions, and ends up becoming an X-Files himself. And the mystery has some great imagery when we're confronted with a ship that's rusting from the inside out, and a captain who is the last survivor of this particular crew. But then, it starts forming mysteries that it doesn't show much interest in solving, like what the heck happened to Olfafsson? It's not like he had much of anywhere to go after Trondheim freed him. But at this episode seems more interested in having Mulder and Scully age into oblivion than actually deal with these misfortunes. Instead, we have embarrassing scenes where Mulder and Scully do an act trying to drink the last fresh water on the ship, only to have that fresh water immediately destroyed, so why the heck did Scully have to waste so much time scrounging it up?
I'd like to give this episode more credit than it probably deserves because for once Howard Gordon is writing an episode which doesn't have anything to do with supernatural revenge. Unfortunately, it mostly seems to be a rip-off of his own Firewalker, which as you'll recall, wasn't that great in the first place. And while the ends is a direct rip-off from that of Darkness Falls, there's a big difference from being saved from a swarm of bugs, and being saved from the traumas of extreme old age by modern medicine. 'Cause serious, if that was all it took to stave it off, medical science would've bottled it right then, and it would be at your corner drugstore. And the mood and atmosphere are great, and they almost seem to carry the day. Notice the emphasis on the word 'almost'
This is one of the few episodes that I'm actually reversing myself on having seen again. When I saw it the first time, the atmosphere and mood seemed to carry over some of the problems with the plot, and I thought it around four stars. Having seen it now, it seems like little more than a rip-off with an absolute loser of an ending, barely worth two stars. So I'm going to split the difference. Still, there is one thing I'm sure of--- Howard Gordon doesn't do pretentious voiceover dialogue any better than Chris Carter does