"Tunguska" is the eighth episode of the fourth season of The X-Files. It first aired in the United States on November 24, 1996 on the Fox network. Written by Frank Spotnitz and series creator Chris Carter, the episode was directed by Kim Manners and helped explore the series mythology arc.
Tunguska is the first part of a two-part storyline, with the events continuing in the next episode, Terma.
After investigating the deaths of two men in connection with the recent arrival of a diplomatic pouch, Mulder is imprisoned in a brutal Russian gulag while Scully refuses to answer to formal inquiries as to his whereabouts. (Part 1 of 2)
Agent Scully is called upon to make a statement to Congress regarding the recent and mysterious disappearance of her FBI partner, Fox Mulder. She uses this opportunity to attack the superiors that she blames for preventing her from doing her job and then refuses to answer the question of Mulder's whereabouts, while a large group, including the Cigarette Smoking Man, watch on.
Ten days earlier, at Honolulu International Airport, a diplomat carrying a locked briefcase is taken into Customs for a random search. After refusing to unlock the case, it is confiscated by Security and he is given a cavity search. Found to be clean of illegal goods, he is released amid much protest and anger, and finds that one of the security officers is dismantling the contents of the case; a steel canister. Despite the diplomat's warnings that the shipment is bio-hazardous, the officer takes out the main case, and then drops it. It smashes and a black substance pours out, quickly forming into a series of worm-like shapes that climb into the officer's skin and seemingly paralyze him as his eyes cloud up. The diplomat is left slamming on the door and screaming in fear.
Meanwhile, in Flushing, Queens, New York City, Mulder and Scully are preparing as part of a raid on a tipped off right-wing anarchist group as they unload weapons. The tipster has been sending the FBI receipts on recent firearm purchases. During a brief firefight, in which most of the terrorists are arrested, the pair go after the transport truck, which suddenly veers away and hits a wall. As they close in on the vehicle, they see that the driver has been shot dead by his passenger. Shouting for him to come out with his hands on his head, Mulder is stunned to see that the man is Alex Krycek. Stopped by Scully from beating him, Mulder listens to Krycek as the former spy explains that he was the tipster. After an interrogation, they learn that Krycek was released from his apparent doom within the North Dakota missile silo by the terrorist group, and he affirms that he is a patriot and used the opportunity to expose them. Mulder is skeptical, and frequently knocks him around. However, Krycek insists that he has information on other "bombs".
Using his intelligence, Mulder and Scully, with a handcuffed Krycek in tow travel to the airport, and their prisoner points out a 'diplomat' carrying a diplomatic pouch. The man has apparently returned from a mission in Russia. When Scully approaches the man, he runs from her. She and Mulder give chase but lose track of the man at one of the emergency exits. However, they recover the contents of the pouch: a rock. Mulder furiously scolds Krycek, who quickly defends himself and implies the rock itself is massively important.
Mulder and Scully split up, with the latter heading off to get the rock checked out by experts, while Mulder travels back to the capital and up to Skinner's apartment, asking whether he can house Krycek for the time being. Initially blindsided by seeing the man again, Skinner agrees before beating him up and handcuffing him to a railing on his balcony, despite the cold.
At a NASA laboratory, Scully speaks to a Dr. Sacks about the examination of the rock and is told that it is quite possibly a piece from an asteroid or meteor which originated from Mars. Mulder gives him permission to dissect it to discover whether there is any biological matter within.
Back in Washington, D.C., Skinner is approached on the street by the Cigarette Smoking Man, who makes breezy small talk before inquiring whether the Assistant Director knows the location of the diplomatic pouch. Skinner denies that he does and angrily rids himself of his former colleague. As Skinner storms off, the CSM calls after him, "Wars have broken out over far less, Mr Skinner."
Back at Skinner's apartment, Krycek is awoken by an intruder, who turns out to be the diplomat who escaped from Mulder and Scully. The man messily searches through the apartment, apparently desperate to find the pouch. Krycek attempts to avoid detection by hanging by one of his handcuffs from the balcony but the man hears this and comes to investigate. He is grabbed by Krycek and dragged over the edge, falling to the street far below.
As Skinner later returns home, he finds police swarming around the area, and is stopped by one asking which apartment he lives in. After telling the cop that he works for the FBI the officer apologizes but then inquires as to why there is a man hanging from the outside of his balcony. Skinner quickly calls upon Mulder's assistance and the pair manage to sneak Krycek out of the building.
As Dr. Sacks begins his incision into the rock, he is splattered by the black matter, which quickly forms and begins to crawl into him. Despite his air-tight bio-suit, he is overwhelmed and left in a catatonic state.
Mulder, with Krycek once again along for the ride, travels to New York and visits Marita Covarrubias, looking for information regarding the source of the diplomatic pouch. After a long time spent on the phone, Marita informs Mulder that the rock was gathered during an undisclosed visit to a city in Russia near Tunguska. Seizing on this mention, Mulder makes to leave but quickly asks Marita why she is so keen to help. She replies that he is not the only one in search of the truth, before giving him travel arrangements. Mulder returns to the car, all set to fly to Russia, and once again hits Krycek for being insouciant.
Scully phones Mulder, informing him that Sacks appears to be dead, as a result of the experiment on the rock, but that she has no idea how this could be. Scully and Pendrell investigate in detail and are stunned to see that the scientist appears to be still alive.
Mulder drives to JFK Airport and, as he prepares to leave, he informs Krycek of his intention to leave the double agent there to freeze. As Mulder walks away, he pauses in his tracks upon hearing Krycek cursing at him in Russian. He walks back to the car, asking Krycek how he knows the language, who replies that his parents were Cold War immigrants. With this is mind, Mulder brings him along.
In an unknown location, the CSM vists the Well-Manicured Man as he observes his daughter show-jumping on a dressage horse. Full of reluctance, the CSM informs the Well-Manicured Man of Mulder's trip to Russia, and is promptly excoriated, with the Well-Manicured Man once again implying the CSM's incompetence and his ignorance regarding the seriousness of the situation.
Dropped off by a passing truck thanks to Krycek's Russian linguistics, Mulder and his prisoner rush off-road and discover a razor-wire perimeter, quickly digging in underneath. Krycek once again urges Mulder to explain what is going on. Mulder tells him that, in 1908, an explosion that razed a forest in Tunguska recorded one thousand times more atomic damage that the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and that only theories of a meteor exist. As they make their way forward, they discover what appears to be a gulag camp, with men on horseback marshaling miners who are whipped when they fall or slow down. They are forced to run, as more cavalrymen chase them down, and both are captured before being thrown in a cell.
After waking up bloodied, Mulder hears somebody on the other side of the wall whispering to him in Russian. After yelling that he doesn't speak the language, Mulder is surprised when the man speaks fluent English, telling him that the prisoners in the camp are being made to work on mining rocks until the workers are too weak and are then subjected to experiments with the black matter. Krycek is thrown in with Mulder, shouting at the guards in Russian while he is and, after their cell door is locked, Mulder grabs him and demands an explanation. After assuring him that the men will not listen to their story, Krycek tells Mulder that he is "going to need him in here".
Back in Washington, D.C., Scully and Skinner are subpoenaed by Senator Albert Sorenson to discuss the death of the courier. The pair refuse to give any clear answers, especially Skinner, who's apartment appears to be where the man was, when he was thrown off the building. They also cover for Mulder, who was also supposed to appear but is now unaccounted for.
Guards enter the cell, and Krycek quickly demands something unknown. When Mulder asks what he is saying, Krycek tells him that he is asking for the guard's supervisor. As Krycek is taken away by the suddenly hesitant guards, he bids Mulder farewell in Russian. With his compatriot gone, the other prisoner tells Mulder that Krycek was lying and that "his friend" (referring to Krycek) is not who he says he is.
Guards burst into the room and, overseen by a bald man with glasses, they inject Mulder with a sedative, rendering him unconscious. As Mulder awakens, he finds himself secured to a table by chicken wire, surrounded by dozens of others in the same conditions. Overseen by the Glasses Man, black matter is dumped onto the faces of the prisoners, who scream, and Mulder is unable to fight back as the oil takes the form of worms that subcutaneously clamber into his eyes.
- This episode features the condensed intro.
- The razorwire used in the scene where Mulder and Krycek sneak into the Gulag was real. Originally a rubber substitute was planned, but when it didn't look convincing on film the Director went for realism. This decision was disapproved of by the cast, in particular David Duchovny who expressed his fear of the sharp metal.
- Parts of the set for Marita Covarrubias's NYC apartment were reused/redressed from the episode "The Field Where I Died." You can see the distinctive leaded glass design in both episodes.
- The character of Dr. Sacks (the scientist who is infected by the Black Cancer in the rock) is possibly named after the famed neurologist Oliver Sacks, whose book "An Anthropologist On Mars" was a major influence in the episode Demons.
- In the closed captioning for this episode, viewers saw Mulder pull a cockroach out of a drinking cup and say: "Bambi?". This is a reference Dr. Bambi Berenbaum, an entomologist studying cockroaches who appeared in the episode "War of the Coprophages".
- Krycek tells Mulder that "When you go underground you gotta learn to live with the rats", a possible reference to Nick Lea's nickname, 'Ratboy'.
- What did you get for trick or treat, Charlie Brown? This is a reference to the perennial TV animated special It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. In that cartoon, as the kids compare what they get from each house, all Charlie Brown can say is, "I got a rock."
- Tunguska is the location in Siberia where an object (asteroid? UFO?) struck the earth on June 30, 1908. The blast leveled over a half million acres and was hundreds of times stronger than the blast of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Cast and Characters
- Malcolm Stewart (Dr. Sacks) previously played Dr. William Glass in The X-Files episode Pilot, Commander Carver in 3 and Agent Bonnecaze in Avatar.
- Campbell Lane (Chairman) previously played Hohman in The X-Files episode Miracle Man and Căluşari #3 in The Căluşari.
- Brent Stait (Terry Edward Mayhew) previously played Cpl. Taylor in The X-Files episode Fallen Angel.
- Nicholas Lea as Alex Krycek
- Laurie Holden as Marita Covarrubias
- John Neville as Well-Manicured Man
- Brendan Beiser as Agent Pendrell
Special Guest Starring