The X-Files and the Monsters of That Week: Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster
The central question of any revival series of a popular TV show is “what is the fucking point?”
That was the question faced by The X-Files after being off the air for over 15 years, not counting a disappointing feature film in the form of The X-Files: I Want to Believe meant to act as the final word on Mulder and Scully. As a huge and completely obsessed fan of the original series, I fell into the nostalgia trap when the show first aired in the UK – I couldn’t watch it week to week because I didn’t have satellite TV, and the scheduling of episodes on the BBC felt like a game of musical chairs of different time slots, but I spent all my time chasing down whatever scraps of it I could. No matter how questionable they might have been.
The X-Files was formative, both to horror TV and to me; these days, scary television shows that are actually scary are a little more common – Hill House and Bly Manor, the Channel Zero anthology, the terrific French show Marianne being some of the best. And the revival was a chance to live in a world where The X-Files was on again, where it could catch up to modern spooky TV, that I could watch and obsess with other fans. I was the kind of obvious mark that revivals go for. Season ten is terrible. It’s not the worst season of the show, that’s still nine, but there is only one thing keeping it from that illustrious title: Darin Morgan.
Despite being officially the best writer The X-Files ever had (that’s a fan consensus, not my own), I haven’t covered Darin Morgan’s episodes in this series. Mainly because there has been enough discourse around the likes of Jose Chung, Clyde Buckman, and The War of the Coprophages, and I wanted to highlight other episodes that I think stand up to the ridiculous standard of quality set by Morgan’s writing for the show.
That all changes with Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster. This episode alone is enough to make a case for the existence of two more seasons of The X-Files. I’m sure I’m on the same page as many of the show’s fans when I say that I’d happily sit through Chris Carter’s bullshit for more Darin Morgan episodes, and this is the precise and concise example of that.
The reason that Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster works, apart from the many cute easter eggs, is that the central question of the episode is, as with the entire reboot, why even bother in the first place? Mulder and Scully are back in the FBI, back in the basement, and while Scully is having a lot of fun when she isn’t forced to think about William, Mulder is in an existential crisis. The paranormal world has changed since he’s been away, much as the TV landscape has around the show at large. At the beginning of the episode, as he takes a break from throwing pencils into the I Want to Believe poster (a major sign that he’s feeling worse than usual because those pencils usually go into the ceiling), he tells Scully about all of The X-Files that have been solved by amateurs on the internet. It’s enough to think that your life’s pursuit is just chasing shadows. Enter Rhys Darby.
Guy Mann is one of the greatest one-off characters in the history of The X-Files. Morgan pulls such a simple reversal of perception: what happens when an apparent monster is cursed to turn into a human, and rides that pony all the way to hilarity-town (sentences like that are my version of pencils in the ceiling). Darby is brilliant as Guy, a monster out of water in the human world who suffers the banal needs of civilisation: get a job, wear clothes, pour all of your frustrated love into a pet (these next words were typed ten minutes after “pet” as I spent that time rubbing my cat’s neck), and most obvious of all, lie about your sexual history.
Darby is brilliant, but this is really David Duchovny’s episode. He brings some modern layers to Mulder, that he’s depressed enough to need medication, that when he may be onto something, he goes on a manic rant that accounts for both his and Scully’s side of the conversation. I do have bipolar disorder so I may be reading into that a little too much, but the seeds are there – this is Mulder asking what the hell he is doing, and finding some pieces of his own humanity as he chases down a monster and searches for that answer himself.
What The Were-Monster boils down to is, and this is uncharacteristically positive for a Darin Morgan episode, that there is still wonder out there, still reasons not to fall into despair. If that was the only thing this first revival series can give me, I’ll take it. But, as we’ll find out – there’s far more to come. Most of it terrible.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via Den of Geek)