Hope you’re not expecting to see Sculder this week because that’s not going to happen. Maybe one of them hosted Saturday Night Live or had another commitment that week. As you can tell by the title, "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man," this one is all Cancer Man. He’s puffing away inside a decrepit building and eavesdropping on Sculder and The Lone Gunmen. Did you know the engraving on his silver lighter reads “Trust no one”? Maybe that’s where Mulder got it from.
Even with the Gunmen’s paranoid precautions, CSM is able to continue listening. He has also set up a high-powered rifle and pointed it at the front door of Lone Gunmen Headquarters. Hope they didn’t order a pizza, that delivery boy would be in for a rude awakening.
Frohike is providing CSM backstory, some of which contradicts what was speculated during the past-life annoyance tale that was "The Field Where I Died" two episodes ago. Sestra, is this exposition supposed to be canon or just Frohike speculation?
Part 1 of CSM’s saga takes us to Fort Bragg in 1962. The young anonymous captain is enjoying a cigarette-free existence, reading The Manchurian Candidate and chatting with bunkmate Mulder. (I’m thankful for IMDb.com because I would have spent the entire episode wondering why the actor who plays young CSM looks familiar, Chris Owens will later be The X-Files’ Jeffrey Spender.)
Pre-Cancer Man reports for his first clandestine meeting. His father was executed as a traitor, but they do not hold it against pre-CSM. Or maybe that’s why they chose him, The Manchurian Candidate is about political conspiracy. These cigarette-smoking men recruit the captain to assassinate President John F. Kennedy because of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Captain whatever-his-name-was no longer exists. Does that make CSM the Phantom Menace? (Part One. Episode One. Get it?)
One year later, we find him in Dallas with “patsy” Lee Harvey Oswald, who hands the former captain his first pack of Morleys cigarettes. Lee is getting a soda from the machine in the book depository when CSM kills JFK. LHO realizes he’s been set up and shoots a Dallas police officer thinking he’s part of the conspiracy. OMG, this got out of hand quickly. The police arrest Oswald in the movie theater. CSM watches the apprehension and lights his first cigarette.
Part 2 brings us to 1968 and Cancer Man is typing a novel titled Take a Chance under the nom de plume Raul Bloodworth. He realized who his next target will be while listening to Martin Luther King Jr. on the radio. This Cancer Man is more confident and condescending during a clandestine meeting with several men, including FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. The former captain believes King’s inspirational words will convince black men not to fight for the USA in Vietnam. CSM tells JEH he’ll handle MLK’s assassination himself … and he does.
Part 3 leapfrogs to a 1991 Christmas Eve clandestine meeting at the FBI office. We see Cancer Man’s influence affect Clarence Thomas, Rodney King, Yugoslavia and the Buffalo Bills. I’ll let Sestra Pro give her take regarding the Miracle on Ice situation. CSM learns Gorbachev has resigned and hands out Christmas presents. These guys seem to actually like him, so we probably won’t see them ever again. In the privacy of his office, CSM is still trying to get published and still getting rejected, LOL. Deep Throat -- AKA Ronald -- calls with some good news, though. They’ve recovered an extraterrestrial biological entity that is now on life support.
CSM tries to dissuade the assassination of the EBE, but Deep Throat reminds him of their duties. Cancer Man flips a coin and Deep Throat does the dirty work this time. So was this the catalyst for Deep Throat to become Mulder’s source? DT would have been perfectly OK with CSM pulling the trigger in order to save humanity, but he doesn’t want to get alien blood on his own hands? Fast forward to 1992, Cancer Man is there for the meeting regarding Agent Scully’s reassignment to the X-Files. Clearly he wanted his presence known or he wouldn’t be seen so prominently. Mulder’s office is bugged, so Cancer Man eavesdrops on Sculder’s first conversation … and probably many more.
CSM finally gets a letter of interest from a publisher, who tells the giddy Raul Bloodworth his story will be published in his company's magazine in November. Of course, the publisher quickly mentions that “young writers” have to be flexible. Cancer Man, not really registering the meaning of that, writes a letter of resignation and decides to quit smoking. On Nov. 12, 1996, he goes to the newsstand to pick up a copy of Roman a Clef (love the headlines of the other magazine stories) and realizes they ruined his story. He buys the rag and a pack of Morleys then very negatively ad-libs a scene from Forrest Gump for a homeless person. Later, after Frohike finishes his tale and leaves LGH, CSM seems content with the knowledge that he can kill Frohike whenever he wants and calls it a day. Next XF blog date TBA.
I was never a fan of Forrest Gump, so this particular episode winds up being tougher for me to swallow than, say, a liver-eating mutant. But still I end up being able to buy into this conceit a lot more than I did when watching the Oscar-winning Tom Hanks film. Perhaps because we can't really distinguish the truth -- Frohike's or Cancer Man's -- from one of CSM's works of fiction.
I can appreciate the tiny details of this episode, starting with the Lone Gunmen activating probably very expensive piece of equipment to prevent unwanted ears from listening in, only to have CSM cut right through it and hear the bulk of the conversation. But most importantly, Frohike's words at the end of the ep, he learned all these "facts" from a story he read in one of his weekly subscriptions. Does that mean he's a subscriber to Roman a Clef? I wouldn't consider CSM a reliable narrator.
Truth or fiction, "Musings" is a spectacular piece of work by both William B. Davis as the Cigarette Smoking Man and Chris Owens before him. Any doubt that the young protagonist of the episode is the same man is dispelled by quotes like "I'd rather read the worst novel ever written than sit through the best movie ever made."
Catch ya later, Mulder: Even with just the tiniest of Fox presence in the episode, our hero reflects heavily upon all of it, whether he was a 1-year-old uttering his first word -- JFK -- or an up-and-coming agent getting in CSM's way by bringing the X-Files out of moth balls.
The episode was written by Glen Morgan and directed by his writing partner, James Wong. And if you ask me, "Musings" is written more fluidly than Forrest Gump, which tended to bash moviegoers over the head with various points it wanted to make. This episode can be far more subtle. Witness the conspirators talking about assassinating the president. Without actually saying the name, the conspirators show us they're talking about Kennedy, be it with details about the man or just by saying they were setting up a patsy.
Of course, it's not all hearts and flowers. Their patsy can't even smoke a cigarette properly and doesn't make allowances for having enough bus fare to get to work. Lee Harvey seems more like Forrest than Forrest does at times. In Frohike's version of CSM's version, he is a complete and total patsy, until he gunned down that poor officer.
I think they have CSM starting his life as a smoke fiend in the wrong place. Since he had absolutely no qualms about rubbing out JFK or setting up LHO, I would have bought that concept a lot easier after the MLK takedown. King was a man whom he had a measure of respect for, and thusly, that would have been a better impetus for his resulting lifetime of inhaling Morleys.
What's the matter, don't you believe in miracles? The show gets particularly Gump-y in the 1991 segment. OK, if you're gonna turn the glorious U.S. hockey win over Russia into myth, you probably would have been better served to blame the coach -- Viktor Tikhonov, who switched goaltenders and didn't know what to do in the final moments when his team was on the ropes -- instead of the best goaltender in the world at the time, Vladislav Tretiak, or Vladimir Myshkin. Which one of those two got CSM's alleged pat on the back? I assume Tretiak, but Myshkin's the one who ultimately took the loss.
Go ahead, make history: The episode becomes more intriguing when Deep Throat (Jerry Hardin) comes on the scene, because that directly reflects upon what we've been watching for over four years more than the idea of CSM single-handedly conducting assassinations -- although I do agree RFK might have been his handiwork under this premise. I find it difficult to believe Cancer Man would have had any interest in fixing sports events and wouldn't have just delegated chores like that if asked to by his bosses.
CSM gets almost humanized while bemoaning the fact he's set the course of human history without being known for doing it. Maybe that's why his "full of crap" writing would become so important to him, it was a passive aggressive way of letting the world know what he had done. And in Frohike's telling, so important to him that his whole reason for being -- and cigarettes -- could have been let go if he succeeded in that venture. How would he get material for future stories without that well to tap? Maybe he had enough back story in the can for that not to be a concern.
The coolest part of revisiting the pilot episode is the new take we get on Cancer Man's reaction to Dana describing Fox's reputation as "Spooky." There's a lot to be read into that one little mannerism. Where he once seemed annoyed that Scully was unnecessarily drifting into that area, now he could have been more bothered by mere talk of his nemesis' notoreity or the fact that this is one Mulder who can't be forced to do what CSM wants him to do. Or both.
The Forrest Gump tirade at the end is more irresistible than a box of chocolates. He starts off by condemning candy as a thoughtless perfunctory gift no one asks for. As opposed to a tie like the ones he gave to his cohorts in 1991? I won't hold that against his diatribe, though, for it's structured and delivered as perfectly as could be.
Change for the meta: "Musings" wasn't developed to give David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson a week off. According to the fourth-season episode guide, Morgan and Wong came back to the fold with the story idea. ... X-Files lure has it Frohike was supposed to be killed at the end of the episode. Glen Morgan said in The Complete X-Files he was told point-blank he couldn't do it. ... Davis had a lot of trouble with the script, which he found contradictory to what had previously aired. Both the episode guide and The Complete X-Files state he worked for long hours with executive producer Chris Carter to make it work. ... The "Where the Hell is Darin Morgan?" headline on one of the publications could be construed as passive aggressive. Morgan reportedly was slated to deliver a script early in the fourth season, but never did.
Guest star of the week: Chris Owens. It's something of a treat to give Owens the nod here, because he'll be unsummarily -- and perhaps unfairly -- dismissed by the fan base at large when he becomes part of the cast as Jeffrey Spender in Season 6. But at least in my own defense, I'll add he delivers the goods better here as the father than he almost ever will as the son.