Season 3, Episode 10: “731”
Explosions! Hidden bombs! Fast-moving trains! Mulders running atop fast-moving trains! All this is a job for Rob Bowman, this episode’s director, who has a particular knack for directing episodes with lots of explosions in them. Whenever you see his name under the directing credit, be prepared for some awesome epicness.
“731” is the exciting follow-up to “Nisei,” and in terms of sheer entertainment level, it far outshines its predecessor. It’s like a roller coaster ride – suspenseful, exhilarating, fast-paced, action-packed, and, most of all, fun. It is the Six Flags of Season 3.
However, just as Six Flags probably isn’t the most important outing you’ll ever make in your life, this episode’s role in the mythology is at best somewhat there and at worst almost unnecessary. Look beyond the Mr. Xs and the traincars blowing up and you won’t find many answers, just reiterations of things we the audience already knew. In fact, it’s really “Nisei” that holds the key information that will remain relevant throughout the show – information I can’t really explain too much for spoilage reasons. I will say this – it’s subtle. You’ll completely forget about it.
Subtlety is not what they were going for in “731,” let me tell you. If anything, this episode seems to exist purely to finish “Nisei” off with something spectacular, if not lacking in actual substance. But at the end of the day, I don’t care. I’m just having too much fun.
Let’s start with the parts of this episode that aren’t quite as fun, namely, Scully’s trip to the leper colony. We have echoes of earlier episodes like “Anasazi” what with the piles of deformed bodies, but it’s never really made clear if these are the same creatures, if they’re alien, human, whatever. The most notable event in Scully’s portion of this episode is her talk with the Elder, the Syndicate’s most formidable and I would daresay most intriguing member. There’s very little that gets past this guy, and his utter lack of emotion leaves you feeling much more uneasy than Cigarette Smoking Man’s constant exhales of smoke. That’s not to rob CSM of his villainy; he’s still #1. But in terms of being purely sinister, the Elder takes the cake.
That being said, the Elder’s conversation with Scully is run-of-the-mill Syndicate talk – something you’d expect out of CSM or the Well-Manicured Man, really. It’s not bad, it just doesn’t sound like his character…I suppose the Elder wasn’t clearly defined yet. What this conversation doesn’t do is reveal anything that Scully or the audience needs to know. There’s nothing this episode really adds to or takes away from the mythology. It’s just kind of there.
Furthermore, Scully’s trip to the leper colony is really rather uncomfortable. I think Scully’s reaction to the piles of dead bodies – a reaction we usually don’t get out of Scully, one of outward disgust and shock – is quite fitting, and it is about the only thing in this episode that acknowledges how utterly horrible the entire leper colony situation is, when you step back and look at it for a moment. Unfortunately, like I said before, this particular subplot never really goes anywhere. It’s never made clear if the bodies Scully saw were humans or not; all we know is that they were experimented on, and that the Syndicate had something to do with those experiments.
The best part of this episode is Mulder on the train with the security agent, and the bomb. I am a big fan of the movie Speed – call it a guilty pleasure, I guess – and there are elements of this episode that remind me of Speed. Bomb-on-a-timer is one of those action movie clichés that, for me at least, never really gets old. You know you’re going to get an explosion; it’s just a matter of what the characters are going to do before the explosion that can be really fun. And since it’s Mulder, we know it’s going to be fun.
First, Mulder confronts the Red-Haired Man, who claims to work for the NSA, and locks them together in the traincar containing the bomb (and the alien package). Always thoughtful, Mulder instructs the conductor to separate his car from the rest of the train and leave it in an unpopulated area, so it won’t hurt anyone if it explodes. Mulder and the Red-Haired Man go back and forth with the “I’m more of a badass than you” jargon, and of course Mulder emerges the victor with this line:
As an employee of the National Security Agency, you should know that a gunshot wound to the stomach is probably the most painful and the slowest way to die… but I’m not a very good shot and when I miss, I tend to miss low.
Hahaha. You go, Mulder.
The only think really left to discuss is Mr. X. Although he seems to show up in the mythology episodes that aren’t the most substance-rich, choosing to make an appearance in this one rather than the next two, I think this might be one of Mr. X’s finest moments, arguably his very finest. If anything, his actions at the end of the episode proves that he really does care about Mulder and his quest – why on earth would he go to the trouble of carrying an unconscious Mulder to safety whilst trying to escape an exploding traincar if he didn’t care at least a little? If anything, it’s nice to know that X seems to be more on the good side than the bad, although later episodes might murk the water on that front once more. But I won’t get ahead of myself.
There’s nothing more to really say about this one. I could count the meaningful plot points this episode and “Nisei” contribute to the overall mythology with one hand (although one of those points, as I said before, is really, really important), but what does it matter? I got what I came for – BOOM!
Final score for “731” is 7/10. Maybe not the most important, but it’s still a great ride.
Notable Nuggets (and Nitpicks)
- I didn’t even realize the Red-Haired Man was called the Red-Haired Man until I looked this episode up. His hair isn’t even that red!
- Scully doesn’t have time for your convenient ignorance.
- Poor Pendrell. Poor, poor, adorable, huggable Pendrell.