Patient X (The X-Files)
|The X-Files episode|
Dmitri, a young Kazakh, is infected by the black oil.
|Episode no.||Season 5
|Directed by||Kim Manners|
|Written by||Chris Carter
|Original air date||March 1, 1998|
|Running time||45 minutes|
"Patient X" is the thirteenth episode of the fifth season of American science fiction television series The X-Files. It was written by series creator Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz, directed by Kim Manners and aired in the United States on March 1, 1998 on the Fox network. The episode earned a Nielsen household rating of 12.6, being watched by 20.21 million people in its initial broadcast. The episode received moderately positive 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. Mulder is a believer in the paranormal, while the skeptical Scully has been assigned to debunk his work. In this episode, as a rebel alien race secretly attacks several groups of former alien abductees, the agents meet Cassandra Spender (Veronica Cartwright), a woman who claims to be a multiple abductee and wants to deliver a positive message about aliens. Agent Mulder, now skeptical about extraterrestrial activity, is disturbed when Agent Scully forms a special bond with the woman.
"Patient X" was a story milestone for the series. It introduced several new recurring characters for the series. It was the first episode to feature Chris Owens as Jeffrey Spender and Veronica Cartwright as Cassandra Spender. It is the first of a two-part story that concludes with the following episode, "The Red and the Black".
In Kazakhstan, two young boys see an unknown object fall from the sky. Seconds later, they witness a man being burned alive and are captured by an Alien Bounty Hunter who has his eyes and mouth sewn shut. The next day, Marita Covarrubias (Laurie Holden) leads an investigation of U.N. troops of the area. She runs into Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea), who has caught Dimitri, one of the Kazakh boys. Krycek tells Marita to tell her superiors that "it is all going to hell".
Meanwhile, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) attends a lecture at MIT, where the testimony of Cassandra Spender (Veronica Cartwright), an alien abductee, is being presented. Mulder argues against other members of the lecture over the existence of alien life, claiming that it is a lie created to cover up a program of medical experimentation on civilians run by the military industrial complex. When the lecture ends, Mulder is met by Dr. Heitz Werber, who is surprised to see that Mulder has lost his belief in alien life since the last time they met. Werber tells Mulder that he is Cassandra's doctor, and asks him to visit her.
Meanwhile, Krycek, who has beaten Dmitri into telling him what he saw, orders his Russian colleagues to infect him with the black oil. Back in the United States, Werber introduces Mulder to the wheelchair-bound Cassandra, who considers him a hero of hers. She claims that the aliens are in a state of upheaval and that she will be abducted by them again. Mulder tells Cassandra there is nothing he can do for her and leaves.
In Russia, Krycek, working against the orders of his superiors, kidnaps the infected Dmitri and flees to the U.S., sewing shut the boy's eyes, nose, and mouth to keep the black oil from leaving his body. At FBI headquarters, Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) meets Agent Jeffrey Spender (Chris Owens), Cassandra's son, who fears the damage to his reputation if his colleagues learn about his mother. He tells Scully to keep Mulder away from her.
Marita reports to the Syndicate, which expected colonization at a much later date. Krycek offers Dmitri to the Syndicate in exchange for all their research on a vaccine. Meanwhile, Scully talks to Mulder about his meeting with Cassandra. She realizes that she has much in common with Cassandra, including being abducted at Skyland Mountain and having an implant inserted in the base of her neck. Scully visits Cassandra, who immediately realizes that she's a fellow abductee. Scully tells her not to remove the implant. Cassandra assures Scully that she never will, as she looks forward to being abducted again.
A group of abductees meet at Skyland Mountain and are burned alive by more faceless Alien Bounty Hunters. Scully and Mulder visit the scene, with Mulder continuing to be very skeptical of any alien involvement. The Syndicate is shocked by the massacre. Mulder and Scully visit Cassandra again, who knew many of the people who died. They encounter Spender, who is upset about their visit with his mother. Krycek is met by Marita. When Krycek returns to the cell where Dmitri is held, he finds him gone, and the Well-Manicured Man there instead.
Scully finds that the victims of the attack had implants in their necks and all claimed to be abductees. Mulder believes they were led there by the military, not aliens. Mulder is called by Marita, who kidnapped Dmitri. Dmitri pulls the stitches off his eyes, resulting in Marita getting infected with the black oil. Mulder calls Cassandra, looking for Scully, but Jeffrey answers and reveals that Cassandra is gone. At that moment Cassandra is with a group of abductees, including Scully, at the Ruskin Dam, brought there by Syndicate assassin Quiet Willy. The abductees see a UFO appear in the sky. Suddenly screams are uttered as two faceless aliens arrive.
This episode marks the first appearance of Chris Owens as Jeffrey Spender. Owens previously appeared in earlier episodes, the first being "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man", in which he played the younger version of The Smoking Man. Owens later reprised this role in episode "Demons". During the fifth season of the show, Owen was cast to play the part of The Great Mutato in "The Post-Modern Prometheus". After his stint on The X-Files, Owens attempted to get a job as a waiter in Vancouver, to no avail. One day, however, he ran into series creator Chris Carter at a bar, who humorously told him, "I didn't know they served guys with two faces here", a reference to his portrayal of The Great Mutato. Carter explained that David Duchovny had "taken careful notice" of Owens acting abilities and requested that he return to the series in some capacity. Heeding Duchovny's advice, Carter created the role of Jeffrey Spender just for him. In addition, the episode was the first to introduce the recurring character of Cassandra Spender, played by Veronica Cartwright. Rick Millikan, the series' casting director, was very pleased with Cartwright's performance, noting, "She's got a voice that adds a little creepiness and a little mystery that I thought played really well. She was just the perfect X-Files person." "Patient X" was the first episode in which Nicholas Lea was credited under the Also Starring tag, alongside Mitch Pileggi and William B. Davis.
The Russian characters from the start of the episode came from a "great" Russian acting community in Vancouver, British Columbia who had defected from the Soviet Union. Both Lea and Laurie Holden were required to learn Russian for the first scene following the opening credits. Alex Shostak Jr., who portrayed Dmitri, worked 12–14 hours a day; make-up was applied to give the appearance that his eyes and mouth had been sewed up, and a small straw was pushed between his lips to give him water. During the filming of the episode, he was "literally" blind and guided by the crew members throughout the filming of his scenes. Shostak provided the translation for his own lines from English to Russian. Holden and Lea worked diligently together to perfect their lines in Russian. Holden explained, "we'd come up with these fun ways to test ourselves to know if we had really nailed it. Show tunes come to mind, but I also remember this one time my dialect coach had me call a Russian friend of his on his cell phone to see if he could understand me. I passed the test."
Filming and visual effects
Filming the scene with the burning camp was "tricky", according to Kim Manners. When they were filming the scene, they had huge "safety precautions" ready for the cast and crew. The fires seen in the episode, were in reality propane fires. Manners wanted the shots to be as close to the fire as possible, so they used fireproof cameras. According to Manners, "they used a half a million dollar camera on a crane wrapped in asbestos" and ran it through the flames. For the following scene, the production crew set a man on fire, while using a fire suit. This stunt is known as a "full burn." Scenes like this are "very dangerous" as one can't breathe. In total, he was on fire between 25–30 seconds, which is seen as a lot by filming standards. Special effects supervisor Tony Lindala supervised the creation of the faceless alien rebels, Dmitri's mutilation, and the incinerated victims of the rebels. Lindala also designed the rig used to infect Dmitri with the black oil.
The set for the Russian gulag was built at North Shore Studios. Graeme Murray was the production designer at the time. The following scene with Dmitri in the gulag was "difficult." The ship scenes were filmed at a warehouse in Vancouver. When filming the Syndicate meeting, Manners wanted Marita Covarrubias to look as strong as possible since this marked the first appearance of a woman in the Syndicate meeting room. Since there was very little movement among the actors when filming the scene, they were forced to film in different angles and wide shots.
"Patient X" premiered in the United States on the Fox network on March 1, 1998. This episode earned a Nielsen rating of 12.6, with a 19 share, meaning that roughly 12.6 percent of all television-equipped households, and 19 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. It was viewed by 20.21 million viewers. Veronica Cartwright was nominated in the category "Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series" in the 1998 Emmy Awards for her performance in this episode and its follow-up, "The Red and the Black". The episode was later included on The X-Files Mythology, Volume 3 – Colonization, a DVD collection that contains episodes involved with the alien Colonist's plans to take over the earth.
Critical reception to the episode was largely positive. Television Without Pity ranked "Patient X" the eighth most nightmare-inducing episode of the show, citing, in particular the abuse of Dmitri. The article noted that "If The X-Files has taught us anything, it’s that if a G-Man asks us if we know anything about anything and we foolishly say yes, our mouths and eyelids will be sewn shut and we will be brainwashed to kill on demand." The A.V. Club reviewer Todd VanDerWerff gave "Patient X" a B+, and wrote that the episode "feels epic, in a way the mythology episodes do at their best". However, VanDerWerff noted that "The problem with breaking the status quo on a TV series is that your audience is always going to know in the back of its head that the status quo isn’t really broken." He reasoned that the audience never fully believed that "Mulder could lose his belief in the all-consuming alien conspiracy" or accept the idea that "Scully could find herself dabbling with belief in [aliens]." Despite these set-backs, however, he noted that "Patient X" was the episode where the series' mythology "gets moving again, after chasing its own tail throughout much of season four and reaching a sort of climax in the opening episodes of season five." 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 four stars out of five. The two described the tone of "Patient X" as "truly visceral", citing the faceless men incinerating people as well as the mutilation of the innocent Dmitri, who was "at the wrong place at the wrong time". Furthermore, Shearman and Pearson praised the episode for "shift[ing] the goalposts" and allowing Mulder and Scully to switch roles as the believer and skeptic. Paula Vitaris from Cinefantastique gave the episode a moderately positive review and awarded it two-and-a-half stars out of four. Vitaris praised the episode's premise and writing. "'Patient X' is a rare episode in that it actually advances The X-Files mythology, with the news of a vaccine to combat the black oil". However, she was critical of the episode's reliance on shock value, noting that the "camera seems to take a perverse delight in death, pain, and mutilation, with the distressing effect of numbing the viewer to the horror."
- Meisler (1999), pp 173–184
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