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S10 #10: The Lowdown

Issue #10 “More Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man” is Season 10’s version of one of the best episodes of the series, 4X07: Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man. The Morgan & Wong episode, and endless source of interpretations and debates, depicted the Shakespearean life and times of the Cigarette-Smoking Man — but sheds doubt on whether what we saw was the real story or not by adding framing stories about a fictional autobiography and a re-constructed autobiography told by a third person (Frohike).

More Musings” operates in somewhat a similar way, with straightforward flashbacks that upon closer inspection might not be as reliable as they seem. And in doing so takes us in a trip down 20th century American history and presents us with a series of scenes that fans of the mythology have been fantasizing about for well over a decade! Like with the TV episode, the absence of (Fox) Mulder and Scully makes this unique — and given how dense references to the show’s mythology are, this must have been very unsettling for readers that were non-obsessive watchers of the show.

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Lots of spoilers below:

The issue is made up of many apparently not interconnected scenes:

  • Present Day (?): Syndicate headquarters
  • 1961: Bay of Pigs invasion, Cuba
  • 1961: Homestead Air Force Base, Florida
  • 1970: Fort Bragg, North Carolina
  • Present Day (?): Syndicate headquarters
  • 1952: Top Secret location
  • 1965: Quonochontaug, Rhode Island
  • 1972: State Department Headquarters, Washington DC
  • Present Day: Syndicate headquarters

Before moving on, a special mention to artist menton3: his complex, dreamy art mixing drawings with sketch lines, collages and what look like photographs reminded me of the excellent trans-media work of Dave McKean. Each scene has its own design, art style and color palette, and overall this adds to the dreamy feeling of these “More Musings“. A dream come true! — and I hope he comes back for more.

This issue also counts the start of Francesco Francavilla as a regular cover artist, replacing Carlos Valenzuela, and the return of the vintage “X” — like on the old Topps comics covers!

A tragedy in two acts

The issue opens with the CSM at an indeterminate time in the Syndicate’s headquarters, unearthing the past. This is quite possibly happening only in his head, the objects he finds representing the memories we are about to read about. We see a pack of Morleys, the alien fetus from 1X23: The Erlenmeyer Flask, the DAT tape from 3X02: Paper Clip and 3X16: Apocrypha, his lighter and typescript from 4X07: Musings (and quite possibly the bullet is from his presumed assassination of JFK?), and later in the issue we see his picture with Bill Mulder from 6X12: One Son.

The first half opens with a splash page profile of young CGB Spender (with the looks of Chris Owens, who had portrayed him in 4X07: Musings and later played the CSM’s son Jeffrey Spender). This first half concerns “conventional” military operations, doesn’t move very far from what one could expect from a covert military ops or spy novel. It closes on the CSM rejecting some of his typescripts — hinting that what we just read might not have been an exact representation of the facts.

The second half opens with a splash page of older CGB Spender (with the looks of William B Davis). It deals with much more conspiratorial material, top secret operations and the presence of aliens on Earth. It closes on the present day, where we find out that we have been reading recollected and fragmented musings in a process that sheds doubt to the exact veracity of what we have seen.

1961: Operation Zapata

CGB Spender is a foot soldier (codename “Archie”) in the Bay of Pigs invasion of April 17-22 1961 — a secret US military operation, codename “Operation Zapata” (after the Mexican revolutionary, ironically), backed by the CIA and in cooperation with anti-Castro Cuban exiles, to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro, who had been in power since January 1959. The operation failed.

On April 17 1961, President John F Kennedy made a speech at the American Society of Newspaper Editors trying to defend the point of view of the invading US forces. This speech is the one we read in voice-over in these pages, and see on the television at the Homestead Air Force Base in Florida; it is available here (even the full video is on YouTube!).

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William Mulder and CGB Spender are friends, both working for the Government. These scenes are reminding of the beginning of 4X07: Musings, where Spender and Mulder were both young soldiers in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on October 30 1962 (right before Spender allegedly received the assignment to kill President Kennedy, which happened on November 22 1963). Spender’s involvement in Operation Zapata was also mentioned in 4X07: Musings.

Page 3 of issue #10 also mentions “Operation Barracuda” in Spender’s résumé: surely this is not the French military’s 1979 operation in to overthrow self-proclaimed emperor Bokassa in Central Africa; it might be a reference to Tom Clancy’s “Splinter Cell: Operation Barracuda“, Tom Clancy’s espionage and military thriller novels possibly being an inspiration for CSM’s own novels (Tom Clancy died recently, in October 2013).

1970: The Spenders

Jump to 1970, in Fort Bragg (of course!). Like in 4X07: Musings, Spender’s favorite hobby, or even his semi-conscious attempt at catharsis, is writing semi-autobiographical fictional novels. Spender’s conversation with Mulder has found its way in Spender’s writings — unless it is the other way around and the earlier pages were a visualization of Spender’s novel.

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Spender’s wife Cassandra is pregnant — presumably with Jeffrey Spender. Jeffrey came to live his childhood with Samantha Mulder, in April Air Force Base, in California, in the 1970s, until Samantha’s disappearance in 1979 (7X11: Closure). After CGB and Cassandra spit up, with Cassandra being a victim of multiple abductions, Jeffrey, 11 years old, underwent regression therapy to remember these abductions experiences, which might or might not be true memories (5X14: The Red and the Black). We don’t have a birth date for Jeffrey from the series, although he must not have had a big age difference with Samantha (born in 1964) or actor Chris Owens (born 1961) and was surely born after Fox Mulder (1961); 1970 does feel very late.

This section ends with the CSM in the Syndicate headquarters; like in the opening, this is presumably in his head. He throws away his typescript of “Take A Chance: A Jack Colquitt Adventure” (that we saw in 4X07: Musings), as if what we just read was part of that script. The (fictional?) part with CGB Spender as the writer Raul Bloodworth (nom de plume) ends, the (truthful?) part with CGB Spender as the Cigarette-Smoking Man begins.

1952: Klemper’s hybrids

Victor Klemper was one of the German Nazi scientists who was helping the US government to create alien/human hybrids after Roswell in 1947 and before the Syndicate’s creation in 1973; his hobby was flowers and creating hybrid orchids (2X25: Anasazi, and we saw Klemper and his hybrid orchids in 3X02: Paper Clip). There were more or less good results — here we see hybrids that very much look like the monster-clawed alien from Fight the Future, with pods lining the walls very much like in the movie as well (it is only in Fight the Future that the Syndicate learns that the monster alien is a normal development of the Colonists’ life cycle, so what we see in this issue is certainly a failed hybrid).

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GCB Spender and Bill Mulder are sent to clean up. The photorealistic artwork here clearly used actors Chris Owens and Dean Aylesworth (young Bill Mulder in 3X16: Apocrypha, 4X07: Musings and 5X15: Travelers) as reference. This is a decade before the events in the Bay of Pigs, and Spender and Mulder are deeply involved in above top secret operations, in apparently higher positions compared to those we saw earlier in the issue. Of course they could have done both, but this confusion reinforces the impression that the earlier sections were parts of Spender-as-Bloodworth’s scripts. We know from 3X16: Apocrypha that Spender and Mulder were both involved in the government’s efforts to gather intelligence on the aliens from as early as 1953.

1965: The Mulders

Jump to 1965 and the Mulders’ country house. The events only hinted at in the CSM’s conversation with Teena Mulder in 3X24: Talitha Cumi are fully shown here: CSM and Teena’s relationship, CSM and Bill Mulder competing in water skiing, CSM boasting of being better at everything he does (including sex). We even get the CSM describing young Fox Mulder as “spooky“, and congratulating him for not being very obedient! Samantha must be aged 1 at that point — which sheds doubt on who her father might be as well!

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These are all scenes that fans have fantasized about for years, and the show had been very thin on flashbacks despite its rich backstory — professional water skier William B Davis never managed to convince Carter to have the CSM do water ski on-screen, and several scripted scenes with flashbacks in the 1960s and 1970s for 6X11: Two Fathers were never shot.

1972: Pre-Syndicate musings

Jump to 1972 and the Vietnam War. A number of State Department officials meet in Washington, DC, among them Spender and Mulder again, while anti-war protests are going on. One official mentions that “the Secretary of State left for Europe this morning seeking life support for our commitment in Vietnam“; another mentions that the Nixon administration will “escalate their air campaign“. This scene most likely occurs between October and December 1972, during US Air Force air campaigns in Vietnam (Operations Linebacker I, May-October 1972, and II, December 1972) and negotiations in Paris that ended with the Peace Accords in January 1973 — with President Richard Nixon, Secretary of State William Rogers, and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger (for which he got the Nobel Peace Prize, with Vietnamese Communist Party leader Le Duc Tho!).

The CSM reveals: “And if these sympathizers had any idea what was really going on in the skies over Hanoi these days, they’d thank us”. Of course, and like with any war since World War II, there were many UFO sightings during the Vietnam War, over Hanoi but not only. Like with in the series, there is a parallel history going on compared to what we know of official history. Like in 4X07: Musings, there are conspiracies pulling the strings behind governments. The Syndicate, fully independent from the government, is about to be born — and in this room must be many of its future members (apart from Spender and Mulder, probably the First Elder and other Elders).

Present Day: Samples, Vials and Agendas

Jump to the same setting we saw closing issue #5: the CSM, lost in his thoughts, is a prisoner of the Glasses Wearing Man.

Throughout the issue we are shown Spender and Mulder taking blood samples from their own blood. Mulder: “A catalog is only helpful if it’s current. If we’re going to keep the country’s most dire secrets, we’re going to have to make sure there’s a backup system“. Glasses Man says of the present-day CSM: “When you’re stitched together from so many broken pieces, the past must seem so random“. Evidently, the blood samples system is used to re-create a person not only genetically but also with his memories.

6X11_photo

10X10_bill-cgb

Several months after presenting with the CSM and fans fearing that Harris was resurrecting characters ignoring series continuity or using supernatural tricks, we are provided with answers to questions created by this new Season 10 mythology! The original CSM truly died; what we see is a construct, quite possibly an alien/human hybrid body grown in a vat (like those in 4X15: Memento Mori), injected with the original’s memories from what must have been six decades’ worth of vials, but still largely unstable. The same can be said for the recreated X of issue #8.

In #8, in 1987, X investigated project Purity Control and had taken blood samples from the children infected with a version of the alien virus: “I had the samples analyzed. And I found some very interesting results. Until now I’d thought this virus could only be used to destroy things. You’re only half as clever as you believe you are.” He has discovered an application for the virus that he didn’t expect. In the present day, Scully analyzes the blood sample they find: the virus is “molecularly bonded to a genetic base. Like it was designed and tailored for a specific carrier.” Who we find out is X, also recreated from samples.

This is a new use for the Purity virus that we didn’t know about before. People in key places in the government were injected with a simplified version of the virus, which somehow accessed their brains, stored their memories and circulated in the blood stream. Blood samples were a sort of external storage of their knowledge in case they died. The injection did not use the original virus obviously since they are not infected by the Black Oil: the “memory-storing” segment of the virus must have been singled out before they proceeded doing this on themselves. This method was put in place very quickly after Roswell in 1947 for them to be doing it as early as 1952. This aspect of the virus also illustrates how the Black Oil carried memories of the original aliens to a human host (e.g. 3X16: Apocrypha), or how alien/human hybrids appeared to have memories of the original human (e.g. the Samanthas in 2X17: End Game or 5X02: Redux).

10X10_old-cgb

Glasses Man has recreated the CSM for a reason (“I’ve put a lot of planning into things“), quite likely for all the knowledge and access the CSM had accumulated. He shows he has powers of telekinesis, which makes him similar to the Acolytes. When we first saw CSM in #3, it was to provide Mulder with a way to fight the Acolytes, which put the CSM on the side of the resistance against the alien Colonists; here again he positions himself as fighting for a good cause: “I had […] a purpose […] I still have a son, don’t I? I protected him, all those times. I can do it again!“. Whereas the Glasses Man, instead of being sympathetic, treats the CSM as just a tool for a larger purpose. It could be that despite appearances he is not working against but for colonization, and that he merely wanted the annoying Acolytes out of the way in #1-5.

We still don’t know what was the purpose of X’s appearance in #8 — beyond simply letting Mulder know of the existence of these re-constructed beings: “now you’ll need to find out what we’ve all become“. Was X sent by Glasses Man? If the vanishing vials at the very end of #10 are any indication, it could be the re-created CSM is stealing vials and re-creating beings himself, trying to find a way to get away from the grip of the Glasses Man. Perhaps #10 takes place in time before #8, with the CSM creating the X that then contacted Mulder. Or we will learn more about these vanishing vials with #11 (Krycek? Or could the Glasses Man be Krycke?).

Whatever happens next, Joe Harris has proven that he not only has an excellent knowledge of the show’s mythology, but that he can also capture the essence of the show by subtly inserting mysteries that are answered several issues down the line, all while using few pages of story. Despite the very nostalgic and fan service aspects of this issue, the complex storytelling promises some extremely interesting developments in the future!

My thanks to Thomas and some very stimulating e-mail conversations that helped this analysis!

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