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Tweetable Takeaway: .@thexfiles turns its own mid-life crisis into delightful meta hijinks in this week’s review from @DanaLeighBrand
Well, so far two-thirds of THE X-FILES reboot is phenomenal. Let’s completely forget that “Founder’s Mutation” happened so that I can say I am surprisingly grateful that we’re revisiting this show. Two out of three episodes have been self-aware without being self-conscious and updated without trying desperately to be hip. “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” is the perfect blend of in-jokes, existentialism, and monsters. It’s basically everything that always made X-Files great. Again, as with “My Struggle,” this episode gets a heavy portion of its charm from the fact that it exists in a long, long continuum of X-Files narrative and mythological traditions. On its own I’m not sure it would even make sense. As an episode of The X-Files it’s superb.
The eternal question is does “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” deserve to sit beside the glory of “Bad Blood” and “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space“? The thirteen-year-old in me is thrashing vainly against her shackles, but I’m going to say “yes.” Where “Jose Chung’s” was a deliberate send-up of the show’s absurd conventions, and “Bad Blood” pokes at the subjective experiences of Mulder and Scully to hilarious effect, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” is the same brand of silly metafiction for this moment in the series’ history. It’s the goofball episode of this show’s strange present and it knows exactly what it’s doing. Darin Morgan wrote both “Were-Monster” and “Jose Chung,” and I have to say: if they could only pick a few of the X-Files writers to return, Morgan was a fantastic choice. Which, oh my god, I’m looking up the rest of the episodes he wrote and laughing because all of the in-jokes were his own in-jokes and somehow they all got immortalized in fandom. The reference to Queequeg (Scully’s dog in the third season that makes literally three appearances and yet I was obsessed with it) and the long-standing theory that Scully is immortal both originate in Morgan episodes. Huh. This is the benefit of now being old enough to realize screenwriters exist.
So much of this was delightful that I’m tempted to just list off everything adorable. My particular favorite detail was that Mulder was the skeptic throughout the entire episode, even monologuing counterpoints for Scully. Gloriously, Scully even solved the entire case on her own with science (pretend you can see me doing jazz hands and throwing sparkles when I say “science.”) I swear the last (and possibly only) time science was the answer was when an alligator ate Queequeg. But, just like “Quagmire’s” closing shot of Big Blue, Mulder has his faith reaffirmed by seeing Guy Man (Guy Man) turn into his lizard-self and run into the forest. And, in the truly delicious, mind-screwy meta, unreliable narrator-ness of this show at its trippy best: whether he actually turned into a lizard-man or not is inconsequential. Because you want to believe. Never did I ever think that phrase could have its full sentimental import returned to it, but there you have it: I want to believe again too.
I also loved opening on Mulder chucking pencils into the wall so hard that they stick (you know), while simultaneously poking holes in the iconic poster. I loved that the poster was Scully’s. I loved that, even though Scully wasn’t really the believer here, she was the one who was more open to possibility than Mulder who had convinced himself that everything weird is a hoax (thanks internet!) Mulder’s complete inability to use the camera on his smartphone was what first had me in stitches and really it’s getting that first laugh that sells the audience on the rest of the goofiness. Do also please remember that Scully and Doggett played out this same dynamic for all of season 8. (Or if you’d rather forget that happened I’m cool with that too.) I declared the whole episode “adorable” at the half-way point when the “were-lizard” actually turned out to have supposedly been bitten by a were-human. What a delightful twist! But from there we got “Guy Man’s” ridiculous version of events and that just was the last nail in my coffin. Any time this show ruminates on the absurdity, precariousness, or mundanity of human existence and does it with comedy is when it lights up.
I’m observing the desperate attempts to redress ’90s bigotry without judging them one way or the other at this point. Last episode had the deliberately sympathetic gay character. This time we had an explanation of transgenderism. Since sexuality, gender, race, and virtually any other possible “otherness” were all sources of X-Files in the past, this reads simultaneously as an apologetic band-aid over old harms and an acknowledgment that they can do better if they have to. Again: no idea how I feel about this. I’m not sure I even want to touch it.
All told, it really is unfair to compare anything to “Bad Blood” isn’t it? That’s one of the best television episodes of all time. But I am truly shocked that not only is this “revisit” actually decent, but that I—the biggest skeptic about this entire endeavor—am thoroughly enjoying (most of) it! It’s like a little gift from the good ol’ days. It has all the charm of a time capsule that also had the benefit of a soothsayer to smooth off all the harsh cultural edges we’d find distasteful in 2016. Although now I’m wondering if this is like Indiana Jones and if all the even numbered episodes are going to be horrendous.
Essentially, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” was The X-Files’ way of addressing its own mid-life crisis. Despite, you know, having been dead for over a decade. “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” is the wink and nod to assure us that, not only do they get how ridiculous it is to bring a series back after thirteen years, they remember what made it so special in the first place. I think I just fell in love with X-Files all over again.
Dana Leigh Brand is a digitization archivist by day and a masked pop culture avenger by night. She spreads the gospel of science fiction and fantasy wherever she goes.
Dana Leigh Brand | Contributor