The agents become trapped in a forest where thirty loggers strangely disappeared, with the same fate eerily approaching them.
FBI Special Agents Scully and Mulder are called in to investigate the disappearance of a logging crew. They travel to the remote logging area in Washington with a U.S. Forest Ranger and a representative of the logging company. On the journey they fall foul of an eco-terrorist's caltrops and have to abandon the car and travel on foot to the cabin. On arrival none of the loggers are in sight; an investigation of the camp finds all the vehicles sabotaged.
Scully, Mulder, and the ranger travel to the woods and find a large cocoon of some sort; on further investigation, they find a fully desiccated human body inside. On returning to the camp, they find the logging company representative has caught one of the eco-terrorists, who tells them all that some strange bugs have taken the other loggers. These green bugs only come out at night so the group decides to stay inside with the lights on. The bioluminescent bugs cover the house but for some reason do not attack in the light.
The next day the group finds a centuries old tree with a strange green ring scarred deep in its core. The eco-terrorist says that the disappearances and deaths began after the loggers felled that tree. The obnoxious and disbelieving logging representative decides to escape by returning to the Ranger's truck, but he doesn't make it in time before nightfall; the bugs swarm and cocoon him inside the truck. Mulder attempts to fix the smashed communication radio, but is only able to transmit messages, not knowing if they are being received by anyone. The next morning, the eco-terrorist convinces Mulder to let him take a car battery and gas to rescue his friends camped a valley over and promises to return for Mulder, Scully, and the Ranger the following day. He claims that his friends had only 15–20 hours of fuel left when he left them to find supplies at the loggers' camp. When the ranger discovers what Mulder has done, he points out that the eco-terrorist took the last can of fuel, so the three huddle in the cabin that night hoping the fuel will last until day break. Fortunately the generator splutters to a stop just as the sun rises.
The three make a break for the Ranger's car where they are met by the returning eco-terrorist in his Jeep; he says his friends didn't make it. They make it most of the way down the mountain but in their hurry fall victim to the caltrops again. When the eco-terrorist leaves the car to investigate, he is swarmed by the bugs, as it is now already dark. Entering the car, the insects overwhelm Mulder, Scully and the Ranger and they too are cocooned. However, luckily a bio-hazard rescue team arrives while they're still alive, apparently having received Mulder's transmissions.
At the end, the three are confined to a secure quarantine facility in Washington to recuperate. When Mulder asks the head doctor what will happen if they fail to eradicate the insects with the planned controlled burns and pesticides, the doctor replies, "That is not an option, Mr. Mulder."
- The creature mentioned by Mulder and Spinney in the episode is a 'brain eating amoeba' or Naegleria fowleri amoeba, which does indeed live in Spirit Lake and has likely been affected by the Mount St. Helens eruption, though not in the way Mulder implies. N. fowleri amoebae live in warm freshwater environments, from lakes to hot springs, and in 1991 was observed living in Spirit Lake. Rather than being a mutation as Mulder suggests, though, it's thought that they simply always lived in the lake and the eruption simply made conditions right for them to multiply. If inhaled by a person they migrate to the brain and feed on brain tissue with a sucking apparatus, though 'sucking a man's brain out' is perhaps a stretch.
- In the writing of this episode, Executive Producer Chris Carter was influenced by his interest in tree-ring dating, which he had first studied in a course he had taken at college. According to Carter, the episode was not specifically designed to present a message about conservation. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 146) He clarified, "This came right from my college biology class, where we studied the reading of tree rings." (X-Files Confidential, p. 71)
- Chris Carter had always wondered, if a tree is thousands of years old, why it couldn't be a time capsule for something which had existed that far back in history. ("Chris Carter Talks About Season One Episodes: Darkness Falls", TXF Season 1 DVD special features) He related, "I thought, 'Let's go to the woods and cut open one of these big trees [....] What if there are these bugs that escape and hold everyone hostage?'" (X-Files Confidential, p. 71) Carter realized the episode's X-file could be the insects. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 57) He concluded, "And so, I wanted to do something that had cocoons and nests, and I wanted to also do a bottle show, which is a show where you take the characters up into the woods and keep them there for a certain amount of time and pit them against each other." ("Chris Carter Talks About Season One Episodes: Darkness Falls", TXF Season 1 DVD special features)
- This episode's script went through five drafts. These were dated 18th, 23rd, 24 and 25 February as well as 2 March 1994.
- A lot of this episode was mostly filmed in two separate forests. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), pp. 46 & 47) "One of the trickiest or hardest parts of doing this episode," reported Director Joe Napolitano, "was that while we had to film in the woods, we also had to find places the crew could have access to. We ended up going way, way up into the woods, really pretty far from where we wanted to go." (TV Zone, issue 80, p. 20) Much of the episode was filmed in Lighthouse Park, West Vancouver. This wooded area was the location where the logging cabin and work camp were represented. However, Seymour Demonstration Forest was also used, for the sawmill office and logging road. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), pp. 46 & 47)
- Despite having intended for this installment to be a bottle show, Chris Carter found it actually "turned out to be one of our hardest shows." He recollected, "The first day of that episode, I woke up and looked out the window and there was a blizzard and I thought they were never going to make it; that nothing would match from that day on." (X-Files Confidential, p. 71)
- The distances involved in traveling to the relatively far-away forest locations used for this episode made the shoot, in Joe Napolitano's words, "much harder." He clarified, "Where we wanted to shoot eight pages of script a day we could only do six because we had all that extra travel time." (TV Zone, issue 80, p. 20)
- Because the only way of accessing the work camp was a dead-end road which permitted only single-lane traffic, only essential vehicles – such as generators, a camera truck, as well as first aid and craft service vehicles – were allowed, on-site. Consequently, valuable production time was spent transporting crew and equipment from a public parking lot 200 yards away. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 47)
- For much of the filming, production was made difficult by heavy rains and was frequently delayed. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 146) There are varying accounts as to how long the scenes which are set in Olympic National Forest took to film. Co-Executive Producer R.W. Goodwin stated, "Out of eight days of shooting, six of them were in the forest." (X-Files Confidential, p. 71) Location Manager Todd Pittson claimed the filming of the Olympic National Forest scenes took "eight days and eight nights, punctuated by only one afternoon of intermittent sunshine." (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), pp. 46–47)
- Regardless of how long the shoot took, the production crew was in agreement as to the harshness of the weather conditions. Chris Carter found the shoot "miserable." (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 146) "It was the worst. It rained almost every day [....] There was one location that we were going to and they were worried that the dam was going to break," stated Joe Napolitano, with a laugh. (TV Zone, issue 80, p. 20) Jason Beghe agreed, "Unfortunately, the conditions for filming couldn't have been worse. It was raining, snowing and freezing up there, even more so for someone like myself just coming up from California." (TV Zone Special #21, p. 36) R.W. Goodwin complained, "It was the dead of winter [....] There were terrible rainstorms and mud, and it became a logistical nightmare [....] It was like trying to see through a waterfall." (X-Files Confidential, p. 71) Todd Pittson remembered, "The rains pelted us in horizontal sheets." (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 46) Co-Executive Producer Glen Morgan concurred, "It was very tough on the crew. No one wanted to go through that again." (X-Files Confidential, pp. 71 & 72)
- Furthermore, the production team was restricted by lack of light in the scenes shot in forested areas, such as by the trees blocking sunlight. "We really couldn't do anything about that," said Joe Napolitano, "because whenever you put up a light you have to be able to protect everybody because of the electricity." (TV Zone, issue 80, p. 20)
- Some footage scheduled for the first day of filming was hard to set up. "I had a whole sequence in which I was going to use a steadicam to film a scene in the woods. It was raining so hard and the ground was so soft that not only couldn't we use a steadicam, we also couldn't even lay dolly tracks to mount a camera. We were sort of faced with the problem of, 'What do I do because I can't move the camera?' which is very X-Files, trying to keep the camera moving and making things exciting. We had a camera crane, so we put that up in the air and sort of ad-libbed the scene and made it work with what we had." (TV Zone, issue 80, p. 20)
- The weather was so extreme it temporarily stalled production. For instance, valuable production time in Lighthouse Park was taken up with standing around in the deluge, waiting for Sound Mixer Michael Williamson to record vital dialogue, which was being made inaudible by the intense din of raindrops. This predicament paled in comparison with the extremity of dismal weather which the crew encountered while filming in Seymour Demonstration Forest. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), pp. 46 & 47) Recalling this part of the shoot, R.W. Goodwin clarified, "At one point I just sent the company home because it was raining so hard." (X-Files Confidential, p. 71) Line Producer Joseph Patrick Finn noted, "We probably lost over half a day." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 57) The break from filming was early in the day. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 47)
- Although the dire weather conditions delayed shooting in Seymour Demonstration Forest, the crew made a concerted effort to carry on with the filming. Todd Pittson offered, "First assistant director Vladimir Stefoff [....] tossed his water-logged walkie-talkie on the ground in disgust as director and crew huddled in groups trying to figure out exactly what we could shoot given the conditions [....] At 9 a.m. it was so dark that day was effectively rendered night, at least where director of photography John Bartley's light meter readings were concerned." Key Grip Al Campbell concluded that he hoped the weather at least stayed consistent, since he and his crew were in no mood to have to match a sunny day with the current foul weather. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), pp. 47–48)
- For one scene involving a jeep driving down a dirt road, the location was changed. This was due to the production crew being unable to transport the film trucks to the original location selected. "We had to sort of pick ourselves up and shoot someplace else," recalled Joe Napolitano. (TV Zone, issue 80, p. 20)
- One scene involving Larry Moore required multiple re-shoots. "There's one scene where Larry Moore is talking to this big guy and I was supposed to say something like, 'Shut up, Bill. You're causing too much of a ruckus,' but I just couldn't remember my lines," admitted Jason Beghe. "I tried my best to save the scene and ended up saying, 'Well, you're just a big fat liar.' We were trying to make it work but we'd end up laughing so much that they had to stop the camera and start filming the scene all over again." (TV Zone Special #21, p. 36)
- Production on this episode wrapped later than initially expected, due to the hilarity involved. Explained Jason Beghe, "We were cracking up so much that we wound up going over our filming schedule by a day-and-a-half." (TV Zone Special #21, p. 36)
- Various inserts and pick-up shots had to be added later to compensate for the unrelenting weather. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 146) Some of the footage including the wood mites was reshot too. Of the latter style of shots, Visual Effects Producer Mat Beck noted, "We had to go back and do some reshoots because of the way the shadows played." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 57)
- Mat Beck tried, for a while, to digitally create the electric-looking energy field effect of thousands of green iridescent insects swarming. The illusion was eventually achieved by David Gauthier setting fire to some wool and filming the sparks, footage which was then digitally manipulated by Beck to find the exact look he wanted. (The X-Files Magazine Volume 1, Issue 15, p. 29 & The X-Files Magazine Volume 1, Issue 20, p. 48) Most of the green mite effects were added in post-production, synchronized to the movements of the actors. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 146) Co-Producer Paul Rabwin noted, "It was an effects-heavy show." (X-Files Confidential, p. 72)
- This episode has numerous similarities to "Ice". These include: Mulder and Scully go to a remote location where they are pitted against the elements as well as each other and/or the guest stars; someone other than Mulder and Scully is killed; one or both of the agents are put in peril and they work together to save either themselves, each other, or designated supporting characters (or to stay alive until help arrives); and evidence is destroyed before Mulder can return to obtain a better look.
- Chris Carter was ultimately pleased with this episode. "I think it turned out to be one of the most successful episodes," he declared, "because it was a good idea and I think the special effects, which were these bugs [....] really sort of stole the show." ("Chris Carter Talks About Season One Episodes: Darkness Falls", TXF Season 1 DVD special features)
- R.W. Goodwin was likewise happy with this installment. "It all came out in the end," he said, "and the episode was pretty scary." (X-Files Confidential, p. 71)
- This episode achieved a Nielsen household rating of 8.0, with an audience share of 14. This means that roughly 8.0 percent of all television-equipped households, and 14 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. It was viewed by 7.5 million households. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 248)
- Although Chris Carter had not written the episode as a conscious attempt to push a message about conservation, it was nevertheless honored at the Environmental Media Awards, where it won the "TV Drama" award in 1994.
- Cinefantastique (Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, pp. 50 & 57) rates this installment 2 and a half out of 4 stars. "'Darkness Falls' is a daring episode," comments the magazine. "It is also a flawed one, in that Mulder and Scully and their companions all seem to have forgotten some basic rules of survival, like bringing matches in case you need a fire to ward off the hour's X-File [....] The boldness of 'Darkness Falls' comes in its willingness to take risks with audience perception of its characters [....] The forest itself is a character in this episode; the tall trees take on an eerie life of their own, and you get the feeling that no one is going to survive this hour, even though you know Mulder and Scully, at least, will." The magazine goes on to cite Scully angrily criticizing Mulder about having trusted Doug Spinney as "an excellent scene" and describes the penultimate scene – showing Mulder and Scully fighting for their lives amongst swarming wood mites – as "an extraordinarily powerful image," additionally terming Jason Beghe's portrayal of Larry Moore "a solid performance."
- In his reference book Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium and The Lone Gunmen, writer Robert Shearman scored this episode 4 and a half out of 5 stars. Regarding this outing, Shearman critiqued, "[Compared to 'Ice'] it has a paranoia and a tension all of its own [....] [It's] a tight little horror movie [....] It's not subtle, but it's not supposed to be. Instead this is a masterful exercise in tension [....] Wisely not too much is made of [the episode's conservation theme] [....] There are many great sequences here, but the best must be Scully's horrified fascination as she watches the unstoppable predators pour down the walls into their hut – right before she freaks at realizing that she too is covered with them. There's such a grim inevitability about our heroes' demise, that the ending can't help but disappoint a little [....] It's still shocking to see Mulder and Scully lose the fight against the monsters for once [....] As effectively as it can, 'Darkness Falls' has shown Mulder and Scully die [....] It's easy, too, to criticize the special effects – the insects aren't that convincing – but there's still something very creepy about seeing people attacked by green dots, buzzing away at them like angry static."
Cast and Characters
- Although the actors in this episode were often soaking wet during its filming, one redeemable factor was that Jason Beghe, a friend of Mulder actor David Duchovny since childhood, had been cast as Ranger Larry Moore. Beghe's presence helped lighten the mood around the set by making the task of filming the episode something of a reunion and thus less of an ordeal for the cast. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 146) The actor himself reminisced, "We had a ball [...] All we did was laugh the entire time [...] Being on the program was like working with your family." (TV Zone Special #21, p. 36)