"Tempus Fugit" is the seventeenth episode of the fourth season of The X-Files. Written by series creator Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz, the episode was directed by Rob Bowman, and originally aired on the Fox network on March 16, 1997.
Mysterious circumstances surround the crash of a commercial jet as Mulder and Scully race against mysterious government agents to discover the truth about what happened before it can be covered up. (Part 1 of 2)
On an airliner flying over Upstate New York, a nervous Max Fenig clings to a napsack and is reassured by the man sitting next to him about the comparative safety of air travel. Max notices a man who has been observing him for some time get up and use the bathroom. Inside, the man assembles an improvised handgun out of a variety of non-metallic components. Armed with this weapon, the man approaches Max in his seat, but is knocked off his feet as the plane experiences severe turbulence, and a bright light encircles them. With the passengers screaming in fear, the plane appears to be losing control until a blinding light halts and shines through the windows at them.
At a pub in Washington D.C., Scully is celebrating her birthday, the first one Mulder has remembered in four years. He gets her a cake with a sparkling candle, and the birthday song is sung. Mulder offers his present: a commemorative Apollo 11 key ring. The agents are approached by a woman called Sharon Graffia, who claims to be the sister of Max Fenig, and says her brother was meant to be coming to see Mulder with evidence of his abductions, evidence that the government would kill him for. After learning that Max was aboard the downed commercial airliner Flight 549, Mulder and Scully head to a nearby National Transportation and Safety board meeting heading investigations into the crash.
After sitting in on the meeting, despite the lack of FBI involvement into the matter, Mulder speaks up and voices his views that the plane was forced down, and dwells on the possibility of extraterrestrials. The meeting's chief, Mike Millar, shows his skepticism towards this idea, but nonetheless allows the agents to accompany them to the crash site.
At the crash site, it soon becomes clear how difficult the task ahead is as the debris is strewn out across a wide area including woodland and lakes. One of the men at the meeting, Scott Garrett, finds the operative from the crash and takes the composite gun, before using a spray to erode his finger prints and facial features. Scully begins noticing the unusual burns amongst the dead, and concludes that it seems likely the result of radiation. After looking at a number of watches amongst the dead, Mulder notices that they all have the time at 8:01, a full nine minutes after the recorded time of crash. Scully points out that there may just be an error in the logged time, while Mulder reminds her of the lost time they experienced during their first case together. Mulder becomes convinced that Max was abducted straight from the plane and that as a result his body will not be found. During the search a team finds a man alive in the rubble, Larold Rebhun, the man who had been sitting next to Max.
At Fulton County Airport that evening, Scully arranges for Graffia, who has been under FBI protection, to be flown in. Speaking to her on the airfield, Scully inquires as to whether Max was carrying anything radioactive on the plane. She learns that Max worked at an environmental energy plant in Colorado under an alias, and surmises that he may well have stolen something similar to plutonium. She meets with Mulder and passes on this information, but he is highly doubtful at the thought, not understanding what Max would be doing with plutonium.
At the Paradise Motel in Northville, Sharon Graffia is being held as part of her protection. As she frantically goes through what appears to be Max's notes and writings, the room begins to shake, and blinding lights shine through the windows. The papers fly in all directions around the room. Sharon stares at the door, terrified, as it is about to be blown in at any second.
At the warehouse where the recovery and investigative group are collating evidence, Mulder hears that a body believed to be Max has been found some distance from the others. When he goes to check it, he positively confirms it is him. When he looks in his pockets, he finds a blood stained business card from Mulder himself. He then notices that all of the bodies have been stripped of their wrist watches.
Scully, who is overseeing the NTSB's efforts to re-assemble to plane to determine the cause of the crash, notices Mulder walking away and goes to speak to him. Mulder explains how the watches have gone, probably along with other evidence, and that there is some kind of clean up going on which will result in no cause of crash being determined.
Mulder and Scully visit the Von Drehle Air Force Reserve Installation, where a military air control tower is situated. The agents speak to one of the men of station the night of the crash, Louis Frisch, who tells them that very little out of the ordinary occurred and that 549 simply disappeared off of their radar. After Mulder and Scully leave, Frisch is joined by the his colleague, Gonzalez, who states firmly that he wants to tell the truth and that he cannot stand the lies. Frisch grabs him, demanding that he control himself, before he drives off.
Mulder and Scully drive to Sharon Graffia's motel, to find that she has disappeared and her room trashed, with the front door blown out. Mulder notices that the glass in the peep hole has been blistered. While at the motel, they meet Millar, who tells them that their investigations have revealed that 549's main cabin door had been blown out from the outside, something that he describes as "impossible."
Back at Von Drehle, Frisch returns to find Gonzalez in the control tower. He apologizes for their argument earlier, and admits to feeling a great deal of guilt over what happened. Noticing that his colleague is neither responding nor moving, he approaches him and discovers that he is dead from a cranial gun shot wound, in what looks like a suicide. Stunned, he looks outside and sees a convoy of black vehicles approaching. As a team of commandos enter and search the tower - led by Dark Man - Frisch hides on the roof before escaping in his car.
While in his motel room, Mulder listens to the audio recordings of air traffic control, and becomes suspicious of 549's pilot mentioning an "intercept." He phones Scully and mentions this, before telling her to come round. As she does, she is grabbed and restrained by Frisch, who tells her not to shout out and that he has information regarding the night of the crash. He then claims that he was responsible for the plane's crash. Mulder and Scully drove him down to the hangar where the NTSB's salvage was taking place. Here, he was introduced to Millar, and explained that he had been given orders to track the coordinates of 549, and had then called these in for another aircraft, a US Air Force jet, to intercept. After this, 549 had disappeared from the radar and presumably crashed.
Using this story as a basis, Mulder claims that he believes the jet was shooting down a UFO that had taken control of 549, and that the plane went down with it. He says this had been an attempt by the UFO to abduct Max Fenig and recover whatever it was in his possession that emitted radiation, explaining the wounds to the passengers and the cabin door being blasted in. Millar expresses his amazement at this theory, saying that it is probably the best one available, but that nobody will ever accept it as being possible. Believing that based on this, there will be a second crash site, they head off. Mulder and Scully drive away with the intention of allowing Scully to take Frisch to Washington and into protection, while Mulder will follow up on the possible crash site. Millar, meanwhile, drives alone to the original site.
While driving clear of the airfield, Mulder and Scully are pursued by the same convoy of cars who had come for Frisch earlier. After a brief chase along one of the runways, Mulder uses a landing plane as a means of cover. As a result, the chasing cars break off and Mulder and Scully escape with Frisch.
Millar arrives at the crash site and is stunned when he sees a large searchlight in the distance apparently emanating from midair. Wading through the swamp water to get closer, he makes out what appears to be a silently hovering craft searching the area. Suddenly the light switches off, and after a brief pause reappears directly over Millar, who stares up in utter disbelief. The light disappears once again, along with the craft. Immediately, Millar hears a woman's voice screaming, "Someone, help me, please." He runs to find Sharon Graffia weeping uncontrollably. "Don't let them take me," she says. Millar comforts her.
Back at the airport, Mulder confers with Sgt. Frisch about a possible second crash site in a body of water. Scully and Frisch depart by plane to return to Washington. Mulder drives alone to a nearby jetty to find a bewildered boatman who speaks of teams of black clad men searching the lake. Mulder convinces him to sail him out to the lake's center, and also to use his scuba gear.
Back in D.C, Scully takes Frisch to the same bar where she celebrated her birthday. She runs into a tipsy Pendrell, who insists on buying them drinks. Eventually, Scully accepts. While Pendrell goes to the bar, Scully sits with Frisch who is beginning to feel the guilt of his actions. Suddenly, Scully notices Garrett standing watching them, and begins to draw her sidearm. Garrett pulls his gun, shoots, and hits the returning Pendrell in the chest. Scully returns fire, shooting Garrett in the torso and sending him to the ground as the bar erupts into panic. As she sees to Pendrell, who is grievously wounded, she notices that Garrett has gone, leaving blood stains on the door. Leaving Frisch and bystanders to look after Pendrell, she runs out and sees the assailant drive away as the police arrive.
Back at Lake Sacandaga, Mulder, who admits to never having scuba dived before, dives under as the boatman leaves. Beforehand he notices the black clad men canvasing the area. Under the water, he finds wreckage of unusual, almost alien, design. He sees oxygen emanating from under some of it, and after closer inspection finds what appears to be an alien body. Before he can react, a bright light shines down at him from the surface.
- This episode's title is Latin for "time flies." It is frequently used as an inscription on clocks. The expression was first used in the verse Georgica written by Roman poet Virgil: Sed fugit interea fugit irreparabile tempus, which means, "But it flees in the meantime: irretrievable time flees".
- This episode features the first appearance of Max Fenig (played by Scott Bellis) since Season 1's "Fallen Angel".
- Scott Bellis, the actor who portrays Max Fenig, had auditioned for a part as an FBI agent in a previous episode following Fallen Angel, but was turned down by Chris Carter, who felt he would be "too recognizable". In fact, Carter and his writing team had been planning on bringing the character back for some time before writing Tempus Fugit.
- Joe Spano, who portrays Mike Millar, had been approached to play a part several times by producers before he accepted the role.
- Twelve members of the post-production team won the Emmy Award for Best Sound Editing for their work on Tempus Fugit.
- The character Larold Rebhun was named after the show's sound mixer.
- The show's producers wanted the plane crash site and investigation to be as authentic as possible, so they used a National Transportation Safety Board official to act as their technical adviser on the episode to ensure that everything was properly recreated
- On The Season Four DVD, If the English subtitles are activated, the theme to the X-Files beginning credits have "Happy Birthday Dear Dana" Playing throughout.
- "Max Fenig" is an anagram. When the letters are changed, "XF Enigma" is the result.
- Max Fenig's pseudonym, Paul Gidney, may have been a reference to Gidney, one of the moon men from Rocky and Bullwinkle.
- Mike Millar said, "Dr. Spock's phaser." Surely, he meant Mr. Spock, not "Dr." Mr. Spock is from the show Star Trek and is often depicted as carrying a phaser, whereas Dr. Spock is an American pediatrician.
- In the scene where Mulder identifies Max Fenig's body, you can see Max breathing (or his pulsating vessel on his neck) when Fox opens the bag containing Fenig's body.
Cast and Characters
- Chilton Crane (Sharon Graffia) previously played Margaret Hohman in The X-Files episode "Miracle Man" and Mother at Bus Station in "F. Emasculata".
- Joe Spano as Mike Millar
- Tom O'Brien as Sergeant Louis Frisch
- Scott Bellis as Max Fenig
- Chilton Crane as Sharon Graffia
- Brendan Beiser as Agent Pendrell
- Robert Moloney as Bruce Bearfeld
- Felicia Shulman as Motel Manager
- Rick Dobran as Sgt. Armando Gonzales
- Jerry Schram as Larold Rebhun
- David Palffy as Dark Man
- Mark Wilson as a Pilot
- Marek Wiedman as Investigator
- John Raitt as Father