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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

TV Review: The X-Files “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster”

Mulder gets his groove back and so does the show.

Review by Brandon Wolfe

Writer Darin Morgan only wrote four episodes of The X-Files, yet he arguably made the largest impression of any writer to ever work on the series. Morgan brought a uniquely askew perspective to the series, opening doors that the show might otherwise have left to remain closed. His first script, Season 2’s circus-freak whodunit “Humbug,” was the first time an overtly comedic tone had ever been attempted on the theretofore straight-faced series. His next three scripts were the tragicomedy “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” often held up by critics as one of the finest episodes of television; “War of the Coprophages,” a squirmy-hilarious tale of killer cockroaches invading a small town; and Morgan’s pièce de résistance, “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” a mindbending hall of mirrors that satirized and deconstructed the series before the outside world even got the chance. Morgan never wrote for The X-Files again for the duration of its original run (though he did guest-star in Season 4’s “Small Potatoes,” another stone-cold classic), but he didn’t necessarily need to. In his brief tenure, he made as indelible a mark as any television writer could ever hope to achieve, and “Jose Chung” was a mic-drop for the ages.

When it was announced that Morgan would contribute a fifth script to the series for its revival, a whopping 20 years after his last effort, that alone was enough to justify yanking The X-Files out of storage and enduring whatever mental waterboarding Chris Carter would subject us to, and I’m pleased to say that the amusingly titled “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster” is worthy of a place alongside Morgan’s tetralogy of classics. True to Darin Morgan form, the episode is an unapologetic comedy that sets in its crosshairs both the mundanity of the human condition and The X-Files itself. Morgan knows precisely how to tweak the show, and its lead duo, for big laughs, playfully examining the characters’ follies and dynamic. It could be argued that no writer has ever made Mulder and Scully sparkle the way that Morgan does nor possessed a greater command of what makes the characters tick.

The episode opens with Mulder at a low point. Not only has he renounced his belief in aliens in “My Struggle,” but he has also lost his faith in other facets of the paranormal. In the years he spent inactive, he began to notice that the majority of mythological creatures observed out in the wild had been exposed as hoaxes, pranks or publicity stunts. It’s at this crossroads that Scully walks into the office with a murder case that is purported to have a genuine monster in it. She uses this case to lure a reluctant Mulder back into the game, in a clever inversion of their standard roles. The case takes the agents to Oregon, where a pair of stoners (who like to spray-paint their mouths in Fury Road fashion) witnessed a humanoid lizard monster in the woods near a cache of bodies with their throats bitten out. Scully keeps attempting to reinvigorate Mulder with the oddball details of the case, but Mulder won’t take the bait. He’s become a spoilsport, hesitant to entertain the possibility of the fantastic. He’s essentially become Scully at her most rigidly rational. He’s more interested in futzing around with his new camera app than anything else.

The agents confer with the Animal Control officer (Silicon Valley star and X-Files superfan Kumail Nanjiani) who survived the alleged monster attack, and eventually cross paths with what appears to be the monster itself (evidence of which Mulder is unable to procure due to his inability to properly operate his camera) as well as a hapless passerby (Rhys Darby from Flight of the Conchords) in a dorky suit and hat. When the monster strikes again at the skeevy, Psycho-reminiscent motel where the agents are staying, Mulder begins to cautiously warm to the idea that not only might the monster be real, but that it and the nebbish in the hat might be one and the same.

The centerpiece sequence in the episode is a meeting between the man/monster, who calls himself Guy Mann, and Mulder in a local cemetery (where a prominent tombstone bears the name of Kim Manners, a veteran director of the series who passed away in 2009), where the creature lays out its plight. It is indeed a reptilian being, but after it was bitten by a human, it became a were-beast in the opposite direction, occasionally transforming into a human based on the lunar cycle. Not only does Guy take on the form of a human being, but he also takes on the mindset of one, with all of the insecurities and loneliness that go along with the territory. Guy instinctually feels the need to take on a menial job that he hates at a smartphone retailer and tries to fill the emptiness within himself with such sources of comfort as pets and porn. As Guy relays the soul-crushing indignity of his life as a human, Morgan skillfully vivisects the many ways that the trivialities of modern life can slowly sap away one’s spirit. Morgan has always had a rare gift for the sort of seriocomic existential exploration that Charlie Kaufman has made his stock-in-trade. Hell, he was doing it years before Kaufman.

Morgan’s other gift, much more specific, is knowing exactly how to affectionately send up The X-Files, and that gift is also prominently displayed. “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster” has a ton of fun playing around with our heroes. At one point when Mulder starts to broach the theory that Guy is both monster and man to Scully, he rattles off his wild notions and then immediately counteracts them by reciting when he expects Scully will say as a rebuttal before she gets the chance to do so herself. And later, when Guy is sharing with Mulder the details of his earlier encounter with Scully, he embellishes a wild seduction scenario where a horny, cleavage-baring Scully ensnares him for a lusty tryst. The banter between the agents is also lighter and much more playful than its default state, and it seems to reenergize Duchovny and Anderson from the lethargy present in their work in the earlier two episodes (and, quite frankly, the last several seasons of the original run and the second feature film). They are ably abetted by Nanjiani, who is fun as the sort of soul-sick malcontent that Guy laments having become, and especially by Darby, who turns in a fantastic performance, both hilarious and oddly touching.

“Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster” is also chock-full of inside jokes and references for the fans. When the pervy motel proprietor peers in on Mulder sleeping, the agent is wearingly only a skimpy pair of red bikini-briefs, similar to the infamous red Speedo he was once glimpsed in back in Season 2. Scully picks up a canine companion late in the episode and mentions Queequeg, the Pomeranian she adopted in “Clyde Bruckman” and lost to an alligator in Season 3’s “Quagmire.” Scully also reminds Mulder that he shouldn’t worry about her because she is “immortal,” a callback to Bruckman, a psychic, obliquely telling Scully that her future doesn’t include death. Morgan is responsible for so much fan-servicing joy being dispensed that we can forgive him for one gag—Mulder’s ringtone being the X-Files theme music—that doesn’t work.

The best thing about “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster” is that it almost feels like a course-correction for a series that has been waylaid by moroseness for far too long, going all the way back to the turn of the millennium. It operates as a mission statement for the show to lighten up, have some fun and to get back in touch with what we loved about these characters. As Guy disappears into the woods at the end, his parting gift to a tormented Mulder is to rejuvenate the G-man’s atrophied belief system, allowing him to once again embrace the fantastic, and it’s thrilling to watch our hero reclaim his mojo. Scully says it best for us, when Mulder first starts cozying up to his monster theory, as she beams “That’s how I like my Mulder.” Scully, who is atypically exuberant in this outing, also sums it up perfectly when she takes a step back from a gnarled corpse and a brainstorming session with her partner to exclaim, “I forgot how much fun these cases can be.” I think we all did. Don’t let us forget again.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Brandon Wolfe at @BrandonTheWolfe.


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