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The X-Files – Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster (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.

We’ve been given another case, Mulder.

It has a monster in it.

Total eclipse of the heart.

Total eclipse of the heart.

Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is a classic.

Not just in the context of these six episodes, although it is the strongest of the six by a considerable margin. Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is one of the great episodes of The X-Files. There is an argument to be made that Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is the best episode of the show produced since X-Cops at least, perhaps stretching back further to Triangle or Drive. It is a fantastic piece of television in its own right, and arguably one of the great television episodes of the year. Although that means something different than it once did.

Here there be monsters.

Here there be monsters.

Indeed, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is arguably the episode that justifies the entire revival. There is a lot to recommend the other five episodes, even if those episodes range from great in their own right (Founder’s Mutation) to intriguing-yet-ill-judged (Babylon) to messy and overly abstract (My Struggle I). However, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is very much the perfect distillation of the show’s themes and iconography in a decidedly timeless fashion.

If Founder’s Mutation sets out a formal template for adapting The X-Files to the twenty-first century, then Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster provides a clear contrast. The episode makes repeated reference to modern technology and phone evolution, but it is also quite timeless in its own way. The dialogue provides a few faint nods to surrounding episodes, but there is also a sense that Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster makes just as much sense (if not more) outside the context of episodes like Home Again or My Struggle II.

It's a dog's (or lizard's) life.

It’s a dog’s (or lizard’s) life.

Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster arguably fits more comfortably with early episodes like Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose or War of the Coprophages or Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” than it does with any modern television episode, which is strange to say. There is a lot of emphasis on the immediacy of television as an artform, the recurring sense that television is a medium in a constant state of growth an evolution. There is a sense that television is radically different in form and structure now than it was even twenty years ago.

Barring a few gags about changing technology or how little everybody (including Mulder) understands smartphones, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster feels very much like it would have worked as an episode of television twenty years ago, or even thirty years ago, or maybe even forty years ago. There is a sense that Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is rather old-fashioned and even archetypal in how it chooses to construct its story, that a good television episode can speak to concerns outside its moment in a timeless and eternal fashion.

A universal movie monster...

A universal movie monster…

Writer Darin Morgan seems to cheekily tease this idea out. The name of the episode is an affectionate riff on those cheesy old crossover monster movies, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein or Abbott and Costello Meet the Wolfman. In the documentary Season X, Morgan talks about wanting to do a classic movie monster:

I always wanted a more classic Universal Horror – Frankenstein, Creature of the Black Lagoon – kinda thing. It’s supposed to be kind of a horror monster, but also do some funny stuff with the monster, so he’s got to be more mobile. And just practical things like that. But the special effects make-up guys, when you go “monster”, they just get all excited. It kinda takes care of itself.

This makes sense. When Morgan was cast as the Fluke Man in The Host, he had hoped to model his performance on The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Series creator Chris Carter had demonstrated an affection for those old-school monster movies, scripting both The Host and The Post-Modern Prometheus as homages.

The likeness is uncanny!

The likeness is uncanny!

The other stories in the revival miniseries tend to focus on more modern monsters. Founder’s Mutation can be read as a dysfunctional superhero origin story, focusing on teenagers deformed and given special powers. Home Again might focus on a killer golem, but that golem is brought to life through the power of contemporary street art as social commentary. These ideas are very much rooted in the twenty-first century, as are Chris Carter’s scripts; the Islamic extremism of Babylon or the reinvention of the mythology in My Struggle I and My Struggle II.

In contrast, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is broader and more archetypal. Of course, there is probably some justification for this. Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is heavily reworked from Morgan’s aborted script for The “M” Word, an episode that he wrote for the cancelled Night Stalker reboot executive produced by Frank Spotnitz. Still, little details like having Guy Mann dress in homage to the original Carl Kolchak or having him struggle with “human constructs of time” suggest an episode consciously disconnected from the present day.

Bad trip.

Bad trip.

Consider the locations that Morgan employs in Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster. The episode seems to take place in a geographic haze. There is a clear remoteness to the location, with its vast fields and open forests connecting to truck stops and creepy motels. However, there is also room for a community with all manner of services, from an animal control warden to a smart phone store to a much-in-demand psychiatrist. Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster does not seem to unfold in a real place so much as a dreamscape.

This dreamscape is populated by familiar images and archetypes. There is a truck stop, the ultimate expression of just how transitory this space must be; it is not so much a real place of itself as it is somewhere that exists “in between.” The back of the truck stop opens out into a field of wheat or long grass, perhaps the defining image of the American heartlands. Shot at night, it evokes the weird and wonderful stories that informed The X-Files, inviting viewers to wonder what might be hiding out among those chutes and branches.

Never too far afield.

Never too far afield.

The setting of Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is intentional vague and yet also very specific. As with Morgan’s script for Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me, there is a sense of connectivity to all of the characters across the run of the episode. Mulder and Scully find themselves staying at the same motel as Guy Mann, because there seems to be only one local motel. When the psychiatrist suggests that Mulder look for Guy in a graveyard, it seems there is only graveyard where he might be. When Dagoo escapes, Pasha seems to be the only animal warden on call.

There is an endearing unreality to the locales featured in Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster, which Darin Morgan reinforces in a number of ways. All of the witnesses to the monster attacks are abusing substances from gold paint to crack to rubbing alcohol to prescription medication. With tombstones commemorating X-Files staff members and the conscious decision to incorporate the X-Files theme into the episode, Morgan seems draws attention to the artifice of the whole set-up.

Motel that ends well...

Motel that ends well…

Mulder and Scully stay at a sleazy motel populated by grotesque taxidermy, recalling the sort of motel that haunts American folklore like Psycho or the modern myth that Guy Talese cultivated around Gerald Foos. However, there is also a nostalgic element to it. After all, the motel has been in decline for a long time. As Ed Watkins reflects, motels are largely seen as a relic of the past:

It wasn’t until the 1950s that motels became ubiquitous accommodations for middle-class America. Chains like Holiday Inn, Ramada Inn, Quality Court and thousands of Mom-and-Pop independents were hosts to the millions of families who hit the road for summer vacations. Two decades later, those mostly exterior-corridor chain properties had gone slightly upscale.

From there, even the word motel fell out of favour, replaced with descriptors such as limited service, focused service and select service. It seemed as though hotel owners saw a motel designation as a drag on rates, occupancy and type of clientele. Even the industry’s main lobbying arm in 2001 dropped motel from its original name and morphed into the American Hotel & Lodging Association. 

In some ways, the decline of the motel as an institution speaks to those same fears articulated by The X-Files during the nineties, the sense that globalisation and modernisation were slowly suffocating the eccentric spaces within the North American continent. Motels were arguably victims of the interstate highway system, the same force of modernity that posed an existential threat to small towns across the country.

Gold standard.

Gold standard.

There is a very strong sense of nostalgia running through Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster. While scripts like My Struggle I and Founder’s Mutation work hard to modernise The X-Files, it seems like Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is not particularly interested in the twenty-first century beyond the inability of mobile phone cameras to cover new and exciting mysteries to keep the people speculating and imagining. Instead, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster seems more keenly focused on the past, as remembered and imagined.

Darin Morgan packs the script for Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster with references and nods to earlier episodes. The stoners from War of the Coprophages and Quagmire return after a twenty-year absence, while Scully delivers a throwaway line of dialogue that references Tithonus bringing a throwaway line of dialogue from Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose into continuity. Mulder practices his pencil-throwing from Chinga. Mulder’s red swimming trunks from Duane Barry make an appearance. Scully even adopts (or perhaps even steals) another dog.

Red for danger...

Red for danger…

In interviews around the launch of the revival, Chris Carter stressed that the six episode miniseries could not be an exercise in nostalgia:

“Someone said to me, ‘Great, a victory lap,'” when the new project was announced, he said. “That’s the opposite of why we came back. We didn’t want to do something that reworked old material or was just a sequel to what we’d done before. I wanted to make something fresh and original.”

While this makes a great deal of sense in terms of returning to a project that was notable for its innovation and for pushing the boundaries of television, it is also a little disingenuous.

A Fox-y spy hole.

A Fox-y spy hole.

While nostalgia should not be the primary guiding light of this revival, it has to be a part of the conversation. There is a reason that Chris Carter and Fox decided to return to The X-Files starring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson instead of launching Paranormal Investigations Unit starring Lauren Ambrose and Robbie Amell. The reason that Fox greenlit a revival of The X-Files was not because it wanted a modern show like The X-Files, it was because they wanted The X-Files. The same is true of fan anticipation.

The X-Files brings with it a certain set of expectations and iconography. That should be respected. The revival implicitly acknowledges this, resurrecting the Cigarette-Smoking Man in My Struggle I and taking great pleasure in providing “Mulder and Scully use flashlights” sequences in both Founder’s Mutation and Home Again. It is a thin line for the miniseries to walk, acknowledging and exploring the show’s past without descending into naked fan service. The key is in finding something new to say within those familiar beats and affectionate rememberings.

Obligatory autopsy scene!

Obligatory autopsy scene!

There is, naturally, an appreciable tension in all of this. Early in the episode, Mulder seems reluctant to fully embrace his old ways. “I thought it’d be great to get back to work,” he observes. “But is this really how I want to spend the rest of my days?” In Season X, Morgan confesses to sharing some of Mulder’s anxieties:

What Mulder is going through, coming back to the X-files is kinda what like I felt like coming back to the show. Which is like, “This sounds great!” But then there’s a moment when you go, “Um… is it?” Because you go, “I’ve already done this. Is this what I should be doing with my life? Should I not have done something further?” All of that kind of mid-life crisis nonsense. So I managed to use some of my own mixed feelings and give some of those to Mulder.

In many ways, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster feels like Darin Morgan working through some of his own understandable uncertainties and anxieties about returning to a show upon which he worked two decades earlier. While there is a palpable reluctance, there is also an optimism and enthusiasm that recalls his rewrite of Quagmire.

Base(ment) fears...

Base(ment) fears…

Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is the most openly and appreciably nostalgic of the six episodes. To a certain extent, that is why it works so well. Scully even giddily endorses this nostalgia. “I forgot how much fun these cases could be,” she tells Mulder while conducting an autopsy. When Mulder offers one of his patented free-association paranoid ramblings, Scully sits there with a big grin across her face. “This is how I like my Mulder,” she reflects. The audience would seem to agree.

Darin Morgan repeatedly winks at the audience, as if drawing their attention to the fact that this is a revival of a twenty-year-old television show. During the episode’s extended graveyard conversation, there are two large tombstones to veteran staff members Jack Hardy and Kim Manners. These are not easter eggs in the traditional sense. They are not little details for fans to appreciate like the pencils in the ceiling in My Struggle I. The episode’s final act opens with an extended shot on the tombstone as Mulder lies sprawled out underneath it.

Minding his Manners.

Minding his Manners.

That shot of Mulder in a drunken stupor underneath a tombstone marked “Kim Manners” is then interrupted by a familiar sound. Mulder’s ringtone is the theme to The X-Files. On the commentary, Darin Morgan offered his own logic for how Mulder could have a ringtone that is also the theme for the show in which he is starring:

So, the ringtone… that was my little tribute to David’s episode, Hollywood A.D. If you recall, they go to Hollywood and there are two actors playing the roles of Mulder and Scully for a major motion picture – Garry Shandling is Mulder and Tea Leone is Scully. So, my thinking is that that movie… possibly… the theme music was like The X-Files. And Mulder and Scully’s world, The X-Files doesn’t exist. So that ringtone is just a melody. That’s a tune that means something different to Mulder.

This is not the first time that Morgan has slipped a variant of Mark Snow’s theme into an episode. Mulder could just as easily have been a fan of the X-Files rip-off attacked by the Broadcast Standards and Practices guy in Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me. Whatever that ringtone might mean to Mulder, it means The X-Files to the audience.

Dial it back there.

Dial it back there.

Still, the fact that Morgan has his own internal logic for how Mulder could possibly justify having the theme to The X-Files as his ringtone speaks to his care and craft as a writer. Morgan is a writer who layers his scripts with an incredible amount of detail. Morgan effortlessly executes clever set-ups and call-backs that work very well on first viewing, but which also reward those viewers who are willing to go back and watch the episode for a second (or even a third) time.

There are plenty of examples of meticulously layered plotting to be found in the episode: the inexplicably naked victim, who is later revealed to be the source of Guy’s spiffy outfit; the dog that Pasha is chasing at the truck stop, that is later revealed to be Dagoo; even the fact that Pasha is the serial killer, being present at both crime scenes. However, Morgan’s scripts also intricately set up jokes and pay-offs in ways that feel organic and clever while still being meticulously crafted.

"But as the monster is dying, the constable realizes he's been looking in the mirror. He was the monster all along, you see?"

“But as the monster is dying, the constable realizes he’s been looking in the mirror. He was the monster all along, you see?”

For example, Morgan sets up the idea of a “jackalope” as a recurring gag. Mulder first mentions the monster at the start of the episode in conversation with Scully, bemoaning it as an example of the kind of hoax he has chased for so long. Later, in the motel, there is a jackalope head mounted on the wall. All of this pays off in the graveyard conversation when Guy casually drops in a reference to a jackalope. When Mulder questions it, Guy responds, “Well, I’d like to see you explain that to my dead friend, George!” It’s a great joke, but it works better with the set-up.

Even elements that are not jokes are very effectively signposted and established in order to help orient the audience in a way that never feels heavy-handed or forced. As the title suggests, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is a riff on classic werewolf stories, but the episode draws attention to this idea as early as the first conversation between the two stoners discussing how beautiful the moon is and what they would do if they were werewolves. Later on, Guy transforms in a port-a-potty that has a full moon and wolf on it, to be sure the audience gets it.

It's all gone to pot(ty)...

It’s all gone to pot(ty)…

On the audio commentary during the autopsy scene, Darin Morgan goes as far to explain that he even worked out a reason why Guy Mann shares Rhys Darby’s New Zealand accent:

This scene, I cut out a tonne of stuff. I had a lot more back and forth. Mulder had this whole theory about where the creature came from, that he was an exotic species from some exotic land, the same way that invasive species take root in foreign lands… blah blah blah. It just went on too long and it wasn’t very good, but it explained to my mind why Rhys had a New Zealand accent.

This is an example of how much thought and care Darin Morgan puts into his script, even if it is ultimately only a half-serious jokey response. There is a lot of craft to the way that Morgan writes, that is easy to take for granted.

Where the jackalope roam.

Where the jackalope roam.

Even the title to the episode feels decidedly self-aware. Of the two hundred plus episodes broadcast and the two feature films released, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is the only instalment of The X-Files to include the name of either of the two lead characters. The name has a playfulness to it, sounding more like the shorthand title attached by the writing staff to an early pitch than the finished title of the episode. While Darin Morgan’s scripts were always wry and meta, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is perhaps the most wry and meta.

It is tempting to describe all of this nostalgia and winking as and indulgence on the part of the show. Certainly, if it were handled with less skill or nuance it could become insufferable. However, Morgan seems to appreciate the revival as an opportunity for that affectionate and playful celebration of The X-Files in popular culture. While My Struggle I and Founder’s Mutation feel like the show is setting out its stall as a piece of twenty-first century television, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is very much a loving toast to The X-Files.

Right on track.

Right on track.

When he assembled the cast and crew for the production of My Struggle I, Chris Carter spoke about these six episodes as an opportunity to revive the series in a much larger way. My Struggle I is effectively a new pilot. Founder’s Mutation is very much an example of what a case-of-the-week might look like in this day and age. My Struggle II is a season-ending cliffhanger rather than a finale. A lot of the revival is built towards the idea of The X-Files as a continuing and on-going concern. Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is something different.

Watching Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster, it feels very much like the kinds of specials produced by British television. Owing to different production realities and traditions on that side of the Atlantic, British television has never been as rigid in defining television series as the American model. This is most obvious in the shorter season orders for British television shows, which perhaps helped to set the standard for cable networks like HBO and even to encourage American networks to adopt that more relaxed format.

Call of the wild.

Call of the wild.

However, even beyond the shorter order counts, British television does not operate according to the same philosophy as American television. The notion of “cancelled” is somewhat different in the United Kingdom as compared to the United States. It is possible for British television shows to take a few years off between seasons, working according to the schedule of the talent rather than the demands of the network. Doctor Who has taken several “gap” years since it was revived in 2005; its tenth season will begin in 2017.

On British television, it is possible for characters to navigate multiple television shows and formats. Alan Partridge began as a character on the radio spoof show On the Hour. Before long, he was headlining the spoof television chat show Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge. Two years later, he headlined the more conventional BBC sitcom I’m Alan Partridge. He even launched a web series that later went to television, Mid Morning Matters with Alan Partridge.

And, yes. Guy Mann would make a great Alan Partridge guest.

And, yes. Guy Mann would make a great Alan Partridge guest.

British television is also willing to periodically resurrect and revisit classic characters and concepts after the shows have come to an end. The Royle Family ran for three seasons between 1998 and 2000, but enjoyed a more substantial creative afterlife; there was a one-shot special in 2006 featuring the death of a primary character, some sketches for Comic Relief, and a number of Christmas specials. Absolutely Fabulous had several major gaps in production since it launched in 1990, most recently returning as a special for the 2012 Olympic Games and a feature film.

While My Struggle I and Founder’s Mutation seem to hint at a return to the regular grind of weekly American network television, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster feels very much in keeping with the looser aesthetic of British television. It feels very much like a celebration of the series, like a “special” rather than an attempt to get back to “business as usual.” Were American television as flexible as its British counterpart, it would be fun to imagine The X-Files returning in a similar format to British shows like Luther or Only Fools and Horses.

Giving the all clear(ing).

Giving the all clear(ing).

Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster captures a lot of the sentiment that audiences seemed to expect from a revival of The X-Files. It feels very much like stopping by to visit two old friends, people the audience have not seen in years and whom they may not see for quite some time. The bright Vancouver summer undercuts a lot of the potential horror of Founder’s Mutation and Home Again, but it feels oddly appropriate for Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster. The sun is shining on our heroes, even as they converse in a graveyard.

A larger arc in Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster finds Mulder learning to embrace and accept the ridiculousness of The X-Files. It is about Mulder making peace with the show. In fact, in keeping with the episode’s metafictional undertones, it is telling that Morgan gives Mulder that central arc. While Gillian Anderson remained with The X-Files until the bitter end, David Duchovny found himself unable to commit to the show past the seventh season. As such, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster feels like an act of reconciliation.

Mulder, he wrote.

Mulder, he wrote.

One of the stock criticisms of the revival of The X-Files was that it was unnecessary pandering to nostalgia. Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster acknowledges this in its early scenes. “I’m a middle-aged man, Scully,” Mulder reflects. “I’m thinking maybe it’s time to put away childish things.” However, the episode ultimately embraces the rest of that C.S. Lewis quote from On Three Ways of Writing for Children:

Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

With that in mind, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster can be seen as Mulder growing up and making peace with the more outlandish and surreal nature of The X-Files. The goofiness and absurdity of the episode are a mark of its maturity, as if coming out the other side of those mid-life anxieties about doing “important” things or producing “meaningful” art and embracing the sublime at the heart of the ridiculous.

"Not everything can be reduced to psychology." "That's what you think."

“Not everything can be reduced to psychology.”
“That’s what you think.”

At the same time, none of this is to suggest that Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is just an act of nostalgia, even as it accepts that nostalgia is an essential part of this revival. In fact, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is undeniably a personal work for Darin Morgan. This deals with themes that are immensely personal to the writer and which integrate into his larger body of work. Guy Mann is very much a companion to Clyde Bruckman, a character attempting to make sense of the world, and for whom the very act of living seems painful.

There is a co-mingling of tragedy and comedy to Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster that is very much in keeping with the best of Morgan’s writing. Listening to Guy outline his tale of a lizard that was bitten by a man and thus cursed to transform into a human being, Mulder complains, “I thought I was going to believe you, but it’s all… it’s just too… fantastic.” Guy counters, “It’s not fantastic. It’s tragic!” Mulder responds, “No, I mean it’s just… silly.” That is ultimately the script’s biggest joke and its cruellest tragedy; life is often both silly and tragic at the same time.

"Human existence is a bit pants, isn't it?"

“Human existence is a bit pants, isn’t it?”

In Season X, David Duchovny points to Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster as the logical extension of some of Morgan’s most personal themes:

The idea that being a human would be so painful… That’s often what Darin’s writing is about. And he found a vehicle in this case through a lizard who has the misfortune of having to be a little bit human for a while. And he’s like, “What the f%$k? This is awful! I just want to be a lizard! I don’t want to have to get a job.” I mean, that’s Darin. Darin is that lizard.

A monster bitten by a man and forced to transform into a human is a fantastic concept of itself, but using that as a vehicle to comment on the human condition elevates Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster to genius.

A tough call.

A tough call.

On the surface, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster paints a very misanthropic picture of human existence. “It doesn’t make any sense,” Guy laments at one point. “Nothing makes sense.” He later confesses, “I don’t understand half the things I’m telling you.” Mulder responds, “I find that… disconcerting.” There is sense that Guy is not just speaking as a lizard transformed into a human, but he is describing the human experience in a way to which most people have become inured.

Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is an episode that is only half-joking (if even) when it insists that “the one Darwinian advantage that humans have over other animals” is “the ability to BS [their] way through anything.” The script suggests (and not unreasonably) that “the only way to be happy as a human [is] to spend all of your time in the company of non-humans.” These are all great gags, but they suggest that human experience is inherently lonely and full of deceit.

But, on the other hand, this is adorable.

But, on the other hand, this is adorable.

The episode frequently suggests that the only way to truly cope with reality is to self-medicate. All of the humans who interact with Guy are shown to be abusing substances. The stoners are sniffing gold paint, the truck stop prostitute is on crack, the motel owner is drinking rubbing alcohol, the psychiatrist is popping his own pills. Even Mulder gets so drunk that he passes out in a graveyard beneath a tombstone. It seems like these are all just ways of numbing the pain of human existence.

The plotting of the episode is just as pointed. Mulder spends most of the episode convinced that Guy is a killer, to the point that he repeatedly interrupts the story by suggesting a murder. However, the only time that Guy feels blood lust is when he is in his human form. Sneaking up on Pasha, Guy confesses, “I just wanted to…” Mulder suggests, “Strangle him and eat his flesh?” Guy responds, “Yes.” Mulder is satisfied. “Now we’re getting somewhere.” However, that impulse vanishes once Guy transforms back to his natural form.

"I'm not a man, I'm an animal!"

“I’m not a man, I’m an animal!”

Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster suggests that cruelty and sadism are part of the human experience. The real monster in the episode is not Guy the were-man. The real monster is Pasha, the serial killing animal control warden. When Scully suggests the possibility of a human killer earlier in the episode, Mulder is dismissive. “I gave up profiling before I gave up monsters. You’ve seen one serial killer, you’ve seen ’em all.” It seems that Darin Morgan is agreed. Pasha is apprehended by Scully off-screen, and Mulder won’t even listen to his motive rant.

There is a strain of sadness that runs through Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster, an existential despair that human life in the twenty-first century has become nothing more than a painful meaningless slog. In some ways, this is a recurring theme of Morgan’s work. Clyde Bruckman and the Puppet face this in their own ways in Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, while the characters in Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” struggle to force their reality to make some sort of sense.

The story gets a bit fuzzy at this point.

The story gets a bit fuzzy at this point.

At one point, Mulder nitpicks the mechanics of the story told by Guy. What causes the transformation from man to lizard? If it is the moon, how come Guy can transform from man to lizard to man again over what seems to be the space of half an hour. “I’m just looking for some kind of internal logic,” Mulder reflects, as if he wasn’t the guy to jump to genetic memories in Aubrey or liver-eating stretch mutants in Squeeze. “Why?” Guy responds. “There isn’t an external logic to any of it.” It seems too much to expect monsters to make sense when life stubbornly refuses.

However, there is a cautious optimism at the end of Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster, an optimism that mirrors Morgan’s uncredited rewrite of Quagmire. When Mulder questions the absurdity of Guy’s story, Guy responds by quoting the first folio of Hamlet back at him. (Guy is apparently a very literate lizard.) Advising Mulder that there are more things in heaven and earth than anybody can imagine, Guy reflects, “It’s a comforting thought, isn’t it?”

Yep. It's been that kind of conversation.

Yep. It’s been that kind of conversation.

Guy’s logic is clear. “Because if there’s nothing more to life than what we already know, then there’s nothing but… worries, self-doubt, regret and loneliness.” If there isn’t a giant transforming lizard in Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster, it’s really just the story of a cookie-cutter serial killer. If there is nothing mysterious out there, then the world is very mundane place. Indeed, even the belief in something mysterious serves to make the world seem more magical. If there is more to know, then there is also just more than what we take for granted.

This is a quintessential X-Files theme, one more fundamental than alien conspiracies or government cover-ups. In many ways, The X-Files is a show about the need for faith in something more than the mundane day-to-day realities of the world around us. In the nineties, The X-Files existed in contrast to the so-called “end of history”, as if assuring viewers that the world still had some mysteries to offer. In the twenty-first century, Mulder’s desire to believe in fantastical monsters exists in an era of perpetual warfare and resurgent nationalism. There must be something more.

Happy endings.

Happy endings.

As such, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is notable for being a rare Darin Morgan episode that is sympathetic to Mulder. Writing on the original show, Morgan tended to treat Mulder as something of a joke or a punchline. In Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, Mulder was unable to see past Clyde Bruckman’s psychic gift to the man underneath. In War of the Coprophages, Mulder proceeds to drive a small town to the brink of collapse while chasing down a non-existent alien invasion. Against this, Morgan treats Scully as the grounded of the pair.

In contrast, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is told from Mulder’s point of view. Scully is off-screen for extended sections of the episode while the the script follows Mulder’s own existential investigations; Scully is only really seen when in the same room as Mulder or on the phone to Mulder. The episode’s arc concerns Mulder finding his faith in the paranormal again, having his diminished faith in the paranormal vindicated through his encounter with Guy Mann.

Smile time.

Smile time.

In Season X, David Duchovny reflected on Darin Morgan’s relationship with Mulder:

Darin conflates Duchovny with Mulder. And I think he really doesn’t like Mulder very much. He likes to poke fun at Mulder and he kinda idealises Scully. His tone is like Scully’s immortal, and disarming suspects by the time I get there. Mulder’s dropping his gun, and is an idiot. Character assassination and all these things. You know, the Mulder who is running along in a truck stop trying to get a picture of a monster in a truck stop and not pulling his gun, and taking pictures of a monster in a port-a-potty… that’s not the Mulder from the first episode. Darin’s a funny writer, and you really want to honour that, but you can’t all of a sudden be playing Inspector Clouseau. Which is kinda how he likes to write Mulder, but without the accent. But this one has a lot of heart in it. Darin seems to have a softer spot for Mulder than he used to have in the past. In the end, Mulder gets to see what he wants to see. He gets to be reinvigourated.

It is a fair point. The episode is certainly more sympathetic to Mulder than earlier episodes had been.

A disarming conversation.

A disarming conversation.

At the same time, Mulder and Scully Meets the Were-Monster is entirely consistent with Morgan’s earlier portrayal of Mulder. Mulder is still a klutz and screw-up. He is still disarmed by Guy at the graveyard. He is still more interested in his own insecurities than in stopping a serial killer, as Scully points out in the woods. He is still unable to work his phone. He is still more than a little bit hypocritical. He twice chides Scully for approaching a dangerous suspect without back-up, both immediately before and immediately after confronting Guy alone in the graveyard.

However, Duchovny is very much on board with the episode. Duchovny is an actor who has always had a relatively low-key style, who is very capable of underplaying a script if there is nothing in that script to interest him. However, Duchovny appreciates that Mulder and Scully Meets the Were-Monster is very much the Mulder showcase of the six episodes, and so gives it everything that he has. Duchovny’s interactions with Rhys Darby are a highlight of the miniseries, demonstrating both actors’ comedic chops. Mulder’s escalating reactions to the story are brilliant.

Mulder finds a hole in the story.

Mulder finds a hole in the story.

It could be argued that Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster gets to the heart of The X-Files in a manner more fundamental than My Struggle I or Founder’s Mutation. It even gets away with a cheesy acknowledgement of this fact in its final scene. When Mulder scoffs at Guy’s planned ten thousand year hibernation, Guy laments, “There you go again, not believing me!” Mulder hesitates a moment before making a confession. “I want to believe.” More than Babylon, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster understands the faith at the core of The X-Files.

At the same time, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster stands quite apart from the rest of the miniseries. The script fits quite comfortably with the thematic arc of the episodes around it, the themes of middle-age anxiety and concerns about retreading old ground. However, it stands quite apart in terms of plot. Founder’s Mutation offered a bridge between episodic adventure and overarching mythology, in keeping with what most contemporary viewers expect from modern television. In contrast, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is its own beast.

"It's a good thing that this isn't too closely tied to My Struggle I, because a gag about my alcohol consumption becomes a lot darker in light of my diagnosed depression."

“It’s a good thing that this episode isn’t too closely tied to My Struggle I, because this gag about my alcohol consumption would become a lot darker in light of my diagnosed depression.”

There are no references to William. There are no references to the new mythology. There is no attempt to contextualise Mulder’s crisis as self-doubt in relation to the revision of the mythology in My Struggle I. Scully’s chipper demeanour stands quite apart from her melancholy in Founder’s Mutation or Home Again. There is a reference to the fact that Mulder and Scully have been reassigned to the X-files, but no context that would otherwise colour the episode.

Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster arguably has more in common with Morgan’s work on the underrated second season of Millennium than it does with the rest of the revival miniseries. At one point, Guy Mann labels Mulder as a “ratfink” in homage to the Church of Selfosophy from Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense.” The episode also provides Morgan with the opportunity to restate his hatred of alarm clocks and his disinterest in serial killers as gracefully outlined in Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me.

Phone home.

Phone home.

When the six-episode miniseries was announced, there was some suggestion that Carter would structure those six episodes as a single story told in six parts. There is certainly precedent for this, with Torchwood: Children of Earth following two seasons of (relatively) standalone stories by telling a single epic story across five episodes. Given how sprawling the mythology had been, and the epic alien invasion promised by The Truth, there was certainly enough story to justify a six-part story. The show had been quite fond of three-parters in earlier years.

News articles described the miniseries as a “six-parter.” Fox advertised it as “six episode event series”, which suggests a singular quality to the narrative. Reaction to the decision the pair standalone stories with the larger mythology was muted at best, particularly given the relatively short order count. Author and critic Chris Knowles argued that “doing standalones was a big mistake.” Josh Kurp criticised the miniseries’ “lack of coherence.” Daniel Burden proposed that the series would have been stronger had it “told a single story.”

Although My Stuggle I would probably have been a lot more fun if the Freudian psychologist was around to provide running commentary.

Although My Struggle I would probably have been a lot more fun if the Freudian psychologist was around to provide running commentary.

In some ways, this is an expectation encourage by modern television. Modern television is structured in such a way that television seasons tend to be treated as the vision of a singular auteur. Matthew Weiner carefully crafts every aspect of Mad Men. David Simon is the visionary who guided The Wire. David Chase is responsible for everything great about The Sopranos. Vince Gilligan is the creative guiding force on Breaking Bad. There is a tendency to treat television as a novelistic medium, reducing episodes to chapters rather than stories in their own right.

This even bleeds through into network television. If the title of television auteur could be retroactively applied, it might be bestowed upon Aaron Sorkin, who was credited on all but one episode of the first four seasons of The West Wing. More recently, Bryan Fuller is credited on every episode of Hannibal, ensuring that his vision is consistently applied across the show’s thirty-nine episode run. This is largely how television is produced these days, and it makes a certain amount of sense that fans would expect the same of The X-Files.

Keeping it handy.

Keeping it handy.

After all, The X-Files helped to pave the way to the current golden age. While it is possible to overstate the influence of the show, it provided two key ingredients that modern audiences take for granted. On the one hand, The X-Files reintroduced the idea of long-form serialisation into prime-time narratives after the major networks had shied away from it following the difficulty at selling shows like Dynasty, Dallas and Falcon Crest into syndication. Shows like The X-Files, Twin Peaks and E.R. proved there was an appetite for that kind of storytelling.

The other big innovation of The X-Files was to embrace cinematic storytelling on the small screen. The X-Files was bold and ambitious in its scope. The mythology episodes were essentially blockbuster movies, with Mulder celebrating Sweeps by climbing atop a submarine in End Game or jumping on board a moving train in Nisei or breaking out of a gulag in Terma. In many ways, The X-Files proved that television didn’t need to be static or narrow, that it could tell truly epic stories on a large scale.

"I'm telling you, Scully. It looks a lot more impressive on a big screen."

“I’m telling you, Scully. It looks a lot more impressive on a big screen.”

With all of that in mind, it makes sense that fans would imagine (or hope) that The X-Files would embrace the innovations and stylistic quirks of modern television. In many ways, Chris Carter was already a television auteur. While The X-Files had always balanced its esoteric interests a populist bent, shows like Millennium and Harsh Realm demonstrated a more provocative and outright artistic sensibility. Carter had been a superstar producer during the nineties, paving the way for the current generation along with Kelley and Sorkin.

However, the simple truth is that The X-Files never really worked like that. The show was never one big story. In fact, it could reasonably be argued that even the mythology running through the show was never one big cohesive story; the mythology was repeatedly reinvented or reconfigured in episodes like Two Fathers and One Son or Within and Without or Nothing Important Happened Today I and Nothing Important Happened Today II. Episodes like William and The Truth might have retroactively tried to structure them into a cohesive narrative, but they struggled.

"Yeah, Scully. You're right. Torches are much more practical."

“Yeah, Scully. You’re right. Torches are much more practical.”

If The X-Files could be said to have an autuer sensibility, it was very much rooted on the episode level rather than on the season level. Chris Carter had his own interests and sensibilities that are quite obvious on episodes like Triangle and Improbable, but they are less obvious in other episodes. Instead of imposing his singular vision on every single episode, Carter encouraged his writers to take ownership of their own episodes; his staff were empowered to explore themes that interested them.

Vince Gilligan described working on The X-Files as “like going back to film school but they are paying us to be there.” Writers like Vince Gilligan, James Wong, Frank Spotnitz and John Shiban were all encouraged to start directing episodes they had written. Writers were entrusted to work on pre- and post-production of their episodes, being on-set to help the directors who were filming them. Individual writers pursued their esoteric interests. Episodes reflected their writers more than they reflected Chris Carter.

Hat's off to Carter.

Hat’s off to Carter.

In Season X, Darin Morgan recalls the experience of working on The X-Files as compared to modern television:

It was very loose and informal. “Here’s this kinda story I want to do.” And often times there were people working on the mythology, which was basically Chris and Frank, and everybody else was doing their own stuff with standalone episodes. And that’s kinda similar here. And I’m sure that’s weird for fans nowadays because TV has changed so much. Every show is kinda one continuous story, but that’s what made The X-Files kinda different.

It is very strange for modern television fans, but is an approach that offers its own distinctive rewards.

Also, little men who wish that they were lizards.

Also, little men who wish that they were lizards.

The result was that The X-Files could often feel more like a collection of separate-but-overlapping series depending on who was writing in a given week. Vince Gilligan was fascinated with “little men who wish that they were big”, with episodes like Pusher, Paper Hearts, Drive, Dreamland I and Dreamland II paving the way for Breaking Bad. Darin Morgan reflected on the existential pain of the human condition in scripts like Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose or Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space.”

It makes sense that the revival would follow the same format. Rather than a single season of television presented as the work of a singular auteur, the season would instead be six distinct episodes that would be the work of four auteurs. This sensibility was reinforced by the fact that these core four writers would also be directing their own episodes. It is not so much that The X-Files is the work of Chris Carter, it is that Babylon is the work of Chris Carter. Home Again is the work of Glen Morgan. Founder’s Mutation is the work of James Wong.

Obligatory Ford cameo!

Obligatory Ford cameo!

In fact, Carter was very insistent on recruiting a set of veteran writers who could bring their own sensibilities to the six episodes rather than simply writing a script according to Carter’s design or breakdown:

I reached out to Frank Spotnitz and Vince Gilligan, but the first people that I reached out to were the people who were on the show, originally, which were Glen [Morgan] and Jim [Wong] and Darin [Morgan]. I didn’t reach out to Howard [Gordon] because I knew he was busy. He had Tyrant on the air and had an overall deal with Fox, where I knew he was in development. And I didn’t reach out to Alex [Gansa] because he’s got Homeland on the air. But, these other guys were in between jobs. Frank couldn’t do it because he was on The Man in the High Castle. He’s actually got a European series too, so he’s got two series on the air. I actually had lunch with Vince to try to convince him to do it, but he has Better Call Saul and he was very apologetic. He was sorry that he couldn’t be a part of it, but I understood.

This approach all but ruled out the possibility of a single six-episode story arc across the season. Considering that the three episodes written by Carter generated the strongest negative response, this is probably a good thing.

You can really recognise a writer's handiwork.

You can really recognise a writer’s handiwork.

Carter’s involvement with the revival became highly controversial, particularly when Babylon and My Struggle II aired back-to-back at the end of the season. Many critics argued that Carter was past his prime and that he was out of touch. However, these articles tended to ignore that it was Carter’s approach to The X-Files that made Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster possible. Whatever audiences might think of Carter as a writer, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is the strongest possible argument for Carter’s strengths as an executive producer.

The result is that the six episodes that make up the X-Files revival feel like six distinct episodes of television. There are some obvious points of overlap, with Founder’s Mutation and Home Again putting an emphasis on William or Babylon sounding the trumpets of Judgement Day just in time for My Struggle II, but each of those episodes stand apart from one another. In fact, Chris Carter was able to adjust the broadcast order of the season at the last minute so that Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is the only episode of the middle four to air in sequence.

An enlightening debate...

An enlightening debate…

This does feel a little outdated in the context of modern television. The current model of television production tends to shift emphasis away from the individual episode and towards the season as a whole. Discussing Winter is Coming, the pilot of Game of Thrones, Todd Van Der Werff credited the trend to HBO:

Surprise, surprise, then, to see that the show at the center of the massive storm is, well, a typical HBO show. It tosses the audience into the deep end of the pool and expects at least a dog paddle. It’s got incredible production values, a seriously deep acting bench, and a vague sense that this isn’t a traditional TV series, but rather a 10-hour movie that doesn’t bother with anything like splitting the story into separate but equal episodes, which all tell an individual story, no matter how small. Even as other cable networks move toward a more standalone model—even shows like Breaking Bad and The Killing provide at LEAST a small goal for their protagonists to pull off in each individual episode—HBO has staked its claim on the ultra-dense, ultra-serialized side of the field. It’s almost impossible to know how to feel about individual episodes of shows like Treme or Boardwalk Empire or even True Blood, because the storytelling is so thoroughly geared toward the massive, toward telling a single story over the course of a season, or even a series.

Game of Thrones is obviously positioned at the very extreme of this trend, to the point where even the show’s more memorable episodes (Baelor, Blackwater, Rains of Castamere, Battle of the Bastards, The Winds of Winter) tend to be built around moments of pay-off within those episodes rather than the episode as a standalone unit of story.

Nothin' but net.

Nothin’ but net.

Even the most striking and effective episodes of modern television seem reliant on the episodes around them for context. Mizumono, the second season finale of Hannibal, is meticulously crafted and comes together like clockwork, to the point that the soundtrack of the episode sounds very much like a ticking clock. However, it is also pay-off to twenty-five episodes of build-up, providing context to a flash forward that appeared at the start of the season and pushing the show’s relationship between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter to breaking point.

Each of the individual episodes of American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson are structured to examine a particular part of the process; they are clearly episodes rather than simply instalments. However, they are so densely interwoven and so heavily reliant on one another that it is impossible to point to a single stand-out episode. More and more, it seems difficult to point perspective viewers to individual episodes as a way to sample a show or to demonstrate its strength. It seems like to appreciate the best in a given show, it all has to be consumed.

Poster child.

Poster child.

In many ways, this storytelling approach is really the culmination of a trend that has been building for quite some time. The episode has seemed less and less important as a cohesive unit of story as the twenty-first century grinds on. Ryan McGee traces the origin of this movement back to the launch of The Sopranos in January 1999:

Calling The Sopranos a novelistic approach to the medium means praising both its new approach to television and its long-form storytelling. But HBO has shifted its model to produce televised novels, in which chapters unfold as part and parcel of a larger whole rather than serving the individual piece itself.  Here’s the problem: A television show is not a novel. That’s not to put one above the other. It’s simply meant to illuminate that each piece of art has to accomplish different things. HBO’s apparent lack of awareness of this difference has filtered into its product, and also filtered into the product of nearly every other network as well.

It should be noted that this change was already taking place towards the end of the original run of The X-Files. The Sopranos launched on the same night that Fox broadcast The Rain King. As if symbolising that an era had come to an end, no subsequent episode of The X-Files would match the audience figures for The Rain King.

If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise.

If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise.

This is an argument that could easily be overstated. There are lots of great television episodes produced every year that stand on their own two feet. The Sopranos produced Pine Barrens, which remains one of the best single episodes of television ever made. Breaking Bad broke from format to offer the (highly polarising) standalone story The Fly. Doctor Who uses between twelve and thirteen episodes in a given season to tell a number of different stories in a number of different settings in a way that maximises accessibility.

Still, there is a definite trend in contemporary television towards treating the episode as a chapter rather than a novella. This is not necessarily a bad thing. When a television show like Game of Thrones or Hannibal comes together with the successful culmination of years of storytelling, it all feels worthwhile. However, there is also something to recommend the more immediate pay-off of a really good single episode of television that can be enjoyed on its own terms with an absolute minimum of prior knowledge.

One of the more disappoint elements cut from Morgan's script for The "M" Word is the sequence involving the sketch artist who is really excited to be drawing a monster.

One of the more sorely missed elements cut from Morgan’s script for The “M” Word is the sequence involving the sketch artist who is really excited to be drawing a monster.

Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster essentially makes a convincing argument for the approach that Chris Carter adopted towards the revival of The X-Files. The six episodes of the miniseries may not have been consistently brilliant, but at least one of them was a masterpiece. Would six episodes of a single story overseen and directed by Chris Carter be worth losing Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster? Would a tightly integrated storytelling style be worth it, if it meant hemming in Darin Morgan and limiting his ability to tell his own story?

The revival of The X-Files adopts an auteur-driven approach to storytelling, just not in the way that contemporary audiences expect. Modern viewers expect executive producers to provide a singular guiding vision across a whole season or even a whole series, but that was never the model to which Chris Carter adhered. Instead, the revival of The X-Files is auteur-driven on a episodic level. Each of the episodes is very clearly and distinctly the work of its author, dealing with themes and ideas that are of particular interest to those authors.

The truth is pretty out there.

The truth is pretty out there.

Does this approach always work? Most certainly not. Home Again is an episode that is immensely personal to writer and director Glen Morgan, but it suffers from trying to do too much. Babylon is a very earnest exploration of the politics of hate from Chris Carter, that trips over itself as it struggles with tone and with modern political realities. However, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster demonstrates that the approach can work. It is a story that came from writer Darin Morgan, and could only have come from Darin Morgan.

If even one in every six episodes of The X-Files were this good, then it seems like the show could be deemed a success. There is a lot more to recommend the revival miniseries, but Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is the purest distillation of why the show’s approach still works even twenty years on.

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12 Responses

  1. This one and Founder’s Mutation are in my opinion the best chapters of this revival, but in general these six episodes felt like a sampler lacking any cohesive connection between them excepting the two “struggles” which are far from great anyway. I think it was a huge mistake from the production team to do it like it was 1994 again, when anything happening in the episode the previous week didn’t had any consequence in the storyline of the next one. But then maybe this was their idea, to simply provide a sampler, the series was cancelled 14 years ago, posibly there’s many newbie viewers who didn’t catch the original run and Fox wanted to let them know what this whole X-Files thing was about, it’s a posibility but the decision of having so disimilar episodes within such a small run feels weird and outdated in this age of television. Surely, this could change if the show comes back for a full season, but yeah I was dissapointed in this regard, definitely expected something more coherent after all these years.

    • I think that’s a fair point about the lack of cohesion. But, to me, that was part of the charm. I think Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is a really robust defense of that format, given it’s really tone to integrate with the episodes around it. The same is somewhat true of Home Again, which is a very personal episode that only has the most superficial of plot connections to the rest of the arc. (I think there are some very strong common themes.)

      I do think that there’s a lot to recommend a revival model that invites back alumni with the freedom to do whatever they want. I don’t mind a Doctor Who style approach to reviving The X-Files, although it should be noted that Carter has a lighter hand than either of the producers who worked on the Doctor Who revival. Almost a collection of short stories with linking characters and themes rather than a single narrative. Which is arguably what The X-Files always kind of was.

  2. Season 10 has a heavy Morgan & Wong feel to it. Not quite as much so as the first 8 episodes of season 2, but it has a clear thematic through-line despite telling mostly standalone stories. I would also argue that Darin Morgan’s work as story editor kept season 3 thematically consistent whereas season 4 was largely run by Howard Gordon and then seasons 5-9 turned over to “John Gilinitz.” There are obvious strong comparisons to season 2 of Millennium. Mulder & Scully Meet the Were Monster reminds me more of Somehow Satan Got Behind Me than any x-files script he worked on.

    • That’s an interesting point about Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me. Personally, I’d suggest that Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is really an extension of Morgan’s rewrite of Quagmire, except that Mulder doesn’t just get to see the monster this time, he gets to shake hands with it.

  3. Couldn’t agree more. I too like the shows that can still pull off a great standalone episode. As you noted X-Files is unique in that it never had one strong unifying voice but several voices which is honestly what helped it reach the peaks it did. Again I feel the revival could have been longer so the conspiracy was no so rushed but at the same time there is no doubt that the episodes Chris Carter doesn’t write are better and part of me feels like Chris himself knows this. I was interested to read he tried to get Vince Gilligan back. Along with Darin he is my favorite writer and I hope if they do more episodes in the future they get him to come back.

    • I’d love to see a Gilligan episode, and his interviews make it sound like he would have tried to clear time if he had more notice. I’d also really like a Howard Gordon episode. I also seem to be the only person who’d like to see another David Amann script, or even see Stephen King or William Gibson take another crack.

  4. The friends I watched the new season with and myself agree that it wasn’t very good overall, but two things make it all worth it: 1) Mulder in Texas tripping on mushrooms to Miranda Lambert music and 2) this episode.

    More generally, having been an inconsistent viewer of the original X-Files, watching an entire season in one go for once (even a very abridged one) makes me empathize with the people who say that the monster-of-the-week episodes and not the overarching conspiracy plotline are when the show was at its best. The mytharc is like the conspiracy theorist worldview it sprang from – messy, full of holes, and constantly rewritten to suit the needs of the moment. The self-contained episodes get to be neater and easier and don’t necessarily surrender any of the “deep” commentary on society that the conspiracy episodes try to do. This one especially felt like a modernized, funnier, Twilight Zone episode.

    • Yep. I definitely think there’s something to be said for the format, particularly in this era of heavy serialisation. I love Game of Thrones for its dense plotting and novel-like pacing, but I also adore Doctor Who for its ability to be a completely different show from week to week.

  5. “Rather than a single season of television presented as the work of a singular auteur, the season would instead be six distinct episodes that would be the work of four auteurs.”

    Yes! I started paying attention to writing credits with The X-Files, and Carter as an executive producer should be praised for the many-headed hydra he created. As to whether this mini-series revival should have been a single “novelistic” story or an anthology, I think that also depends on how much you watched the show for its mythology or for its MOTWs. I know where I stand, being a hardcore fan of the former: resolving the mythology in order to clear the way for future MOTWs in an eventual British-type series format as you suggest. More on that with My Struggle II…

    On the other hand (and that’s a poke at Carter!): this episode does much more to present to us Mulder’s state of mind than My Struggle I, with its implied but never expanded upon depression, ever did. The same goes for tackling the core themes of the X-Files, faith and awe over the unknown, as you noted.

    There is a lot of campiness and men-in-suits in this episode, reminiscent of Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me; since the latter was my least favourite among all of Darin’s episodes, I found this one great but not stellar. I seem to be an exception on this opinion. I see a lot and very obvious fan service in this episode, and while I understand why it’s there it diminishes my enjoyment of the episode instead of making the episode stand on its own two feet — the tombstones and Mulder’s ringtone, notably. Whereas casting-wise I was delighted: the eternal Alex Diakun, the two stoners! Darin Morgan’s joy at doing this episode is enormous, and it’s a fine line between a nostalgia trip and making a point about how these characters have evolved after all these years.

    Good job spotting the “ratfink” and the wolf with full moon on the port-a-potty; rewarding repeated viewing indeed!

    • Personally, I don’t know that the nostalgia stuff is too much. It’s weird to think that Darin Morgan’s last steady television job was on Intruders with Glen at the BBC America. I’d love to see a Darin Morgan script for Doctor Who, and Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster sort of reminded me of that sort of storytelling, with the healthy dose of irony and self-awareness. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Were-Monster was the best received of the six episodes; it is not only brilliant on its own terms, but it’s also the episode that is most explicitly a nostalgic celebration of everything that made The X-Files so fantastic in the first place.

      I stand in a strange place on the mythology/MOTW divide. I think I’ve come to see the best mythology episodes as MOTW episodes with strong thematic connections. A lot of the better mythology episodes can be watched and enjoyed on their own terms, with the scripts providing cues that let the audience know the broad strokes of background information. (Nisei/731, for example; even Patient X/The Red and the Black.) It doesn’t matter that they don’t pay off very well for me, I think, because I see them as their own reward.

  6. A fantastic episode, and a fantastic review as usual. Darin and Darren doing excellent work!

    Can I ask, where can I get my hands on the Season X documentary? My google fu is drawing a blank…

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