Transcript of the DVD Audio Commentary by Frank Spotnitz for the episode 'One Son'

Transcribed by: Libby
Edited by: X_Follower

This is Frank Spotnitz. I was executive producer of The X-Files and co-wrote this episode with Chris Carter, second part of a two-part episode, 'Two Fathers' and 'One Son'.

This, to my mind, is not one of the more dramatically successful mythology episodes of the series, but it certainly is one of the most important and, in a lot of ways, interesting episodes in the mythology because it closes a huge chapter in the series. And I remember very consciously coming to the decision to close this chapter, to explain a lot of things that had been left unexplained for all the years the series had been on the air, because there was a sort of a narrative drag, if you will, there were so many questions we had to keep carrying forward over the years, that it became untenable, and so we were looking for a way to close this chapter and open a new one, and that's indeed what this episode did.

And I think this image here is really striking, of the American flag being laid down before the aliens, because it really is what this episode is about. It's about the sacrifice of honor, and I think that's what's most interesting about this episode, is that the dramatic dilemmas faced by Cassandra Spender and Jeffrey Spender, by Mulder and the Cigarette-Smoking Man, it's about sacrificing personal honor for self-interest, and I'll talk, you know, more specifically about how that idea and the theme plays out as we get to those scenes in the episode.

That location you saw, by the way, in the teaser, that huge hangar is pretty spectacular and I think Bill Roe, our director of photography, and Rob Bowman, our director, did a pretty amazing job with lighting it and composing the shots there. But it's a wooden air hangar constructed, I believe, during World War II in Tustin, California, and it's one of the largest, if not the largest, all-wooden structures in the world.

I've spoken elsewhere about how the production costs of the series just escalated enormously once we moved to Los Angeles and these mythology episodes by this point had really begun a tradition to have, you know, astonishing production values in them, but it became increasingly unaffordable to do so, so finding an amazing location like that was a way to try and create that cinematic scale and still keep it affordable.

Here we have the return of Diana Fowley as played by Mimi Rogers, who was sort of the evil rival for Dana Scully, for Mulder's affections.

[Mulder and Scully standing naked in the decontamination showers.]

It's sort of a little-known secret that I looked to steal from early James Bond films wherever possible in these episodes and this is yet another steal from the very first James Bond film, Dr. No, in which Sean Connery and Ursula Andress have to go through showers to be scrubbed of radiation contamination. I love that little look that Mulder gives Gillian, by the way, there. It's sort of his eyes glance down and that's once again, you know, playing with the sexual tension, the famous sexual tension throughout the series, through its entire run.

[Later, Mulder and Scully are being checked for radioactivity by a pair of technicians in special suits.]

You know, we'd loved these suits and used them again and again throughout the series and let the lighting effect in the helmet, having those light sources, just kind of creepy and otherworldly.

[MULDER: Where the hell do you think we are?
SCULLY: I think, based on our travel time probably Fort Marlene. High risk decontamination and quarantine.]

Fort Marlene is the first of many, many references to earlier seasons of the show in this episode. And because we were bringing a huge chapter to a close, we sought very self-consciously to reference the past, and so Fort Marlene, if you were a die-hard fan of the series, you may recall was where Scully went in 'The Erlenmeyer Flask' at the end of Season One where Purity Control was located, where she needed to obtain the alien fetus that was used as ransom to get Mulder back in the famous scene where Deep Throat was executed.

[Diana Fowley explains what's going on to Mulder and Scully.]

What was fun about this rivalry was playing Diana Fowley straight. Everything she says is credible. In fact, she's sort of taking the Scully position in this story. She's got the non-paranormal, non-paranoid, completely rational explanation, which forces Scully to be almost Mulder-esque in her skepticism of the real-world explanation. It was a nice dynamic and a good way to mix up the politics of the series. This episode leads to a really interesting situation with Mulder and Diana Fowley which I'll talk about when we get there, but we really took Mulder's loyalties to an extreme place. Nobody really commented upon it at the time but watching this episode again after an interval of several years, it's particularly striking to me how far we took the character of Mulder in this episode.

[SCULLY: They've burned our clothes.
MULDER: Hey... I heard gray is the new black.]

That line, that gray is the new black, is a David witticism, and a number of times over the years, many, many times, David would contribute a good witty line and that's just one small example of it. There's an episode that I wrote in Season Three, '731', it was a second part of a two-parter then, and there are many, many funny lines in that episode that were David's invention.

Part of the problem with an episode like this and why I say at the outset that this is not one of the most dramatically successful episodes in the mythology is that it's answering questions and it's answering a whole lot of questions in a very short period of time, and it's a lot to follow, and it's just not as much fun and it's not as interesting to answer questions as it is to ask them. But this is one of the big storylines that it's important to understand in order to make sense of The X-Files mythology and really this chapter that's coming to a close here is the biggest chapter we had time to explore in the nine years we were on the air.

Cassandra Spender, as it will become increasingly clear if you're really paying attention to this dialogue, was a research subject and they were attempting to successfully create an alien/human hybrid. This was a series of experiments that were conducted by the human conspirators in cooperation with our alien invaders, and once those experiments were successful, colonization could begin. But until Cassandra Spender, until the Veronica Cartwright character came along, those experiments were never successful, so the fact that this patient, Patient X, is successful at being an alien/human hybrid, that she's a viable entity, biological entity, is disastrous news for the human race. So that's one important storyline coming to a close in this episode, one important question being answered, what was the alien/human conspiracy doing, what was the work of the conspiracy all these years.

It was part of the problem too, in the mythology format of the series, is that these episodes were few and far between, and when they happened you had a lot to do, especially if you were trying to answer things. So here we have the return of the character that I quite liked, which was Marita Covarrubias who was played by Laurie Holden. Very beautiful woman and what I enjoyed doing here was taking away that beauty (laughs) and making her looking as horrifying as possible. And we had last seen her as a test subject the previous season, in 'The Red And The Black', and here she is with these terrible-looking contact lenses and her hair messed up.

And here she is explaining what I've just explained to you about the role Cassandra Spender plays and the conspiracy at large.

Let me just step back a little bit now at this point and talk about the alien virus because I will make explicit what was never made explicit in the series. The idea is that the black oil, which we have seen throughout the series, is a virus, an ancient virus that has been around for millions and millions years, of extraterrestrial origin. It was here on Earth, it's been all over the planet, or all over the galaxy rather. And it infected virtually every life form that there is in the galaxy, except for we on Earth, the humans, and the faceless rebels who you will see in this episode. And the rebels are trying to fight the virus, they're trying to avoid being contaminated, they're trying to stop the complete conquest of this alien virus over all the other life forms in the galaxy. So they don't want colonization to begin on Earth, they are sort of the enemy of our enemy, and so in a way they are humanity's ally, if you're following all this. So that's why in this episode they are going to play a pivotal role. Humanity has lost, Mulder has lost, and the rebels in fact save the day, ultimately by stopping the delivery of Cassandra Spender to the aliens with whom the Syndicate's been conspiring.

[Cassandra Spender and Jeffrey Spender talk in a room with lots of medical equipment.]

Now this is one of the interesting scenes for me, dramatically, because Cassandra Spender is putting personal honor above everything, above her own life. She knows what she is. She understands, having been married to the evil Cigarette-Smoking Man, the role that she plays, and she knows that she has to die. If she doesn't die, she knows it means the end of humanity, and her son, who is a skeptic and non-believer who loves his mother, is not willing to admit the dilemma that she knows she's facing. But that's one of several characters in this episode who has this conflict of personal honor and self-interest, and she's making the heroic choice.

[The Lone Gunmen office. Frohike opens the door for Mulder.]

This is an interesting dynamic, having Scully use the Lone Gunmen against Mulder, one I don't think we've ever seen played out quite this way, and it's an extension of the dynamic I was talking about earlier where Diana Fowley kind of out-Scullys Scully, forcing her to be Mulder-esque in her approach.

And Mulder does seem to have a kind of blind spot in regards to Diana Fowley, it's his Achilles heel. Scully's making a very convincing case and enlisting the Lone Gunmen, Mulder's old friends, in showing why she is not to be trusted and Mulder can't see it.

Of course, we will find out that Scully is right, which we intuitively know anyway.

MUFON - this goes way back in the life of the series as well and you may recall the very chilling scenes when Scully finds the other women who were abductees like herself, and they all had the chips removed from their necks in 'Nisei' in Season Three, they were members of a MUFON group.

This is an interesting thing that happened over the life of the series, which was, in the very beginning Scully was simply sent to spy on Mulder and so it was really his quest and, you know, she was a character of conscience who was sort of forced to do the right thing, but after her own abduction and the murder of her sister, this became just as much Scully's quest as it did Mulder's, and you can really see it in this scene and I think it becomes explicit at the end of the scene when she talks about how personal this is for her as well as for Mulder.

[SCULLY: Well, then I can't help you anymore.
MULDER: Scully, you're making this personal.
SCULLY: Because it is personal, Mulder. Because without the FBI personal interest is all that I have. And if you take that away then there is no reason for me to continue.]

This is one of those scenes where again you're reminded about just how lucky we were to have David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in these roles because not only are they such fine actors but they really had this enormous chemistry, which I know I've spoken about before, but you see it in that scene where you feel their love for each other even as they're fighting, even as they're, you know, having a split in their relationship, and it works without being scripted, it's just a gift to the series.

We always loved to touch on, you know, conspiracy hot buttons and so having Diana live in the Watergate Apartments was another example of that. Interestingly, as modern as the exterior of the Watergate Apartments is, the Watergate complex, the interior from location photographs I saw, I've never actually been there in person, is not modern, so hence the design of this apartment, kind of traditional. Again, you know, playing with the rivalry between Scully and Fowley, he's looking through her underwear drawer and Cigarette-Smoking Man is going to comment on it, and having Cigarette-Smoking Man show up at Fowley's apartment is designed to increase our paranoia and make us wonder is Diana Fowley in fact in league with the bad guys, as Scully asserts.

Of course, Cigarette-Smoking Man has a very credible explanation for why he's there.

It's probably worth talking at this point about William B. Davis and what another incredible gift that was to the series (laughs), that we happened upon him. He loved playing these scenes and did them with seeming effortlessness. It's not easy to speak these kinds of words and make them seem natural, it's a very formal kind of speech, and he was just the perfect guy for the job. Those are herbal cigarettes by the way, not real, Bill Davis is not a smoker.

Right, this is another interesting thing about the episode, to me, is that Mulder is very self-righteous and sure that he's on the side of right, and in fact the Cigarette-Smoking Man is going to make a very credible and compelling argument for why they laid the American flag down at the feet of the aliens, for why they sacrificed their personal honor for self-interest, and that argument is that we were going to lose, that the aliens were far superior to us, that they had much greater power, they could have wiped us out, and that they made a devil's bargain which bought them time, which was don't destroy us now, give us time to work on this research project to create an alien/human hybrid so that humanity could survive in the form of a slave race that would serve the aliens once colonization began. Now, that seems like a pretty terrible bargain to make, but look at the alternative which is destruction, the Syndicate and Cigarette-Smoking Man have a pretty good case to make for what they're doing. And Mulder's father, the idealist, like his son, was opposed to it but his position was completely impractical and as he will explain, Mulder's father eventually came to go along with the Syndicate and reluctantly agree to surrender his daughter Samantha just as the rest of them agreed to surrender members of their family as security. They were to surrender members of their own families in exchange for being given an alien fetus, which again we saw back in Season One in 'The Erlenmeyer Flask', which contained the DNA necessary to do the research, to create the alien/human hybrid. I hope you're following all this, it's very complicated, but I'm trying to tell you very explicitly what is said in a lot of coded language throughout here.

The historical reference we had in mind throughout all this, was really the Vichy government in France during World War II. We kept thinking about the position of Marshall Pétain and the French officials who were given the choice to fight the Nazis or be destroyed by the Nazis, or to collaborate with the Nazis, and the Syndicate really is in the same position the Vichy government was, they decided to collaborate with the aliens rather than be destroyed by them.

So here he is explaining what I've just explained to you about the critical role of this alien fetus, established in Season One of the series.

It's beautiful sets, beautiful cinematography. The sets by Corey Kaplan, the cinematography by Bill Roe. And, you know, I know I've spoken many times about the beautiful direction of Rob Bowman but you really see it in an episode like this, it's sort of unmistakable, the compositions, the elegant camera moves, and the blacks, you know, Rob Bowman loves blacks and I think he pushed the blacks further than any other director. But, you know, that kind of had its effect on the whole aesthetic of the show.

Here you go. Here was the heroic aspect to the Syndicate's bargain that Mulder's father came up with, which was okay, we've made this devil's bargain with the aliens, we're gonna work on developing a slave race for them, it's gonna buy us time, and in that time secretly, since we now have access to the alien DNA via this fetus, we're going to work on a vaccine; and if we have a vaccine then we actually could inoculate ourselves against this virus that has infected the rest of the galaxy. And that, of course, references any number of episodes from the past, but probably most specifically 'Tunguska' and 'Terma' from the fourth season where we established that there was sort of an arms race, actually a vaccine race, where the Russians were working on developing a vaccine and so were we. But again that had to be done in secret, if the aliens knew we were doing that then they'd realize we were undermining the terms of the agreement the Syndicate had struck.

This is a really interesting turn, I think, and I mentioned earlier this is not much commented upon, but Cigarette-Smoking Man is saying, look, we are gonna lose, aliens are much more powerful than we are, Cassandra Spender's been developed so that means that colonization is about to begin. However, your father sacrificed so that you could live, and I could live, all of us in this cabal get to survive. And that little piece of paper, take it, because it's your ticket to ride, it's your ticket to survive. And Mulder takes it. And now there's a section here in this show where Mulder is seeming to go along with the bad guys. And that's a very surprising thing for the hero of your television series, and it's really only Scully who brings him back to his senses, who pulls him away from Diana Fowley later in the episode.

Another idea that was in this two-parter, and part of the reason it's called 'Two Fathers' and 'One Son', the two fathers obviously are Bill Mulder and the Cigarette-Smoking Man, but who is the one son. Jeffrey Spender is the biological son of the Cigarette-Smoking Man and Cassandra Spender. Krycek is not biologically anybody's son, but he aspired to be the Cigarette-Smoking Man's protégé, he was son-like to him and wanted to be his heir, if you will. And Mulder, it was always unclear whether he was biologically the Cigarette-Smoking Man's son or Bill Mulder's son, because we found out earlier that Cigarette-Smoking Man had an affair with Mulder's mother, so he could be Cigarette-Smoking Man's illegitimate son. But in any event there are these three young men, Mulder, Jeffrey Spender and Alex Krycek, who are all vying, if you will, to be the one son, and Krycek has been rejected by Cigarette-Smoking Man who doesn't consider him a worthy successor, Spender is turning away from the Cigarette-Smoking Man and we'll see the tragic results of that at the end of this episode, and that leaves Mulder, he is the one son left standing at the end of this two-parter.

[The Cigarette-Smoking Man talks to Cassandra Spender.]

This is a surprising scene, I think, because Cassandra Spender is truly a heroic character, a woman of conscience, viewed as a lunatic by the world at large but really the only person who knows the truth and who is willing to sacrifice her own best interests for humanity, the greater good. And Cigarette-Smoking Man is really evil and venal and self-interested, and has done everything terrible, but he still loves her, he's still hoping for reconciliation after all this.

And even now, she's begging him to destroy her and he can't, he won't. Now, I suppose you could argue he won't do it because that would be violating the terms of the agreement with the aliens and he might himself be destroyed if he were to destroy her, but I think from his performance you also get that he loves her still and can't bear the thought of destroying her.

This is sort of the dramatic crowding, I was alluding to how much you have to do in one of these episodes, and this episode is just packed with business to accomplish.

She's such a fine actress, Veronica Cartwright, and she really got this very difficult material and made it all seem very real, I thought. Even as I'm talking about this on this DVD commentary, I am struck by how wild and far-out and sci-fi it sounds, and so I think you can understand why we parsed it out so slowly and why we put it in the language we put it in, because it does sound unbelievable when said in plain language. It's also an episode like this where you're talking about huge things going on that you realize, you know, the compromises you have to make to do it on television, in television production schedule and money. You know, the whole idea of colonization, it's basically played out in dialogue through these characters.

[Mulder is still sitting in Diana Fowley's apartment as she enters and is startled. They talk.]

We don't know where Mulder's going in this scene, it's sort of his posture and his performance and the dialogue, it's designed to make you think what's he gonna do, is he gonna expose her for the evil, bad guy she is, and no, that's not what he's gonna do, he's gonna show her the ticket to a ride and invite her to join him, and kiss her.

You know, you kind of want to believe it was all an act, it was all a ploy on Mulder's part, that he really wasn't going to go along with all this, but I have to say there's no evidence for that on screen, it's pretty clear that he's intending to survive, to give up and survive. This is Mulder going to the dark side.

Now, if you had any doubts about whether she was a good guy or a bad guy, this moment ought to tell you she's a bad guy, because she's flattered by the invitation and kisses him, instead of appealing to his conscience or struggling with the decision in any way.

[Jeffrey Spender is looking for Cassandra Spender in Fort Marlene.]

This is Chris Owens, very fine actor, who we kept bringing back as different characters over the years. For his character, this is really an awakening, you know, it began with that scene with Krycek we saw in the empty Syndicate office, and now further by meeting Marita Covarrubias. He's starting to realize that the things Cassandra Spender, his mother, has been telling him are true, that Mulder, who he's perceived as his enemy, is in fact on the right side, and he's been on the wrong side unwittingly.

Now this is yet another plot element going on here, Purity Control, again harking back to 'Erlenmeyer Flask' in Season One. This rather masculine-looking nurse we've seen skulking around throughout the episode is going to be revealed as one of the faceless rebels. The logic, by the way, is that the rebels have sewn up their eyes and ears and nose, all the openings on their body, as a way to protect themselves against the alien virus, the black oil, which we've seen enters through your eyes, nose and mouth.

This was edited and shot very judiciously because you get a good look at this woman and you know what's going on.

So this is where the faceless rebels really start to get active, if you will, in this episode. They're taking that alien fetus for themselves and of course they're going to save the day at the airplane hangar at the end.

[Scully calling Mulder as he is leaving Fowley's apartment.]

All right, here's what I was talking about before, Scully coming to the rescue. Scully in her Mulder-esque role is driving Mulder to action. There's one last chance to be heroic, there's one last chance to stop it, which is to stop this train car. Now the train car, of course, we'd seen before in 'Two Fathers' and it was harking back again to 'Nisei' and '731' from Season Three, where we saw an alien/human hybrid being transported in a train car with identical set design, and it was very fun for us to sort of revisit that notion here, and see the same set. But again, time and money limited how much we could do with the trains here in Los Angeles.

[Mulder and Scully pull a car in front of a train and they begin firing shots at it.]

Now they try and stop the train which is carrying Cassandra Spender to the airplane hangar, which is going to be the completion of the bargain with the aliens, delivering the successful alien/human hybrid, and they fail at this.

But Mulder is heroic. Instead of keeping his appointment to save himself, he's here trying to stop the aliens.

[Inside the train car.]

This is the set I was talking about which you would recognize from 'Nisei' and '731'. And now we know, hey, wait a minute, that's not the doctor, the doctor was strangled back at Purity Control, that's one of the shapeshifting faceless rebels. Here's that massive hangar. It's interesting, you really can't tell how massive it is until you put human beings in there, it gives you sense of scale.

Now here's all the conspirators and their loved ones, preparing to fulfill the terms of their agreement. Skinner making an unusually brief appearance in this episode.

Of course, everyone here is in for a big surprise. You know, one of the things that also strikes me about watching this episode after all these years is, if you were to tune into this episode without having watched the show with some frequency over the years, it would be utterly incomprehensible. I have to say, it's very dense even if you do follow the show, but it's very baroque, it's very self-referential, and it requires some intimacy with these characters and the politics of these characters to even care about what's going on. So, what's about to happen I think was a pretty huge event in the life of the series, which is the destruction of the Syndicate that we'd been seeing since the beginning of Season Three when they were established in 'Anasazi' and 'Blessing Way' and 'Paper Clip', that trilogy.

[Krycek is walking through the halls of Fort Marlene.]

Now, Krycek, ever the entrepreneur, and I love the way this is shot by the way, so much energy, look at the blacks, is pursuing his own agenda as usual. He's thinking he's gonna take that alien fetus for himself and that would be worth something. But he discovers that the faceless rebels have beat him to the punch. Here he is, he can reach in there, no problem, because he's missing a hand, cut off in 'Tunguska' and 'Terma' back in Season Four.

What a great, great villain Nicholas Lea was, and somehow you liked him even though he was just despicable (laughs), you always liked him. It's just a quality that certain actors carry with them. Of course, Krycek has nothing but contempt for Spender, doesn't really consider him a player, weak and naive, and now he sees that Spender's trying to save his former lover, Marita Covarrubias, which we learned the previous season in 'Patient X' and 'The Red And The Black' that that was their relationship to each other, and he's not gonna lift a finger to help her, because that's the kind of guy Krycek is.

Spender is in a way over his head, but it's sort of his moral awakening that's going on here, which we'll see fully realized by the end of the hour. Here comes Diana Fowley. One way to read it is that she knew to come here thanks to Mulder, the other is that she already knew thanks to the Cigarette-Smoking Man, and this meeting certainly seems to confirm that.

[El Rico Air Force Base. Bright light appears at the end of the hangar. Figures begin approaching.]

Uh-oh, something's gone wrong here. This is one of our less happy visual effects coming up. It's one of those cases where you just run out of time, sorry to say. I think the production value here is fantastic, the way it's shot is great, but there's a CGI shot coming up that I'm not fond of.

Love that actor, sorry to kill him off. These aren't the aliens they were supposed to meet. Cassandra Spender's happy about this, of course she knows what's going on.

[One of the men transforms into a faceless rebel.]

This is the visual effect I'm talking about, that I just don't like, I'd love a chance to go back and fix these one day.

[The faceless rebels surround the Syndicate.]

These are great iconic images. And that's what you also got with directors like Rob Bowman and Kim Manners, the power of great images in a series like this, like that. I think shots like that, you know, people talking about The X-Files being little movies, they're thinking about images like that, you just don't normally see on television. Now, we had originally wanted to play on the rest of that scene to actually see the incineration of the Syndicate but, as I mentioned earlier, that airplane hangar is one of the largest wooden structures in the world so fire was not an option.

[AD Kersh's FBI office. Jeffrey Spender and Kersh talk.]

Now this is the last thing that Kersh wanted, was to have Spender withdraw and say Mulder's right, but that's what happens here and it's a long time coming. So if you put yourself back in the reality of having watched this show, you know, weekly, it was a great sense of gratification to have this moment finally arrive.

If you really were to track Scully through these mythology episodes, her character did change enormously. It's true that in the stand-alone episodes which were the bread-and-butter of the series that she remained the skeptic, or rather the character who tried to explain everything through science, consistently throughout the first seven seasons of the series, but in these mythology episodes she underwent radical transformations. And I think that's very clear in a scene like this where really she was as much the crusader in this episode as Mulder, you know, you could argue more so because she really brought Mulder to his senses when he was ready to give in.

A number of the music cues in here, which are very lovely, draw from The X-Files feature film. They're orchestrations which, you know, obviously you would've never seen in the previous seasons, but makes connections between the feature film and these episodes, which in fact are all of a piece, the feature film was really the beginning of closing chapters because it's started to answer things just like this episode did.

[The Cigarette-Smoking Man and Jeffrey Spender talk in the X-Files office.]

This was a hell of a shocker as well, this whole scene. I think there are few crimes worse than what the Cigarette-Smoking Man's about to do. It's nice, though, both for the inevitability of it, the cost the naive Jeffrey Spender pays for doing the right thing, and for reminding people of just what an evil guy the Cigarette-Smoking Man is, which you do need to keep doing, you need to keep giving him really terrible things to do, to feel the sting of a character like this.

[The Cigarette-Smoking Man aims the gun and fires at Spender, then leaves the office.]

And on that suitably dark and disturbing note, so ends 'One Son'.

The End.