November 27, 1973.
In the mythology of "The X-Files," it is the Night of Nights -- the night Agent Fox Mulder's sister, Samantha, was abducted by aliens. It is the night that launched Mulder (David Duchovny) on the quest that led him to the dark room with the government-green filing cabinets and metal shelves that hold the X-Files.
Tomorrow night and next Sunday, we will all come to know what happened on that November night 26 years ago. What's known as The Conspiracy in "X-Files" lingo is explained in a mesmerizing two-part journey into the heart of the delicious counter-history darkness created by Chris Carter.
And, unlike "The X-Files" movie, this isn't a tease -- February "sweeps" and a dip in ratings this year notwithstanding. The Conspiracy is explained in such a way that it only took me three replays of the tapes to understand.
Yes, make sure the VCR is recording as you watch. You will need and want to replay key moments as the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), one of the greatest mythic characters in TV history, starts filling in many of the blank pages in "The X-Files" Book of Genesis.
Tomorrow's episode, "Two Fathers," opens in fire. Alien rebels, a resistance group of extraterrestrials, leave burnt-to-a-crisp calling cards in a railroad train switching yard in Arlington, Va. That's before the opening credits. Indicative of the brilliant storytelling and care in production, we come back from the credits with a tight shot of a cigarette lighter being struck and a flicker of flame shooting up to illuminate the face of the Cigarette Smoking Man.
We stare into his eyes as he lights a Marlboro and starts to explain through a haze of smoke and cynicism the Ur-tale of paranormals and paranoia that started in Roswell, N.M., circa 1947.
"This is the end. I never thought I would hear myself say those words after all these years," he says. And you're under his spell.
"Two Fathers" is mainly about fathers and sons, as is next week's episode, titled "One Son." In the Shakespearean use of foils and parallel characters, we get to measure the Cigarette Smoking Man's son against Mulder. The coda next week between CSM and his son offers a final image that distills the "X-Files" darkness as perfectly as any in its six seasons.
It is the kind of exquisitely cold and creepy moment that slips into your head and refuses to leave -- kind of like the implant one of the warring groups of aliens embedded in agent Scully's (Gillian Anderson) neck.
But my favorite moment comes in a room of the Watergate apartments with Mulder staring down the barrel of a gun at the Cigarette Smoking Man and demanding answers. Mulder had broken into the apartment, only to be followed a few moments later by CSM. Another Watergate break-in -- this time by Mulder, this time leading to the unraveling of a conspiracy rather than the start of one.
At moments like this you have to be a bit in awe of Carter, the storyteller, using the Cigarette Smoking Man as his vessel and playing with all the national history in our heads. This is Homer for the postmodern television age, and I don't mean the one named Simpson who precedes the World According to Carter by an hour Sunday nights on Fox.
"It started simply. We had a perfect conspiracy with an alien race," CSM tells us.
There is almost nothing simple about the next two weeks of "the X-Files," except to say it is simply brilliant.
When: 9 to 10 tomorrow night
Where: WBFF (Channel 45) Pub Date: 2/06/99