“Character episodes” work best when they sneak up on you. They should give us an insight into the characters’ motivations without letting those insights push us out of the story. It’s a lesson many shows struggle with and one The X-Files didn’t recognize in the early days. “Conduit” takes pains to show the parallels between the CoW and the disappearance of Mulder’s sister and, as a result, we’re never really allowed to lose ourselves in the story.
Problems start right from with get-go with FBI brass grilling Scully on Mulder’s recent request for travel expenses to investigate an alien abduction covered in the tabloids. It’s a stretch, even for him. I’m all for some bureaucratic interference in the cases, but the director takes pains to explain the fact that this case resembles that of Fox’s sister’s disappearance that he believes personal interest has clouded Mulder’s judgement. Thanks for the info chief. Scully insists that there must be more to it than that and asks to talk to her partner before any determination is made. We get another basement exposition scene and the fact that this alleged abduction happened to the daughter of someone who saw a UFO in the same spot years ago seems to be enough to justify the expense. It’d meet the standard criteria for suspension of disbelief, but with the brass already set up as pushing back, the argument looks ludicrously thin and we have little doubt about Mulder’s real motives.
The case itself is a bit of a jumble. The girl’s brother, Kevin, is the only witness (just like Mulder!) and seems to have been effected by the incident, writing out binary code received through the television. This would seem to be the more important element of the case, particularly when that code is revealed to contain fragments of everything from government transmissions to Shakespearean sonnets, but the agents keep their focus on the girl’s disappearance. We get a strange red herring with a romantic rival and a dead biker-boyfriend and Mulder’s not-so-perplexing refusal to drop the case. Scully goes so far as to call him out on it and, later, he gives an unsurprising confession of what he’s really searching for.
Perhaps the parallels for Mulder’s own experience are for the best as none of the pieces of the CoW really fit together in themselves. Kevin gets questioned and then released by the NSA and somehow leads his mother back to the woods where they find his missing sister. We don’t need a full explanation of the boy’s powers, but it would’ve been nice for them to tie into the abduction in some logical fashion. The heat/light/radiation at the site is a similarly intriguing but isolated element. We conclude with another look at how desperate Mulder is to find his sister that’s far to explicit to be poignant.
My criticisms of this episode may be overly harsh, given that I already knew everything it was at pains to explain about Mulder. Still, I think it’s fair to say this was a little on the nose, even for newcomers.
I did appreciate the fact that Mulder was willing to leave the family alone after their daughter’s return. His quest for answers need not consume their lives as well.
Mulder and Scully’s good cop/bad cop routine needs work
Hopefully, now that Mulder’s motivations have been explained, we can watch them influence his actions in subtler ways.