The X-Files: Herrenvolk (Part 2/2)   Rewatch 
May 10, 2020 8:05 PM - Season 4, Episode 1 - Subscribe

Pursued by the alien bounty hunter, Jeremiah Smith takes Mulder to see a secret ginseng and bee farm in Canada that is being worked by child clones, while Scully analyzes the data being tracked by the team of Jeremiah Smiths.
posted by orange swan (6 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Damn. Those tow headed kids are creeepy.

Surprised that Mulder pulled off his ambush. Not surprised that he missed the brain stem. The time it took to dig himself into a mulch pile and not having any mulch stuck everywhere afterwards was pretty implausible.

At the mulch factory, it wasn't raining, but there was one shed/ overhang/ gazebo that's cascading water. Can't figure that one out. Mulch manufacturies on the West Coast smell amazing, btw. Cedar is a common feedstock out here.

Why does the Alien Bounty Hunter not off Scully? Or Mulder after almost running him over in the phone booth? Alien "fair play" ethics in return for Mulder not verifying and validating that he took ABH down?

Scully is made of some seriously stern stuff to just keep trucking along after ABH just leaves her after.

10 mile hike through hilly country in a suit and dress shoes, with no water? I do really like that Mulder keeps his facial lacerations through the entire episode.

Really dig that Skinner's assistant/ secretary is a big boned competent farmgirl type (Pam!, from Archer, forex).

I don't know what to read between Scully and Agent Pendrell. She's must certaintly grok that he has a massive crush on her and she's Always So Much Physically Closer than she needs to be around him.

The giant honeycomb set was impressive. Can't nitpick since these are highly modified bees (by aliens!) and may have a different physiology.

CSM's argument later to convince him to heal Mulder's mom is sound enough, though.
posted by porpoise at 8:33 PM on May 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Fact check.

That's an actual Telus (low voltage telephony, not electrical so no grounding required) truck, legit lineworker gear. Should be wearing that vest and helmet though, not that it would have helped. (Later) Looks like an actual work order, props to the props department. Should have been a two person crew, though.

That's a legit outdoor ginseng grow op. Hilly arid location in Alberta checks out.

"Serial ovo-something" - gah! They're clones. Not maternal derived non-Y chromosome drones. Or if they are, explain it better.

The data from Jeremiahs Smith's workstations - 70 gigabytes of data. You'd be hard pressed to find a SSD with only 70 gig capacity. They mention "password protected" so presumably they backdoored through the passwords. The data displayed on screen is clearly in plaintext though, not encrypted, just structure-unknown. Scully twigs on that the central field resembles the amino acid readout of a peptide (a piece of a linear protein) sequence. There is no reason, other than for narrative, to have "SEP" as a field unless there were other vaccinations other than smallpox that was being tracked (and that would have been commented on if that was the case) A huge(r) wall of text follows...

Those colourful slides Scully throws up? Legit confocal photomicrographs (pictures taken through a microscope). Regular microscopy is limited by the wavelength of visible light so you can only see down to a certain level of detail no smaller than the wavelegnth you're looking at. You have to use electrons instead of visible light to see any smaller (electrons have smaller wavelengths). Confocal uses a really neat trick to block out interference and only looks at light waves that one is interested in. 2-photon confocal microscopy takes that further but wasn't available then. Recently, another trick that puts a microscope inside of a microscope was just recently published.

So far so good? The label ("Structural Protein No 6 [Cowpox]") is bs. Most of what Scully says is bs other than for mentioning "immunohistochemistry."

What's shown could be a slice from a biopsy that was mounted on a glass slide. Immunohistochemistry is applying antibodies against specific epitopes (specific sequences of a protein, that are exposed, so the antibody sticks to it). These antibodies are tagged with a fluorophore, a small chemical that absorbs light of one wavelength and emits it at another.

The different colours that show up are typically "similar" to the actual emission, but can be completely arbitrary. If you throw in four different antibodies against 4 different epitopes and tag them with different colours of fluorophores, you capture each wavelength as "greyscale" based on intensity. You then assign them to different colours and overlay to get the slides that are shown.

What you're seeing is a slice of tissue with a few different kinds of cells.

The yellow channel (the smaller dots) is probably something like DAPI - not an antibody, but a dye that sticks to nuclear DNA and is used to identify each cell's nucleus and a rough way to count and identify individual cells. We're seeing a few hundred cells in a tissue slice. I have no idea what the other colours are. This is a really poor micrograph for mid-2010s, this is probably mindblowing in late 1990s? I'm familiar with brain structures, but this could be different layers in a skin sample?

The good; that field in the database that Scully recognizes? Peptide sequence. Each entry appears to be unique. If so, it is possible to develop antibodies specific to each and every one of those sequences. It takes months, possibly years to make an antibody good enough and specific enough for this type of work, today. Some epitopes are simply resistant to having a good enough antibody made against it. No way, no how that there are off-the-shelf antibodies against peptides on that list. The old school way is to inject peptide (or more typically, whole proteins) into animals with an adjuvant and screen them for antibodies against that protein or peptide. Then the hard work begins to make sure it's not cross-reactive with anything else. There are newer methods using phages to screen antibodies, and there is some success designing antibodies from scratch and just engineering them.

In this vein, there is no way to expect that you can probe antibodies to determine who got what peptide - lots of people would just not be able to develop antibodies against a random particular peptide that they were (randomly) assigned. Even given knowing the HLA of everybody the "vaccine" was given to, and tailoring the peptide to them couldn't guarantee that they would respond to it, or respond to it fully enough for the fidelity required. Antibodiy development and adaptive immune responses are very very complicated.

The best; aliens have something like antibodies but even better and the peptide sequence is optimized for their detection method. This is a plausible way to barcode people.

The bad; this is nonsense. There are eminently better methods of tracking people. While we're at it, the database is pretty useless without extensive metadata. A live innocuous retrovirus that relies on a high fidelity polymerase that does nothing but infect as many cells as possible (and not integrate into the genome or into sperm/ eggs) would be more plausible, and given purely human technology easier to "scan."

The more bad; no, a vaccine will not make some random cells in tissue (even the site of injection) express a particular peptide. If something (like a retrovirus) was piggybacked onto a vaccine that could, you'd have to serial number each vaccine unit produced and individually dope each and every vaccine dose with a custom agent - and what if someone was jabbed twice? Or the retrovirus jumped individuals?

Plausible; the increase in autoimmune diseases (other than just that we're recognizing them as such) could be a result of having our cells express and display random peptide sequences - which our immune system would sometimes (depending on the individual) recognize as foreign/ other and attack our own cells.

In the case of a world populated with genetic clones, though, yeah, you want to inject individuals with something that you can then read back but can't be sexually inherited. That smallpox vaccine causes scarring (so you know where to take a sample from in the future) is desirable, but there really isn't a plausible molecular mechanism for that to work that could still be detected by late 1990's human tech in the timescale depicted without massive spoilering help.

Bottom line, no, those pictures Scully shows aren't of individual proteins.

Mulder's mom getting cured by the Alien Bounty Hunter? She's intubated, coming to is painful and disorienting. She's probably still on some really good drugs, though.
posted by porpoise at 8:41 PM on May 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

One of my favorite fandom anecdotes was about this episode (this was back in the days of UUSENET and

You'll recall: the episode begins in Alberta, Canada (according to the title thingy) with a shot of a telephone lineman up on a pole doing some repairs. He's stung by a bee and swats it away, cursing; but when he does, he notices a group of children has come out of nowhere and are all standing around the pole and staring at him. He hollers an explanation down to them - "a bee stung me, eh?"

12 hours later, was filled with messages from people with Canadian-sourced accounts saying "we do not all say 'eh'."

And 12 hours after that, those messages all had responses from other Canadian-sourced accounts, saying "We do too say 'eh' and you know it."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:49 AM on May 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

70GB is an interesting size for a database then, because it's definitely *big*, but not unfathomably big. I think my PC hard drive at the time was some single-digit number of GB? Usually media will pick some number several orders of magnitude bigger than what ordinary everyday folk have access to, to make the files sound impressive and/or difficult for the heroes to sift through. 70 GB is comparatively restrained.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:35 AM on May 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

"We do too say 'eh' and you know it."

As a Canadian I can confirm that we do indeed say "eh", just not nearly as often as American media representation of us would have you believe. It does tend to be more common among Canadians who are rural and/or do not have post-secondary educations, but I've lived in Toronto my entire adult life and have six years of post-secondary education, and I still find I let one slip now and then.

Mulder clearly needs to work on his alien stiletto skills.

Jeremiah and Mulder would have driven/walked for hours to get to that farm. Jeremiah couldn't explain things to him on the way? Mulder didn't ask any questions at all in that time, but simply waited until they got to the ginseng farm? That would have been extremely out of character for him (remember, this is a guy who wakes his elderly mother up in the middle of the night to grill her about traumatic past events), especially given that these conspiracy types are always all show and no tell.

Um, the Canadian government/Albertans in the region never noticed that there was a farm there with unaccompanied children living and working on it? Just how deep does this international conspiracy go? Was Jean Chrétien in on it?

CSM's argument later to convince him to heal Mulder's mom is sound enough, though.

I didn't buy it. Even without his mom, Mulder would still have Scully and his quest. I thought it was something the CSM cooked up in order to save the woman he loves -- who is perhaps the only person he loves. Bit of a projection there, in that case, for him to be talking about Mulder losing the only thing he cares about/becoming a man with nothing to lose or fight for, when it may have been he who felt that way about Teena Mulder.

Teena Mulder certainly is a cipher. She seems to know things, but she isn't talking. She resents and stonewalls anyone who tries to get her to talk. You'd think she'd want to tell her son what she knows, to do whatever she can to give him some peace and/or help him either find the answers he so obsessively seeks... yet she doesn't. Both her and her late ex-husband seem to have shut down as parents after whatever happened to Samantha. They clearly loved their son, but he was on his own when it came to figuring out what happened and in dealing with it. My guess is that it was because they themselves played a part in what happened to their daughter, and they didn't want their innocent son to know that.

Marita Covarrubias appears for the first time this episode. Her name is a hard one to get a handle on.

Mr. X appears for the last time this episode. Did he really not have a cell phone he could have used to call for help after being shot?

Agent Pendrell is damn good at his job and clearly very intelligent. But he's no Mulder and hasn't a chance with Scully. Maybe he should try being a little damaged, developmentally delayed, and obsessed.

Strangely, the bees don't find alien hybrid blood toxic the way humans do, but I suppose they're basically alien hybrid bees.

And congratulations to Brian Thompson, the actor who played ABH, on managing to get married (twice) despite having what may be the meanest, most menacing face ever seen on screen. He usually plays villains, and no wonder.
posted by orange swan at 1:51 PM on May 11, 2020

Oh, duh me, right. CSM making up just a plausible enough excuse to get Teena healed up.

But still, Mulder would be terrifying if he had lost his mom and his resulting (increased) instability would probably spoil any plans CSM might have had for him as a chess piece.
posted by porpoise at 2:27 PM on May 11, 2020

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