Apparently prompted by messages from digital appliances with instructions to kill, several residents of a small farming community suddenly turn violent and dangerous.
At a postal center in Franklin, Pennsylvania, Edward Funsch sits at a conveyor belt entering the zip codes of envelopes as they run by him into a mail sorting machine. The machine jams and he cuts his finger on an envelope he tries to dislodge. He seems mesmerized by the small drop of blood. His boss calls him in to inform him that he losing his job due to downsizing. He explains that it's a decision the boss wishes he didn't have to make, since everyone gets on well with Ed, a somewhat simple man who is "new to this area." His boss recommends he stay on for the rest of the week. When Ed gets back to the machine, he sees the word "KILL" on the machine's digital display, that progresses to "KILL 'EM ALL."
At the Franklin Civic Center, a middle-aged man in a crowded elevator sees "NO AIR" displayed on the elevator's LCD display. He seems to be the only one to notice the message. Sweating and obviously nervous, he glances at the LCD screen again. It flashes the words "CAN'T BREATHE" and then "KILL 'EM ALL."
FBI Agent Mulder arrives at the civic center, after what looks like a massacre. Bodies lie on the sidewalk and in the foyer, where Sheriff Spencer explains that the suspect murdered four people from the elevator with his bare hands before a member of security took him down. Spencer is mystified because Franklin is a quiet farming town, but in the last six months, seven individuals have murdered twenty-two people. Mulder inspects the elevator and notices the electronic display has been damaged. He examines the suspect's body, noting a green residue on the man's fingertips.
Scully reads Mulder's initial report back at Quantico. Mulder believes the Franklin incidents are spree killings, but the suspects all seem to be healthy people, outwardly normal and unlikely to fit a criminal profile. The only connection he can see is that an electronic device was found destroyed at each crime scene.
That night, Bonnie McRoberts drops by an auto-repair garage to pick up her car. She is visibly unnerved by the mechanic, whose behavior she interprets as hostile. A message on an engine diagnostic display warns her that the mechanic is going to rape and murder her. She becomes hysterical and attacks, stabbing him to death with an oil funnel. When Mulder and the Sheriff question McRoberts the next morning, her kitchen microwave instructs her to kill them. She grabs a knife and slashes Mulder's arm, prompting Spencer to shoot and kill her.
At Quantico, Scully performs an autopsy on McRoberts' body. She discovers high levels of adrenaline, signs of psychological trauma, and the same green substance found on the elevator killer. She speculates that the substance, when combined with other neurochemicals, produces an LSD-like reaction.
While Mulder and Scully build a case, Ed Funsch becomes more and more unhinged. He continues to see violent messages on electronic gadgets, and blood is associated with each incident. First, an ATM displays "KILL THEM ALL" after Ed notices a child with a nose bleed. After making attempts to find a new job and failing, a volunteer at a department store asks Ed to donate for the Franklin Community Blood Drive. Distressed, he walks away and ends up in Domestic Appliances, where he sees violent images flash across a sales display of televisions, followed by a message to buy a gun from the Sporting Goods department.
While jogging, Mulder sees a city worker dump dead flies along the roadside. He takes a sample to the Lone Gunmen, who suggest that the flies have been sprayed with LSDM, a pesticide that invokes a fear response in insects. Mulder returns to Franklin that night to investigate an orchard, where he gets sprayed by a crop-dusting helicopter and has to be taken to the hospital. After an awkward debate with city spokesman Larry Winter, Mulder sees the message "DO IT NOW" in a fitness commercial. He proposes that when people exposed to the pesticide see subliminal messages relating to their phobias, their paranoia is heightened enough to make them kill. Mulder believes this to be evidence of a controlled experiment in the Franklin area. Under pressure from Spencer, a reluctant Winter agrees to stop the spraying and perform blood tests on the community, which will be done under the guise of a cholesterol study. Neighborhoods are canvassed and several names show up on a list of untested people; Ed Funsch is one of them.
Mulder and Scully arrive at Ed's house to find it strewn with smashed electronic devices. A nurse collecting blood samples visited Ed's house earlier in the day, but left when nobody answered the doorbell. Mulder realizes that blood is Ed's phobia and that he's been seeing the subliminal messages. An empty rifle case indicates that Ed is going to act on his delusions.
Funsch gets on a bus that stops at the local hospital, but is curiously warned by the fare meter that the police are waiting for him and screams at the driver to be let off. When the bus arrives, the driver tells Mulder he let Funsch off at the college, where the community blood drive is being held. Scully stays at the hospital while Mulder, Spencer and other officers rush to the college. Funsch, clearly conflicted and distressed, begins firing randomly from inside a nearby clock tower. As Mulder races up the tower's stairs, he trips and lands on his arm wound. He reaches the top and confronts Funsch, who tells Mulder "they" won't let him put the gun down, but maybe Mulder can make him. When Mulder reaches for the gun, Funsch notices blood from his arm wound seeping into his shirt and freaks out, allowing Mulder to knock the rifle away and overpower him.
Funsch is taken away on a stretcher, to be examined by Scully at the hospital. When Mulder tells Spencer he wants access to Funsch for questioning, Spencer replies that Mulder probably knows more about Funsch's episode than he does. Mulder calls Scully, but the reception becomes fuzzy; when he looks at the phone, the display shows him a message: "ALL DONE. BYE BYE" The call goes through and Scully calls to Mulder repeatedly as he stares at the message in shock.
- Although this episode contains Darin Morgan's first writing credit and he alone is credited as having devised the story, he collaborated on the plot with his brother, Glen, as well as James Wong, Glen's writing partner. "Darin was supposed to write that one," explained Glen Morgan, "but scheduling wouldn't allow it [....] We worked with Darin on the story." According to Chris Carter, the genesis of the story was "from films Darin Morgan had seen of pesticides being sprayed on unknowing populations by a government who said this was good for you, and what the effect of our government spraying may be now on some level." (X-Files Confidential, pp. 95 & 96)
- Glen Morgan's advice to his brother, Darin Morgan, was to "do something about the post office." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 63) James Wong and Glen Morgan started developing the installment with a single note, "Postal Workers." (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 167) This two-word concept was displayed up on their bulletin board. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 63)
- The writers subsequently combined the notion of involving mail workers with a news story concerning malathion spraying in Southern California, which is referenced in the episode. Glen Morgan was also inspired by seeing an article in the news magazine 20/20, about studies on DDT in the 1950s. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, pp. 167–168) The possibility of merging postal workers with a story regarding the controversial spraying of pesticides "had a level of satire, you know, sick," he said. "What happens when you put the two together?" (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 63)
- Meanwhile, Chris Carter was interested in doing an episode which involved digital readouts. It fit the bill of the writers having always tried to make everyday things be scary, such as then-new appliances like fax machines or cell phones. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 168) Expressed Glen Morgan, "We were thinking, what do you have in your house, what do you have that you're going to deal with every day that scares you?" (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 63) Glen Morgan worked on the episode without so much as an inkling about who or what might have been sending the subliminal messages. Nor did he care, leaving such things for the audience to consider. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 168) James Wong contemplated, "The whole show is about being told what to do, some other forces telling you what to do." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 63)
- Darin Morgan came up with the idea of mild postal worker Ed Funsch quietly being driven mad by the pressure of the subliminal messages. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 63) The character's focus on blood (as well as the episode's title) stemmed from Glen Morgan having hematophobia, himself. (The Complete X-Files: Behind the Series, the Myths and the Movies, p. 57)
- The scene wherein Mulder discovers irradiated flies "actually happened to Darin in San Diego," relayed Glen Morgan. "And that's how this show goes. So you're sitting here and you say, 'Oh god, what the hell do we do now?' and you just got a big hole. And you're talking to Darin, who's saying, 'I was jogging and a truck pulls by and the guy throws a bunch of flies.' We said, 'Oh my god! Put it in.'" (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 63)
- Similarly, the scene in which Edward Funsch fires on a campus from a tower was also based on an actual incident, a deadly shooting spree in which Charles Whitman massacred fourteen people with a sniper rifle from atop the University of Texas clock tower in 1966. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 63; The Complete X-Files: Behind the Series, the Myths and the Movies, p. 57) Whereas Mulder manages to calm Funsch down in this installment, Whitman was fatally shot by police. Regarding the notion of a mass shooting rampage, Glen Morgan commented, "That's the image, that's what you're being directed to do." The writers felt the shooting spree worked perfectly into the story, believing the act integrated well with their concept of Edward Funsch as someone not spontaneous. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 63) The point of including the incident was also that it was a fairly common idea. Glen Morgan observed, "It's almost like the joke that people at work who are stressed say: 'I'm going to go up in a tower with a gun.' That's what everyone points to when they're going to flip out." (X-Files Confidential, p. 95)
- While the episode was under development, Glen Morgan and James Wong had certain ideas about how this segment of The X-Files should look. "When we did that show, we were of the opinion that it should feel different in style than the other episodes," related James Wong. "We wanted a more sterile, static kind of feel to it." (X-Files Confidential, p. 96)
- Darin Morgan wasn't involved in the writing of this episode's teleplay. "We needed a script really fast," Glen Morgan remembered, "so Jim and I did it." (X-Files Confidential, p. 95) The shooting rampage at the episode's climax was, by this point, intended to be filmed at a clock tower actually located on the grounds of the University of British Columbia. Location Manager Louisa Gradnitzer specified, "The script was written with [that] [...] in mind." (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 58)
- This episode's production involved multiple places in New Westminister. Franklin Civic Center was represented with two locations there – Army & Navy Department Store on 502 Columbia Street and First Capital Building, on 960 Quayside Drive, New Westminister Quay. The latter filming site was used for the fictitious building's bloodied tower lobby. Also, the police precinct where Mulder is shown working was filmed at an Old YMCA building, on 6th Street and Queens Avenue, New Westminster. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), pp. 57, 58 & 59)
- Franklin Community General Hospital, of which only the exterior is shown, and the auto repair shop where Mrs. McRoberts kills a mechanic were both depicted using locations situated on Vancouver's Alexander Street. The garage was actually Main Service Automobile Centre, at 298 Alexander Street, whereas the hospital was Evelyn Saller Centre, at 320 Alexander Street. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 59)
- As envisioned while the episode's script was being written, the climactic shoot-out scene was filmed at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 58; The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 168)
- Even though Glen Morgan and James Wong had their own thoughts about how they would like this episode to be shot, David Nutter did not receive these suggestions. Wong noted, "We missed communication with David in terms of what we felt it should look like." He nonetheless consciously tried to give the episode a distinctive visual flair. Nutter mused, "I thought 'Blood' was a real throwback to The Twilight Zone. It was a show shot in a standard way, where a lot of editing was involved." (X-Files Confidential, p. 96)
- The murder-inducing devices were operated from off camera by Ken Hawryliw and his crew. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 167)
- Although the episode wasn't actually filmed in Franklin, Pennsylvania, authentic police cars and uniforms were used.
- To help create the look of a bloodied crime scene in the Franklin Civic Center office tower, blood slabs – translucent, portable pieces of rubber shaped like pools of blood – were positioned on the terra cotta floor of the tower lobby. This option was selected instead of using artificial film blood, which would have stained the tiles and caused extensive damage. Nobody had discussed this decision with David Nutter, though. Louisa Gradnitzer was informed it was her responsibility to notify him about the blood slabs. Gradnitzer later noted, "Ultimately, the blood slabs worked like a charm." (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 58)
- While filming at the Old YMCA, David Duchovny noticed rows of old lockers and asked about buying one of the rows, for his house. The locations department arranged for Duchovny to have them for merely $150, much to his delight. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 59)
- For the filming of the scenes in an auto repair shop where Mrs. McRoberts kills a mechanic, the garage used as the filming location was closed for the day of production. This allowed the filming team exclusive access to the site. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 59)
- The microwave Mrs. McRoberts confronts in the scene involving her and Mulder was actually a mockup. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 167)
- Setting up the filming at Army & Navy Boutique initially flustered Production Designer Graeme Murray and challenged Set Decorator Shirley Inget. Louisa Gradnitzer explained, "Aisle upon aisle of goods had to be removed and redressed within a two-hour window prior to shooting and early access for set dressing was flatly denied." On the day of filming, as the crew waited for the okay to proceed with those preparations, Gradnitzer and Inget did some leisurely shopping in the store. At about 4 p.m., Gradnitzer requested an early start, which was permitted. Remembering the busy activities that ensued, Gradnitzer stated, "Five set dec crew members quickly descended; goods were boxed and shifted around and gun racks and other items were installed, giving the appearance of some mad holiday shopping frenzy. Customers merely carried on, negotiating through all the ladders, dressing, and tool boxes scattered in the aisle." (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), pp. 57–58)
- The lawns outside the location used as Franklin Community General Hospital were unkempt on the day of filming there, with long grass swaying in the wind. Panicked, Greensman Frank Haddad hurried to the location in an effort to save the footage required. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 59)
- The filming of the mass shooting rampage was influenced by the fact Glen Morgan and James Wong had read a lot about how jump cuts had been edited into Apocalypse Now. Morgan explained, "Almost all of that stuff that's in the end was pre-slate; it wasn't in the take [....] Nutter said, 'Why don't we cut the best psychotic moments that this actor is feeling and we'll put them all together like that?' That's why this act is cut like that. We spent a lot of time on it [....] None of that stuff is between 'Action' and 'Cut.'" Nutter himself recalled, "At the ending, what I tried to do was allow him [Funsch actor William Sanderson] to get into it and let the camera roll while he did so [....] He was the kind of actor that wanted to, emotionally, get into it. I let him get pumped up for it, and filmed what he was doing. Most of the stuff you see in the episode came during the prep." (X-Files Confidential, pp. 95 & 96)
- The production team had to work around the fact guns were prohibited from public view at the University of British Columbia. "To effectively portray this scene," remembered Louisa Gradnitzer, "part of the clock tower interior was built on stage and while on location, a view of the gun was secretly captured." (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), pp. 58–59)
- For the final views of Mulder herein, David Nutter had a particular concept in mind. "I wanted to create something almost like Mulder's a gargoyle on a side of this gothic structure," Nutter stated. "So it was just the way the setting was, the way it looked. I thought it would be a different way to go out and give that ambiguous, what's going on ending." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 63)
- For this episode, post-production included the footage watched by Mulder and the Lone Gunmen. "We have our guys watching film supposedly from the 1950s showing DDT being sprayed over kids in a swimming pool," noted Co-Producer Paul Rabwin while working on the show, referring to one particular shot. "I have to find and obtain the material, have it transferred in such a way that it can be rephotographed, and have it sent back up there in time for them to shoot the scene." (X-Files Confidential, pp. 30–31)
- Some of the subliminal messages would have taken an almost impossible amount of effort to arrange. Altering a wristwatch or microwave so it can send a message at the right time would require completely rebuilding it. The level of planning and observation required to set up some of the messages would also be difficult to achieve, and it adds up to mean that someone can indirectly be killed so long as the killer does a huge amount of work. Note that in the autopsy of Mrs. McRoberts, Scully reports finding traces of a compound containing lysergic acid (the active component of LSD). This allows for a reasonable supposition the messages "delivered" by the electronic displays were the result of hallucinations, not reprogramming or rebuilding. Lingering effects from Mulder's exposure to the LSDM could also explain him seeing the message on his phone at the end (although this could have been an ordinary text message). Of all the different forms of LSD that have been created in reality, only one has been shown to be psychoactive (The preceding statement is incorrect; Alexander Shulgin actually described and studied several psychoactive analogues of LSD including n-acetyl-lysergic acid diethylamide, 6-allyl-6-nor-LSD and more). One can only assume some nefarious force had developed a technology that can remotely affect digital readouts, and was testing its use on the town.
- In the investigation scene following the mechanic's murder, Mulder is wearing rubber gloves but when he scans his finger down a clipboard, his hand is bare.
- The address on the envelope right before the first digital messages are shown to Edward Funsch is in Grand Rapids, MI, where Scully actress Gillian Anderson went to City High School.
- The nurse who buzzes on Edward Funsch's front door buzzes the word "Kill" in Morse code.
- Sheriff Spencer is notable in The X-Files pantheon as an authority/law enforcement figure who not only believes Mulder's theories but defends him, to Larry Winter – an authority figure who reacts with more typical skepticism and hostility. (Of course, it helps that Mulder's explanation is more plausible than usual, even if he is ultimately right.)
- Glen Morgan was pleased with both the casting of William Sanderson as Edward Funsch and the fragmented way he is shown in the shoot-out scene. Of the latter facet, Morgan voiced, "That's something I was very happy with." (X-Files Confidential, p. 95)
- James Wong had a mixed opinion of this outing. "I liked the idea of the show," he enthused, "and I really liked William Sanderson. I don't think it was the most successful, but it wasn't the worst." (X-Files Confidential, p. 96)
- Chris Carter approved of this installment. He reckoned, "I think it works because it feels like it can happen in your own backyard." (X-Files Confidential, p. 96)
- This episode achieved a Nielsen household rating of 9.1, with an audience share of 16. This means that roughly 9.1 percent of all television-equipped households, and 16 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. It was viewed by 8.7 million households. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 249)
- Despite the mass shooting spree having been devised because it was a considerably oft-referenced situation, the same plot point was criticized by online fans who regarded it as cliché. Glen Morgan acknowledged, "We took some heat for [it] [....] On the Internet people would say, 'Couldn't they come up with something more original?'" (X-Files Confidential, p. 95)
- Cinefantastique (Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, pp. 61 & 63) gave this outing 3 and a half out of 4 stars. The magazine described it as "a riveting episode with [...] [a] notable turn by a guest star," referring to William Sanderson. The magazine further commented, "'Blood' works so well because of the complete ambiguity of the story. Whatever and whoever are the malevolent forces, they are unseen and unknown. The final scene reinforces the enigma with a sudden, stomach-churning twist that is one of the best X-Files endings ever, doubly affecting because it leaves not only the audience, but Mulder, baffled and frightened."
- The X-Files Magazine (The X-Files Magazine Volume 1, Issue 3, p. 32) considered this "a genuinely disturbing story firmly rooted in real life."
- In his reference book Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium and The Lone Gunmen, writer Robert Shearman rated this installment 3 out of 5 stars. He critiqued, "I don't think this really works. Which is a pity, because it's a clever idea, and a witty script. The problem may just be that it's too complex a premise to be explored within a single episode – the notion of a town being subjected to controlled paranoic bouts of violence is brilliant [....] But without the space to analyse it, the revelations (even for The X-Files) are illogical and forced, and any sense of plot progression is abandoned in favour of set pieces. And the set pieces are great. There's something not only disturbing but very funny about seeing people being dispassionately urged to commit murder by the electronic panels of microwave ovens and cash dispensers. The problem is that they're all the same set piece. There's something wrong with the structure of a story when you begin to realise that any of [...] these scenes [...] could be the precredit teaser. They all have the same purpose, and much the same effect. And the only reason we focus upon Edward Funsch is because he's the guy we're going to watch go to pieces in the final act; however, since it takes forty minutes of screen time before Mulder even meets him, you get the nagging sense that we could be following any one of these storylines [....] Minute by minute there is tons to enjoy [....] But what we've got here is a whole string of first acts, and then a garbled final act which for some reason takes its signature from Vertigo. It's disjointed and not a little frustrating. It's odd, too, that Mulder and Scully seem to be openly working together, without restrictions or the need for secrecy. In the atmosphere of sustained paranoia this episode generates so well, it might have given the story a bit more focus had it tied in with our heroes also being forced to look behind their backs every moment. You can't write off an episode which so clearly wants to criticise the blandness of American small town values, the insidious way in which advertising controls our lives, and gun culture. It has heart and intelligence. I could only have wished for a bit more narrative and coherence."
- The final transmission in this episode, the only one Mulder sees, served as the final shot in The X-Files' blooper reel. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 168)
- From this episode onwards, David Nutter became a producer on The X-Files.
Cast and Characters
- William Sanderson as Edward Funsch
- John Cygan as Sheriff Spencer
- Kimberly Ashlyn Gere as Bonnie McRoberts
- George Touliatos as Larry Winter
- Bruce Harwood as John Fitzgerald Byers
- Dean Haglund as Richard Langly
- Tom Braidwood as Melvin Frohike
- Gerry Rousseau as Mechanic
- Andre Daniels as Harry