Total Recall: The Lone Gunmen “Pilot”

Total Recall is back this week to take a look back at another TV show, this time the X-Files spin off, The Lone Gunmen.  The show debuted in the Spring of 2001 and only lasted a season before being cancelled but it was a fun spin on the X-Files “case of the week” formula mixed with a healthy dose of Weekly World News weirdness with the fan favorite trio of conspiracy theorists.

In case you don’t remember or aren’t familiar with them, the Lone Gunmen were introduced early in season one of The X-Files as Mulder’s friends, who publish a weekly newsletter with the same name as their group, detailing various government plots and conspiracies and who Mulder frequently goes to for information about said conspiracies.  Melvin Frohike is the leader of the group, an expert in photography, surveillance, electronics and engineering and makes for his shorter stature with a massive ego and confidence level.  John Byers is the most serious member of the trio, always wearing a suit and tie and has working knowledge of a number of sciences including chemistry, medicine and genetics and is the go-to member for representing the group when they need to appear credible.  Finally there’s Richard Langly, the group’s computer and hacking expert and the most paranoid and irrational member of the trio.  Langly is constantly worried about being bugged or tracked and usually contributes the most wild conpsiracy theories of the group.

The pilot of the series is pretty disturbing in retrospect as it effectively predicts the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  (Chris Carter and the other producers on the commentary for the episode say they believed they were creating the most fantastical scenario imaginable and could never have predicted something similar would happen later that year)  It’s also darker in tone than the rest of the series, as the guys are investigating the potential murder of Byer’s father. (Later episodes had the guys finding a car that runs on water, super intelligent monkeys and other, less dire scenarios

The episode kicks off with the guys breaking into a computer company in Baltimore and attempting to steal their new Octium IV processor chip, which the guys believe has hidden circuitry that will allow it to spy on the user.  While Langly distracts the guests at the gala unveiling, Byers and Frohike take a page from Mission Impossible and use a rope and pulley to lower Frohike from the ceiling to avoid the lasers on the floor.  Unfortunately for the guys, they have competition from Yves Adele Harlow, a sexy thief that Frohike has met before.  Yves disguises herself as a bearded gentlemen, overrides Byer’s winch controls and simply walks in to the room, sets off the alarms and steals the chip, leaving the Gunmen to take the fall, and the full body cavity searches.

The guys are released when they are found to not have the chip on them and they head back to their lair, where Byers gets a call that his father is dead.  At the funeral, Byers meets one of his father’s friends, Ray Helm, who worked with Bertram Byers in the government.  Helm hints that something is up with Bertram’s death and he meets the Gunmen at the site of the car accident that supposedly killed Bertram.  Helm points out the lack of skid marks and other evidence and says he believes Bertram was murdered.

The Gunmen decide to investigate and head to Bertram’s house, where Frohike finds evidence of blood on the freshly shampooed carpet and Byers and Langly find evidence of a government text file on the otherwise wiped computer talking about something named “Scenario 12D”.  Langly goes and recruits his hacking buddy Kimmy to help him break in the Department of Defense to find out what Scenario 12D is and runs into Yves at the shooting range but isn’t able to find out what happened to the chip.  Meanwhile, Byers and Frohike go to the salvage yard Bertram’s car was brought to to look for evidence and find that the car was already crushed.  Rummaging through the wreckage, Frohike is able to find a circuit board.  Heading back to the lair, Byers and Frohike are able to see that there is an integrated antennae on the chip, suggesting that someone would be able to remotely control Bertram’s car.  Langly and Kimmy are able to break into the DoD and find the description of Scenario 12D is a “Mid-Air Domestic Terrorism Scenario” but their attempt to download the full file causes them to come to the brink of being tracked until Frohike pulls the plug, despite Byers objections.  It’s revealed that Helm is behind the attempt to track the guys and, by extension, the death of Byers’ father.

However, the guys have a new theory about Byers’ father after they test the blood at Bertram’s house and find it isn’t Bertram’s, causing them to theorize that an assassin was sent to take out Bertram, since he seemed like he was going to blow the whistle on Scenario 12D, but slipped on the wet carpet and shot himself.  Bertram then decided to use the assassin’s body to fake his death and escape the government.  Byers heads back to Bertram’s house and finds his father there, who reveals that Scenario 12D is going to go from war game to reality, that night, as a shady part of the government is going to use a Boston flight to fake a terrorist attack on NYC and use the fallout to bump up arms sales.  Bertram has a solid idea of what flight it is and he and Byers decide to board the flight to attempt to find the bomb, using handheld carbon sniffers.

The father/son team doesn’t find any evidence of bombs, which makes them think that, just like Bertram’s car, the agents behind the attack might be using remote control to crash the plane.  Langly and Frohike are able to hack into the plane’s instrumentation and confirm that someone is remotely controlling the plane, but Langly doesn’t have enough processing power to break into the manual override of the plane. They also find that the plane’s target is the World Trade Center.  Frohike rushes out to try and convince Yves to hand over the chip so they can break the remote control and, eventually, she agrees and uses the Octium IV to remotely give Langly the processing power he needs and the pilots of the plane regain control just in time to pull up and just barely miss the WTC.  Byers is determined to reveal the conspiracy but Bertram tells him that he won’t testify, because he’s scared and his silence will keep him and Byers alive.  Byers returns to the Lone Gunmen HQ, thinking they won’t have a story for that week’s issue but Frohike reveals he stole the Octium IV from Yves and they excitedly get to work on their original story.

Next week the show shifts to it’s actual, fun and wacky tone as the guys get a new benefactor in the form of James “Jimmy” Bond and the guys investigate the death of a hacker.

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