A SHIVERS review by Micheal Fillis
(SHIVERS #39, March 1997)
Here we go again! Another two-part arc story which poses more riddles than it answers. But part one, at least, is a tour de force which sees the return of Alex Krycek, continues the extraterrestrial mystery begun in "Piper Maru" (probably) and leads Mulder to the heart of the explosive mystery of Tunguska, Russia, 1908. It also neatly taps into current speculation about the existence of bacterial life on Mars (recently detected in arctic meteorites).
The teaser begins with Scully in the hot seat at a Congressional hearing. Her valiant attempts to highight the lawless faction in government are met with stem enquires from Senator Sorenson, who seems more determined to elicit from Scully the present location of her partner.
The story proper begins (began?) ten days earlier as a diplomat enters Honolulu airport with some unidentified bio-hazardous material. (This chilling scene, in which a customs officer suffers the unearthly results of his own clumsiness, was probably the original teaser.) These events prelude another 'accident' in a NASA laboratory, involving a Martian rock - and the tension in the latter scene is all the more palpabl'e because we can anticipate the outcome. A string of crippling events ultimately expose Mulder to a ghastly experiment - a moment of horror in an isolated Russian gulag which forms a master-ful cliffhanger - again, all the more gripping because of our foreknowledge.
The actors are on top form, particularly Nicholas Lea as Krycek, whose expert use of Russian greatly impresses. The cast are ably abetted by director Kim Manners - doubtless familiar with his material after helming last season's "Apocrypha." After a startling opening, events build logically, one on another, progessing to a tremendous cliff-hanger, but the need to hasten the story has occasionally forced writers Frank Spotnitz and Chris Carter to rely on plot devices and assumption - an unknown rock is rushed to a NASA lab, when perhaps a geologist would have been more sensible. Also, the introduction of the new Mrs X (Mrs Throat?) is beginning to look like a mistake...
I'd love to report that "Terma" sustains the energy of "Tunguska" but, sadly, this is where the structure of the script becomes transparent. The glimpse of the Congressional hearing in part one - which implied developments of great moment - now, in context, conveys a sense of narrative impotence. These repetitious scenes show the ferocity of Scufly's devotion to her partner, but it seems clear that they have been included only to prolong the plot, and to give Scully something to do. That she must remain tight-lipped about Mulder's location or else endanger his life shows a lack of imagination on the parts of Spotnitz and Carter. They disservice Scully merely in order to give the extraordinary events in Tunguska time to untold. There, at least, the adventure proceeds apace, as Mulder - who somehow survived the cliffhanger, although we're not told how - escapes to become a hunted man. The duplicitous Krycek turns out to be something more than we imagined, but fittingly (and astonishingly) becomes a victim of his own deception - poetic justice which is quickly soured when it seems the same fate might befall Mulder...
Two or three recessed hearings later it all flounders a bit as Mulder returns (somehow) to the USA in time to tie-up (ie gloss over) the many, many loose ends of this baffling, half-baked nonsense. The Italian tag-line 'E Pur Si Muove' (meaning 'and yet it moves') does little to clarify matters, either. Not even the great Rob Bowman could save this one. As for the future of these increasingly irksome arc stories - stop treading water, Mr Carter, and get to the point before it all becomes unfathomable!
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