Early in this episode, Frohike warns us that we shouldn’t take everything that we’re about to see and hear at face value because information about the Cigarette Smoking Man can be contradictory and unreliable. So, if you take this episode with that huge grain of salt, you can an enjoyable episode that does a much better job telling a story about a supporting character than we got with the Skinner-centric, “Avatar.”
The biggest insight of the episode seems to be that the CSM is a frustrated author who can’t get anyone to believe the endings he creates for his action-adventure stories. At multiple points, we see the CSM working on a story, only to be told it isn’t up to the standards of publication. Even when he finally sells a story to a magazine, he has his original ending re-written.
This might explain a bit about why the CSM acts like he does or what his motivation is. Let’s face it — a lot of the mythology and his involvement in it doesn’t necessarily seem to make a lot of sense if you really step back and look at it. But, as the old saying goes, “the truth is stranger than fiction.” I can’t help but wonder if the CSM is putting endings into his stories that are taken from his shadow role in the conspiracy and no one will believe him or take him seriously.
Of course, it could also be that the CSM has a lack of imagination as well. We certainly see that in the scene when he gives an identical tie to all of his subordinates, all while refusing to be part of their Christmas celebrations.
Another take away from this episode is that while the CSM has colleagues, he doesn’t necessarily have anyone who is a close friend — at least not at this point in the series. We see him interact with Mulder’s father while in the army and later we see hints that he was friends with Deep Throat. Of course, Deep Throat went on to betray him and the conspiracy and is now dead.
I keep coming away from this episode feeling like the CSM is a lonely, frustrated man who is trying to use fiction to make sense of his world — and no one else is wiling to give him that chance. The glee and joy we see in him when he sells the story and prepares to resign only later leads to his being deflated when his ending is changed and the guy working at the newsstand tells him the magazine he was published in is not well regarded anyway.
Like a lot of 90’s dramas, it seems The X-Files has something to say about that fateful day in Dallas in 1963. Certainly the idea that this was the starting point for the CSM in his life as part of the conspiracy is interesting — and maybe feels a bit coincidental. But that may be the biggest clue that all of what we’re seeing here are pieced together fantasies for Frohike.
And it may be why the CSM lets Frohike live in the end. (The original version called for him to die at the hand of the CSM, but Chris Carter override it as too dark an ending). It could be that while Frohike has these wild stories and theories, he’s not really any closer to the truth of who the CSM is and what motivates him than when we began the hour. Or maybe the CSM sees a fellow storyteller in search of a good ending.
I will say this — William B. Davis has grown from the shadowy figure he was in the pilot into something more. It’s easy to forget just how compelling and complicated the CSM appeared to be in those early seasons of the show. This episode is a solid reminder of just why his role grew as the show went on.