Space (The X-Files)
|The X-Files episode|
Colonel Belt is possessed by the entity. The episode was derided by one critic for its "pretty decidedly unscary" graphics.
|Episode no.||Season 1
|Directed by||William Graham|
|Written by||Chris Carter|
|Original air date||November 12, 1993|
|Running time||43 minutes|
"Space" is the ninth episode of the first season of the American science fiction television series The X-Files. It premiered on the Fox network on November 12, 1993. It was written by series creator Chris Carter, directed by William Graham, and featured guest appearances by Ed Lauter and Susanna Thompson. The episode is a "Monster-of-the-Week" story, unconnected to the series' wider mythology. "Space" earned a Nielsen household rating of 6.5, being watched by 6.1 million households in its initial broadcast, and received negative reviews from critics.
The show centers on FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) who work on cases linked to the paranormal, called X-Files. When investigating possible sabotage in NASA's shuttle program, Mulder and Scully find that an astronaut who had been Mulder's childhood hero may be possessed by an extraterrestrial spirit.
Series creator Chris Carter was inspired to write "Space" after reading about news of the "face on Mars"—an instance of pareidolia wherein a mound in the Cydonia region of Mars was taken to resemble a human face. The episode was conceived as a low-budget bottle episode, due to several earlier episodes having exceeded their budgets. Although the episode made use of a significant amount of inexpensive stock footage from NASA, the construction of the command center set was subject to cost overruns, eventually leading the episode to become the most expensive of the first season.
The episode opens with news footage from 1977, showing the discovery of water on Mars, as well as what appears to be a face sculpted into the landscape. Lieutenant Colonel Belt (Ed Lauter), the commander of the mission, is today a supervisor of the shuttle program, plagued by flashbacks of something that took place during the mission, and experiences nightmares of the face.
FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are approached by Michelle Generoo (Susanna Thompson), a communications commander for NASA's mission control center, who believes that someone within the space agency is sabotaging launch attempts. A recent space shuttle liftoff was aborted seconds before commencement, and Generoo fears that the next launch will be similarly compromised. She also has a personal interest, as her fiancé will be aboard the next mission. Mulder and Scully travel to NASA and meet Belt, who is a childhood hero of Mulder's. Belt dismisses the agents' concerns, stating that nothing can possibly go wrong with the mission. He allows the agents to watch the launch from Mission Control. However, contact is lost with the shuttle once in orbit.
While driving with Mulder and Scully through heavy rain in order to reach Mission Control, Generoo sees a ghostly face come at her through the windshield, causing her to crash. Mulder and Scully tend to Generoo, and the three continue to Mission Control.
The shuttle is revealed to have moved into direct sunlight and mission control are unable to rotate it into a safe position, a situation which will cause the astronauts to burn up in short order if it cannot be rectified. Generoo believes that the uplink is being sabotaged by someone within mission control. Belt orders the uplink to be cut, allowing the astronauts to rotate the craft manually, a bold move which pays off. Although the mission is now very risky for the astronauts Belt orders them to proceed, angering Generoo and the FBI agents. Belt then goes on to lie to the press about the status of the mission. Mulder confronts him about this, and Belt states that the shuttle program will likely be cancelled if the mission is not completed successfully.
Belt returns home and has another flashback, screaming as some sort of astral presence leaves his body and flies out the window, heading into the sky. The astronauts aboard the shuttle then report hearing a thump outside the shuttle and begin to experience an oxygen leak. One of them reports seeing some sort of ghostlike entity outside the ship.
The agents examine the records, which show that Belt knew about the equipment flaw and possibly the O-ring failure on the Challenger. Belt collapses, saying the astral force lived in him, controlling him. At his urging, they alert the shuttle to change its trajectory and they are able to land it successfully. In the hospital, Belt continues to wrestle with the presence possessing him, and eventually leaps from the window to his death, experiencing a lengthy flashback to his last space mission as he falls.
Mulder theorizes that, while Belt was compelled to sabotage the launches by the entity possessing him, he was also the one who sent Generoo the evidence of what was taking place. He lauds Belt's final sacrifice, stating that in the end he gave his life for the mission, as befits a true astronaut.
"Space" was conceived as a low-budget bottle episode, due to several earlier episodes having exceeded their budgets. Series creator Chris Carter was inspired to write the episode after reading about news of the "face on Mars"—an instance of pareidolia wherein a mound in the Cydonia region of Mars was taken to resemble a human face. Although the episode made use of a significant amount of inexpensive stock footage from NASA, the construction of the command center set was subject to cost overruns, eventually leading the episode to become the most expensive of the first season. Carter blames this on the infeasibility of showing the astronauts in the stricken shuttle, requiring additional exposition to explain their situation—something he found he could not manage "on an eight-day television budget". Carter also claims that the episode suffered from being filmed shortly after the pilot episode was broadcast, with the crew overwhelmed by the input, noting that "everything was happening at once".
Several scenes in the episode were filmed at a Canadian Airlines operations center in Richmond, British Columbia. The crew were given permission by the airline to use their flight simulators, leading to the production being delayed while everyone had a turn simulating flights over Canada. The problematic command center set was constructed and filmed at an amphitheater in Vancouver, whose sloping surfaces helped to suggest computer terminals without needing much construction, although false computer monitors were added for shots when they would be in view.
Guest star Ed Lauter had previously worked with the episode's director, William A. Graham, on the film Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones. On his role in the episode, Lauter has stated "I don’t really have a lot to say about that, except I thought I did a nice job, and that it was nice working up there in Vancouver with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson".
Broadcast and reception
"Space" premiered on the Fox network on November 12, 1993, and was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC Two on November 17, 1994. The episode earned a Nielsen household rating of 6.5 with an 11 share, meaning that roughly 6.5 percent of all television-equipped households, and 11 percent of households watching TV, were tuned in to the episode. A total of 6.1 million households watched this episode during its original airing.
The episode—reportedly Carter's least favorite—was very poorly received. Frank Lovece, in his books The X-Files Declassified, called it "perhaps the series' dullest, least suspenseful episode", citing the spectral antagonist's "highly unclear motivations". Keith Phipps, writing for The A.V. Club, reviewed the episode negatively, rating it a D+. He felt that the episode's special effects were "pretty decidedly unscary", and that the episode's premise was confusing and "a little tasteless" in its treatment of the Challenger disaster. In a retrospective of the first season in Entertainment Weekly the episode was similarly derided, being rated a D- and described as "one dead hour". Matt Haigh, writing for Den of Geek, reviewed the episode negatively, feeling that it was "nothing much to write home about", and that the episode's antagonist was "distinctly unimpressive, lacking any true sense of menace or intrigue".
- Lowry, pp.120–121
- Lowry, p.122
- Lowry, p.121
- Johns, Anna (July 30, 2006). "The X-Files: "Space"". TV Squad. Retrieved July 7, 2011.
- Gradnitzer; Pittson, p.38
- Gradnitzer; Pittson, p.39
- Harris, Will; Lauter, Ed (July 11, 2012). "Veteran character actor Ed Lauter has 40 years’ worth of Hollywood stories". The A.V. Club. Retrieved July 11, 2012.
- The X-Files: The Complete First Season (booklet). Robert Mandel, Daniel Sackheim, et al. Fox.
- Lowry, p.248
- "X Cyclopedia: The Ultimate Episode Guide, Season 1 | EW.com". Entertainment Weekly. November 29, 1996. Retrieved July 7, 2011.
- Lovece, p.68
- Phipps, Keith (July 5, 2008). ""Ghost In The Machine" / "Ice" / "Space" | The X-Files/Millennium | TV Club | TV | The A.V. Club". The A.V. Club. Retrieved July 18, 2011.
- Haigh, Matt (October 23, 2008). "Revisiting The X-Files: Season 1 Episode 9 – Den of Geek". Den of Geek. Dennis Publishing. Retrieved July 30, 2011.
- Gradnitzer, Louisa; Pittson, Todd (1999). X Marks the Spot: On Location with The X-Files. Arsenal Pulp Press. ISBN 1-55152-066-4.
- Lovece, Frank (1996). The X-Files Declassified. Citadel Press. ISBN 0-8065-1745-X.
- Lowry, Brian (1995). The Truth is Out There: The Official Guide to the X-Files. Harper Prism. ISBN 0-06-105330-9.
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