Written by Chris Carter, Howard Gordon & Frank Spotnitz
Directed by David Nutter
The show has been going into fairly dark territory so far in Season 3 — even the most dazzling comedy had a very black streak of melancholy. But even that can barely prepare for what’s coming, especially when it comes to the mythology. There were certain overtones of evil experiences in Paper Clip that dared to paint the alien conspiracy with a more evil— and far darker— brush, by hinted that the aliens might be involved in something stretching back to the Nazis. Now in this two-parter, easily one of the best that the series would ever do, they link the mythology— and by extension, our heroes with crimes that are still going on.
The continued joke is that the alien episodes are dividing our heroes physically, Mulder is going on all the action stuff, while Scully is dealing with the more benign scientific data. There’s a certain pattern to it here, too. Mulder, chasing a lead on a video of an alien autopsy (the joke about the one on Fox, like so many hasn’t aged well) ends of in a fight with a Japanese diplomat (where he demonstrates he has learned from the running gag of losing his weapon); Mulder brings the information to the Lone Gunmen, who point him towards a shipping yard in Virginia, which ends with our hero taking a bath in the Atlantic, Mulder seeing a UFO which they seemed to have fished out of the Sea of Japan; Mulder chases a boxcar that has what he believes to be an alien on it, to the climax of the episode, where, after pointedly being warned by Scully not to get on the train, he jumps on it anyway, losing his phone in the process. By this point, it’s almost a joke, or it would be if it weren’t for the fact that there’s a killer literally behind him, and for the first time in a while, we see who’s doing the killing, though for a change it’s no one we recognize.
But when we come back to Scully, hoping for some sanity, what we get is far more terrifying, and, from her point of view at least, incredibly revelatory. When she finds that the man who taped the alien autopsy is dead, she trails to a MUFON meeting in Allentown. When she gets there, she finds a group of women, all of who know her, and she doesn’t recognize any of them. Scully has spent the better part of the season, trying to maintain that she has no idea what happened to her during her abduction. This facade becomes impossible to maintain, when she finds that all these women went through similar experiences, and all have the same mark upon them. The scene where they all remove jars containing the same implant that was removed from her at the start of the season is one of the most unsettling thing the series has shown us. It becomes horrifying when we learn that all of these woman have something else in common: they’re all dying of cancer.
As if all of this wasn’t awful enough, when Scully comes back to D.C. and finds Mulder looking through the scientists that we saw get murdered in the teaser—- we learn that they were all Japanese war criminals, never tried for the horrible crimes they committed. And then Scully recognizes one of them, not just from the videotape, but from a memory that has just floated to the surface: she remembers being experimented on by them.
You’d think that an episode that was written by three very different writers would be a little more uneven than how it plays out. In fact, it’s one of the better conspiracy episodes the show would ever do. For once in a Carter script, we are spared the purple verbalizing of its characters, and the revelations come not in dialogue but in visuals, and in the horrors that are being discussed. It’s so well done that you almost wonder how the writers could come up with something this well-written, and not return to the pontificating that was the sole downside of the mythology that began the season.
Oh, its not perfect. For one thing, the writers don’t quite seem to have a grip on using the extraneous characters. Skinner’s two scenes don’t seem to add much, other than perhaps to remind us that he’s still on the show. And X’s appearance seems so out of place (and he seems far more nervous than he usually is) that you wonder what he’s really doing here. Furthermore, getting a hold of a brilliant actor like Robert Ito, and then not having him do anything at all does seem like a tremendous waste of energy on the casting directors part. On the other hand, The Lone Gunmen are used fairly well for something other than comic relief, and we meet the utterly winning Agent Pendrell, affectionately known by fans as Labboy, who is obviously a precursor of other winning techs that will show up in series like Alias and 24. And Raymond J. Barry again distinguishes himself so much that you’re utterly baffled as to why they didn’t use his character more often.
Nevertheless, Nisei is one of the more brilliant put together episodes in the entire mythology. And if you think that’s damning with faint praise (which it is, a little), you can elaborate by realizing that this is the first time, even at this juncture in the series, where The X-Files actually seems to have an aim and direction with a conspiracy. It would demonstrate that it knew how to do it in the next episode. Unfortunately, Carter and Spotnitz would not take larger lesson on how to write from it.
My Score: 4.5 stars.