Getting Back Together with the X: Reactions to the X-Files Miniseries – Episode 3, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster”

thexfilesAlmost 14 years after it ended its original run, The X-Files is returning to the small screen with a six-episode miniseries this winter. To welcome it back, Jeff and I will be writing responses to each episode. Here’s the hook: Jeff is a pretty hardcore X-Files fan and I haven’t seen a single episode of the show. How we’ll respond is anyone’s guess, but as always: The Truth is Out There.

This post covers the third episode of the miniseries, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.” It contains spoilers for this episode as well as the entire original run of The X-Files.

Patches
Jeff, you mentioned how much you were looking forward to Darin Morgan’s entry this season, although if I remember correctly, there was also some trepidation. Would he live up to his previous standards or would he tarnish his good name? I can’t answer those questions for you, but I can say that “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” was the best episode of the miniseries so far.

One reason was the episode’s willingness to question the very premise of the show. “Were-Monster” begins with Mulder in some sort of an existential crisis. Almost poking fun at the original run’s standalones, Mulder suggests that the truth is out there™, but it might be more boring than we can possibly imagine. Earlier mysteries turned out to be pranks or promotions or worst of all, ice. Mulder Who Learned from His Earlier Naivety is a pretty good Mulder, perhaps only second to Mulder Who Struggles with Newfangled Technology. Of course, the show’s premise is justified in the end, but in a way that appeals to logic instead of the supernatural. Is it reasonable to think that we have the entire universe figured out? I’m inclined to answer “no.”

“Were-Monster” also benefited from plenty of humor. Long story short, a lizard-creature is bitten by a human psychopath and turns human during the day. Beyond the wonderful inversion of the standard werewolf story, the spectacularly named, and performed, Guy Mann (just one step down from Futurama’s Hugh Man, who is most definitely not a Decapodian spy) poked a lot of fun at humanity.

vlcsnap-2016-02-23-18h54m02s410We’re the most brutal species in the universe. We feel the need to lie about our sex lives (Looks like the wrong character was named “Fox,” amirite? That hacky joke has never been made about The X-Files, right?). Best was Mann’s soliloquy on employment:

I went back to work. But now that I had a job, all I could think about was how much I hated my job. But I was too overcome with human fear to quit. How would I pay my bills? Without a job, I’d… I’d never get a loan and start a mortgage, whatever that is. Already I was terrified I wasn’t saving enough for my retirement. And what else was I supposed to do?

And that was just the were-premise. Morgan disses psychiatrists and dingy hotels. Mann’s electronics store is named “Smart Phones Is Us.” There’s dick jokes. Somehow, Mulder’s ringtone is the X-Files theme song. I’m not going to think about that one any deeper.

“Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” was outstanding. It was subversively funny and gave us some stuff to think about. It was so good, in fact, that I don’t have anything more to say this week. That’s usually the highest compliment I can pay an episode of television. What did you think? Did “Were-Monster” meet your expectations? How did it measure up with Darin Morgan’s previous entries?

Jeff
I’ve lived with this one for a little while now and I can confidently say that Darin Morgan didn’t tarnish his reputation. He only wrote four episodes in the original series, and while this is definitely not his best, I think it’s in range of the others.

The premise alone makes this episode worthy of its own existence, an idea which is somewhat apropos, considering the episode’s themes. Introducing a human who bites a monster and makes that monster turn human is brilliant. It’s so good it makes me think it has to have been done before . Regardless, from the moment I understood that’s what was going on, I was on board for this one.

vlcsnap-2016-02-23-18h37m15s120Morgan likes to explore themes of loneliness, uncertainty and the perpetually puzzling questions of “why are we here?” and “what does it all mean?” The character of Guy Mann is a wonderful unpacking of what it’s like to be human. As monster, he doesn’t really have a care in the world, but as a man, he’s driven by all of the things you quoted above. He needs a job, he needs money, he needs to lie about his sex life. He doesn’t understand why he’s driven, however, it’s just some innate feeling that he needs to do these things now that he’s a man. The best part, he’s driven to get a dog , a carefree “creature” not beholden to the despair that comes with being human, in order to have some joy in his life.

In his way, Guy is actually more human than we are. It’s the old Socratic idea of knowing that you know nothing. Having lived the other side, Guy gets that none of this stuff makes any sense even if he feels like he must do it. He tells Mulder “life’s hopeless, a few fleeting moments of happiness surrounded by crushing loss and grief. Why bother?” It’s all “worries, self-doubt, regret and loneliness.” No wonder he wants to die.

That’s pretty dark. But that’s the great thing about Darin Morgan episodes. You’re laughing through the tears. You understand how deeply sad existence can be at times, but even in the midst of this despair, it’s those moments of happiness, those opportunities to experience joy and laughter, that can make things all okay, if only for a few minutes, or the length of a television episode.

vlcsnap-2016-02-23-19h07m14s667There’s more to this episode than just philosophizing, and I have more to do than heap praise on it. There are some things about this episode that just feel little bit “off” or a bit too broad. For example, the wacky hotel proprietor drinking rubbing alcohol, Mulder not being able to work his phone, the confusing nature of the blocking and timeline at the truck stop, even the flashback lie of Guy and Scully at the phone shop, which seems a little too much effort for a joke. I’m willing to look past these little things individually, but they do add up.

I also feel like Scully was underserved in this episode , and that Mulder’s existential crisis was a bit too on-the-nose and overly emphasized. It’s sort of a twist for Morgan to avoid his opportunity to take Mulder down a peg and instead build him up and have him overcome his crisis, still, given the miniseries’ distance from the original run, and it’s fast-paced and fleeting nature this seems like a lot more of an invention, as opposed to a natural progression. Scully does end up saving herself for once, which is refreshing. Plus, she references her own immortality, which is a nice nod to events of the original series.

vlcsnap-2016-02-23-18h49m14s412This episode is much more good than bad. Rhys Darby is perfect as Guy, and he makes me realize just how much I need to rewatch Flight of the Conchords. The scene in the graveyard is a nice two-hander  (with flashbacks, of course), and it’s length is sort of a departure for the series. And my goodness, that central idea. So much fun. Yes, this stacks up with the other Darin Morgan episodes. The verdict is still out on the miniseries as a whole, but I’d say this one improves its batting average significantly.

Quick Hits
Patches: Mulder’s X-Files ringtone: Too meta or just meta enough?
Jeff: Too meta for me. However, considering we’re so far removed from the original series, and that this miniseries is an unexpected bonus, there has to be some feeling of “eff it, let’s try it” among the production team. Plus, I Want to Believe did  .

Jeff: Having almost no knowledge of the original series, did you expect the show to pull out something like this?
Patches: Definitely not. I saw the AVClub’s “A” grade for this episode and despite my undying love for that website, I had a hard believing something with this title could be this good. Add in the middling nature of the first two episodes and the less-than-favorable reports from our mutual friends and I did not see this one coming.

Patches: Mulder brought GMOs and agribusiness into the conspiracy this week. Who joins next week?
Jeff: “Convenience” fees for online ticketing.

Jeff: Does Darin Morgan know how to work a smart phone?
Patches: I assume so, but didn’t see evidence of it in this episode, did we?

Patches: What do you think Mulder’s most disappointing revelation was while going through old cases?
Jeff: It turns out that everything George Lucas allegedly added to the Star Wars trilogy for the Special Editions was actually part of the original theatrical versions.

vlcsnap-2016-02-23-19h02m37s393Jeff: What is your fleeting happiness in life, Patches? What’s your Daggoo?
Patches: Having loads and loads of sex with beautiful women. (Snaps out of fake-flashback) Video games, learning things, and Dewquilas.

Xuestions and Xnswers
(Where Patches asks why things are the way they are and Jeff pretends he knows a lot)

Patches: In last week’s post, you mentioned John Doggett, Robert Patrick’s replacement character when Duchovny left the show. What is Duchovny’s timeline with the show? Did he come back for the finale or was the movie his first appearance since leaving? Did he return after Doggett was captured by Wraith and had the life force drained from him?
Jeff: Duchovny’s last episode as a regular was the season 7 finale, in which he was abducted. He starred in 12 of the 21 episodes in season 8 including “Vienen,” which was a standout (for that season) and saw Mulder and Doggett teaming up on an investigation. Mulder went into hiding after season 8, only to be brought back for the 2-episode series finale. Duchovny also directed the season 9 episode “William” in which Scully gives up the baby. As for Doggett, he was around for all of season 8 and 9. They brought in Annabeth Gish as Agent Monica Reyes in season 8, and she and Doggett sort of became the new dynamic duo . (I’m not going to click that link because I’m assuming  it’s Stargate spoilers.)

Patches: In this episode, Mulder and Scully hunt a monstrous suspect along a park trail, leaving their entire right flank vulnerable to attack through six-foot tall grasses. At the end of the episode, they stop a suspect from confessing all his crimes. Scully steals a dog. Were Mulder and Scully always this shitty at their jobs?
Jeff: In general, I think they’re probably as bad as your average TV detective/cop/agent. However, as I noted above, I feel like they probably care even less now that they’re back for 6 more episodes. Why bother with the details?

vlcsnap-2016-02-23-18h32m50s747Patches: At the end, Scully says “I’m immortal, remember?” Is that a joke or is there something there from the original series?
Jeff: Good question. Spoilers ahead for two episodes.  In Darin Morgan’s Emmy-winning season 3 episode “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” Peter Boyle plays the titular psychic, who can allegedly see how people will die. Mulder, fittingly, will supposedly die of auto-erotic asphyxiation. When Scully asks how she will die, in a really nice moment, Bruckman simply says “you don’t.” In the season 6 episode “Tithonus,” which has always been one of my favorites, from a season I love, there is a crime scene photographer named Alfred Fellig who also knows when people will die (I know that sounds recycled, but it’s actually quite good). Anyway, Fellig actually saw death coming for him, but death missed (or Fellig looked away, or something) and took someone else instead, making Fellig immortal. At the end of the episode, Scully and Fellig are both shot and as death comes in, Fellig tells her to look away and death takes Fellig instead. It’s a pretty moody episode, written by Vince Gilligan. I think there are other references to her immortality, but these are the most memorable ones.

Patches: Were all of Darin Morgan’s previous episodes this humorous? And that can’t be the only reason his episodes are that popular, right? What makes his episodes better than av-er-age bear’s?
Jeff: All of Morgan’s episodes were more humorous than your typical X-Files episode. While comedy episodes would become more of a regular thing, particularly throughout my beloved season 6, Morgan was the first writer to really go for it with the comedy. This was a refreshing change of pace, which I’m sure had something to do with how popular he is. As you can tell from watching “Were-Monster” Morgan also likes to write about universal issues of suffering, loneliness and existence. These are things we all feel and are faced with, and are a bit heavy for the show. Thankfully, he balances them nicely with comedy. Morgan also liked to deconstruct the show, almost as if he didn’t like it, or didn’t like Mulder in particular. The aforementioned “Clyde Bruckman” and Morgan’s last episode (until now) “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” especially play with the larger themes/tropes of the show. I would hate to spoil the latter episode, but as an example, the episode opens with two teenagers being confronted by two standard gray aliens who are begin to abduct them. Suddenly,  , coming to abduct the first two aliens. One of the grays turns to the other and says “Jack, what is that thing?” and the other replies “How the hell should I know?” Credits. It’s wonderful.

All of those things are what make Darin Morgan’s episodes so beloved. They’re funny, they’re new, they actually say something about the human condition, and they’re well written hours of television. Notably, his first episode was season 2, episode 20 and his last was season 3, episode 20, so he was only around for a short time, but his legacy is long.

 

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