Conduit is an episode with immense potential. Episodes that focus on the emotions that drive our main characters generally wet my whistle and here was a golden opportunity to explore Mulder’s traumatic past and wet that whistle! So how did I like this episode? Does Conduit build on this potential in such a way to provide emotional resonance? Would Chris Carter resist his primal urge to needlessly complicate a straightforward episode?
Read on to find out. Spoiler alert, Carter never goes for the simple story…
(Also, please let me know what you like or don’t like about this review! I just recently started writing reviews with a more statistical/graphical slant and these are still a bit rough-around-the-edges. I’d love to hear some feedback of what I can do better!)
Conduit Rating – 57.10/100
The graphs above and below shows how my enjoyment of Conduit varies throughout the episode. Things start well (Quality Score of 75 through the first twelve minutes) with Ruby’s abduction. From there, we keep rolling along as Mulder and Scully become involved in the case. Twelve minutes in, we are primed to have this nice, focused examination on Mulder’s grief over Samantha’s disappearance and how it affects their investigation into Ruby’s abduction.
And that’s when disaster strikes. That’s when Chris Carter decides to bring in a boatload of half-baked plot-points and throw them all together into a pot….and an UNCLEAN pot at that. We’ve still got emotionally vulnerable Mulder and the actual “conduit” story-line going on, both of which are fine. But all of the good gets dragged down by a whole lot of nonsense. This muddled, unfocused approach is why the score drops from 75 at minute twelve all the way down to 55 at minute 32 where it never really recovers.
There are still a couple of moments that shine through it all, most of which deal with Mulder and the emotional toll of the case. But for every compelling wounded-animal pout on David Duchovny’s face, we get a horrendous good cop, bad cop interrogation. For each glimpse of Scully’s unwavering devotion to her emotional train-wreck of a partner, we get submarined by a ridiculously inept climax involving a motorcycle gang. Conduit can’t get out of its own way.
Breaking Down The Types of Scenes in Conduit
It’s no surprise that the character-development scenes in Conduit score the highest of the major scene categories (Quality Score of 70.85). It’s in these moments where Conduit is at its strongest. Scenes like Mulder and Scully arguing outside of the police station or listening to Mulder’s hypnosis tape are very well executed. However, not all of the character-developing scenes work as well as they could which is why the score is only around 70 and not higher. David Duchovny is still a bit rough around the edges early in the show’s run. For example, his line delivery during that daytime drive to Lake Okobogee is a tad….over-enunciated. While not a major problem, it hampers things a bit.
Its a shame Conduit didn’t make a more concerted effort to focus on character work (Prevalence Percentage of only 37%). With the subject material, this should have been much higher. Instead, as you can see below, for the majority of the episode the prevalence of character-oriented scenes is hovering around 25% (it only jumps to 37% because we have a couple of character scenes to end the episode with).
The character scenes are swept aside because Conduit insists on stuffing itself on a buffet full of completely formulaic crap. (I like my crap to be unique to keep me on my toes!) With all of the different plot elements, the episode gets bogged down in exposition (60% Prevalence) and its not very effective. Every other scene introduced a bland new wrinkle, and then explained it to death (hence why the prevalence is actually at ~75% for much of the episode). Some of these moments, like Blevins and Scully discussing Mulder’s mindset are quite good. However, most of the exposition lacks a compelling hook. The worst concentrated dose of this subpar exposition occurs between minutes 13 – 20. In that span, we have hilariously unconvincing bad girl Tess clandestinely info-dumping in the library, we have the complete waste of time biker bar scene, and we finish with the NSA grilling Mulder in his hotel room. None of these scenes are executed well with one being a complete red herring, another existing solely so that the climax with the biker gang isn’t a complete ass-pull, and the other acting as a way to manufacture some fake drama…
Fake drama is never good. The actual earned drama involving Mulder’s grief and dogged pursuit of the case is great. However, I have a feeling that Chris Carter and co. weren’t fully confident this early in the show’s run to just let the story breathe. This resulted in this over-saturation (Drama Prevalence of 75%) of melodramatic elements like Tess and the NSA. With all of this dragging it down, the Drama Quality Score ends up at just 53.18. The awful Tess character arc is resolved in one of the weakest bouts of good-cop, bad-cop ever to grace a television. Not only does the scene have no bearing on the main plot but David Duchovny does not have the requisite presence to make a scene like this work.
Also did I mention that Mulder and Scully wouldn’t have gotten anywhere with the Greg Randall murder if it wasn’t for a crime-solving wolf? This supremely advanced beast shows up at exactly the same time Mulder and Scully are investigating the lake, waits for Scully to get Mulder’s attention, seduces him with its eyes, and then leads him directly to the murder victim so that they can move the plot along.
As for tension, Conduit doesn’t even try (Quality Score of 45.03 and Prevalence of 12%). The teaser is kind of spooky but Conduit is an episode that doubles down on exposition and drama and isn’t tense in the least (check out how low the “tense” line is in the prevalence graph). Some lesser episodes get rescued by just being creepy (see Sanguinarium) but not Conduit.
What does Conduit focus on?
Conduit is the first Mulder-centric episode The X-Files would roll out. All of those disparate plot elements I mentioned earlier drag things down but the one thing going for this episode is that Mulder is given a chance to shine. This is something we hadn’t seen too much of in the first three episodes so it seemed like a natural evolution and stepping stone for David Duchovny and his character.
I think this focus is a double-edged sword here. On one hand, none of the plot elements are actually interesting so focusing on Mulder (with and without Scully) is likely the only reason I was able to even give Conduit a 57.
However, the main plot involving Kevin and Ruby could have been much stronger had it been developed more. The low focus can be seen above in the “Guest Character” and “Paranormal” bars totaling roughly 10 minutes. This plot line had potential but Chris Carter decided to mold this episode into a generic procedural with shockingly bad red herrings and it pays the price (that price being a low score given by a random blogger 26 years after it first aired).
Characters in Conduit
Mulder is in 91% of the episode and his Quality Score is a low 57.59. That score may make it seem like I thought Mulder was bad in this episode but that is not the case. David Duchovny is stronger here than he had been in the previous episodes. There are still some idiosyncrasies in his performance that he would fix by the middle of the season but none of that takes away from what is a solid and nuanced performance.
Nope, it’s the godawful framework surrounding him that sucks. Mulder choking on his words while digging at a shallow grave should be compelling to me. However, they lose me when I’m left shaking my head due to Mulder being led there by a canine plot device. Likewise, Mulder and Scully’s argument outside of the police station is very effective. But its hard for me to fully enjoy that moment when the only reason they are at that police station is because they had to put the finishing touches on arresting the most incompetent wannabe femme fatale ever.
Gillian Anderson as Scully is strong as well but in more of a supporting role. Her prevalence is at 84% and she shares the screen with Mulder for many of his big character moments. She has some nice beats, like standing up for Mulder to Blevins and the aforementioned conversation outside of the police station where she calls Mulder out. However, I have a bone to pick with Scully in this episode! She sells out Darlene Morris and Kevin to the NSA and doesn’t seem to feel bad about it at all. Now I’m fine with Scully telling the NSA about them because that’s what I would expect from goody-two-shoes-straight-out-of-the-academy-Scully. But I don’t like that she just stands idly by outside of the Morris house and doesn’t admit that she fucked up. Just a line or two would have made me happy. Instead I was left being pissed at Scully.
No matter how pissed I was at Scully or how iffy some of Mulder’s dialogue was, they are not responsible for Conduit’s low score. Nope, that lies at the feet of some really blah guest characters who share those scenes with our beloved agents. Darlene and Kevin (and I guess Ruby at the end) are solid but then we also have the damn NSA agents, the biker gang, the telepathic wolves, and idiotic Tess. So Guest Characters on the whole get a Quality Score of 55.27 to go with their 78% prevalence.
The Components of Conduit
You know what the above graph tells me? That I actually enjoyed the paranormal and mythology aspects of this episode to some extent (66.1 and 65.1 Quality Scores respectively). It’s just a damn shame that they aren’t prevalent in enough (39% and 23% respectively).
Kevin being a conduit to whoever took Ruby has a ton of potential. However, check out how often that green line flattens in the graph below. That indicates time where the paranormal aspect is not relevant to the episode. What do we deal with during that time instead?? Unwanted pregnancies and a whodunit so bland a wolf solves it. Why couldn’t an episode called “Conduit” focus more on the damn conduit?
Mythology-wise, I was a bit generous with that spike around minute 16 below which indicates the portion where the NSA shows up. I went back and forth on whether I’d consider that a part of the mythology but in the end, I did because I suspected Chris Carter considered this a part of a bigger plot when he wrote it. The issue I have is that without that scene, the only mythology bits are at the beginning with Blevins, a couple of brief (and dramatically satisfying) moments between Mulder and Scully as they discuss Samantha and finally the regression tape at the end.
Now there is a balancing act. More mythology-related material would have meant more direct references to Samantha, which likely would have become a bit too on the nose for my tastes. The balance here is fine…Mulder is clearly affected by Samantha in this episode but we don’t need him to beat us over the head with it. The problem is that they chose to fill in the rest of the episode with nonsense, as I’ve pointed out time and time again.
Mulder and Scully Breakdown in Conduit
Mulder and Scully are together for the majority of this episode and there is only one scene without either of them (the teaser which scored a 75). Because of that, these graphs are about as interesting as this episode. There should be more to say when I review The Jersey Devil since they spend a good portion of that episode apart.
And that’s it for my review of Conduit, the first episode The X-Files ever did which I thought was subpar. Stay tuned for my review of The Jersey Devil which is even worse! And please let me know what you liked/didn’t like/hated/adored about this review…I just started these statistical reviews and have been messing with the format so I would love some feedback. Thanks!