"Zero Sum" is the twenty-first episode of the fourth season of The X-Files. Written by Howard Gordon and Frank Spotnitz, it was directed by Kim Manners, and originally aired on the Fox network on April 27, 1997.
Zero Sum helped explore the series mythology arc, and was Howard Gordon's last contribution to the show.
While Skinner tries to negotiate a deal with the Cigarette-Smoking Man in order to save Scully's life, he becomes the prime suspect in a bizarre murder and discovers an incredibly cruel experiment using civilians as test subjects.
Jane Brody, a mail sorter at an overnight delivery company, sneaks into the female employee's rest room to smoke a cigarette. Without warning, hundreds of bees creep into the stall where Jane is sitting. When the young woman attempts to swat the insects so she can escape, the bees swarm and attack, stinging her to death.
An e-mail file containing photographs of the victim is sent to Mulder, but Skinner intercepts and deletes the file. Skinner then covertly erases evidence of the bee attack, and incinerates Jane Brody's body. Identifying himself as Fox Mulder, Skinner visits a police forensics lab in Virginia where he switches a vial containing Brody's blood with another identical container. As he is leaving, Skinner is approached by Detective Ray Thomas, the man who e-mailed Mulder photographs of Brody's body. Skinner tells the disappointed Thomas (who thinks he is talking to Fox Mulder) that the evidence does not warrant his further involvement in the case.
Mulder pays Skinner an unexpected visit. He states that someone has gone to great lengths to keep news of the bee attack from reaching him. He also reveals that Detective Thomas was found dead, the victim of an execution-style shooting. With Scully undergoing tests at a hospital for the treatment of her cancer, Mulder asks Skinner for his help in solving the mystery. Later that night, Skinner is approached by The Cigarette-Smoking Man. Skinner accuses him of murdering Detective Thomas. The Cigarette-Smoking Man counters that Skinner "failed to neutralize a potentially compromising situation."
Mulder discovers that someone stole Brody's body from a morgue and switched her blood sample at the police station. He also discovers that Thomas was murdered by someone using a government issue gun. Shortly thereafter, Skinner realizes his own weapon is missing. Skinner revisits the women's rest room where Brody was killed. He discovers part of a massive honeycomb inside the rest room wall, and brings a piece of the honeycomb to entomologist Peter Valdespino for analysis.
Mulder discovers that a bank surveillance camera captured a blurry image of someone talking to Detective Thomas shortly before he was murdered. He hopes the Bureau's Photo Unit can produce a clearer image of the man who he suspects is Thomas' killer. Using larvae taken from the honeycomb, Valdespino hatches more bees to identify the species. The insects unexpectedly swarm the entomologist, killing him. Mulder later discovers that Valdespino died from smallpox. He hypothesizes that someone has engineered a method of spreading the contagion using the insects.
Skinner questions Brody's co-worker, Misty Nagata. She reveals that a damaged overnight package was confiscated by other investigators working on the case. Students at an elementary school in South Carolina are attacked by a swarm of bees. Skinner tells doctors at a hospital emergency room that the children should be treated not for bee stings, but for smallpox.
Working from surveillance camera footage, the FBI photo unit produces a clear image of Skinner talking to Thomas shortly before his death. Outraged, Mulder accuses Skinner of working in conjunction with The Cigarette-Smoking Man from the very beginning. But Skinner insists he was framed.
Skinner again confronts The Cigarette-Smoking Man, firing several shots in anger. Afterward, The Cigarette-Smoking Man instructs Marita Covarrubias, in the company of Syndicate members, to tell Mulder whatever he wants to hear.
This is the last episode of the X Files writer Howard Gordon. He had written for the show from the first season.
Dedication: "In Loving Memory of Vito J. Pileggi." He was Mitch Pileggi's father.
Gillian Anderson does not appear in this episode due to the filming of the 1998 film The Mighty.
When Skinner is flipping through a filing cabinet, one of the files is labeled "Foo Fighters". In addition to being a term for UFOs spotted during World War II, this may also be a reference to the band Foo Fighters who contributed songs to both the Songs in the Key of X: Music from and Inspired by the X-Files album and the Fight the Future soundtrack.
Zero sum refers to the precept in game theory that a situation in which a participant's gain or loss is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the other participant(s).
The schoolyard scene with the bees attacking the children and their teacher is a reference to the Alfred Hitchcock film, The Birds, which contains a similar scene, only involving birds.
There is no town of Payson, SC, nor is there a JFK Elementary School anywhere in the state.
Cast and Characters
- Barry Greene (Dr. Emile Linzer) previously played Bob Perkins in The X-Files episode "Darkness Falls" and Mark in the Millennium episode "Loin Like a Hunting Flame".
- David Duchovny as Special Agent Fox Mulder
- Gillian Anderson as Special Agent Dana Scully (credit only)
- Nicolle Nattrass as Misty Nagatta
- Paul McLean as Special Agent Kautz
- Fred Keating as Detective Ray Thomas
- Allan Gray as Dr. Peter Valedespino
- Addison Ridge as Bespectacled Boy
- Don S. Williams as First Elder
- Lisa Stewart as Jane Brody
- Barry Greene as Dr. Emile Linzer
- Christopher J. Newton as Photo Technician
- Morris Panych as Gray-Haired Man