Written by Chris Carter
Directed by William Graham
Some TV shows have episodes that the fan base love undeservedly. And hit shows on occasion deliver episodes that are genuine clunkers. The X-Files in that sense would be no different, but there are occasions where you wonder the reason everybody hates this episodes so much. When I was initially reviewing this series, no matter what database I looked at, this episode was always near, if not at, the bottom of the pile. Now having seen some of the truly dreadful episodes of this series, I have always had difficulty understanding why Space was looked as better than, say, The Field Where I Died or some of the bottom feeders from season Eight. And while there are some obvious reasons as to this, nearly two decades later, it not only seems less horrible, but almost more pertinent.
Considering that front and center of X-Files mission statement has been the existence of life in outer space, it's actually a little surprising that this is the only episode in the entire canon where it tries to meet the organization that at it's peak seemed to make this a reality. Considering that there had also been (in 1993) no real movies that tried to take a look at NASA (Apollo 13 was still a gleam in Ron Howard's eye at this point), this actually put the show for the first time, ahead of the entertainment curve. Would it have been better that we could get more than say, shots of stock footage of the Space Shuttle program? At the time, it would've helped. But considering that the series was still little more than a blip on the radar, that's hardly a horrible failing, and actually shows a little daring for a series that for the last few episodes hasn't been putting it's best foot forward. Complaints were also made it seem like all of NASA was located in one room in Houston. Considering that at this point in time American manned spaced exploration has been all but mothballed by our country's government, this part actually seems more plausible now than it did two decades ago.
There's also the fact that the acting is generally better than it's been in some of the last few episodes as well. We're still not doing that great when it comes to actual character development, but for once --- and this is rare for a Carter script---- this actually seems to help the series a little. If anything, the late Ed Lauter seems to demonstrate all the qualities of astronauts--- arrogant, distant, and sworn to his duty. Of course, he's also being possessed by some unexplained space ghost, but, considering that the threat is never made in supernatural terms, it actually helps a bit. Susanna Thompson, one of the more under-praised and versatile actresses TV would produce (who could play a struggling divorcee and the Borg Queen so convincingly?), also gives better than average support. There is a slight tendency on histrionics in both their performances, but for the first time so far in Season One, this doesn't come across as overacting, so much as it does trying to hard. This will eventually come to be a flaw in some episodes, but at this point in The X-Files run, it actually seems almost admirable.
Of course, one of the more obvious nitpicks that fans have picked up can't be denied--- the episode gives Mulder and Scully practically nothing to do for long segments of it. And it doesn't help matters that at the climax of the episodes, our heroes can do nothing but their hold breath and pray, and then applaud and sigh with relief when the mission succeeds. But considering that the series was still working out what its heroes could do in normal episodes, that doesn't strike me as a terrible flaw either. Especially considering that this episodes shows other examples of radical experimentation when Mulder has to deal with what for him is the fall of a boyhood idol. Mulder will become remembered from doing his best to tear sacred cows down, so seeing him for the first time, reluctant to do so--- and genuinely devastated when he learns the truth about Colonel Belt---- is actually more character development than we've had in his character almost since the Pilot. It wouldn't do if this something that happened frequently, but this blind spot for things that have happened in his past is something that will come back to bit him frequently.
Now don't get me wrong. This episode is not a classic. In addition to the above problems, it also has the more significant flaw of never being entirely clear what exactly the X-File is. Is it some kind of alien force from Mars? Some kind of deadly space phantom? The ghost of Apollo's past? It would be easier to explain it, if we got more of a look at what Michelle actually saw when she was run off the road, as well some kind of explanation that couldn't be written off as the ravings of a madman. But then again, since the show would never give us much of a look as to what the aliens in it's mythology actually were, one can't really blame Carter for not having a clear idea of what he was doing now. (Later is a much different story.) But compared to some of the stinkers that came when the show didn't try at all, to try and fail actually seems a little brave at this point. It might have done better if it had the bravery to go a little deeper of some of the issues, but then I imagine the fans would hate it more from leaving the show's mission statement (if such a thing were possible.)