REPOST - CTP Episode of the Day - 04.20.06 Tunguska

Today's Cherished Episode: Tunguska (4x09)
Original Air Date: November 24, 1996
Written By: Frank Spotnitz and Chris Carter
Directed By: Kim Manners

Diplomatic couriers are bringing a lethal alien life-form into the United States. Mulder and Scully's investigation points to a high-level international conspiracy beyond even their comprehension.

"What I'm worried about is you, Mulder, and how far you'll go. And how far I can follow you."

Some "Tunguska" Tidbits & Musings:

-- Tunguska is a location in Siberia where an object (asteroid? UFO?) struck the earth in 1908. The blast leveled over a half a million acres and was hundreds of times stronger than the blast of an atomic bomb.

-- On August 7, 1996, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration convened a news conference at its offices in Washington, DC. It announced: "A research team of scientists at the Johnson Space Center (JSC), Houston, Texas, and at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, has found evidence that strongly suggests primitive life may have existed on Mars more than 3.6 billion years ago. The NASA-funded team found the first organic molecules thought to be of Martian origin; several mineral features characteristic of biological activity; and possible microscopic fossils of primitive, bacteria-like organisms inside of an ancient Martian rock that fell to Earth as a meteorite."

-- This startling and controversial finding was broadcast around the world -- and came to rest inside the collective mind of the X-Files writing staff, which used it as the seed pearl of the "Tunguska/Terma" two-parter. "Oh yeah," said co-producer Frank Spotnitz. "The idea of putting the alien oil in the rock was because of the Mars rock stories. After the news broke, I came in the next morning and said: 'Well, X-Files!'"

-- "We were once again trying to find a big, fun canvas on which to tell stories," said Spotnitz. "And so we wanted to do a gulag story and so that led to the idea that the Russians were experimenting separately with us on a vaccine for the black oil -- sort of an arms race." John Shiban added, "It just seemed natural that there would have been an alien invasion/find-the-cure race between us and the Soviet Union."

-- "So with this two-parter, we got to have Mulder in a gulag," said Spotnitz. "We got to have the men on horseback, and Mulder and Krycek breaking in. There was a lot of action-adventury stuff that we were really looking forward to doing."

-- The ripped-from-the-headlines plot device -- which harkened back at least subliminally to the black liquid alien substance featured in Season 3's "Piper Maru/Apocrypha" serial -- was melded with the two other previously discussed story lines: a healthy serving of just desserts for the evil Krycek, and a peek inside the Russian security services' counterpart to the FBI's X-Files.

-- "In X-Files fashion, we just started applying the idea for the individual mythology episode to the mythology itself, and what pieces we could take and who would be involved," recalled John Shiban. "And that's why Krycek was perfect for that. Oh, Krycek had a Russian name. Well, is that by accident or is that a happy accident? And to be honest, it was a happy accident. I always loved Krycek. He swam with the sharks and sometimes he swam against them. You could never quite trust him, but you kind of liked him."

-- "You look back and you see how the character of Krycek changed and grew, and it was fascinating," added Shiban. "And Nick did a wonderful job with it. One of the pleasures, as a writer, of working on X-Files was that we had quite a palette to work with and there were a lot of recurring characters who we were free to use as long as it didn't damage the ongoing story and the mythology."

-- Casting Agent Lynne Carrow remembered that when the show cast the part of Alex Krycek in Season 2, "They really wanted to try to cast a local actor. We looked at a lot of actors from across Canada and they really loved the look of Nicholas Lea."

-- "When we first wrote the part, no one knew how important that character was going to be," Chris Carter said about Alex Krycek. "So it was really a factor of Nick Lea's taking on the part, embodying the part, and it being an interesting character in the end. He proved to be a great foil for Mulder and Scully and a person who was always playing both sides of the field."

-- "I don't think we ever intended for Krycek to last as long as long as he lasted," added Frank Spotnitz, "but we couldn't bear to part with him. So we kept finding ways to bring him back. And he really was the cat with nine lives because he should have died over and over again. He should have been blown up, he was infected with black oil, he had his arm cut off, but he kept coming back."

-- By Season 4, Chris Carter said, "Krycek was now a character who had no political alliances, which left us an opening. We'd been wanting to expand the conspiracy globally, and we had done that as early as 'Talitha Cumi,' the Season 3 finale." Carter noted that this two-parter was a further escalation of the global perspective that would continue to play out in Season 5 and the first X-Files movie. Carter also said that the description of the alien life-form as "black cancer" was a subtle, almost subconscious precursor to the cancer theme introduced a few weeks later in "Leonard Betts."

-- "The whole time we were flying by the seat of our pants," Carter explained. "We never actually planned out an entire season at the beginning of the year. By season three or four, we knew what the two-parters were going to become; the tent poles of our order for that year."

-- Director Kim Manners felt that he was up to the challenge of "Tunguska." "Chris was a task master," he explained. "We had some very talented directors come in to do an episode. They would shoot their episode and were never heard from again because Chris determined that it wasn't 100 percent excellent. If they delivered an almost-great show, that small percent missing was the end of their career on The X-Files."

-- Gillian Anderson explained that "Tunguska" inspired a running on-set gag when Manners objected to the actors' attitude towards the story's main prop: "He was trying to remind us what we were dealing with was from outer space, and we were treating it too casually. So right before we would shoot, he'd yell 'Rock from Mars!' and that became our running joke from that point on. Every time we needed to get it up for the scene, Kim would yell 'Rock from Mars!' and that would be his way of kind of sparking us into life again when we were just too exhausted."

-- Timeline Oopsie: In Scully's opening speech to the Senate Subcommittee, she mentioned she became an FBI agent "four years ago" which would have meant she became an FBI agent just before being teamed with Mulder in the X-Files Division. However, the show's "character dossier" indicated that Scully joined the FBI in 1990 and taught at Quantico for two years before being assigned to the X-Files in 1992.

-- The Viva Tower, located at the corner of Howe and Drake Streets in downtown Vancouver, served as the location of Skinner's apartment in Crystal City, Virginia. In spite of the reconciliation moment with wife Sharon at the end of Season 3's "Avatar," Skinner's new apartment did appear to be a bachelor pad.

-- Nicholas Lea rose to the occasion in the scene where Krycek fought for his life while handcuffed to Skinner's balcony. "Kim Manners was saying, 'Okay, we're going to put you on a platform, and we'll shoot you at such an angle that it looks like you're dangling, but you won't be," Lea recalled. "And I said, 'Wouldn't it be better to see my feet dangling?' So they took [the platform] away."

-- The Russian prison scenes owed a large debt to the works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, particularly The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The sequences involving Krycek were energized by the obvious enthusiasm of Nicholas Lea -- who, when informed by Chris Carter that his character was going to have his arm torn off, reportedly shouted out in delight at the dramatic possibilities this presented.

-- To flesh out the rest of the cast, an even more eclectic than usual collection of actors was recruited. Fritz Weaver, who played Senator Sorenson, was an esteemed stage and screen veteran who won the Tony Award for Best Actor for Child's Play. Weaver had a distinguished career stretching from the Golden Age of live television drama through episodes of The Twilight Zone ("Third from the Sun," "The Obsolete Man"), The Defenders, The Fugitive, The Invaders, and many more series up through Law & Order, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Frasier. The narrator of countless History Channel documentaries (as well as the schmaltzy CBS promos for the 1996 Winter Olympics), he appeared in such films as Fail-Safe, Marathon Man, Black Sunday, Demon Seed, Creepshow, Citizen Cohn, and 1999's The Thomas Crown Affair, as well as such miniseries as Holocaust (for which he was Emmy-nominated) and The Martian Chronicles.

-- Stefan Arngrim, who played the whispering prisoner, was a former child actor who played the character Barry Lockridge on the late 60s sci-fi series, Land of the Giants. ("I was that kid with the dog," he described himself.) He is also the brother of Allison Arngrim, the nasty Nellie on "Little House on the Prairie."

-- William B. Davis and John Neville were happy to have some of their meatiest dialogue of the season, although not quite as much of it as they would have liked. Because of time pressure, a couple of contentious scenes between the two were cut from the final edit. (One of the cut scenes can be viewed on the Season 4 DVDs.)

-- In his DVD commentary, Chris Carter explained that the cut scene "was really meant to reveal the tensions between the Well-Manicured Man and the Cigarette-Smoking Man -- the differing approach, the differing philosophy, and the differing personalities. It was a scene that did not advance the narrative necessarily, but it ratcheted up the tension between the two men. It was important to the episode's plot and also the overarching theme of the Syndicate trying to figure out how to complete and effect the global changes they needed to effect if the bigger plan was to be successful, but unfortunately it had to be cut."

-- A second deleted scene where Scully went to explain herself and her actions to Assistant Director Skinner is also included on the Season 4 DVDs. Chris Carter explained that in the scene, "Scully was essentially telling us information that we already knew, that we had already seen. The rule was always to show the audience, don't tell them. So what we were really doing was trying to keep the audience in the game as it were. We were trying to give them as much information to follow the story and the narrative as possible. In this case, it was redundant and too much information so the scene was lifted."

-- David Duchovny remembered "Tunguska/Terma" as being action-heavy and "lots of fun," even though he spent considerable time standing around in the snow and rain and getting chased around a gravel pit by men on horseback. "My dad was visiting and he got to see what it was all about," he said.

-- "David was quite a sport because we put him in some very compromising positions," Manners said admiringly. "Putting him on those cold metal tables in Vancouver on a cold sound stage and covering him up -- he was just about buck naked as I recall. The actors read these things in the scripts, but I think it never really occurred to David that this was not going to be the most comfortable acting moment of his career until he got there. And then once he realized what was going to be involved, it was kind of like walking on thin ice. It was tough. Yes, he was quite the good sport."

-- Manners also shared a nice memory of shooting "Tunguska" on the Season 9 DVD, "The Making of the Truth." Pointing to Duchovny, Manners (who also directed "The Truth") said to the camera, "This man actually outran two horses on an episode called 'Tunguska.' I had to slow him down so the horses could catch him. Of course, he was a lot younger then." Duchovny joked that they were seahorses, and Manners said, "Yeah, seahorses, that was it."

-- The character of Dr. Sacks (the scientist who was infected by the Black Cancer in the rock) is possibly named after the famed neurologist Oliver Sacks, whose book "An Anthropologist On Mars" was a major influence on the episode "Demons."

-- Krycek's line, "When you go underground you've gotta learn to live with the rats," was a wink to the internet fans who lovingly referred to Krycek as "Ratboy."

-- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a group of chemicals that are formed during the incomplete burning of coal, oil and gas, garbage, or other organic substances. They can be man-made or occur naturally. There is no known use for most of these chemicals except for research purposes. They are found throughout the environment in the air, water, and soil.

-- The Senate's summons revealed that Skinner's middle name was "Sergei."

-- In the closed-captioning for this episode, viewers saw Mulder pull a cockroach out of a tin of food and say, "Bambi?" This was a reference to "War of the Coprophages," and the memorable entomologist Dr. Bambi Berenbaum.

-- Because of the complicated nature of the enterprise and the perfectionist leanings of its creator and staffers, The X-Files had more than its share of last-minute scrapes, scrambles, and desperate makeovers. But the show that Chris Carter and his producers signed off on had always gotten onto the air. Until "Tunguska." "It was a nightmare situation," recalled Frank Spotnitz.

-- The trouble began when the show's original visual effects wizard, Mat Beck, left the show (to work on feature projects, including Volcano and The X-Files movie, after the third season. An independent special-effects production company was hired for the fourth season, and it was charged with the task of digitally animating the oozing black alien organisms for "Tunguska" and "Terma." "They just never got those worms right," said Spotnitz, shaking his head. "There were some shots we didn't see until Wednesday, and the show was airing on Sunday. And on Wednesday we gave them lots of notes on how we'd like to see them redone. Finally, on Friday, they showed up and said, 'Sorry, this is the best we can do.' And it wasn't what we wanted, and we were actually missing two shots that were in the show. They were not done at all. And we said, 'Wait a minute -- you don't understand. This cannot happen.'"

-- At the thirteenth hour, Spotnitz, coproducer Paul Rabwin, and associate producer Lori Nemhauser made frantic calls to nearly every special-effects house and video artist in Los Angeles. Several of those outside companies worked to produce the effects closer to the producers' vision. Along with editor Michael Stern, the trio pulled a Friday-Saturday all-nighter to slam the new and improved worm scenes into the show.

-- Finally, as things came together on Sunday, they fed three different -- and progressively better -- versions of the episode up to a waiting satellite. The first version went to two television stations in the Midwest that needed an early feed; the second to Canada; and the third to the rest of the United States. "That means different people saw different versions of the show," said Spotnitz. "That was my biggest regret in terms of visual effects since I started working on the series."

-- Shortly after this, said Spotnitz, Laurie Kallsen-George was hired to take over the job as visual effects supervisor.

-- "Tunguska" was a nominee for a Cinema Audio Society Award for Outstanding Sound Mixing.

-- Once & Future Retreads: Campbell Lane (Committee Chairman) was Hohman's Father in "Miracle Man" and Calsuari #3 in "The Calusari. Brent Stait (Timothy Mayhew) was Corporal Taylor in "Fallen Angel." Malcolm Stewart (Dr. Sacks) was Dr. Glass in the "Pilot," Commander Carter in "3," and Agent Bonnecaze in "Avatar." David Abbott (Detective) was Judge Maibaum in "Emily." Raoul Ganeev (Russian Guard) was Dmitri in "The Host" and a Guard in "Patient X." Vitaly Kravchenko (Russian Truck Driver) was J.J. in "The Post-Modern Prometheus." Anatol Rezmeritza (Glasses Man) was a Commandant in "Patient X."

(Thanks to chrisnu for today's pics.)

Please share your first impressions, favorite (or cringe-worthy) moments, classic lines, favorite fanfic, nagging questions, repeated viewing observations, etc., as today we celebrate "Tunguska"!

Polly