"Piper Maru" is the fifteenth episode of the third season of The X-Files. It premiered on the Fox network on February 9, 1996. The episode was written by Frank Spotnitz and Chris Carter, and directed by Rob Bowman. Piper Maru is the first of a two-part storyline, which helped explore the series' mythology arc.
When a diver from a French salvage ship called the Piper Maru discovers a World War II fighter plane and is the only member of his crew not exposed to harmfully extreme levels of radiation, Mulder and Scully investigate. (Part 1 of 2)
A French diving expedition is underway. A diver, Gauthier, heads down in an Atmospheric Diving Suit to investigate a target his crew thinks is the remains of a plane from a lost squadron from World War II. He spots the plane and reads the call numbers and the name "Drop Dead Red", verifying this is the plane they are looking for. He then hears pounding and investigates the canopy. He finds a man still alive, in an air pocket, pounding the glass from inside the canopy; Gauthier stares in shock as the man's eyes glaze over with a black, inky haze. After losing radio contact, the crew manages to haul up Gauthier, who is disoriented. He blinks his eyes and they go black, like the man from the plane.
AD Skinner informs Scully that the case regarding the murder of her sister has been declared inactive. She is furious, but Skinner promises to appeal the decision. When she meets with Mulder, he tells her about a case he came across last night: the French salvage ship Piper Maru, which limped into port in San Diego after returning from the same location where the Talapus possibly discovered a UFO. Scully complains about Mulder's complete willingness to make crazy connections in search of the truth, but Mulder, smiling, just hands her a plane ticket.
Gauthier is the only member of the Piper Maru's crew to be unaffected by radiation poisoning. He pilots the ship into port, and releases himself from the hospital's care after one day. When Mulder and Scully arrive at the naval hospital, they have no one to question since all the other sailors are comatose. Scully gets no response when she calls Gauthier's home phone.
Aided by an investigator from the Naval Investigative Service, the agents search the Piper Maru. They find a dive chart on the wall with the name Zeus Faber scrawled on it, the recorded video feed from Gauthier's dive, including shots of a P51 Mustang.
Gauthier is frantically searching through papers in his office when his wife shows up. She is surprised to find him there and disturbed when he doesn't respond to her questions. Suddenly the inky haze crosses his eyes and she tries to flee. He catches her at the door and soon she is seen to have oily eyes.
Mulder arrives at Gauthier's and finds him collapsed on the floor and oily. Gauthier seems to be back to normal, having no memory of anything beyond the dive and refusing to answer Mulder's questions. Among the papers in his office, Mulder finds an invoice for a salvage broker in San Francisco, Kallenchuck.
Scully goes to visit Commander Johansen, an old neighbor from her childhood on a military base, to utilize his acumen. He plays dumb about the P51 Mustang aircraft. Mulder shows up at the office of the salvage broker and queries the secretary, "Jeraldine." She yields no information, but cocks a shotgun under her desk as Mulder talks to her. Mulder leaves but hides outside in his car, and witnesses a team of French hit men arrive, armed with submachine guns. Jeraldine is already fleeing the office in her car and Mulder follows.
Scully is detained at the checkpoint gate as she leaves the local military base. Johansen joins her in her car. He tells her he was the on the team tasked with finding the plane the Piper Maru discovered. The plane had been the escort of an unused third plane that carried an atomic bomb meant for Japan. Meanwhile Mulder is off to Hong Kong in pursuit of Jeraldine. Joan Gauthier discreetly follows them.
While Skinner has coffee he is pestered by three suits, identifying themselves as members of "the intelligence community," who ominously suggest that he drop his appeal of the decision to make inactive the case involving the murder of Melissa Scully.
Johansen shows a picture of the flight crew and a flashback begins. When a Japanese destroyer seemed likely to find the sub, the captain went rogue and wouldn't return to base. The crew gradually received radiation burns in the Pacific in the final days of World War II. Johansen sealed the crew and the captain in the sick bay and piloted the sub back to Pearl Harbor. At that point all the men in the sickbay were dead or dying. Only seven men, including Johansen, survived.
Mulder corners Jeraldine in Hong Kong. She acknowledges that she sells government secrets. Mulder tells her that what she's selling is killing people, but she doesn't seem to care—she says she's just a middleman, and, as long as she gets her cut, she's happy. Mulder handcuffs her and leads her to the company office. Inside, Alex Krycek is waiting for them, and brandishes a gun. He closes the door on the handcuff chain, trapping Jeraldine in the hallway and Mulder inside with the armed and clearly agitated Krycek. From within the office, Jeraldine is heard crying out as shots are fired. Krycek flees through a window. The French hit men burst into the office but Mulder has gotten away in pursuit of Krycek. Mrs Gauthier arrives and gives off a blinding flash of light, which causes the hit men to suffer severe radiation burns.
At Skinner's coffee house, a Hispanic man is whining to the cashier about the broken phone. The man shoots Skinner as he tries to defuse the situation, then flees. Scully gets a call from Skinner's secretary, Kim, who tells her about the incident. Scully leaves to visit Skinner in the hospital.
Krycek is at the airport waiting for a plane to Washington. When he walks past the payphones he is blindsided and beaten up by Mulder, who takes his gun. Krycek promises to lead Mulder to the digital tape with the government UFO files in exchange for his life. Mulder recommends a trip to the bathroom to clean off his bloody face. Mrs. Gauthier follows Krycek inside, and infects him with the "black oil".
- The episode's title and the French salvage ship are named after Gillian Anderson's daughter, Piper Maru Anderson, who was born during Season 2. The name Maru is particularly apt, as it means "ship" in Japanese. It also means "flower" in Polynesian.
- The Atmospheric Diving Suit used for the underwater sequences at the beginning of this episode was a Newtsuit. The 900 pound apparatus was used primarily in a 12 ft. by 12 ft. by 24 ft. water tank during filming.
- Special Effects Coordinator David Gauthier, who worked on this episode, is a certified diver. His name was used for the French diver character.
- Nicholas Lea's name was intentionally placed in the closing (rather than the opening) credits to preserve surprise at the return of Alex Krycek.
- Michael Buble, long before fame as a singer, is an extra in this episode (and Apocrypha), playing one of the ship mates in the flashback sequence.
- This episode of The X-Files is the second of three in which a person can be seen walking towards camera before the screen cuts to black, as happens with Krycek at the end of this episode. The other two examples of this both occur at the end of the teaser sections of the Season 2 episode "Irresistible" as well as the Season 7 episode "Orison", both featuring approaching camera.
- In the movie Alien vs. Predator, the crew arrive in Antarctica on an ice breaker called Piper Maru.
- For this episode, Gillian Anderson received her first Best Actress Emmy Award nomination.
- The Talapus was last seen in the Nisei, while the digital tape Krycek has been shopping around was last seen in Paper Clip . The method of attack used by those infected with the black oil - a bright flash of light that causes severe radiation burns - is highly similar to that of the alien life form seen in the Season 1 episode Fallen Angel.
A coastline and other ships are briefly visible in the shot of the two divers jumping into the ocean before the submersible is lowered, despite the ship's position being given earlier as 42°N 171°E, the middle of the North Pacific.
When the support crew loses contact with Gauthier in the submersible, the communications technician is told to "try another frequency" (a statement verified in the subtitles). However, since radios don't work underwater, there are no frequencies to change; the only communication is by wire, which may carry more than one channel, but a disruption in cable-based communications affects all channels simultaneously.
When Skinner walks into the cafe (the time he gets shot) another man is just walking out, leaving a table with a used glass and coffee cup. The waitress is in the back, getting Skinner a cup of coffee (she couldn't have cleaned the other table yet), but when we look over Skinner's shoulder you can see that the other table is cleared and has a clean coffee cup (turned upside down) on it.
Cast and Characters
- Robert Clothier (General Christopher Johansen) previously played Old Man in The X-Files episode "Red Museum".
- Morris Panych (Gray-Haired Man) previously played Dr. Simon Auerbach in The X-Files episode "F. Emasculata".
- Stephen E. Miller (Wayne Morgan) previously played John Truitt in The X-Files episode "Pilot" and Tactical Commander in "Duane Barry".
- Kimberly Unger (Joan Gauthier) previously played Karen Koretz in The X-Files episode "Fallen Angel".
- Robert Clothier as General Christopher Johansen
- Jo Bates as Jeraldine Kallenchuck
- Nicholas Lea as Alex Krycek
- Paul Batten as Dr. Seizer
- Russell Ferrier as Medic
- Lenno Britos as Luis Cardinal
- Kimberly Unger as Joan Gauthier
- Rochelle Greenwood as Waitress
- Joel Silverstone as Engineer #1
- David Neale as Navy Base Guard
- Tom Scholte as Young Christopher Johansen
- Robert F. Maier as WWII Pilot
- Tegan Moss as Young Dana Scully