The Y Files, or Visitors From Another Show
Written by J. Michael Stracynski
Directed by Jerry Apoian*
When Gideon rescues two aliens from their lifepod, the crew gets embroiled in a conspiracy and a quest for the truth
Lets get to the elephant in the room straight away – this episode is more a parody of the X-Files than an episode of Crusade – so if you don’t know/love/hate that show, your mileage may vary considerably. I must say my timing on viewing this episode while the X Files “revival” mini-series is on, is a bit of a coincidence.
Firstly, I think it will help immensely to get some context if, by chance you weren’t around in the 1990s. This episode aired August 1999. The X-Files had been on TV for about six years by that point and had become an integral cultural artifact of the 1990s. Its popularity rode the wave of interest in the paranormal and alien abductions that had begun early in the decade and then swept over all the 90s. That’s not to say it was a weak cash-in, it remains one of the best, iconic shows of the 1990s and while it’s on-going (arc/mythology) stories were made up as they went (more like BSG than B5), it was one of the other 90s shows that brought more novel-like, serialised structure to the fore on US TV. As it had such a well-defined style it was immensely easy to parody and even the X-Files had shown signs of not taking itself too seriously in episodes like “Post-Modern Prometheus” and others that completely parodied itself (“Hollywood A.D”) were soon to come. I’m sure there was barely a sketch show in the 90s which didn’t include an X-Files parody. If, by some chance you’re reading this and weren’t around in the 90s, you wouldn’t believe how omnipresent it was in pop-culture. If you remember how Lost was treated in the 2000s or Game of Thrones now, it was triple that.
That’s why this episode felt like an old joke by 1999, because it really was. However, JMS was obviously a fan and at least that shines through in the depth and number of references littered throughout. I figured I’d try and list all the references, but I doubt I found them all.
1) Mulder and Scully = Durkani and Ullysa. They share heights, body build, clothing and even their Predator-style dreadlock “hair” (Pred dreads?) are similar colours. He’s the true believer, she’s the skeptic – although why he has a British accent I’m not sure…
2) Mottos – Durkani mentions they have to look for the truth “out there” – Mulder’s iconic poster stated “The Truth is “Out There”, the phrase “Trust no-one” is also used.
3) Motifs – The start of the episode opens with the characteristic X-Files location and date. There’s much use of flashlights, clunky cell phones, dark settings. There’s lots of talk of government cover-ups and the proof always being erased. The lifepod is the clichéd “Flying Saucer” design, and Evan Chen’s music even has a few notes with some kind of whistle to emulate Mark Snow’s score.
4) Ullysa refers to how they burnt “the files”
5) The bad guy is a slimy older chap with a liking of cigarettes – an obvious nod to the Cigarette Smoking Man, but he mentions they used to work for him, which is also similar to the X-Files, where he appears to work partly with the FBI as well as the “Syndicate” in early seasons
6) A more subtle nod is the taped ‘Y’ shape left on the window – a parallel to the ‘X’ that Mulder would use to signify wanting to meet with “Deep Throat”. You have to assume this mean Durkani and Ullysa work on The Y Files.
7) The alien/outsider cover up. The alien’s cover-up takes the most clichéd of the usual UFO conspiracy lore and puts a new spin on it:
a) Their “cigar shaped objects” are simply our airships
b) Their “Martian Face” is Mt. Rushmore. This raises an issue – their race has no hyperspace capability. Why would the population think they could send probes that would get to another star system within their life time?
c) Marsh gas is also used as an explanation for UFOs
d) The sketch Durkani’s obtained about their “Roswell” includes people with “strange round eyes” and they find mysterious artifacts, like golf clubs
The alien’s actual motivation for the conspiracy is interesting and often missed when people discuss this episode – that’s not to say it’s very logical, but there’s more to it than some seem to notice. They’re not simply using the threat of outsiders and the conspiracy to manipulate their population and simply make them easy to control. Yes, it helps their goal, but they’re doing this to try not to attract undue attention to their race – The government knows about other space-faring races and hyperspace, but they lack the technology or a jumpgate to travel that way, so they understand they are at a huge technological disadvantage with nearly all other races in the galaxy. Until they are advanced enough to protect themselves, they’re trying to scare their population away from space exploration as a whole. The idea of avoiding contact with other races until they could defend themselves is a great idea and one that could have been examined in an interesting way in a serious episode, but here’s it’s just tossed in the pot here and lost in the mix of overall silliness.
That the alien’s tech has developed to look human makes some sense, with their space launches looking very NASA-like. Although why would they have their spaceships look quite human and modular, and then have their lifeboats look like a saucer makes little sense – it’s not like they were using the saucer as an “image” for the conspiracy – they were bigger on cigar-shapes, however it’s all there just for that visual joke I guess.
The X-Files itself is never actually mentioned so it’s not clear whether the aliens got their idea wholesale from the TV show or just got the idea from transmissions from that era regarding conspiracy theories and US government activities. I’m guessing that completely ripping off the TV show itself would have been too meta.
The upshot of all this is that while we’re on the main storyline everything is so targeted at poking fun at the X-Files that the story and writing are mediocre and disposable. Maybe you can just dismiss this episode as a fun romp, but the X-Files parts really aren’t that funny. It’s another bottle show, the only scenes on another world a very Earth-like office and some muddy views of space shuttle analogues launching.
Easily the best parts are those away from the main story, the tiny subplots of the odour and Gideon’s search for a breeze. Gideon and Matheson’s relationship throughout is playful and funny part of the episode, but no-one else from the main cast gets any screen time. That the on-going smell joke actually goes somewhere amusing is the biggest surprise of the episode to me.
Crusade continuity check and notes:
- Galenwatch – Absent
- The date (May 13, 2267) clashes a little with Ruling From the Tomb – but these two episodes were not close to each other in the Broadcast Order either. The dates are something very few people would be likely to notice, unless you were some kind of internet nitpicking arsehole…
- They are in the Eridani sector – B5 is located in the Epsilon Eridani system – maybe this isn’t too far away, but what constitutes a “system” in Babylon 5 lore isn’t well defined from what I remember.
- The Excalibur has weapon scanners that identify all known technology. Apparently.
- The Excalibur has the same yellow cargo lifters on-board as Babylon 5.
- We get a quick discussion on the new telepath controls – Matheson can’t scan or use his abilities unless he’s in a position where it may save life.
- The probes Gideon drops at the end are completely different to the small ones used in “The Memory of War” and the balloons are very similar to those used by NASA for dropping rovers/equipment. Although those deploy their balloons after entering the atmosphere by parachute!
*Who was Jerry Apoian?
Apart from playing hunt the X-Files references, the most interesting thing about the episode is that it’s directed by someone named “Jerry Apoian.” I’ve not heard of him before – Babylon Productions tended to keep to a small roster of directors they used most often and also allowed cast and crew to sometimes direct, so I was intrigued to see who he was. I googled him and his lone IMDB reference is for this episode, I wonder what the story here is.
Chronological Order Analysis:
- Production order = 4
- Broadcast order = 12
- Continuity order = 9
- Is this episode better in this order? – YES
It has little to no effect on the on-going story, so it fits fine here – especially as it’s one of the “First Five” episodes. The only real problem is the date at the start and the lingering “early” feeling to the production. This was worse when it was 12th episode, as it used to feel more like a squandered opportunity to advance the story coming right at the end of the Broadcast Order. Here’s it’s just a silly, forgettable episode.
(All images are property of Warner Brothers)