Terma tagline: "E Pur Si Muove"
Krycek, in fact a double agent for a russian conspiracy, devises a plan to destroy the american Syndicate's work on research for a vaccine against the Black Oil. He attracts Mulder's attention by infiltrating a nationalist militia planning bombings; he then points Mulder & Scully to the Black Oil being imported in the USA, through dipomatic couriers travelling by plane. But Mulder & Scully dig deeper. Scully studies the effects of the alien virus while Krycek has to follow Mulder as he goes to the source: Tunguska in russian Siberia. In a gulag, Mulder is victim to the russian research but manages to escape and Krycek gets his arm cut off by russian resistants to the research. Scully is victim to backstage political manipulation orchestrated by the Well-Manicured Man in order to slow down the investigation and silence the truth. Krycek activates an ex-KGB agent who succeeds in killing the head American researcher, and fully destroys all american research and all tangible evidence.
These 2 episodes, written by the classic duet Frank Spotnitz & Chris Carter, are undoubtedly among the most complex hours of the X-Files. And among the best episodes XF has ever produced. Period. The Black Oil introduced in 3X15: Piper Maru is given more background, we hear more of variola, we are introduced to the vaccine, Mulder travels to Russia, Scully answers to a US Senate Committee, and XF takes on a whole new level of delicious post-Cold War East-West paranoia! The final scene of Tunguska, where Mulder is infected with the Black Oil, helplessly immobilized in a cold dark room far away, must be one of the most terrifying (and cinematically beautiful) scenes of the entire series.
Background: Tunguska and ALH84001
Tunguska, in russian Siberia, as Mulder says, is famous for the mysterious cosmic event that happened in June 30, 1908. An explosion was followed by devastating events on the environment, with trees being toppled over in a 2000km radius. It is true that nobody has given an entirely satisfactory answer as to what caused this, which has caused the wildest theories to pop around -- like anti-matter, an alien spaceship, a wormhole in space-time... It is generally agreed upon that it was an asteroid that disintegrated upon entry in the atmosphere. The meteor ended up exploding while still in the air, creating the bang; what finally reached the ground were only tiny fragments.
Black Cancer: modus operandi
In the X-Files, the Tunguska asteroid also contained what is referenced as "Black Cancer", "the cancer that lives in the rock". As Scully, Pendrell and the late Dr. Sacks find out, the rock came "quite possibly from Mars, over four billion years old." and contains an oily black "vermiform organism" (ie worm-like). This points to the fact that Mars contains stocks of Black Oil underground, like Earth (Fight the Future). What probably happened was that 4 billion years ago, Mars carried life, like Earth at that time, its oceans full of mono-cellular organisms. At that point, Mars looked as promising for the development of more complex organisms as Earth; the Black Oil Colonists left stocks of Black Oil and spaceships (7X03: The Sixth Exinction) on Mars as well as Earth to prepare a future colonization. Only that in the billions of years that followed, martian life died out and terran life thrived (but the Black Oil survived!).
Once inside their host, the Black Oil worms form a layer of oil in the eyeball but more importantly (and less visually), they nest around the pineal gland, a small endocrine gland at the centre of the brain, between left and right hemisphere. The pineal gland has been referred to as the 'seat of the soul' (by Descartes) because of its connection to different neurological and psychological disorders; this is perhaps linked to the coma induced by the infection. This gland is also identified with the physical location of the 'third eye', the symbol of enlightenment for hinduism, buddhism and some New Age beliefs. Evidently, there is a connection between the pineal gland, telepathic abilities and the Black Oil in XF mythology (further explored in 7X03: The Sixth Extinction). It would seem that when the human host dies, the Black Oil can no longer survive on its own, exits the host body and dies off (as seen in the euthanasia in the teaser for Terma and all the dead elderly later in the episode).
Black Cancer: why the coma?
At this point one could hesitate to say the black oils in 3X15: Piper Maru / 3X16: Apocrypha and here are the same, but with later episodes it will become clear that they are one and the same. The Tunguska Black Oil simply puts the infected host in some kind of coma with a lowered metabolic rate. It leaves behind the same oily film as on Gauthier and his suit in Piper Maru (see Dr. Sacks's faceplate) and can cross any substance: in Piper Maru it was a deep sea suit, in Tunguska it's a highly secure biohazard suit.
The most probable explanation is that the millions or even billions of years of the martian rocks wandering in cold and empty space coupled with the violence of the Tunguska crash in 1908 must have been what made it very weak. The vaccine weakens it even more. Another element weakening it even more is the cold it encounters: on Mars, in outer space, in Siberia. As we learn in Fight the Future, the Black Oil is most potent at warm temperatures, lowering the temperature has the effect of stalling it; perhaps prolonged exposure to cold made it completely inert. There are no different strains of the Black Oil in the history of XF, as in there are no Oils that are biologically different; there is only one Black Oil, only that we meet it under different circumstances and with different purposes.
The Russian conspiracy and research
The Russians discovered the Tunguska Black Oil not so long ago: Mulder's prisoner neighbour was one of the geologists that first uncovered "the first fragments. This was before the mining, before we knew what lived in Tunguska rock". This man looks to be in his thirties-forties, placing the discovery of the Tunguska rocks in the 1980s. The Russians immediately saw the huge military potential of this virus, so they turned one of their gulags into a mining and research facility. A gulag is the soviet equivalent of the labour concentration camp. The objective was to extract the virus, test its effects, weaponize it and find a cure for it (it's always better to have a cure against one's own weapons!). As hinted at in 5X02: Redux, they managed to turn it into a biological weapon by 1991 and the Gulf War, but the seach for the cure is still ongoing. "The search for a cure goes slowly."
The labour force in the gulag are left in the dark ("they tell us nothing. We are left to guess and imagine the reasons for our torture. But what else could it be [but for a cure]?"). Thanks to the stealthness this remote loaction provides, and after "hundreds, maybe more" deaths, the Russians were able to create a rough version of a cure. It is not yet a vaccine per se: prisoners still die because of the exposure ("It becomes easier each time... until it kills you."). A complete immunization treatment would be a one-time injection that lasts for the entire life of the subject. It is merely an incomplete vaccine, a one-time shot that kills the Black Oil that infected the host and cures it for once but does not provide protection against later infections. The term 'vaccine' has been used excessively by the XF writers; a vaccine normally provides full immunization, whereas here this 'weak vaccine' is a one-time job. If the test subjects were immune against the Black Oil thanks to the vaccine, it would be useless to continue tests on them (see the case of Marita Covarrubias in 5X14: The Red and the Black and 6X12: One Son as well).
This vaccine is injected right before the prisoner is exposed to the Black Oil. It is injected in the base of the neck, close to the pineal gland -- you can see it is of an amber colour, when Mulder is injected, as it will be in later appearances (eg 5X13: Patient X). It is not entirely effective; some of the weakened Black Oil must remain in the prisoner after each exposure, the accumulation acting as a poison and ultimately causing death -- earning its name "Black Cancer". This russian treatment seems to act as a poison to the Black Oil worms, expelling most of them from the host body and killing them. This is seen on Dr. Sacks when he's injected with the vaccine; we hear no more of hime, but he must have fully recovered like Mulder later offscreen. Mulder's one-time exposure here will be of extreme relevance in the events in 6X22: Biogenesis and its sequels.
This russian conspiracy is not part of the global Syndicate of which the american branch we are well acquainted with. This is because the Syndicate began in the time of the Cold War; the Syndicate grew out of the Western Block, eventually becoming global as it became evident that the West was winning. The Russian/Soviet governmental conspiracy concerning the Black Oil survived independently. The Cold War climate is very strong in these episodes ("He wants you to know that the Cold War isn't over.") and makes for an interesting political spy thriller.
The Americans (and by extension the Syndicate) don't have a research program for a vaccine as developed as the russian one. This is mainly due to lack of raw material: Black Oil. The Syndicate is not very familiar with Black Oil, despite the fact that it has been dealing with alien biological material and DNA for a long time. Black Oil behaves quite differently from cells and DNA captured in lab tubes; it is like a fully autonomous virus. In 3X16: Apocrypha, the Well-Manicured Man confesses there are still aspects of the Black Oil that are a "mystery" to them. The discovery of Black Oil deposits at Blackwood in Fight the Future is a major one, further explored in 6X01: The Beginning. The Syndicate is still discovering what the Black Oil really is this late in the game, nearly at the same time as Mulder and Scully.
Thus the american branch of the Syndicate, in need of raw material for their experiments, steal Black Oil from the Russians; this is the main focus of these episodes. Using undercover spies onsite in Russia and at Tunguska, rocks containing Black Oil are smuggled out of the gulag. Couriers who were provided with diplomatic papers follow complicated and misleading air routes in order to get the rocks to american soil (two routes we know of are Russia - Russian Georgia - Japan - USA, and Russia (Moscow) - USA (Virginia) using a turkish airline).
Variola and the left arm
Charne-Sayre also happens to be member of the World Health Organisation, a virologist whose specialty is the variola virus -- smallpox. This made her a good asset to the Syndicate's work, as we know tagging and identification is done through smallpox vaccinations (2X25: Anasazi, 3X02: Paper Clip, 4X01: Herrenvolk). Before being exposed to the Black Oil, Mulder gets a vaccination with the russian vaccine and also has a sample taken on his left arm, a sample of his smallpox vaccination protein which will later identify him for all the experiments he's subjected to.
Charne-Sayre's expertise on variola and her support of "eliminating the last remaining stores of the smallpox virus" would indicate that she's also the designer behind the test of spreading variola through bees in real conditions carried out in 4X21: Zero Sum. As Scully sums up, "the death of Doctor Charne-Sayre, given her field of expertise, not only suggests that she knew something about the toxin, but also its origins, and that knowledge may be directly linked to [the case]". On a side note, she was also the WMM's personal physician and lover. As it has already been the case with the Cigarette-Smoking Man releasing Jeremiah Smith (3X24: Talitha Cumi) and will be again, the conspirators are sometimes "foolish as to put the project at risk for the sake of [their] personal pleasures" (as per the CSM).
The CSM: "Wake the Russian Bear and it may find we've stolen its honey." The Russians discover the Oil leak and decide to stop it, destroying any competition in the USA. As Frank Spotnitz commented, the Russians and the Americans were effectively on an "arms race" for the best biological weapon and cure, not unlike that of the Cold War nuclear missiles and missile defense.
Krycek is revealed to be Russian (with a name like that, he was definitely from the Eastern Block!). His explanation to Mulder for his knowledge of Russian "my parents were Cold War immigrants" is false as he's not a second-generation American but really a Russian spy, a double agent who had successfully infiltrated the american Syndicate all this time ever since 2X04: Sleepless. This is a big revelation that puts his thirst for power we saw in 2X06: Asension in a new perspective. Krycek, under the name Arntzen, would attempt to destroy the american research chapter into the Black Oil on behalf of the Russians. In fact at this point, Arntzen might very well be his real name and Krycek an alias he used with the Syndicate!
We last saw Krycek left to rot in an abandoned missile silo in the middle of nowhere in North Dakota (3X16: Apocrypha). Here he is caught among a nationalist militia. Krycek explains he was freed by this militia sneaking around governmental bases ("They liberated me on a salvage hunt."); in order to survive among them, Krycek must have sympathised and told them he shared their beliefs.
The Russians strike back
The plan Krycek and the russian conspiracy made up would go as follows: Krycek would use the militia to make two bombs; with them he'd destroy all Black Oil samples in the possession of the Americans; he would inform Mulder of the bombs so as to attract his attention, because Mulder is always the one that usually digs up evidence and puts the Syndicate in grave danger of exposure; he would poison the American test subjects and so as to erase all traces of the Black Oil. Everything went well in the beginning: deceiving the militia group, Krycek sent Mulder receipts that informed him of his actions ("I've received receipts over the past few weeks for detonation cord, for racing and diesel fuel, and for 80 bags of ammonium nitrate [...] for first and last on this storage space, and one to rent a two-ton truck yesterday"). Mulder organized an FBI blockade and the militia group was arrested with the first of two bombs. Krycek, always a good actor, convinced he and Mulder and Scully were fighting for the same cause: justice. From there on, he wanted to draw them to the pouches traffic and risk exposure of the Syndicate's work ("These men, they fear one thing; exposure. You expose him [the CSM], you expose his crimes, you destroy the destroyer's ability to destroy"). When Mulder takes Krycek to Skinner's apartment, Krycek tries to attract as much attention as possible and expose the Syndicate: when the courier comes looking for his pouch, Krycek throws him over Skinner's balcony.
The Syndicate under siege
Meanwhile, as Krycek had forseen, this is a crisis situation for the Syndicate. The WMM and the CSM handle the matter quite differently. The WMM moves his "friend" the Senator Sorenson into investigating Mulder, Scully and Skinner's doings.
The CSM's methods are less subtle ("Call off this Congressional investigation."). He uses the huge information networks that all the US agencies provide to those who have access to them. In real time he is informed that Mulder arrived in Tunguska, then that he escaped; this is thanks to his spies onsite that also provide the couriers with Black Oil samples. Using the video surveillance at the international airports, he identifies Charne-Sayre's killer and gives him a name thanks to Peskow's probably voluminous file with the CIA databases as a KGB agent. He then lets Mulder & Scully do all the work for him and hunt down Peskow (they are used like in 2X22: F. Emasculata): "If my intelligence sources are right, I think there's someone who might save us the trouble." But Peskow outruns them and completes his mission with no trouble.
Mulder & Scully use the same intelligence information routes as well: Mulder gets Marita's address through an "FBI database"; then he gets to Peskow thanks to a complex but fast search for "the license numbers for any two-ton trucks stolen in North Dakota in the last six months. Then call Canadian border authorities and have them stop any truck fitting that description". The surveillance systems and the cross-referencing power of governental agencies are tremendous.
In the end...
Krycek came out of all this a real winner. Ok, he ends up being the joyful owner of a prosthetic arm, but we discover he was not dead at all but that he enjoys a very high rank in the russian conspiracy. Tensions between him and Mulder are now even greater, as evidenced by their edgy confrontations. His allegiance after all still seems to be with Russia; perhaps this mission won him back a rightful place among its ranks after he lost it when he failed with his mission in the Syndicate (3X02: Paper Clip). He seems well acquainted with how the gulag works, and he's very close to the bald director. More on this would have been revealed in the unfilmed 'Krycek episode'. These episodes are really among the best hours of the X-Files.
Title note: Incidentally (?), 'tyurma' means 'jail' in russian. It might refer to the gulag, keeping with the two episodes being titled after russian words.
Scully: "What I am saying is that there is a culture of lawlessness that has prevented me from doing my job. That the real target of this committee's investigation should be the men who are beyond prosecution and punishment. The men whose policies are behind the crimes that you are investigating."
Krycek: "Hey, you go underground, you gotta learn to live with the rats."
Mulder: "I'm sure you had no trouble adapting."
Scully: "What do you want, Krycek?"
Krycek: "Same thing you do. To find the man who tried to kill me. The same man that was responsible for your father's death; your sister's."
Scully: "You want this man brought to justice?"
Krycek: "You can't bring these men to justice. They're protected. The laws of this country protect them in the name of national security. They know no law."
Mulder: "Then why don't you put a bullet in his head like you did that man out there?"
Krycek: "These men, they fear one thing: exposure. You expose him, you expose his crimes, you destroy the destroyer's ability to destroy."
Mulder: "The only thing that will destroy this man is the truth."
Krycek: "The truth, the truth! There's no truth. These men, they make it up as they go along. They're the engineers of the future. They're the real revolutionaries. I can get them for you too."
CSM: "Wars have broken out over far less, Mr. Skinner. Far far less."
WMM: "Senator Sorenson is an honorable man. They are all honorable, these honorable men."
Scully: "We were called before this committee to answer questions about a murder, about an intercepted diplomatic pouch, a pouch that was to be delivered to a prominent doctor, a woman who is now dead, as is the man who was delivering said pouch, the contents of which have infected an exobiologist with a paralyzing toxin. Yet, what are we stuck on here? The whereabouts of Agent Mulder."
Skinner: "You mean it's the wrong question."
Scully: "Several of the men on this committee are lawyers. It is my experience that lawyers ask the wrong question only when they don't want the right answer."
Vassily Peskow (on the US-Canada border): "Fertilizer for my hothouse tomatoes. Beautiful tomatoes, all year, eh?"
Vassily Peskow: "I would just as soon kill you, but please, don't make me. My work is done."
Mulder's soapbox speech: "Why is this so hard to believe? When the accepted discovery of life off this planet is on the front page of every newspaper around the world? When the most conservative scientists and science journals are calling for the exploration of Mars and Jupiter? With every reason to believe that life and the persistence of it is thriving outside our own terrestrial sphere? If you cannot get past this, then I suggest this whole committee be held in contempt, for ignoring evidence that cannot be refuted."