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The X-Files: Season 11 (IDW) #2-4 – Home Again (Review)

This June, we’re going to be taking a look at the current run of The X-Files, beginning with the IDW comic book revival and perhaps taking some detours along the way. Check back daily for the latest review.

Home Again is perhaps a great example of the overlap that existed between IDW’s monthly comic series and the revival miniseries.

News that Mulder and Scully were coming back to prime time television broke in March 2015, just as writer Joe Harris was wrapping up work on his Elders arc and bringing The X-Files: Season 10 to a close. While most of The X-Files: Season 10 had unfolded as a live action revival was in a state of limbo, things had solidified by the time that The X-Files: Season 11 was announced. If Season 10 was haunted by the possibility that a live action revival might usurp its claim to legitimacy, then Season 11 was overshadowed by the certainty of that same prospect.

Mama's home...

Mama’s home…

However, both the revival and the comic book series seem to exist trapped within a weird dialogue with one another. To be fair, this was apparent even in the context of Season 10. The use of Gibson Praise as the primary antagonist of the comic book was forced by Chris Carter’s desire to “save” William for use in the revival miniseries. It seems likely that the Cigarette-Smoking Man’s absence from (and perhaps even the Lone Gunmen’s continued presence in) Season 11 speaks to similar logistical concerns.

Nevertheless, Home Again provides a wry point of intersection between the comic book series and the revival miniseries. It is, after all, a title shared between both.

Burying the past...

Burying the past…

In June 2015, it was announced that the second episode of the revival miniseries to enter production would be Home Again. It was going to be written and directed by veteran X-Files writer Glen Morgan. There was immediate speculation that Morgan would structure the episode as a sequel to one of his earlier scripts, allowing a recently reunited Mulder and Scully the opportunity to face off against the incestuous Peacock family that had made such a memorable impression in Home.

Only a few weeks later, the solicit for the second issue of Season 11 arrived. It announced that the second story of Season 11 would be called Home Again. While there was still some lingering ambiguity about whether or not Glen Morgan was writing a sequel to that beloved episode, Joe Harris was explicitly going to bring back the Peacock family to menace Mulder and Scully one more time. The synchronicity here is astounding. “Home Again” is a common enough phrase, but to have two writers employ it as the second story of two different X-Files revivals?

That falling feeling.

That falling feeling.

To be fair, it is not a surprise that people wanted a sequel to Home. The episode had been a sensation. It was famously pulled from syndication after its initial broadcast. Writers Glen Morgan and James Wong have talked with considerable glee about the panic and consternation that the episode caused at Fox, to the point that the network vetoed any possibility of a sequel. (The pair had considered bringing the Peacocks back to appear on the second season of Millennium.)

In fact, Home has lingered in the cultural consciousness. The episode was the subject of quite a few retrospectives both long before and in the aftermath of the revival announcement, marking it as something of a “special” episode worthy of particularly deep contemplation. There are many reasons why Home might have remained such a cultural touchstone for nineties television fans, from Freudian readings of the episode to sheer shock at its subject matter to the cultivation of an urban legend around the controversy of that first broadcast.

It's a sign.

It’s a sign.

Whatever the reason, there is a lot to like about the possibility of a sequel to Home. After all, it is perhaps the most iconic and memorable episode of The X-Files not to spawn a sequel. Pusher got Kitsunegari and Irresistible got Orison within the nine-year run of the series itself. Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” led to Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense”, albeit on Millennium. When Joe Harris launched Season 10, his first “monster of the month” story was Hosts, a sequel to The Host. By process of elimination, Home was a logical choice for a sequel.

However, it was quite clear that the revival miniseries was not going to construct a series of sequels. In a retrospective interview discussing the miniseries, Chris Carter recalled, “We decided to do all fresh new material, so that was also a risk, that we weren’t going to do sequels.” Glen Morgan acknowledged that titling the episode as Home Again was just a way to trap “suckers.” It seems highly unlikely that there was any serious discussion about bringing the Peacock family back.

Nobody's home.

Maybe Mulder should ask if anybody’s home… again.

In a way, this reflects the aesthetic of the revival miniseries. My Struggle I opens the revival by jettisoning a large chunk of the mythology and by welcoming new viewers to start from something approaching scratch. Of course, the relationship between the revived mythology and old mythology is not as simple as all that, but there is a sense that the revival has its own approach to the show’s central story arc that is not contingent on pre-existing continuity or even the entire notion of “canon.” The revival miniseries builds on the past, but is not fixated upon it.

In contrast, Season 10 and Season 11 are largely driven by the finer details of the show’s history and continuity. Out of the entire twenty-five issue run of Season 10, only one single issue story (Chitter) existed without a major reference or connection to pre-existing continuity. Season 10 and Season 11 focus upon bringing back characters and plot threads from across the nine-season run of The X-Files in a very literal way. As such, it was always more likely that Season 11 would use the title “Home Again” to denote a sequel to Home.

Watch yourself.

Watch yourself.

To be fair, there is a lot to like about the idea of doing a sequel to Home. In many ways, Home was a story about the rot that can take root in certain communities and about the threat posed by toxic nostalgia. The Peacock family is a grotesque relic of the Civil War, an incestuous reclusive family that refers to “the War of Northern Aggression” while driving “big American cars” and lynching an African-American sheriff and his family. Even in the context of the nineties, Home was a loaded allegory about the need to confront the more unpleasant side of incestuous nostalgia.

Home Again seems aware that almost two decades have passed since Home shocked audiences on that late Friday night. Times have changed. As times change, so do the meanings of stories. When Scully reveals that Mulder is investigating the Peacocks, Skinner ruminates on exactly what that means in this day and age. Skinner confesses, “And I’ve got a sinking feeling that dredging up the past like this… will mean something totally different in today’s daylight.”

Cracked image.

Cracked image.

The message of Home is arguably even more relevant in the context of late 2015 than it was in late 1996. In June 2015, Dylann Roof was apprehended following the mass shooting at an African-American church in South Carolina. Roof published an online manifesto outlining his racist views, and many of his online photographs depicted Roof waving the Confederate flag. Roof was driving a car with confederate license plates when he was apprehended. However, this was not what caused the controversy about the case.

There was considerable public shock and outrage at the decision of South Carolina to mark the horrific assault upon its African-American community by flying the Confederate flag at half-mast. The Confederate flag might be a source of great pride to some segments of the Southern states, but it also represented a nation state that fought a civil war for the de facto purpose of keeping African-Americans in slavery. Over one hundred and fifty years following the end of the Civil War (and the defeat of the South), that logo is still a part of the state flag seven southern states.

Dirty secrets.

Dirty secrets.

The battle to remove the Confederate flag from the South Caroline statehouse demonstrated that those wounds still festered. When the legislature refused to respond to the controversy in the week following the mass shooting, Bree Newsome took it upon herself to lower the flag. She was arrested for her trouble. After much soul searching, it was taken down more than a fortnight after the shooting. The Republican party still broadly supports the flag. One South Carolina Republican sent Confederate Christmas cards that December.

In some respects, the United States is a country that is becoming increasingly politically polarised. One of the ways in which this polarisation might be framed is as an expanding gulf between progressives and nostalgists. During the presidential primaries, Donald Trump astounded observers in claiming the Republican nomination. His campaign was built on a number of regressive ideas, but anchored in a strong sense of nostalgia. Trump promised to make American great again. To some voters, he seemed to promise to take them home again.

Burning down the house.

Burning down the house.

There are any number of frightening statistics about the constituent base that has helped Donald Trump to secure the presidential nomination. Perhaps the statistic most relevant to Home Again is the observation that many Trump supporters in South Carolina wish that the South had won the Civil War. That is an absolutely terrifying statistic, one that suggests perhaps the Peacock Family should have settled in South Carolina and voted for Trump instead of simply relocating to Nebraska as they did in Home Again.

This increasingly polarised political atmosphere has been a source of recurring fascination for writer Joe Harris. Both Chitter and Immaculate suggested something akin to a brewing culture war in America’s small isolated communities, a clever modern twist on the classic “small town” stories that The X-Files did so well. Given Harris’ success with those stories, it seems like the Peacocks should be a comfortable fit for his writing style. Indeed, Mama Peacock seems to hit on that painful nostalgic anger that drives this culture war.

Everything falls apart.

Everything falls apart.

The three-parter culminates in a horrific showdown between the Peacocks and the forces of modernity. It is a sequence that very consciously evokes the heightened atmosphere of Waco and Ruby Ridge in the early nineties. These sorts of sieges were a cultural marker of the last decade of the twentieth century, as touched upon in Glen Morgan and James Wong’s The Field Where I Died or Stefan Petrucha and Charles Adlard’s Silent Cities of the Mind. Ruby Ridge and Waco left an indelible mark on the national consciousness.

At the same time, there is a contemporary anxiety about such events. There are concerns that such stand-offs are increasingly inevitable, owing to a resurgent militia movement and heightened tensions between modernity and traditional conservative values. In fact, only a few months after Home Again wrapped up, militia groups would seize control of an Oregon wildlife refuge. The siege would last over a month, during which time thirty other incidents were reported at various other refuges.

Coming Home.

Coming Home.

There is a sense that there is a brewing culture clash between these throwback nostalgic elements in contemporary culture, those elements that want to roll society back to a point before concepts like racial equality or social justice. Home Again seems to suggest that the Peacocks could never escape into the shadows as they did the first time around. “Like you, they’ve scraped by in the shadows,” Scully reflects. “So what happens when the daylight comes pouring in? What happens when you can’t run any longer… and you finally reach the end?”

The Peacock family quite consciously harken back to a nostalgic and regressive vision of the way that things should be. During that final siege, Misses Peacock muses, “We Peacocks only feel what we miss and what we lose…” It seems like a poetic reflection on a certain strain of anger and resentment that is bubbling among a certain class of voters. Indeed, it is not an exclusively American phenomenon; the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union has brought many of the same ghosts out of the shadows. The angry and disenfranchised.

Lighting up the room.

Lighting up the room.

Indeed, Home Again feels like quite a timely story, even if it is a sequel to an episode that aired nineteen years earlier. It is a story that touches on many of the tensions simmering beneath contemporary American politics, touching on uncomfortable ideas through metaphor and monsters. As with many of the best monster stories on The X-Files, Home Again hints on some ideas that could not easily be explored through a more direct narrative. It is strange to argue that a bunch of incestuous mutants serve make the story more palatable, but it is true.

That said, there are some issues with the story. At points, it feels like Joe Harris is indulging in precisely the sort of nostalgia and affection that Home so thoroughly criticised and deconstructed. This is most apparent in an extended flashback sequence that offers an unnecessary origin story for Misses Peacock. In fact, unnecessary origin stories are a recurring issue with Joe Harris’ work on The X-Files, whether the generic origins for familiar faces in Hosts and Being for the Benefit of Mister X or the excessive continuity of More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man.

Mast-er and commander.

Mast-er and commander.

Home offered a fairly simple origin story for the Peacock family. Misses Peacock was wounded in a car wreck that killed her husband. She was found and rescued by her sons, leaving her in the mangled state that made such an impression on so many audience members. That is explained through dialogue and tells the audience all that they need to know. As such, there is probably no need to actually show that origin story, particularly when space is as a premium in Season 11. More to the point, playing Johnny Mathis’ Wonderful over it feels heavy-handed.

To be fair to Home Again, it seems like Joe Harris and Matthew Dow Smith are using the sequence to make Edmund seem a little sympathetic. The Peacock sibling is bullied by his father, and shown to want nothing more than a Christmas tree that reflects his own broken self. Home Again paints Edmund as a victim, which makes sense. He was born into a structure of incestuous abuse that he perpetuated. When Edmund opts to burn down the house at the climax of the story, there is a sense that Edmund is trying to put his family out of their misery.

Baby daddy.

Baby daddy.

This is certainly an interesting and provocative approach to take towards the Peacock family. However, there is a sense that Home Again softens them somewhat. Home opened with a sequence of the brothers burying a baby alive in a field, leading to a sequence where the brothers brutally club a sheriff and his wife to death. There is nothing quite as shocking in Home, no real reflection on how brutal and violent (and dangerous) the Peacock family actually are. It is possible to read Home Again as almost sympathetic to them, just looking for their own place to exist.

There is something rather disingenuous in this portrayal. The first issue ends with the threat of implied sexual assault against Mulder, as Misses Peacock suggests that the family might need some outside DNA to remain viable. However, there is a sense that this threatened sexual assault is played as a goofy cliffhanger rather than anything meaningful. An ill-advised rectal probing joke in The X-Files Christmas Special 2015 certainly doesn’t suggest that Season 11 is particularly sensitive in its application of the threat of sexual violence.

Scully's facepalm is just the best. Mulder is the worst fugitive ever.

Scully’s facepalm is just the best.
Mulder is the worst fugitive ever.

There is the clear suggestion of untoward activity at the Peacock farm. In an homage to The Judge, there is a recurring reference to a human hand popping up beneath the mud in the Peacock family pig pen. However, there is never a real sense of how monstrous and brutal the Peacocks can be. Given that the monstrous Cantus is conspiring to force the Peacocks off their land, it is easy to see the Peacocks as the maligned victims in this story. It feels like Joe Harris never pushes Home Again to the same dark places that made Home so memorable and effective.

Home Again works reasonably well, even if it doesn’t quite fulfil the potential of a sequel to that classic episode. It touches on a number of important and relevant ideas, even if it doesn’t always commit to the aesthetic of its predecessor. Home Again is maybe a little too nostalgic in places, which undercuts some of the story’s power. It seems ironic that a comic book so fixated upon the past should insist that the Peacocks can never go home again.

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