Ed Araquel/Fox
Jeff Jensen
February 02, 2016 AT 04:32 AM EST

The X-Files

type
TV Show
Current Status
In Season
tvpgr
TV-14
seasons
1
performer
Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny, Mitch Pileggi
author
Chris Carter
broadcaster
Fox
genre
Drama, Mystery, Sci-fi

I loved “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you didn’t. The premise of Mulder questioning his faith in all things freaky and his career as a paranormal muckraker seemed as bogus as a jackalope coming one week after “Founder’s Mutation” depicted him fully engaged in old crusades. Since the episode was mostly about Mulder beating back his version of mid-life identity crisis (alt title: “How Spooky Got His Groove Back”), Scully got short shrift despite a handful of small, fun beats. (“I’m immortal,” she quipped to Mulder, winking at a fan theory.) She served as midwife to Mulder’s spiritual rebirth, flipping the one female stereotype she often plays, the wet-blanket scold, with another. Scully’s most memorable moment came when she appeared in the sex fantasy of our Monster of the Week, an ancient horny reptilian infected with an ugly masculinity, existential crisis and the life-sapping banality of seersucker-suited modernity. I imagined a nation of ‘shippers beholding the spectacle of Scully getting her freak on with that piece of strange and fuming: That should be Mulder, dammit!

Truth is, Guy Mann was so well realized he threatened to upstage both Mulder and Scully as the story progressed. The episode also did that thing where the show separates Mulder and Scully for long stretches to investigate different aspects of the mystery, a maneuver that denies us the pleasure of their shared company and defies the expectation of anyone who thought the revival (now half over!) would be scratching the ‘ship itch nonstop. Oh, for an epic sequence that would strand the pair on a rock in the middle of a lake and make them connect with each other, just as the show did in the season 3 gem “Quagmire” (which this episode flicked at in various ways; see: Queequeg). Toss in a choice or two worthy of a critical headshake, like the dubious inclusion of a crack-addicted transgender prostitute played for laughs and murky thematics, and there’s an argument to be made that this fable about estrangement from society, nature, other, and self was itself slightly out of step with the audience, with the revival’s narrative flow, and with the times.

But I won’t be making it. Have I completed the due diligence of acknowledging the perceived, possible, and certifiable flaws of this offbeat outing? I hope so because it’s time get busy crushing on it. “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” left me as giddier as a stoner huffing spray paint in the pale moonlight. It was a worthy addition to my favorite X-Files subset, the Darin Morgan episode, and the first installment in the revival truly worthy of the franchise.

Morgan, who broke into The X-Files playing one of the show’s iconic monsters, The Flukeman, is best known to fans for authoring a quartet of adventurous scripts marked by twists, humor, and philosophical ideas that also knowingly played with or commented upon Mulder and Scully, all while remaining entertaining X-Files episodes. He won a writing Emmy for “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” and his success inspired the series to get more risky with tone and storytelling, from “The Post-Modern Prometheus” (written and directed by Chris Carter) to “Hollywood A.D.” (written and directed by David Duchovny; it was the one where Hollywood made a sci-fi/horror/comedy riff on Mulder and Scully starring Garry Shandling and Téa Leoni) to assorted scripts by Vince Gilligan, who became the designated “funny X-Files writer” after Morgan left. (Check out Darren Franich’s interview with Morgan here.) 

Morgan’s final credited script was my favorite X-Files episode ever, “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.” The episode was dense with Morganishness: a fixation with storytelling and death, the Rashomon-esque nature of truth and experience, the need for connection, pessimism about human nature offset by grace for it. In a Morgan episode, the “truth” that’s “out there” to find or create is meaning that may or may not exist. “Jose Chung’s” wasn’t technically a mythology episode, but it was a comic comment on X-Files mythology* in a heady, heartfelt story about our need for mythology.

“Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” compliments “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” by making bittersweet comedy, philosophical complaint, and meta-commentary out of the show’s other modality. It was a Monster-of-the-Week episode that deconstructed certain metaphors common to the sci-fi and horror genres, specifically that of the alienated outsider. Guy Mann, a gentle but still troubled version of the “underground man” archetype, crippled by self-awareness and warped by modernity, could be used as a case study in an Existentialism 101 class that includes Dostoevsky, Camus, Wright, Sartre, Hesse, and, of course, Lee/Kirby. It cleverly subverted some of the show’s problematic perspectives — the romance with conspiracy thinking; the allegory for religious faith — and just as cleverly reorganized them around better, sounder ideas, like wonder for the natural world (still a treasure trove of secrets) and empathy for the strangers among us. And yet, it was sugared with a sincere, knowing love for the show: the presence of comedian/actor/podcasting X-Files fan Kumail Nanjiani; Mulder’s ring-tone is The X-Files theme song (I’m guessing it came from that “Hollywood A.D.” flick); and the grave marker for Kim Manners, the late, great X-Files director, whose credits include Morgan’s first script, “Humbug,” the aforementioned “Quagmire,” and the show’s most delightfully disturbing hour, “Home.” The underlying message: the Monster-of-the-Week episodes really were the best, weren’t they? To paraphrase that headstone: “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” kicked it in the ass.

*When “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’” aired, I remember being so satisfied by Morgan’s take on the alien conspiracy that I wanted to believe the show was slyly using this winky lark to clarify what was already, by the end of season 3, a pretty muddy bit of business. Without spoiling the twists, Morgan presented a version of the conspiracy that was wholly the project of evil human beings, not a collaborative effort with colonizing EBEs. I bring this up because it appears Carter has basically adopted this perspective on the mythology for the revival. “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” really does it explain it all! When Fox releases the revival on DVD, they should include the episode as a prologue.

NEXT: The Mystery of Missing Episodes, or: Why does the “I Want To Believe” poster belong to Scully?

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