So far, this season of The X-Files has suggested a kind of Whitman’s Sampler box, containing a variety of modern covers of the sorts of episodes that were once traditional to the series in its heyday. “My Struggle” is an affectionate update of a conspiratorial alien “mythology” episode, as written and directed by creator Chris Carter, and “Founders Mutation” is a fusion of mythology and monster-of-the-week formula, as written and directed by veteran series writer James Wong. Now, this week brings “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” a monster-of-the-week standalone wedded to the comic stylings of another X-Files legend, writer Darin Morgan, who also directed the episode.
Morgan is the most distinctive voice to arise from the original The X-Files, as his scripts mixed pathos, slangy erudite banter, and meta gamesmanship into a tapestry that often suggested alternative worlds for the series, standing both within The X-Files and apart from it. Take season three’s “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” which is often justifiably listed as one of the best episodes of the entire series. The script casually pivots on a multiplicity of perspectives that recalls Rashomon, while informing Carter’s iconic bubble-headed aliens, the “grays,” with an element of slapstick absurdity that renders them recognizably fallible, which is to say scarier than usual. In a Morgan script, it often feels as if Carter’s tight sense of control of the project at large has been temporarily loosened, as if Dad’s away and his intelligent, slightly cuckoo son has been given the keys to the kingdom.
Easily the strongest episode of the new season thus far, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” finds Morgan parodying not only The X-Files and its fans, but even the potential futility of Carter’s attempt to update it to 2016. The possibly irrelevant innocence of Fox Mulder’s (David Duchovny) need to believe in the paranormal, a recurring theme of this season, is particularly under Morgan’s microscope, though he imbues that concern with an elegantly flippant screwball tone.
Duchovny has some wonderful moments in the prior episodes of the season, but this is the first time this season that he’s really come to play. Morgan writes to the actor’s mixture of physical tightness and weirdly, becomingly “off” verbal timing, providing him a variety of loose, dazzlingly free-associative monologues in which Mulder seemingly argues with another version of himself, who stands for anyone who’s ever voiced exacerbation with his or Carter’s convoluted, conspiratorial antics. Particularly Gillian Anderson’s Dana Scully.
Mulder has a monologue here in which he begins to rediscover his monster-believing self, while also voicing Scully’s inevitably logical naysaying, that constitutes an instantly classic moment for The X-Files. It pivots on a traditional joke of the screwball comedy: The man hasn’t changed, but wants to change because he thinks the woman wants him to, though she’s come to realize that she loves who he really is, making his exertions poignantly ridiculous. In “My Struggle,” Carter laboriously attempted to rekindle the classic Mulder/Scully tension by dissolving their romantic union. Under Morgan’s direction, this friction becomes transcendent: Mulder and Scully have never been this romantically alive together. The sexual subtext existing between the protagonists is ripe and delirious, suggesting the intense erotic pleasure that can arise from knowing someone for years without ever entirely tiring of their theatrics.
Scully’s presence in “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” is even more surprising than Mulder’s. Morgan and Anderson have momentarily redefined her, entirely discarding the iconic earnestness that the season has already been gradually backgrounding, while foregrounding the character’s sexual confidence. Scully is a beautiful, intelligent woman, who’s used to being underestimated by jack-offs in a men’s profession and wearing her tragedy and turmoil as scars of survivor’s honor.
Yet, and like the show’s fans, she’s also grown nostalgic: She misses Mulder’s hot air. When Mulder delivers his monologue about the were-lizard who may or may not be terrorizing a small woodland town, Scully lies in bed, assuming a pose of an admiring, available starlet. Scully, renowned F.B.I. investigator and doctor, isn’t in the room at the moment. She’s playing with Mulder gesturally, coaxing him back into the version of himself he’s been denying with his newfound cynicism about the possibility of real mythology. This is a love scene and a sex scene, proving that the former needn’t exist at odds with the latter.
Sex, and its repression, hang over the entire episode. The monster of the week is Guy Mann (Rhys Darby), the aforementioned were-lizard. When Mulder corners Guy in human form in a cemetery, which is dotted with a tombstone bearing the name of the late X-Files director Kim Manners, Mann weaves an elaborately pointless tale of seducing Scully, which parallels Mulder’s own longing for her. Mann’s story has a punchline that’s classic Morgan: This were-creature is the opposite of what we’re expecting, as the lizard is his proper species, not the man. Mann, as he calls himself, is appalled to be turning into a human more or less in accordance with the lunar cycle, having to play by the nonsensical, imprisoning nine-to-five rules of society to which most of us adhere. This comic creature elucidates Mulder and Scully’s own hang-ups in a fashion similar to that of the mutant chameleon in season four’s Vince Gilligan-penned episode “Small Potatoes.”
Further intensifying this element of imprisonment is Annabelle (D.J. Pierce), a transgender woman who sees the were-lizard, proclaiming to Mulder and Scully during her interview that she’s recently “transitioned”—a process that Morgan parallels obviously with the monster’s dueling selves and less obviously with what might be called Mulder and Scully’s comfortable uncertainty with one another as foils and reunited partners. Likening transgenderism to an actor dressed in a purposefully cheesy monster outfit is cheeky, to put it lightly, though Morgan’s sense of absurdism is democratic, and Annabelle is poignant without being condescendingly pitied. Pierce steals the interview scene, which also parallels Mulder’s brush with a closeted gay lover of a victim in “Founders Mutation,” Mulder’s strained attempts to treat un-closeted witnesses with respect represents yet another of the show’s attempts to evolve to the politically charged, cautiously more open social textures of the present.
Last week, I complained that “My Struggle” had few grace notes. “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” abounds in them. Mulder’s announcement that “I’m a middle-aged man, Scully. No I am, I am” is a perfect embodiment of the episode’s identity/aging/relevance anxieties, while also allowing for one of Duchovny’s best line deliveries. The in-jokes are endless, starting with the full moon that opens the episode, echoing the opening shot of season two’s Morgan-penned “Humbug” and continuing with the very visual fabric of the cinematography, which is subtly heightened, lurid, tongue in cheek, and artificial, in a manner recalling millions of horror films as well as some of the more flagrantly set-oriented X-Files episodes of yesteryear. Almost every line of dialogue is a zinger, and nine out of 10 hit their intended bullseye. Morgan truly takes The X-Files into the 21st century, turning it into pop that both embraces and lacerates its quaintness, indulging and parodying sentimentality in equal measure.
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