When details started coming out about the return of The X-Files, people heard the title of this week’s episode, “Home Again,” and wondered if it was a sequel to the most notorious X-Files of them all, 1996’s “Home.” Adding fuel to that speculation was the fact that Glen Morgan wrote and directed this episode, he co-wrote the tale of the inbred Peacock family, and surely the fact that the original “Home” is now passe enough to be screened regularly in X-Files reruns threw down the gauntlet for him to come up with sometime even more disturbing. Actually, “Home Again” dealt with subject matter far more upsetting than deformed incestuous rednecks: overwhelming guilt and end of life.
Coming a week after “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” which was so meta that even Abed from Community watched it and thought it nearly went too far, The X-Files went in an entirely different tonal direction, but still crafted a compelling and emotional hour. Morgan indulged some of his gross out fetishes with the case of the week, but the backbone of the hour was Scully’s personal struggle, setting up another occasion for both her and Mulder to indulge their deep-seeded regret over giving up their son, William. The drama was heavy, but Morgan delivered it with a light touch as the series paid off a lot of its long-standing relationships.
Sheila Larken returned as Scully’s mother, Margaret, and believe it or not, this was only the 17th time she appeared on the show. I looked it up, and that number seemed to me a little low because Larken’s presence as Mrs. Scully was always so warm and supportive, not just to her own daughter, but to Mulder as well. She was one of the few people who could call him Fox, and not make it sound weird. She was an island of normalcy in the ebb and flow of oddity in The X-Files universe, which is a vast difference from Mulder’s mother, who was privy to some of the key mysteries, but was always rather reluctant to share. Most characters on The X-Files have something to hide, or are diligently trying to find something hidden, but Margaret Scully was one of the few people on the show you could take at face value.
So it was all the more stinging when Scully’s older brother Bill Jr. calls to tell Dana their mom’s had a heart attack. Admittedly, this hit me where I live seeing as how my own mom had open-heart surgery just last summer, fortunately though the cardiac wing of St. Mary’s hospital in Kitchener, Ontario isn’t staged and lit like a haunted house. Clearly, Mrs. Scully’s fate was fairly and certainly laid out, but Gillian Anderson channeled a churning broth of emotion as Scully tries to deal with why her mother would ask for her estranged son Charlie, and why Margaret would sign a DNR without telling her daughter her wishes.
It’s worth remembering that Anderson won an Emmy for playing Scully, and it was always the more difficult portrayal of the Mulder and Scully duo because you had to believe Scully’s skepticism. We the viewer didn’t need evidence because we were privy to things that Scully was not, so in the eyes of the audience, she was always on a back heel. But like in her partnership with Mulder, Scully always won us over because wanting to believe is easy, and finding a reason to believe is harder. This version of Scully in 2016 is not the hardened skeptic anymore though. She looks for signs too, and the signs she saw in “Home Again” told her that she needs to keep an eye on what’s real, she has to know that her and Mulder’s son, William, is okay. Interesting too that in that final scene by the sea, Scully says “Fox” and not “Mulder.” You can count the number of times on one hand that’s happened.
Speaking of Fox, David Duchovny got to show a lot of growth in Mulder. There were scenes in the hospital where Mulder comforted Scully, holding her in a way that didn’t feel very Mulder-esque. In those moments he seemed more approachable, more empathetic than I think Mulder felt before, and it showed a subtle maturity in the character not typically seen. On the flip side, the deep drama of the week was off-set by Mulder’s solo investigating in Philadelphia, which included mocking the scoring power of the city’s beloved 76ers, and his flippant questioning of a self-serving city councillor and a greedy land developer.
The case had to do with the “Trash Man” a spectral avenger of the city’s homeless who literally tears apart anyone that threatens them and takes their parts to his ethereal garbage truck. He hides in plain sight as a Banksy-like street art stencil, which makes sense because he was created by an artist though some Tibetan hoodoo, where he poured his anger and frustration about the mistreatment of the homeless into a clay sculpture. The mechanics of how the Trash Man came about are superfluous though because the case ends up reinforcing Scully’s feels of having abandoned William, as if the boy were garbage. A problem to quickly move out of sight and out of mind.
The sheer blood and guts brutality of the Trash Man was such a contrast to the tender, family-driven story. One sensed a lot of social commentary that could have been mined in this monster-of-the-week story, but the script was singularly tight in its focus, which meant that “Home Again” was one of those times that the monster, the metaphor, and the B-plot all seemed to coalesce together in perfect harmony. Tim Armstrong as the Trash Man was great casting as well, he was physically imposing and smeared with a nice gross-out layer of slime. In other words, the Trash Man didn’t need to be overly made up by the special effects department to be effective, and Armstrong was very effective indeed.
In framing this new run of episodes, the writers seem to be willing to shake up the formula. Like “Founder’s Mutation”, the story is wanting to say something more than just be about Mulder and Scully chasing the case, but unlike “Founder’s Mutation” the mixture is more seamlessly blended. Fans were disappointed that we’re only getting six episodes, but by highly concentrating the show it seems that very best of what made The X-Files great was been squeezed out. The batting average so far has been two wins, one loss, and one draw from the show, but when Mulder boldly declares that “Back in the day is now!” so far as the last couple of weeks are concerned, he’s basically right.
Next week’s episode has a lot to live up, if only because it’s going to jam-packed with guest stars. Cancer Man is back next week, as are the newly resurrected (or are they?) Lone Gunmen. We’ll also meet Agents Miller and Einstein played by Robbie Amell and Lauren Ambrose. After that, just one more week till it’s all over again….