May 1, 2018
The X-Files: The Meta of Us All (S10 E3 Recap)
Last week on the gore-fest second episode of The “new” X-Files, we continued being set up for a quest. Founder’s Mutation combined elements of both “monster of the week” – telekinetic siblings with an ax to grind – and the newly uncovered vast conspiracy of “venal men” who were not, as Mulder had believed for years, collaborating with aliens. Instead, the baddies had stolen and subverted alien tech from benign ET-like visitors. The sympathetic weird children were the result of that subversion.
The new twist on the old conspiracy made it even more all encompassing. The massive cover-up of alien visitation, was itself a cover for something even bigger. The truth was worse than we thought – maybe. We were offered an explanation for everything from mass shootings (Yes, the government wants to take your guns.) to obesity (Keep the populace fat and lazy.). Pursuing the highly placed evil-doers, seemed to be the raison d’etre for the reopening of the X-files. We were told we were in “dangerous” territory, and it looked like the journey would involve finding out the fate of the baby Scully had given up for its own safety.
But this week’s episode stands outside of all that. It’s deceptively fluffy, comic in tone. Even the title, Scully and Mulder Meet the Were-Monster is a take-off on all those Abbot and Costello monster meeting movies. It’s filled with so many references to previous episodes that if you were a casual viewer of the old series, you might feel like you’re at a concert where everyone applauds the first bar of each song, but you only recognize the greatest hits.
Besides shout-outs to previous X-Files, there are references to other television shows, Herman Melville, William Shakespeare and probably a whole lot more I’m not even aware of, and maybe that even the writers aren’t even aware of. The were-lizard wears Darren McGavin’s suit and hat from Kolchak – The Night Stalker, a known big influence. There’s also a wink in the direction of Vince Gilligan, in the form of some tidy-whities, just like the kind Walter White wound up wearing in the Breaking Bad pilot.
But once you get past the references, is there any there there? There is, in an unexpectedly absurdist way.
We open with a couple of low-lives huffing paint in the woods, wondering if there’s more to life than getting high all the time. (These two were huffing paint back in some 1990s episode.) They come across dead bodies and see a bipedal man-sized horned lizard escaping the scene.
Then we’re in Mulder’s office, and like the paint-huffers, he too seems caught in a time warp. He’s throwing pencils at the infamous “I Want to Believe” poster. Scully comes in and asks what he’s doing to her poster. Is it Freaky Friday? It’s Mulder wondering if everything he’s devoted his life to is all a crock. He mentions being a middle aged man. “No I am,” he says waiting for her to argue with him. And I suppose he is middle-aged, if he’s planning on living to be 110. Come to think of it shouldn’t they both be checking out their 401ks, and planning for retirement?
Scully is the one who wants to pursue the case while Mulder recalls every shape-shifting monster they ever investigated, and wonders if they were all hoaxes or fraternity pranks. Just as Scully’s skepticism became increasingly difficult to swallow as the series progressed, Mulder’s sudden questioning seems a bit forced here.
They check out the scene of the crime, where it’s Mulder coming up with the “reasonable” explanations for the wounds in the victims’ necks. Three more bodies are found. One of them is naked. The animal control officer who’d been out following a report of a mountain lion didn’t actually see the creature. The paint- huffers don’t provide any photographic evidence, and they’re not exactly reliable witnesses.
But then there’s a new report. They interview a feisty transwoman outside of a gas station/convenience store. She’s dressed like a hooker because why not confront your stereotypes head on? She looks at the drawing of the three-eyed, horned monster the paint-huffers saw and tells the FBI agents, that’s what she saw, but with two eyes, and he was wearing tidy-whities – like she used to wear. In her flashback she hit the monster with her purse and he ran away. She tried telling the police, but they didn’t believe her because she was on crack — like all those feisty, transvestite hookers. This means so far three out of three people who saw something were high.
They discover another body nearby. They see the animal control officer with his nets, and hear a growl. There’s a chase, and Mulder is trying to flash pictures, like Kolchak used to do, only Mulder’s doing it with a new phone app he hasn’t quite mastered. They run into the creature who spits blood from his eyes at Mulder and runs away. Mulder pursues, and opens up a port o potty where he finds a man sitting on the toilet. The man says he didn’t see anything. Mulder goes on his way, but when the man comes out, we see that he is the lizard, and hasn’t totally shifted to human form.
That night Mulder and Scully are both staying at a local hotel/lodge, separate rooms because it’s complicated. Mulder hears a scream and goes to investigate. Where’s Scully? Maybe she has earplugs or is a sound sleeper. Mulder investigates and finds an open door to a room that looks like someone left in a hurry. He finds and pockets a bottle of prescription pills – clozapine, an anti-psychotic. He also finds a secret doorway that leads into a secret hallway where it looks like someone has been spying on guests through the eyes of the animal heads on the walls. He confronts the manager who’s distraught and drinking rubbing alcohol.
In another bit o’ meta, he tells the manager, “When one checks into a hotel like this, one expects the manager to be a peeping Tom.” Lesson for aspiring television writers: It’s fine to throw in every trope in the book, as long as you tell the audience that’s your intent. He gets the manager to confess and recount his peeping activities, which include a peek at Mulder sleeping in a red Speedo – another classic X-Files reference. The question is, did he use a body double, or has Duchovny been working out? And is that a sock in there or is he just happy to see us? Then the manager flashes back to what he saw in the room. The man in the Kolchak suit, is pacing, agitated, and talking to himself. He looks in the mirror and the transformation comes. That’s when the manager screams, and the lizard runs.
Mulder is back, and he’s a paranoid, raving mad man – just the way Scully (and the audience) love him. It’s Scully now who is, as usual, searching for the logical explanation. Mulder and the animal control guy saw something, but it could have been a man in a monster suit. The photographs are murky at best, and everyone who got a good look at the lizard was on drugs.
Mulder goes to see the psychiatrist who prescribed the clozapine. Is the shrink a sexy, modern Dr. Melfi type? Of course not! He’s a weirdo, with glasses, who might be narrating a lost Ed Wood movie. He’s talking about folktales of were-creatures, and mentions a were-lizard who can only be killed with broken green glass. Why green glass? Why not? The doctor doesn’t know a lot about the patient, Guy Mann, who only came to see him once, a few days before, and was suffering from the delusion that he was such a transformer.
Mulder confers with Scully. Scully goes to interview Guy Mann at Smart Phones R Us where he just started working a few days before. She reports to Mulder that he yelled, “I quit,” and ran off.
Mulder tracks him to a graveyard, because maybe the shrink said something about graveyards playing a role in this mythology or other reasons or none because it’s that kind of episode. But the graveyard offers the opportunity of showing Mulder standing in front of the tombstones of two deceased X-Files behind-the-camera people.
Guy and Mulder, start waxing philosophical in the graveyard. Mulder is playing the role of sympathetic stranger who just wants to listen. Guy is doing most of the waxing, saying he only recently realized that we’re all going to die. He then smashes a green glass bottle, lamely threatening Mulder with it. When Mulder doesn’t bite, Guy begs him to put him out of his misery. Mulder says he wants his story first. Will he finally get not only a confession but the evidence that something is out there?
It turns out that Guy is not a man who transforms into a lizard, but a lizard who transforms into a man, and this seems to have zero to do with alien DNA. Sure we’ve seen shape-shifters who can pass as human before, but have we ever seen one who does it involuntarily as a result of being bitten by a human? Who dreads the human condition? Probably, maybe, but for the moment, it feels like a bit of original genius.
He claims he was out one night minding his own business when he came upon a horrific scene. Three dead humans and a human attacker. The attacker bit him. With humanity came consciousness and suddenly like Adam, he knew he was naked. The Kolchak costume came from one of the victims, who for all we know might have been Kolchak himself, now retired and out for a hike. Next he had to find lodging and a place to work. Mulder questions the plausibility of his finding a job, but Guy offers an explanation. Like all of our kind, he found he had the gift of bullshit. Half the time he doesn’t even know what he’s saying. But it’s a horrible existence. He confesses to murder. Mulder is relived. Now, they’re getting some place! But no, he murdered a cow, and we see him in flashback at a burger joint. His kind are insectivores. He takes his burger and goes back to his hotel room where, he watches porn, because if you’re a human male alone in a hotel room, it’s what you do. He can’t stand the loneliness, and the next day he buys a puppy, which he names Dagoo. Why does he name his dog for a minor character in Moby Dick? Does being human also mean he has to pretend to have read it?
The next day he not only wakes up as human and has to go back to the job he hates, but when he comes home from work Dagoo is gone – probably let out by the hotel maid. It was during his search that he again saw the man who bit him. He was chasing the man, hoping he could turn him back. That was when he he ran into the transwoman who hit him with her purse. Mulder is perplexed. He’s still waiting for him to cop to the murders. He points out the logical inconsistency of his transforming back to a human when he was on the toilet, but Guy tells him, there is no logic – internal or external in his account.
Is this a shout-out to viewer looking for “logic”? Maybe some of us need to let it go and stop fretting when we hit a narrative inconsistency that doesn’t jibe with canon. Like the bible, some mythology wasn’t meant to be taken so literally.
Guy tells Mulder his version of the confrontation with Scully at the phone store. His is the porno-version, and includes the Hot-Scully of many an adolescent fantasy, plus fan-fiction.
Mulder calls him on that one, and Guy admits that since becoming human he “can’t help lying” about his sex life. Mulder tells him he wanted to believe his account but it was all too silly. Guy tells him they both want to believe it because without the story, they’re left with nothing but a meaningless existence.
And that is not silly, or even funny, but it is true. It’s why we’ve always told stories, why our brains are hard-wired to create meaning through narrative. Stories are the “hope” that escaped when Pandora opened her box, especially those stories that tell us that there is more to “heaven and earth than is dreamt of in our philosophy” – a line from Hamlet, pointedly quoted in the script.
If we don’t believe in that more, than life is short, brutal, futile, and a waste, which is why Mulder is in such a funk. He’s having a crisis of faith, and Guy’s tale has only made it worse, forced him to look at the stories he’s been telling himself for years. It’s like when people who go to Jerusalem and think they are Jesus are confronted with other people who think they are Jesus. They can’t both be Jesus, and the delusion is shattered. Mulder is in pieces.
He takes out his FBI badge. When Guy sees it, he’s horrified. He realizes Mulder isn’t the random stranger who wanted to help him. Mulder thinks he’s a delusional murderer. Guy runs away, calling Mulder the monster, and leaving him with an unbroken green glass liquor filled bottle.
Why doesn’t Mulder run after Guy, who he still thinks is a killer? The only logical explanation for that is one we have to provide for ourselves. He’s just too depressed. Mulder drinks till he passes out and is woken up by his phone playing the X-File’s theme. Scully’s at the animal control center, petting a caged puppy. It’s Dagoo of course, and she says he reminds her of Queequeg – her dog, also named for a Moby Dick character. It’s meta-meta – referencing both a great American novel, AND a previous episode of the show. He hears her scream. We see the animal controller lassoing her, and Mulder is off to the rescue.
When he arrives with the police, Scully has, of course, managed to subdue the animal controlling serial killer – who immediately confesses that it all started in his childhood with his compulsion to torture small animals because on television EVERY serial killer started off that way. Also every child on television who tortures an animal grows up to be a serial killer. Scully knew the murderer was human because the autopsy showed strangulation by a human. Mulder chides her for not calling for back up. She says she’s immortal – another reference to an early episode.
Mulder goes off to the woods to find Guy and tell him he knows he’s innocent. As for the other part of the story, he says he wants to believe. Guy starts to shed his clothes, telling Mulder it’s time for his people to hibernate for the next 10,000 years and he’s hoping he can “sleep off” this transformation thing. He reaches out to shake Mulder’s hand, and says he’s glad they met. Before Mulder has even let go, Guy has transformed. Mulder looks into his red eyes, and than the creature runs off, leaving Mulder staring in wonder. He’s says that he’s glad they met too.
And so ends an episode that seems like a throwaway, but on closer inspection is a parable about why we all
want need to believe.