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The X-Files – Home (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

Home is a big one.

It is an episode that is frequently ranked among the best that the show ever produced. It is an episode that many viewers remember quite clearly, even if they only saw it once years earlier. It was the first episode of the show to receive a viewer discretion warning on initial broadcast and was famously never repeated on the Fox Network. “It had one airing and then it was banned,” writer Glen Morgan quipped. “Jim and I don’t get rerun money for that.” It is also one of the rare episodes of The X-Files that is not explicitly paranormal in its subject matter, instead wandering into the macabre and the taboo.

Here there be monsters...

Here there be monsters…

Home also marks the return of writers Glen Morgan and James Wong to the series, following the cancellation of Space: Above and Beyond. With the debut of Millennium looming, the production team on The X-Files was under pressure. Fox had convinced Morgan and Wong to return to Ten Thirteen in return for producing a pilot for The Notorious Seven, one the duo’s long-gestating ideas. Morgan and Wong would produce four episodes of the fourth season of The X-Files and three episodes of the first season of Millennium.

Home is the first of their four scripts for the fourth season of The X-Files, and it sets the mood quite well. Returning from Space: Above and Beyond, the two seemed to be bristling with an electric energy and a palpable frustration. While not all four scripts are unqualified masterpieces, they each serve to push The X-Files further than it has gone before. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Home is that it is the most conventional of these four explosive scripts.

The mother of all problems...

The mother of all problems…

Morgan and Wong had helped to define The X-Files. Writing the show’s first stand-alone monster show, Squeeze, the duo created one of the series’ most iconic monsters. They introduced the character of Skinner in Tooms. They gave William B. Davis his first big character moments as the Cigarette-Smoking Man, in Tooms and One Breath. When Chris Carter declined to write the show’s second season premiere, Morgan and Wong wrote Little Green Men.

The pair had written some of the most loved episodes of the first two seasons – Squeeze, Tooms, Ice, Beyond the Sea and One Breath all come to mind. There is a reason that Fox had taken a chance on the pair to green-light Space: Above and Beyond, even if it ultimately didn’t work out. Morgan and Wong would be chosen to run Millennium in its second season, when Chris Carter had to focus on The X-Files: Fight the Future. Morgan and Wong were a major part of what had made The X-Files such a beloved and iconic show.

Washed out...

Washed out…

And yet, despite that, their return to The X-Files was not under the best of circumstances. As Paula Veritas noted in a piece for Cinefantastique:

Angry at their treatment by the network, Morgan and Wong thought about jumping ship to another network, but struck a bargain instead: they would spend a half season on both The X-Files and Chris Carter’s new show Millennium, in return for 20th Century-Fox producing the pilot of The Notorious, a show they had wanted to do for nearly seven years.

Morgan and Wong have gone on-record about how crappily Fox treated Space: Above and Beyond, and it is understandable that returning to The X-Files may not have been their preferred option.

Peacock smash!

Peacock smash!

Indeed, looking at the four episodes that the pair produced, it seems like Morgan and Wong were not overjoyed to be returning to The X-Files after their time away. Both Home and Never Again portray characters stuck in profoundly dysfunctional relationships. If their return to The X-Files represented something of a homecoming for Morgan and Wong, Home immediately makes it clear that “home” is not always a pleasant place. In their final script for the show, Never Again, even the Mulder and Scully dynamic has become toxic after Scully fails to break away.

If Darin Morgan’s scripts for the third season seemed to want to “break” the show, Morgan and Wong go even further in the fourth season. Mulder is confronted by memories of a past life he can never reclaim in The Field Where I Died, reflecting a deep melancholy for a past that can never be recaptured. Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man aims to blow up the mythology even more than Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”, reducing the show’s central narrative thread to a cruel punchline.

What's lurking under your bed?

What’s lurking under your bed?

There is some suggestion that the return of Morgan and Wong to The X-Files was the result of some horse-trading on all sides, with Morgan and Wong working quite hard to take care of the people who had worked with them on their cancelled show:

Carter did manage to secure the brief return of the show’s ‘dream team’, Glen Morgan and James Wong, albeit with conditions. “Basically the understanding was that we were going to do four shows early on to get the staff squared away,” says Morgan. “I said [to Chris], ‘I’m doing four shows and I’m putting all our Space: Above and Beyond actors in ’em’, and he said, ‘Okay’.”

In fact, the original plan had been to feature three of the male leads from Space: Above and Beyond as the three brothers in Home. Ultimately, the evolution of the script made that unworkable. Nevertheless, Space: Above and Beyond veteran Tucker Smallwood does have a significant guest role.

Stepping up to bat...

Stepping up to bat…

Working on Space: Above and Beyond, Morgan and Wong had largely missed the third season of The X-Files. Given how radically the show had changed in their absence, there was an understandable disconnect on their return:

“It felt a bit like, ‘You can’t go home again’, like we were left behind,” James Wong said. “We were out of it, by the time we came back. It was like, ‘Hey, guys, do you remember who we were?’ and people were almost too busy doing their own thing to take a moment to acknowledge that, I’m exaggerating a bit for effect, but it sort of felt like that when we came back, especially when we went to Vancouver. We wanted to pile on, the work early in the season and help out as much as we could before going into The Notorious. I had thought Darin’s scripts were fabulous. I thought some of those mythology shows were incredible. The production values, were: ‘my god!’ Some shows were disappointing. But you have that every season. The X-Files became a huge success after we left, so they knew what they were doing.”

There is a sense that Morgan and Wong did not entirely reintegrate with the writing staff. This is perhaps reflected in their scripts; none of the four episodes produced by the duo for the fourth season feels like a “generic” or “conventional” episode of The X-Files.

Buried truths...

Buried truths…

Having figured out the stories that they wanted to tell, Morgan and Wong decided to write Home as their first script. According to Wong in Back to Frank Black,they chose Home because it seemed the most conventional of the four ideas:

“We had four ideas for that season of The X-Files – or, actually, we were obligated to do four episodes – so we came out with four ideas and we thought about which one we should do first. We decided we should do Home because it’s the most straightforward, down-the-middle episode.”

The use of the word “obligated” suggests a somewhat tumultuous relationship behind the scenes. However, there is something quite ironic about Wong’s assertion that Home was “the most straightforward, down-the-middle episode.” He is probably correct, but it does less to imply that Home is an average script than to suggest how eccentric the other three episodes turned out.

Heading them off at the pass...

Heading them off at the pass…

The duo seem to have been quite surprised at the response that the episode generated, arguing that Home was not too far outside the show’s comfort zone:

“I have really been stung by that whole reaction,” Morgan admitted. “To me, the show must have become so big while we were away. I think a lot of people hadn’t been exposed to what we did when we were first on the show. They were going, ‘Oh my god, what are they doing?’ and we go, ‘But, this is what we always did!’ We had Squeeze, or episodes like Chris’ Irresistible, these shocking, horrible shows. Act four of Tooms I think is on a level with Home, so we were going, ‘What is all the ruckus about?’ We figured a lot of people don’t know that earlier stuff, or certain tones that we were going after then.”

While Morgan’s makes a great deal of sense, it is hard to believe that the duo had no idea of the controversy they would cause. Indeed, speaking on the series’ twentieth anniversary, Morgan cryptically revealed that “there was a point behind it and I’m glad we did it.”

Home, not so sweet home...

Home, not so sweet home…

To be fair, Morgan’s argument makes some sense, at least in terms of gore or violence. Squeeze and Tooms showcase copious amounts of bile; Die Hand Die Verletzt has a character eaten by a snake; F. Emasculata is high on body horror; Fresh Bones offers a hand bursting through Scully’s skin; 2shy features a villain who digests food outside his body; Firewalker features a creature that pops out of its victim’s throat; Ice is about worms living inside a human body. These are all horrific images that could induce nightmares.

It could be argued that no single image or visual from Home is demonstrably worse than any of these examples. However, the episode is downright nasty in its execution of horror. The teaser presents the murder of a young infant, only moments after a horrific birthing sequence. This sets the tone for the rest of the episode, and episode that culminates in the revelation that a disfigured paraplegic mother is inbreeding with her own mutated offspring.

Little bundle of terror...

Little bundle of terror…

While Home is undoubtedly heightened and exaggerated to the point of absurdity, it seems configured to push the right buttons. Although it appears more frequently in this era of cable television, incest is still considered a taboo subject on television. This despite the fact that inbreeding has a long and well-documented history among royal families, and the fact that there have been a number of documented and suspected instances of organised inbreeding in recent history.

Those are just the headline examples. Like any horrific and unspeakable trauma, a large amount of it happens under the radar, out of view. It is estimated that there are 15 million female survivors of incest in the United States. As with a lot of these sorts of crimes, incest is widely under-reported, suggesting that it happens more frequently than anybody would like to admit. It is a very primal and raw perversion of the family unit, something more grounded in reality.

A touching father-son/brother moment...

A touching father-son/brother moment…

It is easy to see why Home generated a more visceral and reflexive response than something like Squeeze or Die Hand Die Verletzt. Liver-eating mutants and demonic teachers are the fodder of nightmares, but this sort of stuff happens in the real world – albeit not to the same extent as we see with the Peacock family. It is raw and immediate, and it pokes at the audience with a stick. Even before we get into the heavier-than-usual violence, the subject matter makes the skin crawl.

The Peacock family are very much classic movie monsters. The make-up feels like something from a seventies or eighties schlock-fest like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Kim Manners has a great deal of fun with the atmospheric intro. However, at the heart of Home is a perversion that is unsettling and uncomfortable. The horrors unfolding in the Peacock house might be absurd and exaggerated, but cannot be completely dispelled. It seems like every kid grew up on a street or a town with a house like that.

They're here...

They’re here…

Indeed, Morgan and Wong have admitted that they took inspiration from a number of sources, including one memorable encounter in Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography, Stage by Stage. Chaplin had enjoyed a nice dinner with a family in England, before being invited to meet “Gilbert”:

A half a man with no legs, an oversized, blond, flat-shaped head, a sickening white face, a sunken nose, a large mouth and powerful muscular shoulders and arms, crawled from underneath the dresser. He wore flannel underwear with the legs of the garment cut off to the thighs, from which ten thick, stubby toes stuck out. The grisly creature could have been twenty or forty. He looked up and grinned, showing a set of yellow, widely spaced teeth. “Hey Gilbert, jump!” said the father and the wretched man lowered himself slowly, then shot up by his arms almost to the height of my head. “How do you think he’d fit in with a circus? The human frog!” I was so horrified I could hardly answer. However, I suggested the names of several circuses that he might write to. He insisted on the wretched creature going through further tricks, hopping, climbing and standing on his hands on the arms of a rocking chair. When at last he had finished I pretended to be most enthusiastic and complimented him on his tricks. “Good night, Gilbert,” I said before leaving, and in a hollow voice, and tongue-tied, the poor fellow answered: “Good night.”

The story suggests that there are oddities lurking in the most unlikely of places, even within what might appear to be a normal family home. One of the recurring themes of The X-Files is the idea that humanity itself monstrous or alien, that horrors and evils lurk inside us – like the identifiers Scully found in Herrenvolk or the black oil in Piper Maru. This just takes that idea and expands on it.

Mulder's not on the ball this week...

Mulder’s not on the ball this week…

The episode goes to great lengths to portray the Peacock family as animalistic. Scully describes the Peacock family as “a pack of animals.”  Mulder observes, “The eldest will move in to ensure the prey has been killed, and circling the prey signals to the others that it’s safe to approach.” The boys even seem to chew their food for their mother, mirroring the way that some animals will chew food for their young. “Mankind, absent its own creation of civilization, technology and information, regressed to an almost prehistoric state,” Mulder monologues.

Indeed, it is worth noting that incest is much less of a taboo among animals than it is among humans – inviting the viewer to wonder which was the original sin. Is this almost fevered inbreeding a result of their fixation on the past, or is their regression simply a result of their generations of inbreeding? It would seem to be a chicken-and-the-egg situation. The Peacock family are portrayed as so much a relic of the past that they have actually devolved into something less than human. Examining Sheriff Taylor’s body, Mulder muses, “They really went caveman on him.”

"Thank goodness we sent the guest star first..."

“Thank goodness we sent the guest star first…”

For their part, Morgan and Wong were really satisfied with the Peacock family. According to an interview with Back to Frank Black, the duo had considered bringing the Peacock family back for the second season of Millennium:

“We thought it would be a great Halloween sweeps episode,” reveals Wong. Morgan explains, “I approached Fox and said, ‘What if Frank Black came across the surviving members of the Peacock family?’ and Peter Roth said yes. So we started working that out, I checked the actor Karin Konoval’s availability, we were ready to go, and then the lobbyists in Washington for Fox or News Corp. or whoever it was called up and said, ‘Those characters never appear on television again!’ And so that was that.”

It is a shame, because that story might have helped to give the second season of Millennium to catch some popular attention or public interest. It would certainly have helped to more immediately and firmly define the second season as belonging to Wong and Morgan.

"You know, for a family that haven't seen Home Alone, they do a pretty good job of it..."

“You know, for a family that haven’t seen Home Alone, they do a pretty good job of it…”

One of the recurring themes of The X-Files is the idea that the quirky little spaces and communities are gradually being eroded by modernity. In Humbug, Blockhead mourned the passing of the circus freak – observing that modern society is trending more towards homogeneity. Quagmire celebrated the idea that places of mystery and magic still held out against the encroached forces of rationality and science. In Herrenvolk, Jeremiah Smith identified the threat to Earth not as “colonisation”, but as “hegemony.”

Home touches on the romance associated with small-town life. “Population of Home is only a few hundred,” Sheriff Taylor assures Mulder and Scully. “Everybody knows everybody, pretty much.” Mulder is drawn to the idea of “all day pick-up games out on the vineyard, ride your bikes down to the beach, eat bologna sandwiches. Only place you had to be on time was home for dinner. Never had to lock your doors. No modems, no faxes, no cell phones.” An idealised vision of small-town life.

Oh, mother...

Oh, mother…

The small town holds pride of place in the American consciousness. From Disneyland’s iconic “Main Street, USA” through to the paintings of Norman Rockwell, the small town is a quintessential American fantasy. It represents a break from the anonymity and claustrophobia associated with the big city, or the staged and managed beauty of suburbia. The small town is a delightful paradox; a largely fantastical construct that is appealing because it is so much more “real” and “genuine” than the alternatives.

Writing the preface to a collection of Rockwell’s paintings, US President Ronald Reagan conceded that the small town may have vanished from America, “yet the values that he cherished and celebrated – love of God and country, hard work, neighbourhood, and family – still give us strength, and will shape our dreams for decades to come.” It is a romantic sentiment, and it seems like Mulder and Sheriff Taylor would agree on it.

Quality family time...

Quality family time…

The small town is traditionally portrayed as a sheltered environment, one protected against the corruption of the outside world. The horrors of urban life are roundly rejected in the small town, where everybody cares for everybody else, and nothing truly harrowing ever happens. “I’ve seen and heard some of the sick and horrible things that go on outside my Home,” Sheriff Taylor tells Mulder and Scully. “At the same time, I knew we couldn’t stay hidden forever… that one day, the modern world would find us and… my home town would change forever.”

Vowing to assist Mulder and Scully in their investigation, Sheriff Taylor admits, “Now, I want to find whoever did this… but in doing so, I’d like it if the way things are around here didn’t have to change.” Of course, Sheriff Taylor is living in a fantasy. It wasn’t some outside force that murdered the baby found in that field. It was something nestled snugly at the heart of the idealised community, unquestioned and unchallenged for decades. The past is not as romantic as we would like to think. There never was a golden age.

Lighten the mood a little...

Lighten the mood a little…

Mulder fondly remembers an idealised home life, where he would play ball with his sister all day. However, any X-Files fan knows that Samantha was abducted as a young girl. Mulder’s parents divorced when he was young. In the years since, Mulder has had to confront the fact that his father chose to sacrifice Samantha, and that his mother always knew about that. Mulder’s idealised past is nothing but a fantasy that makes him feel better about himself, avoiding the truth.

Indeed, the horror of Home could be read as an extension of Mulder’s own family horror. It is a world in which innocent children are sacrificed by their parents for the greater good of the family unit. Burying a young infant out in a field may be more visceral than changing a name on some government paperwork, but the decisions made by the Peacock clan cannot help but evoke the horrific decisions made by Bill Mulder in the hopes of protecting his own family unit.

"Chase after the ball? You've got to be kidding!"

“Chase after the ball? You’ve got to be kidding!”

Sheriff Taylor is unwilling to confront the horrors at the heart of his community. He is an African-American sheriff of a small town; it seems unlikely he could have held that position unchallenged forty or fifty years earlier. As it stands, Sheriff Taylor and his wife end up brutally beaten to death by a long-established local family who refer to the Civil War as “the War of Northern Aggression.” It is an effective and brutal reminder of how easy it is to gloss over historical realities while constructing an idyllic fantasy.

After all, the Peacock family express their own nostalgic views. Like Sheriff Taylor, they also don’t want the local community to change. “They’ll be coming now,” the mother warns her sons. “We knew this day was going to happen. That they’d try to change the way things are. All we can do about changing things… is be ready for it… be ready for them. Let them know, this is our home and this is the way it’s going to stay.” It seems that at least the Peacocks are more honest with themselves about the past than Sheriff Taylor is.

Toilet humour...

Toilet humour…

As Todd Van Der Werff notes in his wonderful review of the episode for The AV Club, Home is a wonderful reiteration of show’s recurring motifs, capturing the sense that nineties America stood at a crossroads:

Just before he’s killed, Sheriff Taylor sits on his front step and looks out over the little town, talking about how he wants to take one last look before it all goes away, and it seems almost as much a sense of the death of the great, weird America that The X-Files so obsessively chronicled, the sub-communities within the larger community that were both separate from it and a part of it. The Peacocks have existed separately from the rest of the country since the Civil War, but the encroachment of the modern world has finally reached their door, and they react in the only way they know how: by lashing out. Home is spine-tingling, terrifying television, but it’s also something that’s harder to pin down. Mulder and Scully are our heroes, but they also represent the world that threatens to homogenize all of that weirdness. The eldest Peacock and his mother escape at episode’s end, to continue the Peacock way of life, but the abandoned country roads and weird little byways that they thrived on at one time are disappearing now. The world is better, but it is no longer as unknowable.

However, Home goes a great deal further than that. Morgan and Wong seem to have constructed the episode as a deconstruction of this sort of romance and nostalgia.

Off-base...

Off-base…

It is telling that the Peacock residence feels more like a graveyard than an idyllic country house. This is what the past actually looked like, Home seems to suggest. Forget your Norman Rockwell paintings or your romantic post cards. The front of the house is littered with damaged and broken things, wasted and rotting away. Farming instruments lie rusting in the sunlight. Even the house itself seems to be rotting and decaying. It is a relic from a bygone age, but in a rather literal way.

While Sheriff Taylor seems to suggest that Home is a paradise, the episode suggests otherwise. Far from being a haven for romantic small-town American values, it seems more like a dumping ground. The Peacock family has recovered an old 1959 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible – a “big American car”, to quote Mulder. The car was just dumped on the road by a woman passing through. “She ran out of gas and just left the car on the one-nineteen,” Deputy Barney explains. Even the Peacocks themselves chose to settle here after the Civil War, presumably to avoid the aftermath.

Their home is a sty...

Their home is a sty…

The episode dares to suggest that the erosion of these sorts of eccentric spaces – the shattering of the fantasies perpetuated by this sort of nostalgia – might actually be a good thing. The march of progress need not be horrific or terrible or tragic. Paul A. Cantor observes in Gilligan Unbound:

The X-Files usually is devoted to criticising modernity, but in Home, it pauses to consider the alternative, and for once ask: What would the world be like if modernisation and globalisation had never taken place, if people had simply remained within the confines of the family unit?

As such, Home feels like a subversion of some of the show’s key underlying assumptions. Not all advances are inherently and unequivocally good, but it is far too easy to dismiss legitimate and genuine progress in favour of romantic myth-making about an idealised (and non-existent) past. The modern world can be a terrible place, but the past was often worse.

An unwarranted search?

An unwarranted search?

Home makes it quite clear that the entire community is aware of what goes on with the Peacock family. Sheriff Taylor never actually articulates it, but he makes it quite clear that he knows why the family keep to themselves. “The Peacocks built that farm during the Civil War,” he explains. “It still has no electricity, no running water, no heat… they grow their own food, they raise their own pigs, the breed their own cows… raise and breed their own stock… if you get my meaning.”

There is a sense that the entire community is somehow complicit in what happened here. Everybody knew, even if they never said anything. Everybody just pretended that everything was okay, when it very clearly was not. People chose to tolerate a grotesque obscenity, just so long as it was perpetrated out of view. As long as the illusion of an idyllic small-town community was maintained, people could tolerate that creepy old shack down the road, the darkness at the edge of town.

It was a dark and stormy night...

It was a dark and stormy night…

As Sarah Stegall notes in her review of the episode, Home can be read as a scathing indictment of something much larger than the Peacock family, their own secrets serving as a microcosm of the sorts of unspoken truths that bind larger societies together:

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning play Buried Child, actor and playwright Sam Shepard uses the image of a child’s corpse unearthed in a family’s backyard to speak to us of buried hopes and fears, and the dark secrets that can hold a family together. Just as silence can bind family members in a net of conspiracy and oppression, so are the inarticulate and grotesque Peacock brothers of Home entangled in a hopeless web of silence, ignorance, and depravity.

Home seems to be a reminder that sinister conspiracies to bury uncomfortable truths (and the public acquiescence that makes these things possible) are not exclusively the realm of the government. It is a feature of any organised grouping, from the tightly-knit family unit to a small town to the entire country.

Oh, brother...

Oh, brother…

Writing in Poor Southern Whites as the Other in The X-Files, Grant Bain makes the point that Home isn’t just about one particular subset of Americana. The episode links the Peacocks a broad strata of Americana, as if to indict the whole concept of American pop cultural nostalgia:

The murderous Peacock family drive a 1950s model Cadillac convertible, whose radio seems capable of playing only 1950s-era rock n’ roll. Juxtaposed with the Peacocks’ malevolence, such pop culture references obviously question the validity of nostalgic culture. The Peacocks may be mother-pokin’, black-hatin’ white trash, but they drive a classic ’50’s model Cadillac and listen to golden oldies. Their notion of ‘family’ may be horrific, but they still ascribe to notions of ‘family values.’ The episode’s final scene shows the car parked on a rural back road, playing romantic music, while the gruesome couple copulates in the trunk, rather than in the backseat of suburban legend. This moment confronts America’s portrayal of poor whites with its portrayal of itself: American gothic versus Americana, both couched in uncannily familiar images.

Home is a very angry piece of work, one that seems eager to lash out at just about anything within range. It is a blistering critique of American romance and nostalgia, one that seems primed to explode at any given moment. There is something very raw and malicious about the episode, a simmering undercurrent of seething contempt that lends it a compelling urgency.

Also, Cadillac apparently wrote a "thank you" note to the production team for featuring them here. As you do.

Also, Cadillac apparently wrote a “thank you” note to the production team for featuring them here. As you do.

Home also sets up – albeit subtly – a recurring theme that will echo during the fourth and fifth seasons of The X-Files, as Scully finds herself confronted with grotesque and disturbing variations on motherhood just as she comes to term with her own reproductive issues. “The entwined motifs of maternal sacrifice and maternal monstrosity run throughout the series,” Elyce Rae Helford notes in Fantasy Girls, “peaking in the mythology and the monsters of the week in seasons four and five.” Although episodes like Revelations had hinted at, Home marks the point where the series pushes it to the fore.

It is no coincidence that Leonard Betts, the creature who reveals Scully’s looming cancel, enjoys a grotesque relationship with his mother – sustaining himself in a grotesque parody of breast-feeding. Although neither episode handles the subject with particular skill, Small Potatoes and The Post-Modern Prometheus both feature pregnancy-by-rape as core plot points. This idea of motherhood even finds expression in Scully’s plotlines, with episodes like Emily, A Christmas Carol, Chinga and The End all touching upon the subject.

Although it gets lost in the shuffle with everything else in the episode, Home touches on Scully’s own anxieties and fears. “Imagine all a woman’s hopes and dreams for her child and then nature turns so cruel,” she remarks to Mulder in a moment of reflection. “What must a mother go through?” One suspects that Scully has put some thought into this. She admits, “I guess I was just projecting on myself.” This case is clearly affecting Scully profoundly, certainly more than it affects Mulder – who is too busy imagining how wonderful small-town life would be.

In keeping with the version of the relationship between Mulder and Scully suggested in episodes like Beyond the Sea and Never Again, there is a sense that Scully has not entirely comfortable discussing her own personal feelings on the matter and that Mulder is not quite sensitive enough to pick up on the issue. “Just find yourself a man with a spotless genetic make-up and a really high tolerance for being second-guessed and start pumping out the little Uber-Scullies,” Mulder jokes, prompting an awkward smile from Scully and an attempt to deflect the conversation back to Mulder himself.

It seems clear that Mulder is unaware that Scully’s abduction experience has left her sterile. Indeed, the show itself had not explicitly confirmed it at this point – Mulder would only discover that the procedure left its victims barren in Memento Mori. Nevertheless, the fourth season has Scully confront a number of dysfunctional mother-child relationships in the fourth and fifth seasons. Here, for example, her conversation with Mrs. Peacock becomes laced with irony in light of subsequent revelations.

“I can tell you don’t have no children,” Mrs. Peacock remarks to Scully. “Maybe one day you’ll learn; the pride, the love when you know your boy will do anything for his mother.” Of course, this is a grotesque distortion and parody of motherhood – a woman with her limbs removed who lives under her own bed and exists primarily to procreate with her own sons – but Mrs. Peacock has a point. Scully is facing the possibility that the only motherhood she will ever know will be the grotesque reflections presented by The X-Files.

Despite the episode’s wonderfully effective (and harrowing) social commentary, it is worth noting that Home is very much a classic trashy horror film at heart. It opens on a dark and stormy night; the brothers are portrayed as monsters in the style of eighties video nasties; the climax involves a house packed full of booby traps. For all that Home pushes the boundaries of what The X-Files could get away with, the show has a decidedly old-school feel to it. It plays off Morgan and Wong’s affection for seventies and eighties horror in the same way that Ice plays off The Thing.

Director Kim Manners gets into the spirit of the occasion. Home is a delightfully atmospheric piece of work. The daylight scenes are shot in such a way as to emphasise the almost idyllic nature of Home, but the night time (and interior) scenes are shot in the style of a classic horror movie – point of view shots, dutch angles, rain and lightning. Home is a fantastically-constructed piece of television, one of the best-made episodes of the show ever produced.

In darkness dwells...

In darkness dwells…

For his part, Manners has identified Home as his favourite episode of the show, citing the episode’s pulpy classic horror vibe as a reason:

The producer-director laughs when asked to pick a few favorites from among the dozens of episodes he helmed over the years. “Home is definitely one of them,” he says. “That’s number one. It was a classic horror story. I was born and raised on Lon Chaney, Jr. and Boris Karloff, and when I read the script that Morgan and Wong wrote I went, ‘This is classic horror,’ and I tried my best to make it that. I think I pulled it off. A lot of fans think it’s the best show. Some fans go with Home and some go with Bad Blood, which my friend Cliff Bole directed. And that’s fine. Home is my personal favorite.”

Home is a nice reminder that The X-Files was blessed with not only one of the best writing rooms in the history of television, but also one of the best pools of television directors.

On the road again...

On the road again…

It is also worth noting that – for all its horror – Home is a (very) darkly comic episode. Morgan and Wong have a great sense of humour about the story, and things never get as oppressively heavy as they might because there’s always room for Scully doing her Babe impression or Mulder mercilessly ripping off his obligatory “profound monologue” from a fuzzy nature documentary he was watching the night before.

Indeed, even the baby-murdering opening scene finds room for an equal-parts-horrifying-and-darkly-funny moment where one of the brothers reaches for a fork as his mother gives birth. It is something that so profoundly wrong that it crosses a line, paired with the wonderfully over-the-top staging and pretty heavy subject matter. Home is an episode that could very easily go wrong, that could very easily miscalculate the mixing ratio of its ingredients. The fact that it works so well is a testament to the skill of everybody involved.

In a way, Home feels like a fond farewell to the show’s Friday night slot. In the early weeks of its fourth season, Fox would move The X-Files to Sunday nights – to make room for the arrival of Millennium. The move to Sunday nights was a big deal for the show. Although the production team was uncertain about it at the time, the move to Sunday wound up solidifying the show as a pop culture phenomenon, arguably lending it a legitimacy that it might never have found in “the Friday Night death slot.”

Home was the third episode of the fourth season produced, but the second to air. Had the episodes aired in production order, it would have been the last to be broadcast in the Friday night slot. This might have been appropriate. After all, Home is probably the most unashamedly schlocky episode of the show’s first seven seasons, the episode most likely to draw accusations of being “tasteless” and “tacky” and “trashy.” The script wears those adjectives as a badge of honour. It is, in other words, perfect Friday night horror fodder.

It is almost a shame that the schedule was shuffled around so that Teliko was the last episode broadcast in the show’s Friday night slot. Home is a masterpiece, and a welcome reassurance that age and experience had not mellowed Morgan and Wong; the duo had played a major role in defining The X-Files, and it was nice to know that they still wanted to shake things up.

You might be interested in our other reviews of the fourth season of The X-Files:

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3 Responses

  1. Funnily enough, I can’t stand that “the good old days are dying… modernity is replacing the rich and beautiful past with the soulless present… isn’t it sad?” worldview in real life, but plenty of my favorite movies are rooted in it. Once Upon A Time In The West. Pirates Of The Caribbean. Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Any crime film set in “boy, this place had so much more character when the mob was running it!” Las Vegas. The last Indiana Jones movie missed a golden opportunity to tap into that – it would’ve been much more interesting to see Indy as a relic of the pre-WW2 age of archaeology/adventure, than trying to switch him to a Little Green Men setting.

    It’s just the sort of thing that lends itself well to movies and television, which thrive on the sort of things (Adventure! Excitement! Worlds where you can’t go more than a week without an explosion or a chase sequence!) and people (Pirates! Gunslingers! Gangsters! Musketeers! Samurai!) that we love to see in entertainment, even though we’d hate it in real life.

    • You may have missed the part of the review where Mooney hinted at how the AV Club review, eloquent as it was on the subject of the writer’s affection for the small towns of his own youth, missed the way these artifacts of American mythology are employed critically by Morgan and Wong. Home mercilessly and without a shred of complacency, though with a degree of genuinely warm affection and humor, deconstructs its characters’ nostalgia.

    • Yep.

      I do think Home subverts that beautifully. It’s a horrifying indictment of one of the core themes of the series. The past is not as nice and pleasant as we’d like it to be.

      But, as you noted, it is a very alluring fantasy.

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