When Canada’s Space channel recently ran a two day, 20 episode marathon of the Best of The X-Files, six out of the 20 in some way involved Darin Morgan. He either wrote the episode in question (“Humbug”, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”, “War of the Coprophages”, “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space'”), or appeared in it (“The Host”, “Small Potatoes”). It might be impossible to understate the influence of Morgan’s work on The X-Files, which is why Files fans were looking forward to this week’s entry, which marked Morgan’s return to the show for the first times since “Small Potatoes” in season four, and the first time he’s but his stamp on a script since “Jose Chung” in season three. It was like he never left.
After two rocky entries, “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster” is a home run that likely is not only going to be the best of this new batch of episodes, but may stand alongside some of the best entries of the whole series. Ever. On a whole, it’s meta-textual to an absurdist degree, it’s hysterically funny, it’s got lots of in-jokes for the series’ long-time fans, and it’s a great character piece for David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. If the show’s central duo felt a bit rusty getting back into the swinging of things, they definitely wore Mulder and Scully like old gloves within two minutes of the start of this episode.
Morgan’s script, which he also directed, has a loving ode to all things X-Files that also at times dismantled the entire the premise; it’s a compelling interseciton where both the ludicrousness of the show is both embraced and satirized. Mulder is confronted with an existential crisis in this episode. Yes, he’s back on the X-Files, doing what he does best, but he’s older now, a middle-aged man chasing monsters, myths and flights of fancy. More than that, the technological revolution of the next 20 years has made Mulder aware of one important thing: a lot of what’s in the X-Files is pretty easily explained away. In his old age, Mulder has become the Scully.
Scully, for her part, is amused. Seeing Mulder spin tangents about plausible explanations about the impossible is home, and while she may rarely agree with it, their dynamic is an undeniably important part of her life, if not the most important. Much has been said about the show authoring a reset with this new series: sending Mulder and Scully back to the FBI, breaking up their romantic relationship, and acknowledging that mistakes were made in those latter days of the show. In its way, “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster” was all about giving us permission to enjoy The X-Files again as an entity without all that baggage from seasons seven, eight and nine.
On the other hand, perhaps Morgan is keenly aware that X-Files works best without its baggage. The closest thing that Morgan did to a “mythology” episode of the show was “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space'”, the one with Alex Trebek as a Man in Black. Nothing was really advanced about the ongoing plot, but it did force the show to take a good long look at itself from the outsider’s perspective. Is the pursuit of the Truth a fool’s errand? And who’s version of the truth is the Truth? Where as “Jose Chung” seemed to want to undermine Mulder, the “Were-Creature” is all about daring him to believe. Here, the Truth wasn’t just out there, it was staring him in the face.
Like Morgan’s past work, perspective is a big part of what makes this episode so compelling. Of course, we’re meant to think that the horned lizard man that spits blood from his eyes is plaguing this nondescript backwater, because why wouldn’t it be a monster? And who would have supposed that unassuming animal control officer Pasha (played by Silicon Valley’s Kumail Nanjiani) would turn out to be the bad guy? Perhaps it speaks to the inundation of TV serial killers that the reveal that the villain in this X-Files outing was a guy that straggles people and bites their necks seemed quite ordinary, but it’s in keeping with the Morgan tradition that the lizard man turned out to be just another innocent victim.
It’s a simple but clever twist that Morgan builds the episode around Guy Mann, the lizard man that gets bit by a human and thus can only retain his lizard form during the full moon. His human form drives him to embrace the staples of a norman human life like work, and takeout, and watching porn, all owed to the greatest of human defense mechanisms, bulls***ing. Morgan and Duchovny relish the chance to have the show on the other foot when it comes to Mulder, where he’s usually the one spouting nonsense in the attempt to explain the unexplained, but hearing Guy’s story, it’s Mulder that can’t believe what he’s hearing, and not enough can be said about English actor Rhys Darby and how well he plays Guy’s befuddlement and resigned acceptance of all things human.
In the end, it’s all a rather highbrow way of saying “to thine own self be true.” Sure, everything that Guy tells Mulder sounds crazy, but why should not that make it any less true? More than that, how is life as a lizard man in the woods any different on the spectrum of weirdness than the inexplicable things that humans do? Perhaps the lesson is that we’re so busy focusing on the what’s weird to us, we miss the weirdness in the everyday things we do. Or perhaps the lesson is we need to embrace who we are, rather than wishing we’re something that we’re not. Or maybe we should just beware of peeping toms in roadside motels, especially when there are taxidermied heads on the wall.
And oh how many wonderful Easter eggs were there in this week’s show. Guy’s human outfit was evocative of the outfit worn by the title character of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Chris Carter‘s primary inspiration for The X-Files. Tyler Labine shows up in the beginning as a Stoner, the third play he’s played “a Stoner” in an episode of the show. The rubbing alcohol drinking hotel manager played by Alex Diakun? He’s appeared in every Darin Morgan-writen episode of The X-Files except “War of the Coprophages” (and he appeared in The X-Files: I Want to Believe). One of the headstones at the graveyard was for Kim Manners, who directed 58 episodes of the show but sadly passed away in 2009. And one would think that making the ringtone of Mulder’s phone the X-Files theme would be a meta bridge too far, but you end up just going with it.
Basically, this episode had something for everyone, right down to the money shot of Mulder sleeping in a red speedo and Scully cast in Guy Mann’s porn-inspired fantasy that I’m actually surprised The X-Files dared to get away with. There’s so much energy in this episode it could power a small city, everyone was on their game and was so dedicated to the story that if this was the one and only episode to be produced in this X-Files revival, I would have been perfectly fine with that. If The X-Files was going to pick a time to find itself though, this was it, because the completion of this episode means that this new season is half over. Much like the life of lizard man, time flies.