The X-Files: Brand X   Rewatch 
August 2, 2020 8:55 PM - Season 7, Episode 18 - Subscribe

Skinner calls in Mulder and Scully after a research scientist and former employee of Morley Tobacco who intended to testify against the company is found dead in his bathroom with his mouth, trachea, and lungs eaten away, the night before his court appearance, though the house had been under close guard by Skinner and a team of FBI agents, and there were no signs of forced entry or a struggle.
posted by orange swan (4 comments total)
Nice gruesome "melted guy" prop!

With that kind of damage, I suspect that he'd be dead of shock (fluid loss) before hypoxemia.

Why would the research lead routinely keep a couple of cartons of smokes in his briefcase? He had no idea scruffy dude would show up. Ok - I guess they were "test cigarettes" but that still doesn't make a ton of sense.

Why would it be odd that a tobacco researcher doesn't use? I'd surmise the reverse. In my Federally licenced Cannabis company, half of management has never used it or consumed more than once or twice (the rest of us do, to varying degrees).

With that many differences in body characteristic, these bugs would qualify as their own species. The "transgenomics" technobabble is bollocks. It's a bit oldschool, messy, and labourious and was used to try to figure out what random genes do (not very well) - but done within Kingdoms, not putting plant DNA into an insect. There are much better ways of answering those kinds of questions now.

While horizontal gene transfer is well documented in prokaryotes (microbes, mostly), there is some evidence of plant DNA sequences transferring into insects - probably through a virus-mediated event. Controversial, for sure, but a potential explanation for rarely seen plant-like gene sequences in phytophagous insects that aren't present in closely related (especially related but non-phytophagous) insect species.

The lung aspiration after Mulder gets "infected" - Scully's right - not effective. Giving him some sort of pyrethrin might work; some pyrethrins' toxicity in mammals are tolerable and kills insects by paralyzing them by messing with insect specific motor neuron receptors. Either way, Mulder's going to be disabled for life.

The vitals monitor - fake (oxygen saturation doesn't change/ drop when Mulder codes). ECMO is basically continuously taking his blood, oxygenating it in a machine, and pumping it back in him.

Not sure about tobacco beetle eggs - I suspect they wouldn't survive getting burned - but there have definitely been cases of people smoking mouldy cannabis and inhaling (fungal) spores that survive the burning and colonize the lungs, leading to death.

Giving Mulder nicotine doesn't make a lick of sense. Tobacco beetles feed on tobacco plants. Tobacco plants produce nicotine as an insecticide. Tobacco beetles have evolved to ignore the insecticidal properties of nicotine. But with that much infestation already, Mulder's lungs are fucked.

Ok, I was wrong, tobacco beetle resistance to nicotine is from a commensal microorganism that they pick up from one another. Freshly hatched beetles wouldn't have a source to acquire the microorganism, but I suspect that the eggs themselves might already be colonized but maybe they haven't had enough time to multiply to sufficient numbers to be protective.

Don't know if they researched it, or pulled the number from their butts, but Scully requests 30 mgs of nicotine (base, not the salt) - the commonly accepted lethal dose of nicotine is 30-60 mg, but that's actually a very controversial number (it's likely to be much higher).

Sorry for the big ol' wall o' text. Anyway, the beetle thing makes no sense.
posted by porpoise at 5:40 PM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

One last nitpick.

Scully see's scruffy dude's fingers are stained orange - that's from smoking filterless cigarettes and is "tar," not strictly just nicotine; nicotine is colourless. Without the filter, especially if one isn't wasting tobacco, the ends of filterless (especially hand rolled) cigarettes get pretty "gooey." But at 4 packs a day, I'll give that a bye.

Scruffy is a right hand smoker, though (I used to be a left hand smoker before smartphones).

I get why the writers used that as the revelatory scene, but just more technical wrongness in this ep.
posted by porpoise at 5:58 PM on August 3, 2020

Speaking of our theory that smokers are usually bad people in the X-Files universe, smokers don't get much worse than Darryl Weaver. He's as morally repulsive as they come -- he makes CSM look almost charming.

Good horrifying cold open, but how did the people at Morley work the timing to have James Scobie die the night before he was to testify? Mulder got infested lungs the same day he spent a few minutes around Weaver. Did Weaver see Scobie that day, and infect him deliberately? That seems unlikely, given that Scobie was his source for cigarettes, and given that Scobie would have known about the danger and fled from him immediately.
posted by orange swan at 1:58 PM on August 5, 2020

You're absolutely right. The logistics of infesting the subjects on schedule are complete bunk.

Timeline was all bugged up.
posted by porpoise at 11:28 PM on August 5, 2020

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