The X-Files and the Monsters of That Week: Alpha
Throughout this series of articles, it has been quite easy picking the worst of what The X-Files has to offer, and season six is no different. Going through the episode list, past the many classics and the many just-good-enough episodes, there is one that takes the prize above all else: the killer dog debacle that is Alpha. And I’m not just saying that because my little dog-hating cat has a claw to my throat.
Many reviews of this episode, both contemporary and retrospective, comment on how Alpha could so easily be a season one episode. It has all the hallmarks of the show’s debut season monster of the weeks: a typical stalk-and-kill monster, characters that are more trope than man, and Mulder and Scully being consistently one step behind the plot. The question I have now is – well, how exactly could a dud like this get made in the show’s sixth year?
The answer is surprisingly simple: bloat. The X-Files was a network television show, meaning that it averaged between twenty and twenty-four episodes each season. That’s a lot of story, and the quest to make every one of them great is an uphill task. That’s why we find so many of these inferior episodes in the show’s best years. Season six even has a couple more which missed out on this article because there was at least one thing going for it: Trevor, about a convict who can walk through solid matter (except glass) has a pretty great third act, Three of a Kind (a sequel to season five’s excellent The Unusual Suspects) has a rib-breakingly funny performance from Gillian Anderson, and Agula Mala and The Rain King are saved by their comedic tone.
Alpha feels like such a throwback to The X-Files’ worst impulses due to the inescapable edge of disposability. There is little reason to watch this episode, even with Mulder getting another I Want to Believe poster – you can just assume he bought another one after the fire in his office at the end of season five, if you have to.
But, since we have to talk about it, lets take a look at the episode’s plot. Fairly simple – a ghost/demon dog from somewhere in Asia is brought to America, escapes, and goes on a rampage. The fly in the ointment is that this may not just be an evil dog, it could be the spirit of the evil dog possessing someone. The suspects are laughably simple: either it’s the guy who caught the dog in the first place, Dr Detwiller (played with absolutely no menace by Hellraiser star Andrew Jordt Robinson), or all-round dog weirdo Karin Burquist. Surpise, it’s Detwiller, who, it turns out, didn’t catch the demon dog, it caught him. There is even a suggestion of a romantic connection between Mulder and Karin but it feels so obviously tacked on for pathos at the end it’s hard to care. Out of all the women to come between Mulder and Scully, Karin is the most forgettable attempt to sink my one true ship.
Alpha is proof that maintaining quality over twenty-plus episodes a season is an almost impossible task. There are some stories that are put into production which just don’t match up to the show’s best habits. This is why, in a sixth season that is arguably the last truly impressive season of the show, we find the runt of the litter that is Alpha.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via TV Maze)