Ice (The X-Files)
|The X-Files episode|
|Episode no.||Season 1
|Directed by||David Nutter|
|Written by||Glen Morgan
|Original air date||November 5, 1993|
|Running time||43 minutes|
"Ice" is the eighth episode of the first season of the American science fiction television series The X-Files, which premiered on the Fox network on November 5, 1993. It was directed by David Nutter and written by Glen Morgan and James Wong. The debut broadcast of "Ice" was watched by 10.0 million viewers in 6.2 million households and received positive reviews from critics, who praised its tense atmosphere.
FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigate the deaths of an Alaskan research team. Isolated and alone, the agents and their accompanying team discover the existence of extraterrestrial parasitic organisms that drive their hosts into impulsive fits of rage.
The episode was inspired by an article in Science News about an excavation in Greenland. Series creator Chris Carter has named the 1938 novella Who Goes There?, by John W. Campbell, as an additional inspiration for the storyline. "Ice" exceeded its production budget despite being conceived as an episode that would save money by being shot in a single location.
A mass murder–suicide occurs among a team of geophysicists at an outpost in Icy Cape, Alaska. FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) head for the outpost accompanied by physician Dr. Hodge (Xander Berkeley); toxicologist Dr. DaSilva (Felicity Huffman); geologist Dr. Murphy (Steve Hytner); and Bear (Jeff Kober), their pilot. Along with the bodies of the scientists, the group finds a dog that attacks Mulder and Bear. Scully notices black nodules on its skin and suspects that it may be infected with bubonic plague. She also notices movement underneath its skin. Bear, having been bitten by the dog as it attacked him, becomes ill and develops similar nodules on his body. Autopsies reveal no such nodules on the bodies of the scientists.
Murphy finds an ice core sample that is believed to originate from a meteor crater. He theorizes that the sample might be 250,000 years old. Bear insists on leaving, but the others are worried about infecting the outside world with a contagion. When asked for a stool sample, Bear attacks Mulder and tries to flee. Something moves underneath Bear's skin, and he dies when Hodge removes a small worm from the back of his neck. The group is left with no pilot, and they are told that an evacuation is impossible because of the weather.
The worm removed from Bear is kept in a jar. Another is recovered from one of the corpses. Mulder believes that the worms are extraterrestrial and wants them kept alive, although Scully feels that they should be destroyed to prevent infection. The group check each other for black nodules and find none, although Mulder reminds Scully that the nodules disappeared from the dog over time. When Mulder finds Murphy in the freezer with his throat slit, the others—including Scully—believe that he has become infected and killed Murphy. Mulder is locked in a store room.
Scully discovers that two worms put together will kill each other. When the investigators place one of the worms into the infected dog, it recovers. Against Scully's objections, Hodge and DaSilva try to place the other worm into Mulder, but Hodge realizes that the infected one is DaSilva. He and Mulder restrain DaSilva and place the last worm inside of her. On rescue, DaSilva is quarantined and the others are released. Mulder wants to return to the site but is told that it has been destroyed by the government.
Conception and writing
Glen Morgan began to write this episode after reading a Science News article about men in Greenland who found a 250,000-year-old item in ice. The setting, an icy, remote research base overcome by an extraterrestrial creature, is similar to that of John W. Campbell's 1938 novelette Who Goes There? and its two feature film incarnations, The Thing from Another World (1951), directed by Christian Nyby, and The Thing (1982), directed by John Carpenter. Chris Carter has mentioned these as being the main inspirations for the episode. Though Carter has not mentioned it as a source, the device--a killer extraterrestrial parasite embedded deep in an ice sheet--also occurs in the 1992 Peter Hoeg novel "Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow." As in the novelette and movies, the characters cannot trust each other because they are unsure if they are what they seem to be. Carter in particular enjoyed this aspect, because it pitted Mulder and Scully against each other and gave "a new look on their characters early on in the series".
The episode's premise became a recurring theme in the series: episodes such as "Darkness Falls" and "Firewalker" repeated the dual use of remote locations and unknown lifeforms. A similar plot was featured in "The Enemy", a 1995 episode of Morgan and Wong's series Space: Above and Beyond, while the Fringe episode "What Lies Below" has been mentioned by UGO Networks as following "basically" the same plot as "Ice". The episode also introduced the use of invertebrate parasites as antagonists within the series. This plot device would reappear in "Firewalker", "The Host", "F. Emasculata" and "Roadrunners".
The similarity to Carpenter's version of The Thing was due in part to newly arrived production designer Graeme Murray, who had worked in the same role on Carpenter's film and created the complex in which the episode took place. "Ice" was intended as a "bottle episode," one that would save money by being shot in a single location, but nevertheless went over budget. Carter has said that The X-Files typically works from a small budget and that "every dollar we spend ends up on the screen". As a bottle episode, "Ice" used a very small cast. The interior shots for the episode were filmed in a set constructed at an old Molson brewery site. The episode's few exterior shots were filmed at Delta Air Park in Vancouver, whose hangars and flat terrain could be made to appear as an Arctic location. Carter has stated that he would have preferred to set the episode at the North Pole but believed that this was not feasible at the time.
The production company had planned at first to use snakes in latex suits to portray the worms. This proved to be infeasible, and mealworm larvae were used instead. The effect of the worms crawling in the host bodies was achieved with wires under fake skins, including one with hair for the dog. Digital effects were employed for scenes that depicted the worms swimming in jars and entering the dog's ear. Extra footage was shot for scenes involving the worm so that the scenes would remain "intact" if Fox's standards and practices officials asked for footage to be cut, but no edits were requested. "Ice" marked the first significant role in the series for make-up effects artist Toby Lindala, who would thereafter become its chief make-up artist. The dog used in the episode is the parent of Duchovny's own pet, Blue. Ken Kirzinger, who portrayed one of the scientists killed in the episode's cold open, is the stunt coordinator for the series.
"Ice" is not directly connected to the overarching mythology of the series, but it has been described as "a portent to the alien conspiracy arc which would become more pronounced in the second season" due to its themes of alien invasion and government conspiracy. The episode is also noted for exploring the relationship between its lead characters. The trust between Mulder and Scully is shown in direct contrast to the behavior of Hodge and DaSilva, who are united instead by their suspicion and mistrust of those around them. The two pairs are depicted as "mirror images" due to their differing approaches toward acting in partnership.
"Ice" involves elements common to several works by Morgan and Wong, namely the notion of dual identities and the questioning of one's own personality. Leslie Jones, in the essay "Last Night We Had an Omen," has noted the appearance of this thematic leitmotif in several of the pair's other The X-Files scripts including "the meek animal-control inspector who is a mutant shape-shifter with a taste for human liver ["Squeeze"], the hapless residents of rural Pennsylvania driven mad by a combination of insecticides and electronic equipment ["Blood"], [and] the uptight PTA run by practicing Satanists ["Die Hand Die Verletzt"]".
Anne Simon, a biology professor at University of Maryland, College Park, has discussed the episode in her book Monsters, Mutants and Missing Links: The Real Science Behind the X-Files. Simon noted that, like the worms in "Ice", real parasitic worms will attach themselves to the human hypothalamus because it is not blocked by the blood–brain barrier. Simon also compared "Ice" to the later episodes "Tunguska" and "Gethsemane" due to their common theme of extraterrestrial life reaching earth through the process of panspermia.
"Ice" originally aired on the Fox network on November 5, 1993, and was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC Two on November 10, 1994. The episode's initial American broadcast earned a Nielsen household rating of 6.6 with an 11 share, meaning that roughly 6.6 percent of all television-equipped households, and 11 percent of households watching TV, were tuned in to the episode. A total of 6.2 million households and 10.0 million viewers watched this episode during its original airing. "Ice," alongside "Conduit," was released on VHS in 1996 and was released on DVD as part of the complete first season.
"Ice" received praise from critics. In The Complete X-Files, authors Matt Hurwitz and Chris Knowles called the episode a milestone for the fledgling series. A retrospective of the first season in Entertainment Weekly rated "Ice" an "A−" and described it as "particularly taut and briskly paced". Keith Phipps, in The A.V. Club, praised the episode and rated it an "A". He felt that the cast "plays the paranoia beautifully" and that the episode was "as fine an hour as this first season would produce". The episode was included in an A.V. Club list of the greatest television "bottle" episodes, where it was described as "us[ing] its close quarters as an advantage". A third A.V. Club article, which compiled ten "must-see" episodes of the series, called this episode "the first sign that this show had a shot at really being something special" and added that it "makes great use of claustrophobia and the uneasy but growing alliance between the heroes".
Digital Spy's Ben Rawson-Jones has described the episode's stand-off between Mulder and Scully as "an extremely tense moment of paranoia." A review in New York's Daily News called it "potent and creepy" and claimed that the plot "was worthy of honorary passage into The Twilight Zone". Matt Haigh, writing for Den of Geek, called it "an extremely absorbing and thrilling episode" whilst acknowledging its debt of influence to The Thing. Anna Johns, in TV Squad, called "Ice" "a spectacular episode" and praised its opening as "excellent". UGO Networks listed the episode's worms as among the series' best "Monster-of-the-Week" instances and described them as the cause of "much pointed-guns aggression". In Tor.com, Meghan Deans compared the scene in which Mulder and Scully inspect each other for infection to a similar scene in "Pilot" and found that it showed both characters equally vulnerable without portraying Scully as "an idiot", which Deans felt that the pilot had done. Robert Shearman and Lars Pearson, in their book Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium & The Lone Gunmen, rated the episode five stars out of five. They found it to be "the most influential episode ever made" and noted that the series copied its formula several times throughout its run. Shearman felt that, although their script was derivative, Morgan and Wong had created "a pivotal story" by combining the most important themes from The Thing with a "well rounded" cast of characters. Den of Geek writer Juliette Harrisson named it the "finest" stand-alone episode of the first season.
"Ice" was praised by the production crew as one of the best episodes of the first season. Carter felt that Morgan and Wong "just outdid themselves on this show, as did director David Nutter, who really works so hard for us. I think they wrote a great script and he did a great job directing it, and we had a great supporting cast". Nutter stated that "the real great thing about 'Ice' is that we were able to convey a strong sense of paranoia. It was also a great ensemble piece. We're dealing with the most basic emotions of each character, ranging from their anger to their ignorance and fear. It established the emotional ties these two characters have with each other, which is very important. Scaring the hell of out of the audience was definitely the key to the episode". Anderson stated that "it was very intense. There was a lot of fear and paranoia going on. We had some great actors to work with".
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- "X Cyclopedia: The Ultimate Episode Guide, Season 1". Entertainment Weekly. November 29, 1996. Retrieved July 7, 2011.
- Chris Carter (narrator). Chris Carter Speaks about Season One Episodes: Ice (DVD). The X-Files: The Complete First Season: Fox.
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- Westfahl, Gary (2005). The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders 2. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-313-32952-4.
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