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Brand X (The X Files)

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Episode no.  Season 7 Episode 18
Production code  7ABX19
Running time  44 minutes
Directed by  Kim Manners
Original air date  April 16, 2000
Brand X (The X-Files)
Written by  Steven Maeda Greg Walker

"Brand X" is the eighteenth episode of the seventh season of the science fiction television series The X-Files. It premiered on the Fox network in the United States on April 16, 2000. It was written by Steven Maeda and Greg Walker and directed by Kim Manners. The episode is a "Monster-of-the-Week" story, unconnected to the series' wider mythology. "Brand X" earned a Nielsen household rating of 6.8, being watched by 10.81 million people in its initial broadcast. The episode received mixed reviews from critics.


The show centers on FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) who work on cases linked to the paranormal, called X-Files. Mulder is a believer in the paranormal, while the skeptical Scully has been assigned to debunk his work. In this episode, Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) is horrified when the witness who was due to testify against the Morley cigarette company dies mysteriously. After being called into assist, Mulder and Scully soon discover that a new brand of cigarette has a dangerous secret.

Inspired by the 1999 film The Insider, "Brand X" was written by Maeda and Walker to be an exploration of the corporate evil inside the cigarette industry. The scenes featuring shots of beetles crawling out of corpses were shot and filmed using real insects as well as real actors. In one particular scene, over 3,000 live insects were used. Those scenes took up to a full day to film.


In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) is charged with guarding the life of Dr. James Scobie, a former researcher who is testifying against his former employer, the Morley tobacco corporation. Prior to his trial, Scobie develops a cough, but shrugs it off. In the morning, Skinner and Scobie's wife find his body on the bathroom floor, with his face ripped away.

Morley has created a form of "super-tobacco", which is inhabited by a genetically engineered tobacco beetle whose eggs can survive the process of cigarette manufacturing and are released in the smoke of the cigarettes. The cigarettes were tested on a range of subjects by Scobie and his colleague, Dr. Peter Voss. Of the four human test subjects, chain smoker Darryl Weaver is the only surviving participant. Prior to his death, Scobie agreed to give Weaver an unlimited supply of cigarettes in exchange for his silence; he subsequently pressures Voss into honoring his "arrangement" with Scobie.

A chain of victims soon succumb to the eggs contained in the toxic smoke, all of whom are found with their bodies covered in the tobacco beetles. While interviewing Weaver, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) is exposed to the smoke, later coughing up blood and needing his lungs invasively cleared as the beetles begin to hatch.

Voss, who had until now been hiding behind his legal advisor, has a change of heart upon hearing of Mulder’s condition and tells Skinner of the aforementioned testing. Skinner goes to Weaver’s apartment after getting his name from Dr. Voss and finds a man tied to a chair with a gag in his mouth. When Skinner removes the gauze wrapper around the man’s mouth, the man chokes and beetles begin crawling from his mouth. At the hospital, Mulder is in grave danger due to the beetle eggs now hatching in his lungs, and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) attempts to find a way to save him, because he is now "too weak for thoracic surgery."

Meanwhile, Darryl Weaver attempts to browbeat Skinner, threatening to light one of the toxic cigarettes. As Weaver attempts to leave the building, Skinner shoots Weaver's shoulder and the pane of glass behind him, leaving him injured and covered in glass. He drops his cigarette to the floor and Skinner dramatically snuffs it out with his shoe. Back at the hospital, Scully realizes that nicotine might save Mulder’s life. She is correct in her solution, noting that Weaver’s nicotine tolerance didn’t allow the tobacco beetles to develop in his lungs. Scully administers nicotine to Mulder, who in turn recovers, albeit with a sore throat, as well as a minor addiction to nicotine, which drove him to buy a pack of Morley cigarettes for himself. However, upon some chiding by Scully, he throws them out, but then stares at them pensively after she leaves.


Originally, the premise of the episode was supposed to be about "the horrifying aspects of over-eating". However, since an earlier episode, "Hungry", had dealt with similar themes, the writing staff decided to take the conceit in a different direction and examine the "corporate evil that populates the cigarette industry". The episode's writers, Steven Maeda and Greg Walker, were both admitted fans of the The Insider, a 1999 film that examines the tobacco industry, and so the two decided to create an episode with a similar feel. Marc Shapiro, in his book All Things: The Official Guide to the X-Files Volume 6, noted that the episode was "literally, torn from the headlines"—a rare occurrence for an X-Files episode.

Because both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were busy adding the finishing touches to their own episodes—"Hollywood A.D." and "All Things", respectively—the writers struggled with a way to create a convincing story, but not force Mulder and Scully to be in every scene. The two eventually decided that causing Mulder to get sick in acts three and four would free up Duchovny for his episode. Walker noted, "Mulder getting sick in Act Two and being in a hospital bed for Acts Three and Four was the direct result of his limited amount of time. It was easier to shoot a bunch of stuff of him in bed than having him have to be in a lot of different locations."


In order to match the episode's theme of smoking, production designer Corey Kaplan was tasked with creating an overall yellow and brown color scheme for the episode. In this manner, each scene was given "a perpetually smoky look". Kaplan, who had worked together with episode director Kim Manners, had the idea to "enhance" Morley Cigarette's corporate offices with "long hallways and sets heavy on texture and grit" in order to compliment the aforementioned color scheme.

The scenes featuring shots of beetles crawling out of corpses were shot and filmed using real insects as well as real actors. In particular, during the scene wherein the Complaining Man is discovered dead, over 3,000 live bugs were shot crawling on the body of Mike Hungerford, the portraying actor. Producer Harry Bring noted that the bug scenes were tedious and hard to film because "bugs don't take directions very well, so you pretty much have to wait until they decided to get it right." Although the shots of the bugs were considerably brief in the final episode, the scenes required a full day of shooting to get perfect. The shots of bugs crawling out of Daniel Brimley's mouth and the shots of the bugs being sucked out of Mulder were created via a combination of CGI and "dummy bugs".


"Brand X" first aired in the United States on April 16, 2000. This episode earned a Nielsen rating of 6.8, with a 10 share, meaning that roughly 6.8 percent of all television-equipped households, and 10 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. It was viewed by 10.81 million viewers. The episode aired in the United Kingdom and Ireland on Sky1 on July 16, 2000 and received 0.75 million viewers, making it the most watched episode that week. Fox promoted the episode with the tagline "Tonight the terror is inside. Deep inside."

Tom Kessenich, in his book Examinations, gave the episode a moderately positive review. He wrote that "this wasn't the most riveting X-File I've ever seen and there wasn't a tremendous amount of heart-pounding tension from beginning to end [...] but that didn't bother me. Sometimes, just being entertained is enough." Paula Vitaris from Cinefantastique gave the episode a moderately positive review and awarded it two-and-a-half stars out of four. Vitaris concluded that the episode was "not the series' most exciting episode, but a solid story with interesting characters used well in the service of the plot" Kenneth Silber from wrote positively of the episode, saying "'Brand X' benefits from a certain unpredictability in its plot and characters. The menace is unusual, and imaginatively conceived. The tobacco company and its employees display a degree of complexity, rather than merely serving as one-dimensional villains in a public-health morality play." Gareth Wigmore of TV Zone gave the episode an 8 out of 10 rating. Wigmore noted that a "freshness surrounds the whole episode, presumably a result of the writing".

Todd VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club awarded the episode a "C". He called it a "hodge-podge of various elements that have worked in the past but feel beyond tired now". He was largely critical of the episode's story, which he felt was a rip-off of The Insider, as well as the make-up effects for the episode, which he called "fairly fake" looking. VanDerWerff, however, was complimentary towards Tobin Bell's performance, calling him "charismatic and interesting", as well as the fact that he plays "a great schemer". Rich Rosell from awarded the episode 3 out of 5 stars and wrote "Tobacco beetles, dismembered noses and some really bad second-hand smoke permeate this installment, but it gets snuffed out with a lazy payoff." Robert Shearman and Lars Pearson, in their book Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium & The Lone Gunmen, rated the episode two-and-a-half stars out of five. Despite praising the plot, writing "it's a great premise, with lots of gore and larvae", the two lament its loss in direction: "halfway through, once the episode reveals what its concept is, the story is left with nowhere to go."


Brand X (The X-Files) Wikipedia