Written by Chris Carter
Directed by David Nutter
Air Date: November 1, 1996
Guest Stars: Chris Ellis, Robin Gammell
Opening Quote: "I smell blood and an era of prominent mad men" W.H. Auden
"Gehenna" explores a more amorphous form of evil - that of the sinister corporation. Inspired the Tokyo Subway Attacks that occurred in March of 1995, "Gehenna" examines a death cult doing work on behalf of a weapons corporation. While the ambitious premise is slight at times, the episode does a good job of developing Frank Black as a character and introduces new members of "the group."
The cold open depicts a group of young men involved in what looks like a hazing ritual at an abandoned warehouse. The victim is under the influence of hallucinogenics in what appears to be an animal or demonic attack brought on by a hallucination. Shot in a hypnotic style, the opening suggests a supernatural mystery.
Called to San Francisco, Frank and Peter Watts (O' Quinn) discover evidence of victims being burned alive at the abandoned factory. Another member of the group is also introduced, Mike Atkins (Gammell), a former mentor of Frank's from his FBI days. Forensic evidence leads to an immigrant family from Chechnya whose son was identified as a victim. The young man had joined a doomsday cult fronted by a company that employed him as a telemarketer.
"I've always believed that evil is born in a cold heart and a weak mind."
The telemarketing room looks like a Fascist nightmare, all the men all dressed alike with short haircurs. In search of direction and identity they're being used to sell cosmetic products as Orwellian slogans flash on a projected screen that recalls the "brainwashing scene" from the 1974 film The Parallax View. If anyone tries to leave the cult they'll face execution inside an "industrial microwave." Foregoing the two week notice may not be a bad idea.
On the pre-google internet search Frank discovers "Gehenna Industries" are stockpiling weapons at the abandoned factory, a variety of chemical and biological devices that will purportedly launch doomsday. Atkins goes to the factory and almost dies in the microwave before authorities arrives at just the right time. Although the threat's been neutralized, Frank believes they've only scratched the surface of a much larger plot.
The episode also followed up on the Polaroids Frank received from a stalker. Atkins doesn't see an imminent threat, explaining the purpose was simply to terrorize Frank, which Frank agrees was successful. Out of fear, Frank asked "Bletch" to keep an eye on Catherine and Jordan while he's gone. Smitrovich and Gallagher have a warm scene discussing Frank's anxiety about protecting his family.
"Gehenna" is a strong second episode that expands on the ideas introduced in the Pilot, specifically its close exploration on the layers of evil in the modern world. Themes of doomsday and death cults recruiting disaffected young men also foreshadowed the idea of the culturally lost young white men who act out with violence, ideal marks for terrorist and hate groups.