"Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man" 4x7
Written by Glen Morgan
Directed by James Wong
Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.
- Salman Rushdie, “One Thousand Days in a Balloon”
People have a tendency to want to fit “Musings” within the mytharc; treating it as solid fact and trying to use it as a spring board for a show timeline - but that isn’t really how this episode works. Not only because, as is often the case with many X-Files episodes, it is left up to each of us individually to decide what is “true” or not - but because the events that happen are not really the vocal point of the episode so much as defining the function of the Cigarette Smoking Man as a character is.
Upon its initial airing some fans were distraught over learning about CSM’s past, believing the episode tarnishes his mysterious ways - but what do we actually learn about the Smoking Man? Frankly we learn nothing. Or rather we the audience are simply reinforced in how we already understand the character (up to this point in the series), that the Cigarette Smoking Man is the void of a man. But as previously stated this is a reinforcement of what we already knew, subconsciously at the very least; after all he doesn’t even have a name - and it is very telling that in this episode which is supposedly a tell-all history on the character we still do not learn it by the end.
What we do learn is that along with not having a name CSM doesn’t have a past either, he has no background. We discover that the Smoking Man grew up a orphan shuffling from one place to another before winding up in the army. From there we see him do many things, many horrible yet amazing things; the episode weaving his life in a very Forrest Gump like tale (complete with a biting “life is like a box of chocolates” monologue). CSM is present for many important turning points in recent history and like the character Forrest Gump he is present for them because he is (Forrest unknowingly, CSM knowingly) the catalyst for them. Unlike Forrest Gump though the Smoking Man’s story all builds up towards a punch line.
The joke is built around the notion that although the Smoking Man is busy writing history he much rather be writing stories. Humorously he can’t get a spy story published even with his very real experience and knowledge on the subject. This comic irony reaches its highest point when the Cigarette Smoking Man finally gets his tale printed but at the coast of getting a taste of his own medicine as his story’s ending has been re-written by the hands of some unseen all powerful editor. This is doubly amusing if we take another step back and remember we’re sitting on our sofa watching a crafted tale.
The last line of dialogue in the episode (“I can kill you whenever I please… but not today”) is uttered by the Smoking Man as he spares Frohike’s life. It is said as a reference to the original ending of his story and it is the accumulation of a rather playful notion that has been building up throughout the hour.
I think that it is safe to say that a clue into the overall intent of “Musigns of a Cigarette Man” is in the name of the magazine CSM’s story is eventually published in. Roman a’Clef is a genre were a story intertwines fact with fiction. Typically such stories are based on the authors own life and experiences with names, settings, and events altered; often times the main goal for a personal Roman a’Clef piece is for a author to attempt at recapturing accurate emotions over accurate details (if you go back and re-watch the episode it is interesting to note that JFK’s assassination lacks emotion [the history] were as CSM sitting down alone to type does not [the story]).
Of course CSM has the power to kill Frohike but, like with the majority of his life, what he does not have is the power to talk about it. Cancer Man is completely fictitious; from our perspectives as viewers of a television series and then even within the confines of the narrative space the series occupies. He has no name, he has no past, there is no record of his existence, and his one attempt at trying to express himself is foiled.
His purpose in life, as is his purpose on the show, is to appear and have some kind of affect for others to bounce off of. He has no say in the matter from either perspective, as a person or as a character. All he does is fit into a larger story - one that doesn’t ever actually concern him but which he propels along.
He isn’t just a smoking man, he is smoke.