Written & Directed by Chris Carter
This episode is a masterpiece. Granted, it’s primarily a triumph of style over substance, but the style is so impressive that one can hardly object. The episode that had never been tried before in the history of television, and even allowing for the amount of innovation that has followed over the last twenty years, has almost never been tried since. In Triangle, Carter takes each act of the episode and has each one of them done in a single shot. Its an act of pure cleverness, but its done with such subtlety that its very likely many of the viewers didn’t even notice it. It’s all so well executed that it would probably be enough for this episode if that was all their was to it. But there’s a quite a bit more.
Last week, “The X-Files” did its own homage to Speed. This week, its a tribute to Wizard of Oz, with a nice touch of Indiana Jones thrown. After five years in which Fox Mulder has essentially become an iconic character, fending off aliens, fluke monsters and an endlessly winding mytharc, now he gets to take a swing at the Nazis. And just to make sure it’s not too serious, it’s not the Nazis we met during Season 3, but every fictional construct we met, starting with Raiders of the Lost Ark. We also get to see that no matter what time period Mulder is in, nobody will take him seriously. (Granted, how much better do you think you’d do if you were hauled aboard a British ship trapped in the Bermuda Triangle?).
There are lots of little subtle jokes to remind us of what movie were satirizing, but what is an added bonus is the way that X-Files takes the characters we’ve become familiar with and turns them on their head in a World War II setting. Here’s Jeffrey Spender, freed from having to sulk and skulk about the Bureau, and actually demonstrate some of the menace he showed he was playing the young CSM, William B. Davis demonstrating his villainy in a costume that fully supports what the viewing world thinks he is, and Mitch Pileggi cheerfully spoofing on the duality his character has been working off the last four years as an American loving SS who tells our heroes “Get your asses out of here.” One doesn’t quite see it working as well by having Kersh playing a Jamaican stoker, but its more than made up for by Gillian Anderson playing Scully as an OSS agent who talks like a 1930s “it girl”. It’s very delightful, and one that you can believe must have been a joy to perform.
So far, the episode only seems to demonstrates Carter’s skills as a writer, who once again demonstrates just how good he can be when he lays off the purple prose that we’ve become familiar with. What makes this episode work as well as it does is the handle of Carter as director, in what may be his finest work since his debut in Duane Barry. There, everything was stripped down for pure minimalism, here the writing is combined with the director to reveal pure masterstroke. One can imagine all the delightful moments that could have been flown had Carter faltered, including the wonderful bit when 1990s Scully literally crosses paths with her 1930s counterpart. The moment that crosses both their faces is great timing. The sequences on board the Queen Anne are incredible bits that seem to sum up what we have come to learn of the X-Files so far, yet everything is so subtly done that we barely seem to notice it when it happens.
Yet for all the brilliant moments through the episode, perhaps the most engaging is the second act when the Lone Gunmen come to Scully, and asks for satellite data in order to find out where the hell Mulder is. The ten minute sequence in which Scully stalks the Bureau halls, looking for help is a masterpiece. It plays like the suspenseful drama the series has made its money at, it plays like the perfectly tuned comedy Darin Morgan and Vince Gilligan have demonstrated it to be, and it seems to be everything that the series is all about in the long run. Which is particularly remarkable because all it is Scully walking up and down the halls and slamming doors. (And did anyone else get a chill with Scully practically tore Spender a new one? That was nearly as delightful as when she planted one on Skinner.)
And of course, there’s the bit that probably had all the shippers watching going hurray: when Mulder about to try and return to the future, turns to Scully and tries to convince his one in five billion of what she has to do to save the world, then plants a 1930s style smooch on her. Which she promptly reacts to by socking him in the eye. In a way, its fitting that the first Duchovny/Anderson kiss doesn’t involve the real Mulder and Scully. However, what will become a recurring theme as Season 6 gets underway is beginning to slowly peel back the personal and romantic undertones that have been bubbling up for the last five years. In a way, they’re summed up in the final scene, where Mulder in his hospital bed finally tells Scully that he loves here… and she dismisses it with an eyeroll and an “oh, brother.” As frustrating as that must of been to fans, its the first real dent in the armor that Scully has been developing. If only the writers had the heart to follow through with it.
Triangle is one of the more brilliant episodes the series would ever put together. If you ever tried to stick a pin in it, the bubble would burst, but its such a pretty thing to see that you find yourself not wanting to touch. Its one of the most brilliant episodes of television the medium has ever tried, and yet for this series, it was just another day at the office.
My score: 5 stars.