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Recap / The X-Files S04 E07 "Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man"

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Season 4, Episode 07:

Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man
"For nothing can seem foul to those that win."
Henry IV Part 1, Act V scene i
Written by Glen Morgan
Directed by James Wong

Frohike: If you find the right starting point and follow it, not even secrets of the darkest of men are safe.
Mulder: Cancer Man? What did you find?
Frohike: Possibly everything. Maybe his background.

The Lone Gunmen discover some (possible) information about the early life of Mulder's nemesis.


  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: As well as master-minding a conspiracy to suppress knowledge about aliens and generally control the United States government, Cancer Man also set up the "Miracle on Ice" (by doping the Soviet goalie) and ensures that the Buffalo Bills never win the Super Bowl.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • During the meeting on December 24th 1991, Cigarette-Smoking Man is informed that Mikhail Gorbachev, the president of the Soviet Union, has just resigned. Gorbachev actually resigned the following day, in the evening of December 25th. Even accounting for time zone differences, the earliest time the news would reach the United States would be in the morning of December 25th. Though given his connections, CSM likely knew beforehand.
    • Also on December 24th 1991, Deep Throat expresses concerns that the KGB have found out about the UFO crash. The KGB had already been dissolved 21 days earlier on December 3rd.
  • Author Avatar: In-universe example: the protagonist of the Cigarette-Smoking Man's rejected manuscripts, Jack Colquitt.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Cigarette Smoking Man and Deep Throat, which given the episode's references to Forrest Gump is fitting.
  • Benevolent Boss: CSM tries to act like this to his underlings, but doesn't succeed that well.
  • Blatant Lies
    • The CSM hates movies, but tells Lee Oswald otherwise when arranging a rendezvous in the movie theatre where he is to be arrested.
    • When arguing over which of them will terminate the alien, CSM tells Deep Throat that he's never killed anyone, much to the latter's incredulity.
  • Call-Back: To "E.B.E.", and Deep Throat's claim to have carried out the execution of an alien in Vietnam. According to this story, though, the UFO there was not shot down, and his execution of an alien occurred much later.
  • A Day in the Limelight: For the Cigarette Smoking Man. It shows him as a somewhat lonely man, married to his job but willing to give it up to be a writer.
  • Death Seeker: The CSM doesn't smoke because his mother died of lung cancer. After assassinating the President of the United States and framing Oswald for it, he lights up his first cigarette.
  • Despair Speech: Played for laughs, though.
  • Disappeared Dad: CSM's father was an ardent Communist put to death for spying on behalf of the Soviet Union. This happened before he was even born.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: While he might be a sinister shadow government official pulling the strings of the twentieth century for his and his organisation's sinister ends, he respects Martin Luther King Jr. Though this doesn't stop him from (reluctantly) killing the man.
  • Evil Is Petty: He couldn't care less about rigging the Oscars, but the Buffalo Bills winning the Super Bowl is something he just can't allow.
  • Executive Meddling: Invoked in the episode when the Smoking Man finds out his short story's ending was changed without his consent.
  • Flashback: The whole story, really, but there's a specific flashback to the first episode, where we see Scully first meet with Section Chief Blevins while the CSM observes.
  • Formula-Breaking Episode: The episode focuses entirely on the titular Smoking Man and his younger days.
  • Freudian Excuse: CSM's original strong anti-Communism is implied to stem from hating his father (a devout Communist) for spying on behalf of the Soviet Union and being put to death for it, leaving him before he was born and alone in the world once his mother died as well. His refusal to smoke at first may also be because his mother did, and died from it (when we first view him, in 1962, the link between smoking and cancer had just been established).
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: CSM goes from anonymous Army officer circa 1962 to one of the heads of America's shadow government by 1968, and only gets more powerful afterwards.
  • Historical Domain Character: Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray and J. Edgar Hoover all appear.
  • Historical In-Joke: But of an Unreliable Narrator variety. CSM takes credit for both the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" and the Bills' run of Super Bowl failures. During a meeting, he's told that Saddam Hussein is on the phone; he says he'll call him back later.
  • Lamarck Was Right: The CSM is selected for the conspiracy to kill Kennedy not only because of his fervent anti-communism, but because his superiors believe he has the same dedication to change the world as his Communist father.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: A teeny-tiny laser, but after years manipulating the trajectory of American culture for arrogant and selfish reasons without any input from the American people, CSM's personal goal of getting a story published is ruined by the editor changing his story's ending without his input.
  • Meaningful Name: The magazine CSM's story was published in, "Roman à Clef," sounds like it might be some kind of pretentious porn or something. But it's actually a term for a true story disguised as fiction, which is exactly what his story is.
  • Missing Mom: CSM's mother died of lung cancer when he was a boy, which left him a ward of the state.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: This episode's account of CSM's backstory is loosely modeled on E. Howard Hunt, the notorious CIA operative who was a key figure in the Watergate scandal. Hunt has been tied by Real Life conspiracy theorists to the Kennedy Assassination, and CSM calls himself "Mr. Hunt" when meeting Oswald. Hunt also wrote pulp novels under an alias although, unlike CSM, he was quite successful at it.
  • Origins Episode: If the Unreliable Narrator CSM is to be believed.
  • Pet the Dog: The last couple of scenes show a surprisingly sympathetic side of CSM we've never seen before, an eager amateur writer who gets depressed when the crap magazine that published his story changed the ending. Also serves as a bit of a meta joke, since the ending of the episode that aired was different from the one in the script.
  • Properly Paranoid: Frohike is certain he is under surveillance and could be killed at any moment, which Mulder finds ridiculous. Frohike is absolutely right.
  • Shout-Out:
    • To Forrest Gump. Given the fact that CSM is essentially a dark Forrest, it verges on Take That!.
      Cigarette Smoking Man: Life... is like a box of chocolates. A cheap, thoughtless, perfunctory gift that nobody ever asks for. Unreturnable, because all you get back is another box of chocolates. So you're stuck with this undefinable whipped-mint crap that you mindlessly wolf down when there's nothing else left to eat. Sure, once in a while, there's a peanut butter cup, or an English toffee. But they're gone too fast, the taste is fleeting. So you end up with nothing but broken bits, filled with hardened jelly and teeth-shattering nuts, and if you're desperate enough to eat those, all you've got left is a... is an empty box... filled with useless, brown paper wrappers.
    • CSM's initial briefing by the military officers is one to Apocalypse Now, with almost identical dialogue to Willard's being assigned to kill Kurtz.
    • When discussing his story with the publisher, CSM says he wants the artwork to have a Tom Clancy-ish look.
  • Tempting Fate: The Lone Gunmen insist on activating their anti-snooping device before talking to Mulder. The CSM just turns on a gadget attached to his rifle microphone to cut through the interference, then gives a smug smile as he hears the Lone Gunmen bragging about how their anti-snooper can block any form of electronic eavesdropping.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: CSM is already a major villain, and Frohike's revelations give him a further upgrade on the villainy scale. Nevertheless, he is also portrayed as a lonely, unfulfilled and bitter character, which humanizes him a bit.
  • Take That!: "Payback's a bitch, Ivan." Cancer Man's involvement in helping the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team win can be taken as either a take that against the hockey team and/or the infamous 1972 basketball finals where the Soviets essentially cheated to win.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Frohike notes that there is no real way to confirm the information he has found. CSM's position on cigarettes and movies changes between scenes too, but this may just be him lying. There are also quite a bit of stuff that doesn't really line up under scrutiny, like Mulder already having been born when CSM supposedly met his father, William, for the first time, as CSM is later revealed to be Mulder's biological father. It's also implied that Frohike got most of his information from the story the CSM wrote. If so, then how much truth was included in the CSM's work of fiction (and from there, how much was changed by In-Universe Executive Meddling before Frohike even saw it) is up for debate.
  • Villain Episode
  • Who Shot JFK?: CSM did it, and Oswald was made the Fall Guy. He killed Martin Luther King too. At least in this story...
  • Why We're Bummed Communism Fell: CSM starts off as a hardened anti-Communist who gets sucked into the Conspiracy fighting the Cold War. When the Soviet Union falls, he questions what else he could do with his meaningless life, until Deep Throat calls him about a crashed UFO, and he realizes there's another secret war left to fight... Somewhat retconned later, or possibly just an unreliable narrator, as later episodes reveal he was aware of and fighting this war for many decades previously.
  • Worthy Opponent: CSM claims he has respect for Martin Luther King. Which still doesn't stop him from killing the man. He's mostly urged on by King speaking against the Vietnam War, and fears this will turn black people against it so the US loses, saying if this were just a civil rights issue, he'd support him for President.

"I can kill you whenever I please... but not today."