The X-Files and the Monsters of That Week: Hungry
Season seven of The X-Files is the last of the original run to feature both Mulder and Scully as the main protagonists. A combination of David Duchovny’s fatigue with the role of Mulder, and the fact that he was suing the network for unpaid royalties, meant that he would spend season eight in the margins of the show before leaving for good at the beginning of season nine, only to appear for the last episode. It’s fitting, then, that for my favourite season seven monster of the week I chose an episode in which Mulder and Scully barely appear at all. After the break of season six’s Triangle, I’m back to being Vince Gilligan’s hype man: let’s talk about Hungry.
I’ll admit that season seven isn’t exactly brimming with great monster of the week episodes. The show, like most shows of its age, was clearly in decline to the point where picking a worst episode for next week would be as easy as throwing a rock in any direction and knowing that I’ll hit one. Still, I was torn in my decision to pick Hungry. My favourite monster of the week from season seven is actually X-Cops (another Gilligan effort), but I’ve nothing to add to that episode’s discourse. It’s rightly held up as one of the best episodes of the series, so let’s break tradition and give Hungry a little love.
The premise, as it is in most Gilligan episodes, is simple: what would an episode of The X-Files look like if the point of view was reversed? What if we saw things from the monster’s point of view? What would that change about how we view Mulder and Scully, or the show in general? Gilligan answers all these questions in typically clever, and at times very sad, fashion.
Of course, the monster in Hungry has to be a little more sympathetic than usual. The premise wouldn’t work if we spent half the episode watching Tooms build his bile fort, or joining Donnie Pfaster as he counts his non-cake lady fingers. Rob isn’t a master villain, he’s a genetic mutant with an addiction to human brains. He’s not evil – we see him fighting his urges throughout the episode while doing everything he can to suppress his appetite. Chad Donella plays Rob as what he is: a young man with an addiction that ends up ruining his life.
It’s here that Gilligan is specifically utilising a metaphor – now, The X-Files has a spotty history with this approach (sometimes the monster is just a monster) but the fact that Rob is the lead of the episode makes the metaphor stronger. He’s not a criminal mastermind: he kills a customer at his job, one who was hanging around outside his apartment, and eventually his neighbour.
His hunger could be a stand-in for any kind of addiction, but specifically it’s binge-eating disorder that Gilligan rests on. This is frankly amazing: Hungry is twenty years old and it’s still the only example I can think of in which a character with an eating disorder is a man (aside from David Thewlis and his bone-chilling teeth in Fargo). Then there is Rob’s true face: shark-like eyes and teeth that take all the humanity away. Again, if taken as metaphor, it’s a symbol of how we all feel about our addictions – our self-worth coloured by feelings of guilt or depression as we try to sate it and fight it at the same times. Rob is all of these things taken to their monstrous extremes, but it actually enhances my sympathy for him. Also, who wouldn’t be stressed by Mulder’s stalking, monster or otherwise? Another genius move on the part of Gilligan. Mulder is a fucking pest.
Hungry is the right kind of experiment for a show that was growing stale (pun intended) fast. Its’ switching of perspective allows us to see the kind of story not seen on our screens that much, even today. It’s for this reason why people with mental health and addiction problems (hello, hi, that’s me!) are drawn toward genre stories. Because those are where we find ourselves – the good, the bad, the sympathetic, and the distinctly sharky.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via ImDB)