"Synchrony" is the nineteenth episode of the fourth season of The X-Files. Originally airing on the Fox network on April 13, 1997, the episode was written by Howard Gordon and David Greenwalt, and was directed by James Charleston.
Mulder suspects that the culprit of a bizarre murder in which the victim was frozen solid may be a traveler from the future.
Jason Nichols and Lucas Menard, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, become embroiled in an argument as they walk down a city street. They are approached by an elderly man, who warns Menand that he will be run over by a bus at exactly eleven forty-six that evening. Menand tells a campus security cop that the old man is harassing him. The guard places him in the back seat of a sedan and drives away. A few moments later, Menand is run down by the bus... at exactly eleven forty-six.
Mulder and Scully review the facts of the case. Nichols was taken into custody after the bus driver told police that he pushed Menand into the path of his vehicle. But Nichols tells authorities he was attempting to save Menand as an unidentified old man had forewarned of his colleague's impending death.
The security guard who arrested the old man is found frozen to death. Scully concludes guard was somehow exposed to some sort of chemical refrigerant, as weather conditions are too warm to explain the corpse's frigid internal temperature. Mulder interviews Nichols at the police station. Nichols explains that he and Menand had been arguing because Menand threatened to go public with a claim that he had falsified data on a research paper.
A short time later, the elderly man kills Dr. Yonechi, a Japanese researcher, by pricking him with a metallic stylus. Mulder and Scully examine Yonechi's frozen corpse. Lab tests reveal that the doctor was injected with an unidentifiable chemical compound. The agents approach Nichol's girlfriend, Lisa Ianelli, who is also a researcher. She recognizes the chemical compound as a rapid freezing agent that Nichols had been engineering for years. But she points out that the chemical has not yet been invented. Lisa tells the agents that if Yonechi was injected with the chemical, he may not be dead. With Lisa's help, Scully and a team of medical personnel successfully resuscitate Yonechi. But his body temperature suddenly and rapidly begins to increase, until finally, he bursts into flames. Lisa realizes she made an error when she recommended that doctors remove Yonechi's body from a tub filled with yellowish fluid.
Lisa confesses that it was she who falsified the data to get the research grant (Nichols is in jail because he is covering for her). Those who would have figured out the truth--Menand and Yonechi--are now dead. Police receive a tip that the elderly man is living at a nearby hotel. Inside the elderly man's room, the agents discover a faded color photograph picturing Nichols, Yonechi and Lisa toasting champagne glasses inside the cryology lab. Mulder realizes the photo was taken five years in the future-on the day the researchers successfully synthesized the freezing compound. The elderly man is attempting to alter that future; when he failed to save Menand from being killed by the bus, he in turn killed Yonechi as a substitute. Mulder also realizes the elderly man is none other than Jason Nichols, albeit an elderly version of Nichols, likely from an alternate timeline.
Lisa locates the elderly man in his apartment and confronts him. The elderly man tells her that 10 years from now, she will attend a scientific conference in Zurich, where she will be inspired to create time travel by a lecture on tachyons, sub-atomic particles that can move backwards or forwards in time, if only at 0 Kelvin. He gathers the courage to inject her with the chemical after doing this. But Scully successfully resuscitates Lisa, and remembering the girl's words, immediately returns her body to the tub (to prevent the fire that killed Yonechi). Nichols confronts his elderly self in the computer mainframe room at the cryogenic lab, where the old man has erased all of Nichols' files from the computer. The old man tells Nichols that the success of their research made time travel possible, but also plunging the world into chaos. The details he gives are vague, but the elderly man implies that in the alternate time-stream where he comes from, through time travel, humanity is given the disturbing ability to know everything that could ever conceivably happen; a world without history, where past, present, and future do not exist. Confused and enraged, Nichols lunges at the old man, choking him. Mulder, unable to open the lab door, yells to Nichols. He tells him that Lisa is alive. The old man sneaks up behind Nichols, cryptically telling him that "it's better that we never were." Wrapping his arms around his younger self, the old man bursts into flames. The fire consumes them both. Later, Lisa recovers, and once again sets to work at the cryonics lab, ominously attempting to reconstruct the chemical compound.
SEMICOLON-SEPARATED LIST OF ITEMS/LOCATIONS REFERENCED IN EPISODE (BUT NOT LINKED TO IF ALREADY LINKED IN SUMMARY OR GUEST STARS SECTIONS)
Guest Writer David Greenwalt and Howard Gordon will work together again when Gordon joins the crew of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a Consulting Producer and as a Staff Writer on the spinoff series Angel. Interestingly, Greenwalt was originally offered a job as a Writer for The X-Files but turned it down to work on Buffy. The molecular model of the "freezing" catalyst shown in this episode contains less than 10 atoms and likely corresponds to a common organic compound rather than any fictional catalyst.
This episode marks the first reference to NMR spectroscopy on The X-Files. NMR spectroscopy, is a research technique that exploits the magnetic properties of certain atomic nuclei to determine physical and chemical properties of atoms or the molecules in which they are contained. It relies on the phenomenon of nuclear magnetic resonance and can provide detailed information about the structure, dynamics, reaction state, and chemical environment of molecules.
Hiro Kanagawa has also appeared in a previous episode of X-Files. He played Peter Tanaka in second season's episode "Firewalker".
Scully stated in her thesis, that one universe can only produce one outcome. From that, Mulder believes that history cannot be changed and that, in the end, timetravel will be invented. However, the events prove, that history can indeed be changed, as the photo is never taken and yet exists. So either both Scully and Mulder are wrong or it is a mistake the writers of this episode made.
In the shot of the 6th Precinct police station, it has a California state flag flying out front. The episode took place in Massachusetts, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
When Lisa gets off the bus, the number of the bus is different to the one we saw heading downtown, the one that she presumably was on.
Near the end of the episode when Jason Nichols confronts himself in the lab, Mulder runs up to the locked laboratory. Instead of using his gun Mulder decides to use a fire extinguisher to break the window to the lab, he then proceeds to watch Jason Nichols burn himself to death, while holding the fire extinguisher.
Scully's statement that she was 23 when she wrote her senior thesis in college throws off her timeline of college, med school, residency, FBI Academy, Quantico teaching assignment for two years, and X-Files assignment at 28. Her undergraduate degree in Physics should have been completed when she was 20 or 21 to allow at least 4 or 5 years for her medical training.
The futuristic freezing compound shown on the monitor is the very real compound 1,2-Dichloroethane. It was first synthesized in 1794 and is a commodity chemical used to make PVC.
Cast and Characters
- Hiro Kanagawa (Dr. Yonechi) previously played Peter Tanaka in The X-Files episode "Firewalker" and Agent Yung in the Millennium episode "522666".
- Norman Armour (Coroner) previously played ER Doctor in The X-Files episode "Sanguinarium" and Medical Examiner Geller in the Millennium episode "Covenant".
- Joseph Fuqua as Jason Nichols
- Susan Lee Hoffman as Lisa Ianelli
- Michael Fairman as Older Jason Nichols
- Jed Rees as Lucas Menard
- Hiro Kanagawa as Dr. Yonechi
- Jonathan Walker as Chuck Lukerman
- Alison Matthews as Doctor
- Norman Armour as Coroner
- Patricia Idlette as Desk Clerk
- Brent Chapman as Security Cop
- Terry Arrowsmith as Uniformed Cop
- Aureleo Di Nunzio as Detective