We know the ratings for Fox's short-lived X-Files spinoff The Lone Gunmen were bad, but this is ridiculous. Six months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks March 4, 2001, to be exact Gunmen premiered with an episode featuring a terrorist plot to fly a commercial airliner into the World Trade Center. The climactic sequence actually shows the plane heading into one of the Twin Towers, but at the last minute, it's pulled upward and just misses the building.
Shockingly, this horrifying bit of foreshadowing was never widely reported until Thursday, when industry newsletter The Myers Report broke the story. How is it that virtually no one remembered this post 9/11? "I know! That's what I've been wondering," marvels Frank Spotnitz, who along with Vince Gilligan and John Shiban wrote the episode. "I thought, 'Nobody noticed!' I guess so few people saw the show. But it's strange too because that was the pilot and the ratings were actually quite good for [that episode], and yet, we didn't hear anything."
Myers Report columnist Ed Martin who was tipped off about the horrific parallel by a friend wrote that "this seems to be collective amnesia of the highest order. The final act of the Gunmen pilot, which seemingly made no impact last year, now contains some of the most deeply disturbing images ever created for an entertainment program." (And having just viewed the episode again, he's not exaggerating.)
"I woke up on September 11 and saw it on TV and the first thing I thought of was The Lone Gunmen," recalls Spotnitz. "But then in the weeks and months that followed, almost no one noticed the connection.
"What's disturbing about it to me is, you think as a fiction writer that if you can imagine this scenario, then the people in power in the government who are there to imagine disaster scenarios can imagine it, too."
Unlike the actual attacks, there was no suicide hijacker in the Gunmen climax; the terrorists attempted to remotely steer the plane into the skyscraper. "Now, ironically, one of the things [the government is] talking about to prevent [another 9/11] is the ability of terrorists to remotely pilot planes," Spotnitz says, "which was another element of our story. It's weird."