Season 4, Episode 7: “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man”
So, if you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed that my most recent tweets mainly consist of this:
So…yeah. All that is because of the X-Files Revival, which may end up causing multiple deaths before it even airs. And I’ll probably be one of them.
With that said, it’s probably a good thing that today’s episode isn’t about Mulder and Scully, because if it was, I might not be able to come up with anything to say besides blahblahdsnbchwjefbwdblahwjrhebrfdhxnszmablah, which is fangirl for “my brain is unable to process thoughts right now, please give me a sedative.”
So, let’s turn to the subject of today’s episode: fiction.
Oh, you thought I was going to talk about the Cigarette Smoking Man, didn’t you? Well, I am. But I’m also going to talk about the power of fiction – its power to control, confuse, comfort, and condemn. Alliterated for your reading pleasure.
This story about CSM is wrapped in fiction. We don’t know how much of it is actually true. We don’t even know who’s presenting the narrative, if it’s Frohike or CSM’s own memories. My bet is it’s Frohike, or at least that makes the best sense in keeping with this episode’s theme of fiction. But we don’t actually know for sure.
What we see is CSM from his days as a young man. We hear a little of his backstory, that his father was a traitor and that he grew up an orphan. We also hear that he was chosen to assassinate JFK because his father, though a traitor, was an “extraordinary man” and the shadowy officers/military believed CSM may have inherited some of that extraordinary quality. This was a little tough to swallow if you ask me – it’s not really sound reasoning and they don’t go into any more detail about why CSM was chosen beyond that, which I think only strengthens the argument that this is Frohike presenting the narrative, not CSM. But people inheriting legacies from their fathers will be a theme in upcoming seasons, so stay tuned.
Thus CSM begins his journey of lying, manipulating, killing, and covering up the truth. I don’t think “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man” necessarily does a good job of providing CSM with any solid motivations for doing what he does, but I also don’t think that’s the point of the episode. The point is to provide us with an example of a character who is so utterly wrapped up in the fiction he has helped create – or the lie, as Mulder would say – that he has no identity of his own anymore.
The episode is rife with symbolism, the most famous being the box of chocolates monologue, which is a blatant stab at Forrest Gump and is wonderful all the same. But my personal favorite symbol of the entire episode is CSM’s trademark, the cigarettes themselves. CSM refuses a cigarette in the beginning because he has not yet created the lie. His first cigarette comes from Oswald, the man that CSM set up, the murderer he created – his first lie. The cigarettes literally originate from a lie.
Am I reading too much into it? Nah. Because that’s what this episode is about. For all we know, the entire episode is fiction and fiction is sometimes loaded with symbolism and metaphors. We are seeing a representation of CSM, not CSM himself. What we do know is that according to this story, CSM, for all the lying and killing, has a soft side too. He gives ties to his co-conspirators and writes thriller stories. He has a love for reading. He makes pouty monologues and gives chocolate to hobos.
What does this say about CSM? When he writes his fiction stories, he is expressing the only part of him which he feels has any inkling of identity, his love of fiction and storytelling (recall him reading a book before his first assignment). If CSM had it his way, he might do away with all the lies, sit down, and write the story that is the truest version of himself. And he tries. But every time he does, it is rejected. And the one time it isn’t rejected, it is changed, into something almost unrecognizable: truth becoming lies. Comfort becoming condemnation. Fiction becoming so obscured it becomes something else. The only true part of CSM’s nature being taken away from him.
Perhaps that is why CSM decides not to kill Frohike. As he says, he can do it whenever he wants, but perhaps doing so would deprive him of the ounce of truth CSM has left – the story he actually wrote, in which he had the means to kill but did not do so. “I can kill you whenever I please…but not today.”
Does this make CSM a hero? Hell no. Does it make him an anti-hero? I wouldn’t even go there. But it does make him someone that, at least presented here, is incredibly sympathetic and relatable. None of us killed JFK, but we’ve all felt at one point or another inherently fictional – wrapped up in a narrative we did not create, trying desperately to reveal that part of ourselves which is true and authentic. And poor CSM is so deep in the lies and the fiction that he cannot escape. So, in the end, he does what he’s always done: flicks the lighter, lights the cigarette, and carries on with hiding the truth.
Final score for “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man” is 8/10 stars. I’ll admit I hadn’t seen this episode in a while, and watching it again was an interesting experience. It doesn’t provide as much insight into CSM as I had thought it did, especially because of the whole the-entire-story-may-not-even-be-true thing. It’s a great episode on its own, but I’m not sure how well the CSM portrayed here fits into the rest of the series. He certainly will never be this sympathetic again.
- This episode is absolutely gorgeous. This was James Wong’s directorial debut, and boy what a debut it was. He got an Emmy nod for it and it’s no wonder; absolutely breathtaking direction. Also shoutout to the cinematographer, Jon Joffin, who deserves all the awards.
- Of course Mulder’s first word was “JFK.”
- Can we also give all the awards to Chris Owens? He is so underrated and I think it’s a shame he doesn’t get brought up as much as many of the other recurring guest stars. He plays a wide variety of roles on this show, and he’s great in all of them.
- Also, the magazine in which CSM’s story is published has an article called “Where in the Hell is Darin Morgan?” Just sayin’.