Fright Factor: 6/10
Mytharc Relevance: 9/10
Connections: Poltergeist, Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Summary: A midwestern girl, Ruby Morris (Taunya Dee), is camping with her family along Lake Okobogee, Iowa when she is abducted in view of her mother and younger brother, Kevin (Joel Palmer). The disappearance makes the supermarket-aisle tabloids, capturing Mulder's attention but not the ears of either Scully or Skinner. After a little research, Mulder discovers that the missing girl's mother Darlene (Carrie Snodgress) was herself abducted by aliens as a girl - and suffered much ridicule through her life because of it. The boy, Kevin, has begun acting strangely - he sits for hours silently in front of the family television, scribbling an endless series of orderly 1's and 0's on sheets of white paper. When Mulder asks the boy what he is doing, Kevin points to the television and says, "it's coming from there."
The local police chief has dismissed the mother's claim of abduction outright, saying Ruby is a delinquent teen and most likely ran away from home. The agents find a note under their windshield wiper, reading "I'm across the street" - the local library. Mulder and Scully go inside and talk through the bookstacks with a mysterious young blonde woman, Tessa (Shelly Owens), who claims to know something about Ruby's disappearance. Tessa tells them that Ruby found out she was pregnant and ran away with her boyfriend Glen, a bartender at a local biker joint called the Pennsylvania Hotel Lounge. There, Mulder chats up a burly, tattooed manager who tells him Glen didn't show up for work two weeks ago and hasn't been seen since. When Mulder asks about a UFO tattoo on the manager's bicep, he is told about a "hot spot" at Lake Okobogee - the site of Ruby's abduction. The barman pulls back his long hair and reveals a shriveled, burn-scarred right ear and cheek: "You get one hell of a sunburn there at night!"
Soon thereafter, another agency - the National Security Administration - barges into the Morris family's home in Sioux City. Apparently, the digital data Kevin has been "channeling" contains highly classified spy satellite information - as well as other coded material, such as the sequence of DNA in the human genome, passages from religious texts, and classical music (a la the "postcard to the stars" sent out on the Voyager mission). The family's home is ransacked and turned upside down by NSA agents in search of a source of the secret information.
Later, Glen's body is found buried beneath a shallow rock grave alongside Lake Okobogee, revealed after Mulder encounters a pack of white wolves digging at the site. Evidence points to Tessa, who is charged with the murder. She was actually the one pregnant with Glen's child - not Ruby - and it was she who shot him in a jealous rage the night of Ruby's abduction.
Eventually Ruby is "returned" to the spot of her abduction about a month later: pale, disoriented, and suffering from a host of physiological symptoms consistent with prolonged exposure to weightlessness. Darlene Morris doesn't want her children to have any further contact with Mulder and Scully, because she doesn't want her daughter to have to deal with the shame and ridicule she herself suffered after her childhood abduction. "As far as I'm concerned," Darlene says, "she just spent the past month on the back of a Harley-Davidson." "Is that what you're going to tell Kevin?" responds Mulder.
Report: An important episode because it contains the first account of Samantha Mulder's abduction, and we get an early taste of Mulder's obsessive devotion to searching for his missing sister - highlighted by the fact Ruby's case is also of a young girl whose abduction was seen by her brother. The script is well-written, although I find the subplot dealing with Ruby's boyfriend's murder at the hands of a jealous pregnant friend somewhat extraneous - but a case can be made that it establishes a mundane norm for the boyfriend's disappearance, thereby contrasting the extraordinary nature of Ruby's "true" alien abduction. If you watch closely, you can catch glimpses of better-developed, later-season Mulder/Scully interaction, unlike the somewhat stilted presentation we see in much of Season 1.
Some good spine-tinglers are served when Kevin runs towards a growing eerie light behind the trees at Lake Okobogee, only to have the "ship" turn out to be a roaring motorcycle gang on a UFO-seeking mission (a scene replayed in various ways throughout the series). Another "ooh!" moment takes place when Mulder and Scully enter the family's empty home; a tea-kettle starts to whistle, so they could not have been gone long. Several sheets of the "0's and 1's" papers have been arranged randomly on the floor in a square. Scully goes upstairs, takes a peek over the balcony and sees what a different perspective reveals: the zeroes and ones form a startling black-and-white image of the missing girl, Ruby.
Overall, Conduit is a satisfyingly creepy essential X-files "origins" story - a must-see (at least once) for both fans and newbies.