Getting Back Together with the X: Reactions to the X-Files Miniseries – Episode 4, “Home Again”

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 fourth episode of the miniseries, “Home Again.” It contains spoilers for this episode as well as the entire original run of The X-Files.

Jeff
Glen Morgan pulled a fast one! “Home Again” has absolutely nothing to do with Season 4 classic “Home,” with the exception of setting a gruesome murder to a poppy tune. It’s probably better off that way, because while this episode brings the feels and a bit of the creepiness, it doesn’t hold together as a whole.

The “Band-Aid Nose Man” or “Trashman” who rips up bureaucrats in order to defend the homeless is an appropriately creepy character. The way he dispatches his victims, by tearing them apart, is also gross and disturbing. His origins, what he means, and how he ties into the Scully family drama is a mystery. I guess Trashman comes from a trash truck, except when he comes from graffiti. He is the unintentional creation of an unintelligible artist who accidentally got angry about homelessness when he sketched (and/or sculpted) him and that brought him to life. Apparently other creations by this artist have come to life too, though that’s not explored in the episode. It’s all a little vague.

vlcsnap-2016-03-20-09h18m01s986The effectiveness of a vengeful golem crossing names off of his list wears a little thin when it’s unclear whether there is anything more behind it except “America has a problem with homelessness that most people choose to ignore,” or more appropriately, “put a band-aid over.” If that message was less overt, or perhaps non-existent, and we just followed an anthropomorphic piece of murderous artwork around, that might be more entertaining. Unfortunately, we spend more time with the bureaucrats than the homeless and we’re robbed of any opportunity to hear “their voice” as Mulder puts it, until the end of the episode. Unless “their voice” is actually the Trashman tearing people’s limbs off, in which case, good job?

What does work better is the half of the episode dealing with Scully’s mother, Margaret, dying after having a heart attack. Gillian Anderson sells pretty much every moment in the hospital, especially her first scene with her mom when she talks about having been in a coma herself. Anderson single-handedly makes this story work as well as it does. It’s weird to throw in the seldom-seen Charlie Scully and try to equate Margaret wanting to talk to him to Mulder and Scully needing to take care of William, their son, but it’s not terrible. Plus, it allows us a thin thread to connect to the main story in that Scully wants to believe™ that she and Mulder didn’t treat William like trash, by putting him out of sight and out of mind. (Yes, it’s a very thin thread.)

vlcsnap-2016-03-20-09h34m49s519Scully and Mulder sit with Margaret’s ashes at the end of the episode and Scully says that she knows Mulder will find the answers to all of his big questions, she just won’t have the chance to ask her mother any little ones. It’s effective, and I think it illustrates how The X-Files, especially in later years, worked best when its episodes were tangential to, but not focused on, the slowly collapsing mytharc. It’s great to know that Mulder is still on his quest for the truth, but the other adventures he gets into along the way are more interesting than the ponderous, series-long conspiracy narrative.

That’s why this episode, and to a lesser extent James Wong’s “Founder’s Mutation,” ultimately work pretty well, and better than “My Struggle.” They touch upon ongoing storylines (be it the conspiracy of men or the loss of William), without convoluting them or giving the entire episode over to them. I think “Home Again” works better than “Founder’s Mutation” because the main story, misguided though its aims may be, has an air of classic standalone creepiness, and the emotional/family story is better depicted and acted.

I could honestly see this episode at home (haha) in Season 9 of the original run. That wouldn’t mesh with the timeline involving William of course, but the quality of the episode is at that level, I think. That might not sound like praise, but I intend it to be. What are your thoughts, Patches? Do you have any strong feelings on the drama surrounding Margaret’s death or William? Did the Trashman story work for you in any way? Could you understand anything the artist guy said?

Patches
Jeff, I’m glad you kicked things off this week because I could not figure out how to start this post. I was so lost I even went ahead and watched the next episode  before writing this. “Home Again” is the sort of episode that I would dread were I a professional reviewer. If an episode is bad, you can pick it apart. If an episode is good, you can break down why it worked. If it’s somewhere in the middle, you do both. “Home Again” was just sort of there. That’s not going to stop either one of us from spilling two pages of ink on it, but that’s because of our nature, not the episode’s.

To answer your excellent lead-in questions, this just wasn’t a “strong feelings” sort of episode for me. Carter’s six-episode State of the Union Address continued, but going after pasty bureaucrats is too easy to be fun, even if it means we get to see Alessandro Juliani torn limb from limb. The cynicism continued this week, but “Home Again” desperately missed Darin Morgan’s humor or the conspiracy tie-in of “Founder’s Mutation” to keep it afloat.

vlcsnap-2016-03-20-09h21m47s799Thankfully, Gillian Anderson was there to wring a little pathos out of the episode. I had no reason to care about Scully’s mom, just as I had no reason to care about William in “My Struggle,” but Anderson’s performance forced an emotional connection with this episode that would have been otherwise absent. Gillian has been killing it all season and she is the sole reason this miniseries has had any emotional weight. Maybe instead of referencing Tim Duncan, Duchovny could focus more on Duncan’s fellow-Spur Andre Miller.  Assists, Man! Help your teammates out.

You liked “Home Again” more than “My Struggle” or “Founder’s Mutation,” but I thought this was the weakest episode of the season. Like you said, it tried to deal with homelessness, but gave no one but Mulder and Scully agency or voice. The artist’s other creations were creepy, but had no purpose other than providing five seconds of cheap suspense. The “reveal” at the end was neat, but felt rushed and unearned. You know there’s room for improvement  when your story is resolved through exposition and a lecture on morality that would have made Jean-Luc Picard proud.

vlcsnap-2016-03-20-09h12m11s494The Trashman was creepy as hell and the grisly deaths worked for what they did (Gaeta’s new Lament: “But wish no more / My arms you can take / Have Scully’s mom please one day wake ), but they didn’t do enough with it to make it feel worthwhile. It seemed like “Home Again” came from the idea to do a thing with monsters and the homeless instead of having something important to say and working backwards from that. Or maybe it didn’t work because “Trashman kills because we treat the homeless like trash” has all the subtlety of Steve Atwater laying out Christian Okoye.

That last idea might be instructive of the season as a whole. Only “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” seemed to have a purpose beyond “The X-Files is back,” and I am including next week’s mostly fun “Babylon” in this statement. I reserve the right to change my mind, but it seems like The X-Files is back because it  can be, not because Chris Carter has anything meaningful to say. Maybe that’s besides the point, but it is a key difference between “good” television and “great” television.

Quick Hits
Patches: X-Files’ “Downtown” + grisly murder or Justified’s “Love Train” + brutal torture?
Jeff: There has to be a TV/Movie Trope listing for something like this, with the prime example being “Stuck in the Middle with You” from Reservoir Dogs. The edge in your matchup goes to Justified, because that episode (“Decoy”) is among  the greatest single episodes of that series and because Patton Oswalt is a delight. As mentioned above, Glen Morgan was calling back to “Home” in which there is a scene where two people are brutally killed to the tune of Johnny Mathis’ “Wonderful, Wonderful.” That scene is more effective than the “Downtown” scene in this one.

vlcsnap-2016-03-20-09h33m46s030Jeff: Which one of Carmen Sandiego’s  henchmen stole a giant billboard in broad daylight, in full view of Mulder, and in two minutes without him noticing?
Patches: Has to be Double Trouble. No way one person pulls that off alone.

Patches: Tim Duncan references? Did you have Mulder pegged as a sports fan?
Jeff: He’s actually a Knicks fan, according to a couple of episodes from the original series! Duchovny played some hoops in school as well. I also remember one time he was on The Late Late Show and  gave him the option of shooting hoops or dancing with him. Duchovs chose dancing.

Jeff: What other artwork would you like to see brought to life?
Patches: You mean besides that totally-not-creepy drawing I made of me and Kat Dennings ? I’ll go with Dali’s The Elephants just because I want to see how long it takes for the feds to call in an airstrike.

Patches: The art dealers all but say “Who knew it would be so easy and profitable to make money off of the homeless?” Could they have said anything that would have guaranteed their demise even more?
Jeff: “It’s almost as lucrative as pretending  to be priests and exploiting crippled, third-world AIDS orphans.”

vlcsnap-2016-03-20-09h10m16s659Jeff: Along the lines of your first question, what is the least appropriate song to set a murder to? (I’m partial to “Cotton Eye Joe”)
Patches: This is a tough question. Anything heavy works. Anything electronic works.Anything happy works ironically. I’ll go with Aurora’s “Murder Song (5,4,3,2,1)” just because it’s too damn on-the-nose to do anyone any good.

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

Patches: How well do we know Scully’s family (or Mulder’s for that matter) in the original run?
Jeff: Scully’s Dad, Bill Sr. dies in the excellent Season 1 episode “Beyond the Sea,” which features a great guest turn by Brad Dourif . Her mother, Margaret recurs throughout most of the original series (except Seasons 6 and 7 for some reason). Her sister Melissa is in Seasons 2 and 3. She is killed by syndicate henchmen who mistake her for Scully. Brother Bill Jr. appears in about half a dozen episodes. Brother Charlie appears only in “Beyond the Sea” and as a child in flashback in Season 2’s “One Breath,” an episode which “Home Again” references. They’re not major players, but Margaret is steady. Also, Scully calls her dad “Ahab” and he calls her “Starbuck.” Mulder’s sister Samantha was abducted as a child, which is the starting point for Mulder’s obsessions. She’s a big part simmering in the background of the show and makes occasional appearances at different ages throughout the series. His “dad,” also named Bill, is killed at the end of Season 2. His mom, Teena, is in about a dozen episodes from Season 2 through 7, when she dies. She’s important to the Samantha story and also the mystery of Mulder’s paternity.

Patches: What was up with Scully’s coma?
Jeff: Good question. Scully was abducted in the middle of Season 2 (to give Gillian Anderson a short maternity break). When she was returned, in the episode “One Breath”, she was in a coma (in which she actually saw visions of her father). At the end of that episode she wakes up.

vlcsnap-2016-03-20-09h34m49s519Patches: Did Gillian Anderson always act circles around David Duchovny or has he checked out somehow?
Jeff: Both. Anderson is the only other person to win an Emmy for the series (Lead Actress in a Drama, during Season 4) along with Darin Morgan (writing) and Peter Boyle (Guest Actor) for Season 3’s “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.” Even so, Duchovny owned the role of Fox Mulder, and was great throughout his time on the series, though he started to check out a little in later seasons . I don’t think he has range much beyond Mulder, which is why he hasn’t been big in  things (Showtime’s Californication excepted). I think Season 10 is sort of a combination of a paycheck and a fun reunion for him. At this point, after leaving the show mid-stream previously, he’s not going to take it very seriously. Duchovny, Anderson and the series won Golden Globes in 1996, which was probably for Season 4 as well.

Patches: Is “Home Again” a reference to the original run episode “Home?” Are there similarities? Did you say “Home” was one of the better episodes of the original run?
Jeff: As mentioned above, “Home Again” actually has almost nothing to do with “Home,” which is one of the best (and most memorable) standalone episodes of the original series. Both were written by Glen Morgan (“Home” was also written by James Wong) and both feature murders set to a pop tune (also mentioned above). The similarities pretty much end there. I don’t want to spoil any of “Home” here though. It’s best experienced first-hand. You don’t need to know much about The X-Files to watch/enjoy it. Also, despite its good reputation, I wouldn’t say it’s representative of what the show usually does with standalone episodes. That is to say, don’t watch “Home” and expect the rest of the series to be similar, for better or worse.

vlcsnap-2016-03-20-09h24m37s681

 

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