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S10#14: The Lowdown

In the penultimate issue of the “Pilgrims” arc, more answers and more questions on the ongoing season 10 mythology! Previous issues lowdowns: #11, #12, #13.

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Congratulations to colorist Jordie Bellaire for her recent Eisner Award! In this issue she tops herself, with the whitewashed flashbacks and the black dialogue boxes for when it’s the Black Oil talking.

Scenes in this issue:

  • Teaser: Scully and “Mulder” in bed
  • Blue Ridge Mountains: Sheltem/Mulder narrates the origin of the Foresaken Ones on Earth; police check, Sheltem/Mulder disappears
  • 46th Street, New York: the Glasses-Wearing Man and the Cigarette-Smoking Man confer
  • Crystal City, Virginia: Skinner and Krycek at Skinner’s; somebody knocks, flash of light
  • Crystal City, Virginia: Scully comes looking, Krycek has vanished
  • Patterson, New Jersey: Krycek in custody of the CSM
  • Sheltem/Mulder approaches Skyland Mountain

Sheltem and the Forsaken Ones

Mulder has been possessed by the Black Oil and moves with a purpose — a behavior we have seen in other episodes of course — but here we also have a Black Oil that has…individuality! “I was once called Sheltem“. All the Black Oil/Colonists/Purity activity we have seen in the past make it look like any individual “unit” is interchangeable, as if the Purity aliens have a kind of hive mind with a single purpose. This is a different strand of Black Oil: “Those who came before us, like those who followed, came to prepare, to colonize, to conquer. But we had come seeking freedom, and a fresh start upon a new world. Only to find ourselves lost. Hunted. Forsaken.” This/these Sheltem aliens are different from our Colonists, apparently moving from world to world seeking a place of their own, but they are singled out and hunted by the much more powerful Colonists aliens.

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Along the flashback narration of Sheltem, we meet dinosaurs from “Jurassic Park” and see more imagery reminiscent of 4X09: Tunguska and Fight the Future.

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Sheltem is heading towards Skyland Mountain — another season 10 callback to the show’s golden days! This is one of the “alien lighthouses”, where Scully was taken by Duane Barry and was abducted (2X06: Ascension) and where other abductees were exterminated (5X13: Patient X).

Sheltem & Krycek

In the previous issue, EEG scans of Krycek’s brain showed “SHELTE” — obviously, this “resurrected” Krycek and Sheltem share something in common. Was this Krycek reconstructed from Sheltem’s memories of him when it had infected him? — making the Black Oil in 3X15/16: Piper Maru/Apocrypha and Sheltem one and the same.

The only caveat in this is that this Krycek seems to vaguely remember his visit to Skinner’s in season 4 (from #13): is that an inconsistency? In this issue, he definitely does not remember anything related to season 8 (and his execution by Skinner), but he does say he is “starting to remember more”.

Krycek might truly not know what he is being used for in all this. At Skinner’s, another one of these light flashes happens, and Krycek has disappeared and Skinner finds himself a  victim where he was searched by these light in the same way Scully had been (#5): “It felt like I was being led, somehow. Like they had fixed me to a point, encoding the back of my brain. Like it was either searching for something in there, or looking to leave something behind.” But as we had started guessing since #12 with helicopters and trucks, these flashes are not necessarily linked to alien activity; it seems they are orchestrated by the (neo-)Syndicate using alien-derived technology. Krycek ends up in the hands of the CSM at Paterson (one “t”), New Jersey, held captive wearing an orange jumper exactly in the way Jeremiah Smith had been (3X24: Talitha Cumi). So as the Black Oil-infected truck driver from #13, whom we know now was Sheltem, said, Krycek is being used, in one way or the other. When he has been used enough, he is “salvaged” back in the hands of the Syndicate.

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Playing chess at 46th Street, NYC

In the Syndicate’s old lair, the Glasses-Wearing Man is the new tenant. He wears glasses, plays chess and talks expertly of it, can hear the thoughts of others (“[you] think terrible things you forget that I can hear“). Surely, the next issue’s reveal will be that the Glasses-Wearing Man is Gibson Praise, the chess prodigy who can read minds (5X20: The End, 6X01: The Beginning, 8X01/02: Within/Without, 9X19-20: The Truth), who must be aged 27-28 by now. He also has telekinetic powers we had not seen before, but might have been natural developments of his abilities in the same way that his mind-reading is due to certain alien genes “turned on” in him (baby William had nascent telekinetic powers as well). He explicitly says that “I brought you [the CSM] back because I thought you’d be useful to me“, and assigns missions to him; whereas in previous issues (#5, #10) it looked like he was trying to extract information from the CSM, which wouldn’t make sense if he can read his mind (did Harris decide it was Gibson Praise somewhere along the way?). Of course, he does not look like present-day actor Jeff Gulka, but this is besides the point (it just suggests that Carter didn’t plan Gibson to appear in XF3).

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The biggest question would be, if this is Gibson Praise, who was definitely on the side of “good” during the series, and with whom Mulder lived with for a year (season 9), what has made him turn mastermind conspirator somehow linked with the colonization of Earth from aliens — still not fully clear whether his actions are fully against the colonization or making sure certain alien activities remain unhindered by certain groups, like the Acolytes. It is implied that the Colonists are the Glasses-Wearing Man’s and the Syndicate’s “former collaborators” and that there is competition between them to control and capture Sheltem. It will be very interesting if season 10 eventually moves towards explaining what has occurred between 2002 and 2013 in the power games! At this point, I can hardly imagine how everything can be wrapped up in just one more issue, and that Harris has some great plans ahead for the time-jumping Krycek, the Emperor Palpatine-like Glasses-Wearing Man and this neo-Syndicate.

“Surrender yourself to me, Dana Sully”

I couldn’t close this lowdown without mentioning the opening of this issue. Scully and Mulder in bed, “post-coitus” — something many fans have been clamoring for for years. I’m not one of them, although an essential part of what the X-Files is is the relationship between its two leads; and as such, Season 10 would not be complete without dedicating a few of its pages or panels to addressing that, and necessarily after about thirteen years of a consummated relationship it really is not at the same stage it was back in the nineties. The “house” scenes in #1 for example were well written and displayed on page.

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Since then there have already been two occurrences where we thought we were getting a genuine sign of affection between them, only to have things turned on their head by one of them not being who they seemed: Scully was the Deacon in #5, Mulder was Sheltem in #13. Which is an interesting twist of events, keeping tension high. In the opening of #14, however, and as it has been noted elsewhere, what we have seen is Scully having been “used” to have sex, and fairly quickly (page 3) things turn serious with Mulder/Sheltem on top of Scully, holding her by the throat. Essentially, Scully has been deceived and raped, and is then bullied into doing things against her will. Normally, that would have been a big deal for Scully. Unfortunately, issue #14 then speeds on, with this incident never to be mentioned again and never named for what it was. The X-Files have a rather ambiguous history with that particular topic, with precedents like 4X20: Small Potatoes, 5X06: Post-Modern Prometheus, and arguably 5X12: Bad Blood; although the writing has always been excellent it’s with little things like this that it becomes obvious that the writers’ team was a men’s club only. Let’s hope writers in 2014 will be more self-conscious.

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