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The X-Files – 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.

If Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster demonstrates the strengths of this six-episode miniseries format, then Home Again makes a case for the weaknesses.

Home Again is not a bad episode of itself. However, it does suffer from two glaring weaknesses of the revival format. The most obvious is that the revival is only six episodes long, which means that everything is truncated and reduced. This was quite clear in My Struggle I, which was essentially a mythology two- or three-parter with all the non-exposition bits cut out. However, it is also clear with Home Again, which feels like two great episodes that have been combined to form one good episode.

"This one has a monster in it."

“This one has a monster in it.”

Glen Morgan is also the weakest director of the four directors working on the revival miniseries. Morgan is a phenomenal writer, but he lacks the stylistic flourish of Chris Carter or the dynamism of James Wong. He does not tailor the script for Home Again to suit his directorial sensibilities in the way that Darin Morgan does with his scripts for Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” or Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me. Morgan is a good director, but one of the most under-appreciated ingredients of The X-Files was its murderer’s row of great television directors.

As a result, Home Again is an episode that is much stronger on paper than it is on camera.

"Mulder and Scully, FBI."

“Mulder and Scully, FBI.”

Television directors have traditionally been under-appreciated. There are lots of historical reasons for this, mainly owing to the differences between film and television production. In film, the movie is treated as the project in and of itself. As such, the director traditionally has the greatest measure of control over the project. It is not uncommon for a director to be attached to a project before a writer, or to dictate rewrites to a writer. As such, it is the director’s sensibility that tends to be the common thread across multiple films.

Alfred Hitchcock is perhaps the most famous example, inspiring the auteur school of New Wave film criticism that treated the director as author of the text. However, it is quite apparent looking at the work of other directors. Steven Spielberg has his own recurring sets of themes and motifs across his work, despite the fact that he is rarely credited as a writer on his own films (Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the exception that proves the rule.) A Tim Burton film looks and feels like a Tim Burton film, no matter the screenwriting credit.

Having a Gaeta old time.

Having a Gaeta old time.

Television has traditionally adopted a different approach to direction, owing to a number of different factors. In practical terms, television moves a lot quicker than film. Traditionally, production teams have been required to produce a half-hour or an hour of television in roughly a week. Television was long driven by rigorous production schedules and a conveyor belt mentality. The goal was to come in on-budget and on-time. Producing something with depth or meaning was a secondary concern, at best.

Discussing the production of the original Star Trek, Leonard Nimoy argued that the most important lesson for a director working on the show was “get it done fast.” Television shows aired on schedule, and there were huge penalties for production teams that simply could not get new content delivered on time and on budget. This is part of the reason why concepts like “bottle episodes” and “clip shows” exist, an acknowledgement that television was a schedule-orientated industry in a way that mainstream cinema was not.

Warding off danger.

Warding off danger.

To be fair, recent decades has seen television move away from that rigid scheduled approach. Season orders have gotten shorter, which allows creative teams a great deal more freedom. At the end of the seventh season of The X-Files, David Duchovny decided that he could not possibly do another twenty-odd episode season of television. As a result, he had to be written out of the show so that he only had to appear in a handful of eighth season episodes. In contrast, the revival demonstrates that modern television is more flexible to those sorts of creative concerns.

However, if recent years have seen the acceptance of television as a medium with artistic merit, most of that acceptance has been built around writers and producers rather than directors. In terms of television, the auteur is generally the head writer or the executive producer. The television series is frequently treated as their vision. Directors are still treated as something close to hired hands, with celebrity directors like Neil Marshall or David Slade or Martin Scorsese stopping by to direct an episode or two before moving on.

Holding on together.

A touching moment.

Working on The Following, director Marcos Siega reflected on television industry’s perception of the role that directors play in the creative process:

Television is tough. Most writers, if they read this, will say, “Well, it’s a writer’s medium.” And I think yes, that is true. It started as a hundred percent a writer’s medium and I think directors are considered more like traffic cops. They come in and make sure everything’s running smoothly and you get the footage and you get what you need. 

This makes a great deal of sense. After all, the director is traditionally tasked with overseeing one or two hours in a given season, while the writers an executive producers are tasked with fitting them all together.

True Detective.

True Detective.

To be fair, there is an indication that some of this is changing. Steven Soderbergh has directed every single episode of The Knick, which allows the director complete control of the television show’s visual aesthetic. The same is certainly true of Cary Fukunaga, who directed all of the first season of Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective. When Fukunaga departed the show following its first season, the muted critical reaction to the second season invited critics and commentators to wonder whether credit had been correctly apportioned between writer and director.

Even outside of these particular examples, it seems like contemporary critics and audiences are more mindful of prominent television directors today than they would have been in the past. Marvel has elevated veteran television directors like Alan Taylor or the Russo brothers to work on their blockbuster properties. Michelle MacLaren is one of the most highly regarded directors working today, to the point that she was originally attached to direct Warner Brothers’ Wonder Woman.

He Nose.

He Nose.

There is a sense that The X-Files was ahead of the curve in this respect. The writing staff tends to attract a great deal of debate and discussion, and understandably so. These are the writers who defined Mulder and Scully, who established the themes of the show, who drove the mythology. However, The X-Files owes a lot to its directors. The show featured some of the most consistently impressive directors ever to work on television. It is a cliché to suggests that The X-Files looked a movie every week, but its polished appearance and visual style owed a lot to its directors.

The X-Files owes a lot to writers like Chris Carter, Glen Morgan, James Wong, Darin Morgan, Howard Gordon, Frank Spotnitz, and Vince Gilligan. However, The X-Files also owes a lot to directors like R.W. Goodwin, Rob Bowman, Kim Manners, David Nutter, and Rod Hardy. Michelle MacLaren earned her first directorial credit on John Doe, an episode written by Vince Gilligan that seemed to set out a stylistic template for Breaking Bad. The look and feel of the show was down to the whole production team, but the directors were an essential part of that.

"Well, this one's in the bag."

“Well, this one’s in the bag.”

In many respects, it is a shame that the revival series worked so hard to bring back those classic writers without also bringing back those veteran directors. It is great to see writers like Glen Morgan and James Wong write for Mulder and Scully again. However, it would also be fun to see David Nutter or Rob Bowman get a chance to bring their years of development to show. These are directors who have been working constantly, with Nutter working on everything from Game of Thrones to The Flash while Rob Bowman was an essential part of Castle.

One of the big issues with Chris Carter’s three episodes – and also with Home Again, to an extent – is the sense that the production team are having difficulties adapting to the structural elements of modern network television. When Carter and Morgan wrote for The X-Files, network television episodes were four acts long; now they are five, but also shorter. Carter has not worked steadily in television since the end of The X-Files in 2002. Morgan has worked on more niche shows like Those Who Kill or Intruders.

"It's tearing me apart!"

“It’s tearing me apart!”

With this in mind, it is entirely possible that the veteran directors could bring an understanding of contemporary television that would help in the shooting and editing of the series. None of the six revival episodes are directed as tightly as Michelle MacLaren’s 4 Days Out or David Nutter’s Mother’s Mercy, to pick relatively recent work from the filmographies of those directors. Purely in terms of The X-Files, are any of the revival episodes directed as well as Rob Bowman’s work on Paper Hearts or The Pine Bluff Variant or David Nutter’s work on Ice or Tooms?

At the same time, the decision to allow the writers working on the revival series to direct their own episodes makes a great deal of sense in terms of the revival’s aesthetic. In the era of auteur television, Chris Carter and his writers are embracing their own variation on the idea. The X-Files revival does not conform to the traditional model of television auteur-ship, the idea that an executive producer outlines their own vision for a season or a series. Instead, each of the writers is assigned responsibility for their own episode from beginning to end. This includes the direction.

Mother's Mercy.

Mother’s Mercy.

In some ways, this is a very modern idea. Quentin Tarantino recently lamented that so few directors had embraced the potential of crafting an auteur vision for television:

However, no writer-directors have taken that mini-series format and really done what could be done. You don’t have any writer-directors that write all six episodes, and then direct all six episodes. You have a guy like Soderbergh or Fukunaga who directs everything, or you have somebody like Aaron Sorkin who writes everything, but you don’t have the guy who does everything. If ever there’s been a chance for somebody to truly do a filmed novel, it’s in this area.

The revival miniseries is most definitely not a “filmed novel”, but it could be considered a series of filmed novellas. Certainly episodes like Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster and Home Again are profoundly personal works.

Still waters.

Still waters.

At the same time, there are obvious limitations on this approach. Founder’s Mutation is the best looking of the six episodes, because James Wong is the strongest director of the four working on the series. Home Again suffers because Glen Morgan is the weakest director of the four working on the series. The script is very strong, even if it seems overstuffed. The biggest issue with Home Again as an episode of television is that it lacks the visceral pop and power of the very best X-Files episodes.

To be clear, Morgan is a good director. He works very well with actors. Home Again features really great work from Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, and Morgan helps to navigate Tim Armstrong through one of his first major acting roles. There is a strong emotional connection to the work, and Morgan is quite conscious of that in how he frames sequences. Mulder and Scully talk about parenthood on a bench, mirroring their conversation on the topic in Home. The final scene on the log is shot beautifully, Morgan using a location from Intruders for maximum effect.

The police are going to have to canvas the neighbourhood looking for suspects.

The police are going to have to canvas the neighbourhood looking for suspects.

However, Home Again struggles when it tries to be scary. There are some really great visual touches during the episode’s scary moments, with Morgan demonstrating a clear affection for classic horror. The shots of the Band-Aid Nose Man ripping victims apart are always intense, as is the symbolic shot of blood splattering on a white canvas. The half-formed ideas wandering around outside the Trash Man’s studio are haunting, looking almost like a Grant Morrison comic brought to horrific life. The buzzing of flies is suitably unsettling, announcing the golem’s arrival.

However, these elements never quite gel into anything more effective. This is most obvious during the sequences wherein the Band-Aid Nose Man stalks his victims. The character seems to literally teleport around the set, with the camera edits making it clear that he is traveling via the cuts used. While the idea of fixing the camera to the monster so that he becomes the only static object in the frame is very clever and unnerving, it is undercut by Morgan’s decision to use the exact same technique with Scully earlier in the episode.

Tiptoeing past the tulpas...

Tiptoeing past the tulpas…

There is a sense that the horror elements of Home Again could be stronger. The editing on the “Downtown” sequence could be tighter is a case in point, particularly compared with the obvious inspirations of Kim Manners’ work on the “Wonderful” sequence of Home or Rob Bowman’s work on the “Doesn’t Somebody Want to be Wanted?” scene from Never Again. Let alone Thomas J. Wright’s work on the “Life During Wartime” sequence of The Beginning and the End or the “A Horse With No Name” sequence in Roosters or even the “Horses” montage in The Time is Now.

There is a looseness to the montage of Huff going about her business as the Band-Aid Nose Man stalks down her street, as if several of the individual elements (the coffee pouting to the cup, getting the yogurt from the fridge) last a couple of frame too long. Towards the end of the sequence, there is a blackly comic touch that has the Band-Aid Nose Man struggling to fit Huff’s head into the trash receptacle; he has to push twice. It is not a bad little detail of itself, but it doesn’t work within the context of the sequence.

Turns out Glen Morgan does not like people who like yoghurts. Not one bit.

Turns out Glen Morgan does not like people who like yogurts. Not one bit.

Again, none of this is terrible. Morgan has directed a whole host of horror films like Black Christmas and Willard. He understands the genre and is familiar with the form. It is a solid episode of television, that is put together with a great deal of technical care and an appreciation for the macabre elements of the show. However, Home Again lacks the precision and the technique that marks the very best X-Files episodes. It holds the episode back, particularly considering that Band-Aid Nose Man is the revival’s one traditional “monster of the week” story.

That said, Morgan is one of the most underrated writers to work on The X-Files. Along with James Wong, Glen Morgan was responsible for defining a lot of what the show could be. He understands the workings of the show on a very fundamental level, and a lot of the core ingredients of The X-Files can be traced back to the work of Morgan and Wong. Most notably, Morgan and Wong effectively introduced the concept of “monster of the week” in Squeeze. Without them, The X-Files might have been dominated by paranormal revenge stories like Born Again or Roland.

Conversation on the Log.

Conversation on the Log.

It is no surprise that Morgan was one of the first writers to be contacted by Carter when the prospect of a revival was mooted by Fox. Morgan was involved in the early planning of the revival:

Chris and I met in a bar, he doesn’t drink, but I do. It had been like a year before it was public. It was a secret, the deal was very hard to put together. Finally, Chris and I got together and he said he’d written the third movie on his own, and then he had elements that he wanted to do, but he never showed me that script. I told him what I wanted to do and what Darin wanted to do, and he wanted to see those scripts to see what we were going to do, before he did what became episode 4 and the last one.

Indeed, Morgan would become the first producer to share an “executive producer” credit with Chris Carter on the show’s closing credits.

"If an Asian orderly offers you any special meds, please don't take them."

“Oh, and if an Asian orderly offers you any special meds, please don’t take them.”

Morgan has somewhat downplayed his contributions to the season, insisting that he “begged” Carter to remove his name from the end credits in recognition of the fact that Frank Spotnitz had done more work on the original show without ever earning that credit. Certainly, interviews with the production team suggest that the four writers working on the miniseries generally kept to themselves. The episodes were not produced within the standard “writers’ room” format that is the source of so much contemporary television.

This makes a great deal of sense, given that Carter had adopted a similar approach to his writing staff during the production of the original show. Writers like Darin Morgan and Vince Gilligan had been encouraged to find their own voices and write to their interests, instead of rigidly adhering to the format or rules established by Carter. Morgan himself had great experience with that approach; his four scripts with James Wong for the fourth season of The X-Files seemed to push the limits of the freedom that Carter afforded his writers, producing four of the show’s most unique scripts.

"X" marks the spot.

“X” marks the spot.

On the commentary for Founder’s Mutation, James Wong reflected that Carter was too busy with his own half of the series to really engage with the other three episodes:

As we were shooting this series, it was crazy – because Chris was always either in prep or shooting. So he was totally busy all the time. So we didn’t have much time to work together on things as we probably did when we were working on the original series. It was really a treat for me to come back and do this… being in Vancouver again… and even just hearing David and Gillian talk. It just reminded me… it took me back twenty years.

As such, each of the six episodes in the miniseries can be said to reflect the creative vision of their author and director. In some cases, this reflects familiar themes. In other cases, it is more personal.

Pouring himself into his art.

Pouring himself into his art.

Home Again is certainly personal. Glen Morgan is a writer who draws upon his own personal experiences in order to fuel his writing. The divorce plot of Never Again (and arguably the apocalyptic family dissolution of the second season of Millennium) reflect the break-up of his first marriage. The spiritual connection in The Field Where I Died is informed by the director’s subsequent relationship to actress Kristen Cloke, who would become his second wife. Morgan very much subscribes to the philosophy of “write what you know”, his life bleeding through into his work.

This is particularly true of the emotional core of Home Again. While the “monster of the week” case revolves around a golem made of trash that is vindictively murdering people involved in a plot to “relocate” and otherwise exploit the homeless, the heart of Home Again is built around the death of Margaret Scully. At the first crime scene, Scully receives a phone call from her brother William. Their mother has had a heart attack. She is in hospital. The episode ends with Mulder and Scully sitting on the edge of a lake, the urn holding Margaret Scully at their feet.

"This kinda reminds me of that weird coin I found while clearing out my desk in Alone. I thought Dreamland II had been retconned, but I guess I forgot about it."

“This kinda reminds me of that weird coin I found while clearing out my desk in Alone. I thought Dreamland II had been retconned, but I guess I forgot about that.”

This is very much rooted in the passing of Glen Morgan’s mother. He explained:

My brother Darin [Morgan, also a writer-director on the show] and I — our mom passed away in 2009, and I wanted to write about that. The phone call and the necklace that Scully has — the prop department did an exact replication of my mom’s. I have that quarter, and I have no idea why she had it. My dad says he does, but I’m like, “I don’t want to know.” Because he’s probably wrong anyway. [Laughs] I just felt that it’s all: Is there alien life? Is there life here? And all these big mysteries, but the reality is mostly these little mysteries in our lives that actually are the most important to us. So many people that we love pass away, and they take a lot of answers with them, and I just felt that that was worth exploring on a show like this.

This very much the basis of Scully’s emotional arc in Home Again.

To coin a phrase...

To coin a phrase…

The mysteries that Home Again suggests within the Scully family are rather small, in the grand scheme of things. This is not the murder of Bill Mulder in Anasazi, which was fodder for a whole host of revelations about the show’s mythology. It was not even the death of Teena Mulder in Sein und Zeit, signalling the end of one of the show’s great big mysteries as Mulder found out what happened to Samantha. The mysteries in Home Again are a lot smaller. What does the coin on the necklace mean? Why does Margaret Scully want to talk to Charlie above anyone else?

These questions may be small, but that does not make them unimportant. As Scully watches the medical team disconnect her mother’s life support, she confesses to Mulder, “I don’t care about the big questions right now, Mulder. I just want one more chance to ask my mom a few little ones.” There is something very true to life about all of this. After all, life does not conform to the conveniences of narrative fiction. There is no three- (or four-, or five-) act structure, no law of conservation of narrative, no theory of satisfying resolution.

"My son... is named William, too." Funny. I never would have pegged Margaret Scully as a fan of Batman vs. Superman.

“My son… is named William, too.”
Funny. I never would have pegged Margaret Scully as a fan of Batman vs. Superman.

Mulder will almost certainly get the answers to the “big” questions posed by the show, if only because that is how television narratives work. However, Home Again exists to offer Scully the kind of “small” questions that haunt real life. Scully acknowledges as much at the close of the episode. “I believe that you will find all of your answers. You will find the answers to the biggest mysteries, and I will be there when you do. But my mysteries… I’ll never have answered.”

Glen Morgan argued that Home Again was “the third in a trilogy exploring Scully as mother.” The other two episodes in this informal “motherhood” trilogy are Morgan’s fourth season episodes Home and Never Again. In many ways, Home is the most striking of the two, to the point that many fans and reporters speculated that Home Again would be a sequel to Home. Morgan acknowledged as much, confirming that he titled the episode Home Again “knowing that suckers out there would think it was a sequel to Home.”

"More like Two Breath, am I right?"

“More like Two Breath, am I right?”

Still, the episode has a stronger connection to Never Again. Like Never AgainHome Again is a story about Scully trying to balance the demands of the real world within the narrative framework of The X-Files. In Never Again, Scully was unable to have a life outside the X-files, to the point that even the man she dated turned out to be an X-file. Here, she faces the irony that even the mysterious X-files tend towards neater and more satisfying conclusions that real life. Both stories find Scully navigating the point of interception between The X-Files and the real world.

This provides a strong thematic connection to the “monster of the week” case unfolding in the background of the episode. Investigating a series of murders in Philadelphia, Mulder and Scully discover that the culprit is the mysterious Band-Aid Nose Man, a protector of the downtrodden who was willed into existence by the imagination of the artist known only as the Trash Man. “This… this is what came to me in my dreams,” he confesses to Mulder and Scully. It seems like the Band-Aid Nose Man crossed over from his imaginings into the real world.

He came from outside.

He came from outside.

One of the bigger issues with the plotting of Home Again is the difficulty that Morgan has integrating the two separate storythreads. This is most apparent in the closing line, as Scully bridges the plots by conceding, “I need to believe, that we didn’t treat him like trash.” It is somewhat inelegant. There is a sense that Home Again is really two separate episodes crammed together. Morgan acknowledged as much in interviews:

I wish we had another 10 minutes of airtime. I would have liked a few more minutes to kind of let that air out. If we’d had even 10 episodes, and if I had been able to do two episodes out of 10, I would have done the Band-Aid Nose Man and Scully. But we only had six episodes, and we had a lot to accomplish, so you try to do it gracefully in one episode. I wish I had a little bit more time to explore that heartache we go through at the immediate loss of someone, but I felt that the audience would understand that she’s having an emotion and needs to work in order to get away from what just happened to her.

Indeed, an expanded episode count would resolve a lot of the revival miniseries’ issues, from the rushed pacing and crammed feeling of episodes like My Struggle I and Home Again through to the lack of veteran directors. Had Home Again been split into two separate episodes, Glen Morgan could have directed the hospital episode about Margaret Scully while entrusting the Band-Aid Nose Man story to a director like David Nutter or Michelle MacLaren.

Jeez, Mulder. Her mom just died. Don't be a jerk about it.

Jeez, Mulder. Her mom just died. Don’t be a jerk about it.

Even allowing for these issues, the “monster of the week” elements of Home Again are intriguing. On the most superficial level, the plot is a reminder of just how well Glen Morgan writes for Mulder and Scully. Although Home Again is very much a Scully episode, the investigate portions of the episode allow for some prime Mulder banter. It is reassuring to know that Mulder is still a jackass after all these years, asking whether Landry and Huff are married when Huff pointedly refers to Landry as a “douchebag.” (Mulder awkward responds, “I just thought…”)

In fact, Mulder’s cheeky tendencies even provoked some affectionate internet outrage. Deducing the reach of the Band-Aid Nose Man, Mulder cannot resist a jab at Philadelphia’s local basketball team. “We can eliminate any 76-ers,” Mulder assures the local detective. “Because those guys can’t find the rim.” This prompted the team’s social media account to respond. It is perhaps the most delightful example of the miniseries engaging with modern social media, which is appropriate given that Glen Morgan was with only revival writer who had a presence on Twitter.

Another great Mulder one-liner: "Not even in the proper recycling bin."

Another great Mulder one-liner:
“Not even in the proper recycling bin.”

Home Again has a number of heartwarming moments that remind viewers of how well Glen Morgan wrote for the series. As Mulder and Scully sit by the bedside of Margaret Scully, the pair debate whether it is possible to wish somebody back to life. Making a nice reference to One Breath, Mulder assures Scully that he invented it before offering an impression of his thirty-year-old self. It is a very cute exchange, one that ends with Scully playfully calling Mulder a “dark wizard.” It is a moment that capitalises on Duchovny and Anderson’s chemistry and charisma.

Morgan relishes the opportunity to dive back into the familiar trappings of The X-Files. As with Founder’s Mutation, there is an obligatory flashlight sequence. Morgan doesn’t get to do an autopsy sequence, since Scully is tied up in her mother’s death. However, he does get to write an old-school ominous pseudo-science info dump. “I used backscattered electron imaging to separate and identify inorganic particles from organic materials, and I found neither,” a techie reports. “There’s no organic material on this Band-Aid, but there’s no inorganic material either.”

Oh, Mulder, you lovable scamp.

Oh, Mulder, you lovable scamp.

Indeed, Morgan’s desire to craft a traditional “monster of the week” story for Mulder and Scully is reflected in the structuring of Home Again. The episode feels very much like a classic X-Files episode, right down to the fact that Mulder and Scully make absolutely no difference to how the story plays out. Mulder and Scully singularly fail to stop the Band-Aid Nose Man or rescue any of his victims. Mulder isn’t even quick enough in marking the billboard as evidence to save the two douchebags who steal it and try to auction it at Sotheby’s.

Watching the episode, it could be argued that Mulder and Scully have absolutely no impact on how the plot plays out. The Band-Aid Nose Man disappears not because Mulder and Scully find the Trash Man and exorcise him, the Band-Aid Nose Man disappears because he has accomplished what he set out to do. As unsatisfying as this is from a storytelling point of view, it is a classic X-Files plotting device. There are any number of classic “Mulder and Scully do nothing but provide exposition” episodes in the original run, like The List.

"Oh, boy. Skinner is not going to be pleased with this."

“Oh, boy. Skinner is not going to be pleased with this.”

It is clear that Morgan has put a lot of work into his monster, who is essentially just a giant sentient pile of garbage. In fact Home Again seems to consciously acknowledge some the exoticism that the classic series took for granted. In the nineties, The X-Files tended to treat foreign cultures as little more than the source of all sorts of mysterious and intriguing menaces. For example: the Manitou in Shapes, the voodoo in Fresh Bones, Aboah in Teliko, the golem in Kaddish, the fakir in Badlaa. Delightfully, Mulder refuses to let the Trash Man appropriate Tibetian culture.

The Trash Man attempts to argue that the Band-Aid Nose Man is a “tulpa”, a widely-known pseudo-Tibetian piece of folklore about thoughts given physical form. Rather than running with this cliché, Mulder pauses the narrative to call out the Trash Man. “‘Tulpa’ is a 1929 Theosophist mistranslation of the Tibetan word ‘tulku’, meaning ‘a manifestation body’,” Mulder states. “There is no idea in Tibetan Buddhism of a thought form or thought as form. And a… and a realized tulku would never harm anyone, let alone kill.”

A disarming conversation.

A disarming conversation.

It is a very small detail, but it speaks to Morgan’s sensitivity to cultural appropriation and stereotyping. It is a piece of dialogue that would have been unlikely to appear in the nineties show. In fact, given how Shapes essentially grafted the Native American belief in a Manitou on to a traditional werewolf, it seems likely that Mulder would have been the one to liken the Band-Aid Nose Man to a “tulpa.” (He did explicitly cite the myth in Arcadia.) Perhaps The X-Files has evolved a bit in the fourteen years since its initial cancellation.

Home Again casts its monster along class lines rather than ethnic ones. The two communities at conflict in the episode are the homeless and the middle-class, with the Band-Aid Nose Man cast in the role of avenger for the downtrodden. Unlike episodes like The Calusari or Hell Money, this is not a story about Mulder and Scully investigating a case with ties to an ethnic community. The script’s refusal let the Trash Man hide behind that western appropriation of Tibetian folklore acknowledges as much.

The image of a monster becomes a monster. Meta-monster!

The image of a monster becomes a monster.
Meta-monster!

To be fair, The X-Files has been more interested in class than ethnic divides since the move to Los Angeles at the start of the sixth season. Episodes like DriveMondayTrevor, Theef, Chimera and Je Souhaite seemed to treat monstrosity as a class issue. This was a good idea, even beyond the increasing role that social class played in American culture at the end of the twenty-first century. Given that some of those early episodes focusing on subcultures could seem a little insensitive, class was a much safer basis for monstrosity.

Class is very much a theme underpinning the revival miniseries, particularly with the reinvention of the mythology in My Struggle I and My Struggle II. Tad O’Malley repeatedly refers to the conspirators as “elites”, emphasising the class conflict element of the new mythology. In Founder’s Mutation, Kyle Gilligan is able to pass unnoticed because he works a maintenance job for “A1 Janitorial.” In Home Again, an entire class of people are treated as animals to be herded according to the whims of society at larger.

Mulder really stepped in it this time.

Mulder really stepped in it this time.

This was a trend that began half-way through the run of the original show, albeit at a point in the show when the original mythology was winding down. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see writers like Glen Morgan and James Wong tackle the theme. Both writers departed original run of The X-Files before the show’s interest transition away from ethnic subcultures towards class conflict, so it is fascinating to see both writers embrace that shift. Of course, for better or worse, Babylon is just around the corner to revitalise the classic “subculture monster” genre.

In keeping with that traditional X-Files aesthetic, Morgan uses the show’s framework for social commentary. The X-Files frequently engaged with contemporary culture while it was on the air, providing a reflection to contemporary America. It is entirely appropriate that Morgan uses Home Again to explore issues related to the management of homeless populations in big cities. The decision to set Home Again in “the city of brotherly love” and to cast the defender of the homeless as a golem literally made out of trash is wonderfully wry.

"Do you want me to trash your lights?"

“Do you want me to trash your lights?”

Statistics indicate that homelessness affects over half a million Americans. Seattle hastily legalissed tent cities in February 2015 while Los Angeles declared a state of emergence to deal with the issue in September 2015. While studies in late 2015 noted an increase in the homeless population of 22 major cities, this is not a new problem. The Philadelphia setting of Home Again may be a nod to the well-documented challenges that faced Sister Mary Scullion when she proposed opening a supportive housing centre in a wealthy downtown area during the eighties.

However, many of the methods employed to combat homelessness dehumanise the homeless, reducing them to little more than statistics or footnotes. In August 2013, the Yale Law School argued that the United States’ policy of criminalising homelessness was “cruel, inhuman, and degrading.” The week before Home Again aired, it was revealed that San Fransisco forcibly relocated its homeless before the Super Bowl. In April 2016, a homeless camp in Orange County was subject to complaints from the local residents.

You have to urn it.

You have to urn it.

Whenever the homeless seem to draw an emotional response from the public at large, it manifests as pity more than empathy. Attitudes and policies towards the homeless tend to be demeaning and belittling. It is suggested that there is a neurological basis to this attitude; that humans are capable of becoming desensitised to the suffering of others. One media campaign in April 2015 demonstrated how routine this dehumanisation had become, inviting homeless people to read mean tweets sent by online users.

This idea echoes through Home Again, reflected in the various attitudes of the various characters to the homeless. They are treated like objects rather than people, to be bused around and kept out of sight. Landry wants them out of the city so that he can begin the process of “gentrification.” Huff is happy enough to serve them a turkey dinner at Thanksgiving to feel good about herself, but she doesn’t want them anywhere near her home. Meanwhile, art speculators are happy to capitalise on homeless art. “Never knew you could make so much money off the homeless.”

He certainly made his mark.

He certainly made his mark.

Confronting Huff and Landry, Mulder reflects, “I hear you speaking for them, but really you’re speaking for yourself. And I hear you speaking for them, but really speaking for yourself. What I don’t hear is who speaks for them.” The homeless are dispossessed and disenfranchised; a way for Huff to feel good about herself, a barrier to Landry’s money, something to be exploited by art profiteers. The Trash Man complains, “Pat yourself on the head. You’re a good person, yeah? You did the right thing, you fought global warming, you love all the little animals.”

Home Again is very much a “monster of the week” episode, but it does offer some thematic overlap with the mythology. This has always been the case with The X-Files, as themes resonate across the walls the production team built between the mythology and the standalone episodes. The perversion of family in Home is implicitly contrasted with the gross betrayal of the Mulder family by Bill Mulder; Mulder’s nostalgic memories of his childhood with Samantha are just as much a fantasy as Sheriff Taylor’s fantasy about his home town.

Plastered all over town.

Plastered all over town.

Indeed, there was a sense that Carter was influenced by his fellow writers in how he built his new mythology in My Struggle I and My Struggle II. The idea that the aliens may not be the bad guys harks back to Morgan and Wong scripts like E.B.E., Little Green Men and Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man. The postmodern conspiracy stew in My Struggle I evokes the tone of the second season of Millennium. The culmination of the mythology as presented in My Struggle II owes a debt to Morgan and Wong’s work on The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now.

The plight of the homeless in Home Again provides a reflection of the Cigarette-Smoking Man’s plot against humanity in My Struggle II. Much like Landry and Cutler plot to “relocate” the homeless so that they can develop their “ten-storey apartment building” and get on with the “gentrification” of the area, the Cigarette-Smoking Man plans to do away with the rabble and the lower classes so that the “elite” can lay claim to the planet. In effect, the Cigarette-Smoking Man is really just imaging a more ambitious form of gentrification than Landry or Cutler.

Sign of the times.

Sign of the times.

There are even some more direct parallels. The sign opening the episode warns “you are responsible!”, as if to blame the homeless for the situation in which they find themselves. This mirrors the justifications employed by the Cigarette-Smoking Man in My Struggle II, as he insists the mankind effectively signed their own death warrant. The Trash Man even frames the debate in explicitly ecological (rather than social) concerns. “It piles up in the landfill. And the plastics leak toxins into the water and the sky.” The new mythology focuses on the ecological threat.

Home Again has a more direct and less abstract connection to the mythology, in that it reaffirms the revival’s fascination with William. Mulder and Scully’s anxiety over William was explored in Founder’s Mutation, and it comes to bear on Home Again. Margaret Scully’s anxiety over her son Charlie is intended as an explicit parallel to Scully’s uncertainty over her son William. “She wanted to know before she left that he’d be okay,” Scully confesses to Mulder. “She gave birth to him. She made him. He’s her responsibility.”

"Scully. It's me."

“Scully. It’s me.”

Indeed, the shuffling of the broadcast order actually helps Home Again. Scully’s emotional breakdown at the end of the episode makes more sense coming after Founder’s Mutation reopened these old wounds. It feels very much like the self-doubt in Founder’s Mutation was set-up for the emotional climax of Scully crying for William while sitting with the urn holding her mother. Watched in production order, Scully’s more restrained sadness towards the loss of William in Founder’s Mutation feels like a step down from the final scene of Home Again.

In some way, Home Again seems to foreshadow the climax of My Struggle II. As Mulder lies dying, Scully discovers that the only way to cure her partner is to reconnect with William. After years of wondering what happened to her son, Scully finds herself forced to confront the reality at the very moment that the entire world seems to be on its deathbed. The cliffhanger of My Struggle II suggests that Scully has made that connection at the very end of the season. It parallels Margaret’s desire to reconnect with Charlie at the end of her own world.

Holding on together.

Holding on together.

That said, there is some element of criticism in how Home Again touches on the subject of William. William was a troubled character from the outset. Scully’s pregnancy was introduced in Requiem as a way to write Mulder and Scully out of the show at the end of the eighth season, with Existence closing on a scene that pulls the audience away from Mulder and Scully as they start a new family. However, Gillian Anderson signed an extension to her contract at the start of the eighth season in order to earn a salary that compared to that of Duchovny.

As a result, William was not allowed to serve as the ending to the story of Mulder and Scully. Instead, Nothing Important Happened Today I and Nothing Important Happened II positioned the child as the cornerstone of a new mythology. This did not sit well with the production team. When the ninth season was cancelled, Chris Carter and David Duchovny came to see William as a potential impediment on the movie franchise that they wanted and so hastily wrote him out in the episode William.

Obligatory flashlight scene.

Obligatory flashlight scene.

There is a cruel irony in all of this. William had been intended to consign the child to the forgotten annals of X-Files history. William could presumably hang around with the version of Mister X played by Natalia Nogulich or the Toothpick Man, gathering dust in the cultural memory of The X-Files. However, fans were not ready to let go of the child. In giving the child away at the end of William, Chris Carter and David Duchovny turned the child into a much bigger deal. “What about William?” came to haunt pretty much every interview in the years since.

Home Again could be read as a criticism of the handling of the William plot thread. Indeed, Scully has a heated row with Trash Man as the artist rambles and free associates about his artform. Trash man talks about his work in a way that many artists can appreciate and understand, wondering if he chose the idea or the idea chose him. “I didn’t bring him here,” he admits. “He came to me. But in the end, he told me what he wanted to be. All we do is hold the pencil. All we do is hold the clay.”

Talk about a call back.

Talk about a call back.

This argument is cut against flashback footage of Scully birthing William in Existence, creating a clear thematic connection. “Then they become alive with a life of their own,” the Trash Man explains. He seems to suggest that his own ideas exist beyond his creation of them. “It has its own life. Does what it wants.” It is an idea that many artists will appreciate and understand, as their work is released into the wild and subject to many interpretations and reinterpretations beyond their original intent. Trash Man just wants to avoid a literal death of the author.

Art takes on a life of its own.This is something that The X-Files has explored repeatedly. After all, the show was on the air for ten years. It was written by a larger production team. Chris Carter is the only writer to work on both the first and the ninth season of the show. As such, Mulder and Scully have changed and evolved as they have been written by the myriad writers working on the show. Going even further, Mulder and Scully have changed as they have been interpreted and reinterpreted by fans and viewers.

Obligatory Ford product placement scene.

Obligatory Ford product placement scene.

Carter tackled this idea explicitly within the show. The Post-Modern Prometheus seemed to explore the strange and wonderful mutation that his show had become; in interviews leading up to the relaunch, Carter cemented this reading of the episode by referring to the series as “a monster, a hydra and a Frankenstein.” In Milagro, Carter suggested that Scully was a character who had taken on a life beyond that imagined by her author. The last act of the author in Milagro is to free Scully from his control. It is telling that the episode’s plot riffs on Morgan’s Never Again.

Writing for television is different than writing for a feature film. Writers typically inherit a sense of continuity from what came before. A television show grows and mutates, as suggested by Founder’s Mutation. Happy accidents become happenstance. On The X-Files, the writers know this better than most. The mythology largely derived in response to Gillian Anderson’s unplanned pregnancy, and developed into one of the calling cards of the show. David Duchovny’s departure at the end of the seventh season inspired one of the show’s best seasons.

Clay along.

Clay along.

In effect, television series can become improvised round-robin stories, where various writers work with what they are given and use that to tell interesting stories. That is part of the television series having a life of its own. For example, Vince Gilligan’s script for Tithonus was clearly inspired by Darin Morgan’s script for Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose. David Duchovny was inspired to use the character Arthur Dales in The Unnatural after Frank Spotnitz and John Shiban introduced him in Travelers.

The desperate attempt to write William out of the show in the ninth season could be seen as a betrayal of this idea. Much like the Trash Man seeks to absolve himself of responsibility for creating the Band-Aid Nose Man, it seems like Carter and Duchovny were trying to absolve themselves of responsibility for creating William. It is a rejection of the round-robin philosophy that had invested The X-Files with such depth and nuance. Glen Morgan and James Wong left The X-Files years before William showed up, but they are still determined to find a way to use him.

"I now do what other people only dream. I make art until someone dies. See? I am the world's first fully functioning homicidal artist."

“I now do what other people only dream. I make art until someone dies. See? I am the world’s first fully functioning homicidal artist.”

As such, Home Again could be seen as a criticism of the decision to write William out of the show and to pretend that he never happened. Scully seems to treat the Band-Aid Nose Man as analogous to William. “You are responsible,” Scully warns the Trash Man. “If you made the problem, if it was your idea… then you’re responsible. You put it out of sight, so that it wouldn’t be your problem.” The implication is that William was treated like trash by the production team, inelegantly written out so that he would not be a problem they would have to deal with.

“Responsibility” is something of a theme bubbling through the episode. Home Again opens on a yellow poster proclaiming, “You are responsible!” and ends with Scully accepting that Margaret Scully felt some responsibility to take care of Charlie. Glen Morgan is a writer who has teased out criticism of the show in earlier scripts; Home is very much a criticism of the show’s affectionate nostalgia for monstrosities, while Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man seems like a knowing parody of conspiracy theory.

Subtext.

Subtext.

Although Home Again is by no means as modern and twenty-first century as Founder’s Mutation, there is a very strong sense that the episode is rooted in contemporary sensibilities. Most notably, the episode suggests that ideas (and violent thoughts) are inherently dangerous of themselves. “An idea is dangerous,” the Trash Man warns Mulder and Scully, “even a small one.” This seems like a particularly potent thought in the context of 2016, when it feels like political rhetoric has heightened beyond any sense of reasonable discourse.

This is an election cycle when Donald Trump has asked his supporters to rough up their opposition and promised to pay the legal fees of anyone who is arrested for harming a protester. Trump has stirred up racial and nationalistic tensions, tapping into deep-set anger and hatred. In August 2015, two men were arrested for beating a homeless immigrant with a pipe, declaring, “Donald Trump was right.” There are already rumours about pro-Trump neo-Nazis gatecrashing the Republican convention. Trump is just talking, but he is bringing hate to the mainstream.

"Oh, hey. They have the internet on computers now."

“Oh, hey. They have the internet on computers now.”

This is not exclusively an American phenomenon. The same dangerous ideologies have been mainstreamed by the “Brexit” campaign in the United Kingdom. Labour Minister of Parliament Jo Cox was murdered by an assassin who shouted, “Britain first.” Cox had been pro-immigration. It seems fair to blame the heightened rhetoric of the campaign for the climate of fear and violence:

When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’

When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.

Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.

It should be noted that racially-motivated violence has skyrocketed in the United Kingdom immediately following the vote. There is racist graffiti scrawled on Polish community centres, leaflets telling schoolchildren to “leave”, police reports of hate crimes up more than five-hundred percent. These things did not happen in vacuum. They are proof that some ideas are dangerous, and that people need to take responsibility for them.

The missing piece.

The missing piece.

Home Again also feels contemporary in its decision to craft a monster from street art. The Band-Aid Nose Man is repeatedly glimpsed through the episode as stencil artwork on the side of buildings or on blank billboards, recalling the rise in so-called protest art in the twenty-first centuryHome Again finds the show crafting a monster for modern sensibilities, that would not have worked as well in the context of the nineties. (This works in reverse as well, it’s hard to imagine the AIDS anxiety of 3 or the plastic surgery monster from Sanguinarium work as well today.)

However, while the street art element adds a touch of modernity, the Band-Aid Nose Man is a very traditional monster. It could be argued, for example, that the Band-Aid Nose Man is ultimately a variation on the classic Lovecraftian monster; he is an idea that is so horrifying and dangerous that he seems to impress himself upon the real world. The Band-Aid Nose Man belongs to a relatively traditional breed of monster than includes Freddie Kruger, particularly as reimagined in New Nightmare.

Flies by night.

Flies by night.

In the documentary Season X, production designer Mark Freeborn explains that the episode’s art team had a very contemporary point of reference when it came to the Trash Man and the Band-Aid Nose Man:

I guess Banksy ultimately was a bit of an influence on some of the stuff we did. Not so much in style, but more in character. He’s a ghost. He is one of the best political satirists that I’ve seen in a long time. And he’s of the people. So we had a strong direction for out on-set art.

That is a very cool idea. Banksy seems like he would make a solid basis for a twenty-first century X-Files episode; he is an anonymous artist who is almost an urban legend, whose work expresses a deep-set anxiety about contemporary culture.

The art of the kill...

The art of the kill…

Home Again is a flawed episode of The X-Files. In many ways, Home Again demonstrates the weaknesses of the format of the revival; it feels very much like two great episodes crammed together to form a single good episode. Nevertheless, it stills demonstrates the potential and the appeal of the format. It proves that writers like Glen Morgan have things to say with Mulder and Scully, that the spirit of The X-Files is still applicable even twenty years after the show first launched.

Home Again is a weird cocktail of a personal story about grief and loss wrapped around the story of a golem made from garbage. It is a bizarre combination that doesn’t quite work, but is precisely the kind of story that is suited to The X-Files.

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6 Responses

  1. I actually really like this one and felt like forcing the two story threads together made for a better episode. I couldn’t imagine an entire episode of this show dealing with Scully’s mom, for instance, although that was the highlight of “Home Again.”
    Scully’s line about a few of the small questions really sums up Glen Morgan’s take on the series, I think, and actually reconciles fairly easily with Carter’s approach. As you point out in your MS2 review, Carter is much better at creating exciting visuals and cliffhangers than resolving plot points. Glen Morgan could compliment that nicely by providing character resolution. Look at “One Breath” for an example of how a mythology story could be resolved beautifully without giving any concrete answers.
    I also would like to see Nutter or Bowman come back for season 11. Vince Gilligan would be a welcome addition as a director (and writer) as well.

    • I’d agree with this. Although I think that Morgan would be reluctant to wade back into the mytharc, out of respect for Carter and Spotnitz. He didn’t even want the Executive Producer credit at the end of the hour, seeing it as unfair to those who stayed longer on the original show.

      • He didn’t get a story credit on MS2 but even you point out the heavy influence Morgan likely had on the finale. But I don’t really get the sense anyone involved was interested in offering up answers or closure this season. Hard to say whether that would change if/when there is a season 11.

      • I’m genuinely curious about the Morgan/Wong influence on the revised mythology.

        I think Morgan has been candid that those were Chris Carter’s scripts through and through, and I tend to trust him on that. Morgan is generally a lot more open about his writing process than Carter tends to be; Carter is much more excited in talking about the technical or production aspects. I would tend to believe that Carter is the sole architect of My Struggle I and My Struggle II.

        However, there is a definite Morgan/Wong influence there. My Struggle I builds a lot on E.B.E. and Little Green Men. My Struggle II is basically The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now. Which is quite symmetrical, as if bookending Morgan and Wong’s time with Ten Thirteen. Part of me is inclined to believe that Carter included those points as homage; perhaps that he went beck (whether before or after the show was greenlit or before or after approaching Morgan) and rewatched those episodes and thought that (a.) they were great ideas of themselves, and (b.) they were ideas that he had never really played with. A large part of Carter’s excitement in coming back was in doing new things, and I think he found new things that he could do in Morgan/Wong’s themes that had diverged from the mythology that Carter/Spotnitz developed after Morgan/Wong left for the first time in the late second season.

        Again, there’s nothing concrete to back and of this up. It’s all idle speculation and probably completely off-base. I’d love to see a really nerdy writers conversation about the new mythology with the writers.

  2. “Home Again, which feels like two great episodes that have been combined to form one good episode.”
    This is it in a nutshell, really. Everything other criticism that can be pointed to this episode, and almost everything for the entire revival mini-series, boils down to this.
    That being said there are just a couple of reasons why I (marginally) appreciated Home Again over Founder’s Mutation, which is the only other episode it could be compared to:
    The interactions between Mulder and Scully: more whimsical; in Founder’s Mutation, they were much more frigid to one another… despite the William subject matter (or was it because of Gillian Anderson’s cold and her raspy voice during half of the shooting?). As you said, the evolution from FM to HA now feels more organic with the episode reordering, but this was not premeditated.
    The subject matter: the Band-Aid nose man is another monster `a la Kaddish or Arcadia, but there is great subtext here about social class warfare and responsibility of the artist. Whereas the young-X-men-meet-X-Files-genetic-experiments of Founder’s Mutation felt more like déj`a vu, albeit excellently handled.
    “While the idea of fixing the camera to the monster so that he becomes the only static object in the frame is very clever and unnerving, it is undercut by Morgan’s decision to use the exact same technique with Scully earlier in the episode.” –> The technique is the same but I had not made the connection until I read your article: when I saw the episode both scenes worked surprisingly well for what they aimed to achieve, disorientation with Scully and an unstoppable thirst for revenge for the monster. It’s unfortunate that there is nothing else linking these scenes together but it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the episode.
    I think liked Morgan’s direction more than you did, since this is one of the things that you point out against the episode. The air time given to the Band-Aid murders, limited as it were, is very effectively used. There is extreme gore, particularly for poor Lt. Gaeta, and the dark corridors with the wandering miscreations of Trashman is particularly spooky. Again, whatever shortcomings, lack of pace or failure to build up sufficient suspense, are more due to the need to compress everything to 42 minutes rather than any other factor. I’m not sure how the episode would have been better if directed by somebody else — but I have a limited imagination.
    Very interesting and ironic as well how both Morgan and Wong’s episodes essentially focus on a Carter-handled plot development from season 9 (William’s adoption) and, well, they both point out how ill-conceived it was!… Now I hope for a Carter-Morgan mythology script!

    • That’s a fair point.

      I don’t know, there was just a looseness to the horror sequences in Home Again that bugged me. Like I could see why Morgan made the choices that he did, but it felt like some of the individual cuts during the horror sequences went on too long, and the establishing shots of the layout of Huff’s home made it clear that the Band-Aid Man really was magically teleporting which only served to make him feel more hazily defined. I don’t mind hazily defined monsters, but if the Band-Aid Nose Man can teleport inside a locked house, why does he need to travel by dump truck? Why does he walk anywhere when he can just teleport right behind his victims?

      I think Morgan did good work with his cast, and I really liked a number of stylistic touches – that shot of the blood running down the canvas is a wonderful “vintage horror” visual.

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