Written by James Wong & Glen Morgan
Directed by David Nutter
Now we have hit the motherlode. From its brilliant teaser to the eerie conclusion, this is the first balls to the wall classic X-Files would create. This episode and the last one demonstrate the enormous contrast between the X-Files writers. Ghost in the Machine was so close to 2001 and it took a fresh idea and made it seem incredibly tired. This episode almost blatantly rips off The Thing ---- and it seems like it wasn't even created for the same series. Why is the former so mediocre and this episode so inspired?
A huge part of it has to do with the characters. In the last episode--- and, if we're going to be honest, every episode so far--- the characters other than Mulder and Scully seemed flat and one-dimensional that they might as well have been lifted from any police procedural or sci-fi series. For that matter, our ostensible protagonists have been running in place for the last couple of episodes at least But for the first time, the series puts everybody in the episode at the center of the X-Files. It takes the threat from seeming innocuous to real paranoia, and it demonstrates that our leads, for all their team work so far, really don't know each other or trust each other that much. For most of the episode, Mulder and Scully are at each other's throats, not realizing--- or, for that matter, caring--- that their disagreement is not helping matters. For the first time in the series, Duchovny seems stripped away of all the quirks that made his character a little annoying at first, and amplifies to an extensive degree his latent paranoia. Anderson is somewhat more measured, but no less fascinating--- in this case, her rationality isn't trying to keep Mulder in check, it's trying to keep history from repeating itself---- and it's clear she feels more than a little over her head.
If it were just Mulder and Scully's added crackle, the episode would be notable enough, what makes it work even better is that the secondary characters are actually given something to do. None of the actors on the team in Ice ---- Xander Berkeley, Felicity Huffman, or Steve Hynter--- was well known before the series, but all (Huffman in particular) have gone on to very successful careers in TV, and their early work here demonstrates just how gifted they are. All of them have notable foibles or quirks that no one else has demonstrated at any point in the series, and all of them react differently when the possibility of infection and a pretty hideous death is on the table. When they start dying, we actually give a damn because the law of Extraneous Characters doesn't seem to apply here. The paranoia is nearly as deadly an infection as killer worms from beneath the Arctic, and we feel it with every minute. It can't have helped matters that this team was assembled with no one knowing anything about the crisis or about each other. When the killer is revealed, it comes as much as a shock to even her.
I've given the characters involved a lot of credit, but the fact remains this is pretty much a triumph for almost every aspect of the episode. The teaser that I mentioned is the first truly brilliant one we've seen since Squeeze--- the horror of what seems to have happened at Icy Cape is fully realized even though all we see is the aftermath. Not to mention the last few seconds add a twist that would seem to be quintessential X-Files--- Richter and Campbell fight, struggle, and have guns on each other before both simultaneously decide to commit suicide. It's so powerful an image than when Mulder and Scully mirror it by the end of the episode, we forget the rules that protect the leads of the show, and think--- really believe-- that they might fire on each other. However, the episode also demonstrates the first really legitimate example of the two agents--- literally, in this case--- watching each other's back. There will be many moments in the first two seasons of the show where our protagonists still acknowledge that neither one quite trusts the other, but this is the first one that is absolutely critical.
Every other technical aspect on the show works perfectly for the first time. Essentially, this is X-Files acting out a stage play--- later episodes will openly copy it outright---- and that chaos adds to the episode's effectiveness. (It's also the first example of the series taking advantage of not getting much of a budget; never has the idea of making more with less work so effectively) The visual effects are perfect, and they need to be, because of this worm doesn't work--- the entire episodes loses a chunk of its threat. The cinematography works very well, and Mark Snow's musical score finally seems to fit the mood of the series rather than just seeming generic.
Ice demonstrates, for the first time, what X-Files was truly capable of, which would seem to demonstrate that Morgan & Wong have the clearest picture yet on what will make this series work. Much of their work in the next two seasons would be spent trying to match it, and the fact that they succeeded, even surpassed it at times, demonstrates just how good they--- and the show would soon become.