This episode is written and directed by Darin Morgan. With only four-and-a-half episodes (4 + 3X22: Quagmire) written previously but all of them in people’s “best of” lists, he is known for how his comic episodes expanded what the show could be and made fun of its codes and characters while managing to present a good X-file investigation.
Blood-squirting spoilers after the jump!
The Kolchak connection
This episode is very much derived from a script Darin Morgan had originally developed ten years ago, for “The Night Stalker“, the 2005 series helmed by none other than Frank Spotnitz, Chris Carter’s right-hand man for most of the duration of The X-Files‘ run. That series was a rmodern-day remake of “Kolchak: The Night Stalker“, the 1974-1975 series that followed the weekly adventures of Los Angeles journalist Karl Kolchak, who investigated into paranormal phenomena, the occult, monsters. Carter credits the original Kolchak as one of the main inspirations for The X-Files, for the weekly monster-of-the-week format, the realistic investigation angle and the scares on television — see The X-Files influences list here. Carter even managed to bring the actor who portrayed Kolchak, Darren McGavin, on The X-Files, as none other than Mulder’s predecessor in the X-Files, FBI Special Agent Arthur Dales, who investigated unexplained cases in the 1950s (see 5X15: Travelers, 6X14: Agua Mala).
That script was particularly adapted for an X-Files adaptation since Frank Spotnitz’s Night Stalker was already very X-Files-like, much more than its Kolchak predecessor: there was the male protagonist attracted to supernatural phenomena and the female co-star who looked at things more rationally (a character that was not in the original series), in a clear believer/skeptic dynamic. The Darin Morgan script never got made as the series was cancelled very quickly after 10 episodes made; Darin’s would have been the 12th, it would have been directed by Tony Wharmby (another The X-Files alumnus, he directed 7 episodes in seasons 8-9 and was a producer during season 9). The script made it on the DVD boxset of the series as a bonus, which is how we know about it; you can download it here.
The circle is now complete, with a Kolchak script making its way to The X-Files!
The X-Files script follows the older Kolchak script very closely, even verbatim in many scenes. The episode starts with exactly the same teaser, the investigation unfolds in the same way — looking glass in the motel, port-a-potty, Dr. Rumanovich, transgender prostitute, confrontation and confession in a graveyard, yes even that sexual fantasy on the central female character — and ends in the same way too. Further blurring the lines between inspiration and “inspiree”, Guy Mann’s appearance is exactly that of Karl Kolchak — same hat, same light colors in his suit, same tie — which of course was perfect for a show on Kolchak, but I guess still works in The X-Files. Interestingly, the last shot of the last produced The Night Stalker episode is one of a full moon!
Mulder and his mojo
What is most interesting is to see where the two scripts differ. Guy Mann goes to work on a phone shop instead of a donut shop, keeping with the rest of the episode’s comments on smartphone technology; there was no dog pet; the time Kolchak spent discussing with his cartoonist and editor colleagues we get with Mulder theorizing; there was less insistence on the transvestite operations.
But most importantly, an aspect completely absent from Darin’s Kolchak script is Mulder’s character arc, from mid-life crisis to renewed interest in the X-Files! (It was absent from the first script appropriately so, since the Night Stalker series barely had any past behind it for the characters to reflect on.) This episode manages to do more to describe Mulder’s state of mind and how different is the world of today compared to when he was last working on the X-Files, than both first episodes did. There is truly character development here. I Want To Believe and 10X1: My Struggle presented a depressed Mulder who has lost much of his driving force and energy, and prone to doubt he is ready to believe anything; this episode actually showed us what Mulder is feeling.
As discussed earlier on EatTheCorn (here), The X-Files‘ worldview was anchored to the 1990s in the sense that it was the last decade in the USA before globalization and the internet and smartphones swept over the landscape and made the world a much less mysterious or unexplored place. This is exactly this episode’s starting point, and the reason why Mulder feels he has hardly anything left to discover. Sure, he has the governmental conspiracies to unmask but these are serious things, even closer to (our) reality than before, and motivated by wrath and a sense revenge. Mulder “wants to believe” there is something more.
What he gets in this episode with his meeting and talking with and touching a real flesh-and-blood honest-to-God monster is a sense of awe and amazement. And with it, motivation to continue his investigations, in the hope that he will get to live one of these moments again. Where many of Darin’s previous episodes veered more towards nihilism, with a search for the “meaning of life” in the middle of a world that has no internal or “external logic“, this episode ends on more of a happy note, that of an amazed Mulder. Like the lizard creature that returns to its element in the woods after a period of total confusion in the world of men, so does Mulder find where he belongs again.
The episode is much more focused on Kolchak/Mulder — Darin always did like to make more fun of Mulder’s quixotic peculiarities and otherworldly concerns — than it is on Scully. Darin is not much interested in depicting an actual investigation, however it is going on in the background via Scully! She is cool, efficient, to-the-point. She found her joy and motivation out of working on the X-Files again, without the need to go through the phases Mulder did. What’s more, part of her fun — and ours as viewers — comes from having these intense intellectual arguments with her partner. Mulder’s monologue as he arguments and counter-arguments himself in front of a smiling Scully is one of the show’s (and Duchovny’s) absolute highlights!
A case for Mulder and Scully
With a title like that — also the first time Mulder and Scully are mentioned — and with a “man in a rubber suit” monster, we see Darin Morgan’s love for old pulpy scifi/horror (B?-)movies! For example, the 1948 Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, a comedy-horror that also features a werewolf and a full close-up of the transformation.
It even has some “real” background: the horned lizard does violently spurt blood from its eye as a self-defense mechanism (autohemorraging); and reptiles are known to hibernate (for a few months though, definitely not 10,000 years!).
Essentially, this episode reads like the monster-of-the-week counterpart of 3X20: José Chung’s “From Outer Space”. José Chung was the ultimate spoof of The X-Files mythology, and of UFOlogy and government conspiracy paranoia in general. Were-Monster uses the codes and tropes of the monster hunt case to deliver the definitive “monster” case, the other half of The X-Files episodes: the full moon, the were-transformation, the monster “within” versus the “monster without”. Any Darin Morgan script consists in a reversal, the use of the codes that define the show and its founding elemental bricks in order to reveal its inner absurdities, reveal how displaced the central characters’ worldviews are compared to one another. Quid pro quos, revelations that we had misjudged characters, prejudice, giving value to the fact that other points of view are as valid as our own, the subjectivity of truth: all these elements abound here as well.
The Night Stalker script was titled “The ‘M’ Word“, “M” for monster (another quip from Darin to Fox’s standards & practices, they didn’t want the series to talk about monsters at all). The use of the word “monster” of course brings to mind Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and other pop psychology interpretations that Dr. Rumanovich spews out. The episode even has time to spoof serial killer narratives, with the animal control officer’s beginning of a confession as the textbook serial killer being casually dismissed.
Most importantly, this episode is a direct descendant of Darin’s Millennium episode, 2×21: Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me. It consisted of demons discussing various ways with which they tempt humanity; one of the demons finds out that he really has little to do, humans already do everything in their power to render their lives miserable: alarm clocks with snooze buttons, desk jobs throughout all day, the ideal of physical fitness through painful exercise, the loss of all feelings and libido that not even stripper clubs can revive, the general loss of any connections with other humans beings in a life in dense urban cities. Via the lizard monster / the aptly named Guy Mann, Morgan tells us that in order to recover our humanity we have to let go of over-quantifying and over-determining our lives and creating a hole we cannot fill by setting professional and sexual over-achievement as the sole goals in life.
However, the episode is not perfect. While it gets on a very good start and first half, it ultimately feels like the entire episode is the single act of the above-mentioned Millennium episode stretched to fill one whole episode, and this is most obvious in Guy Mann’s confession and re-reading of all the previous events that last no less than a quarter to a third of the episode (a default already obvious in the original script)! It is less heavy on post-modernism and density of interpretations than Darin’s climax with 3X20: Jose Chung. Rhys Darby is effective but perhaps not as memorable as Peter Boyle or Charles Nelson Reilly. The episode’s humor is definitely very campy, more reminiscent of the “X-Files lite” of seasons 6 and 7 than the more subtle literary humor of Darin’s earlier episodes. Its accumulation of fanservice references and Easter eggs are also sometimes very obvious and make this more of a nostalgia trip than what the X-Files revival’s stated purpose is, to do something new.
All in all, The X-Files continues to surprise with its mix of genres from week to week and offers an hour of television that is much more intelligent than most hours on television. Nevertheless, due to a too much “in your face” humor and, contrary to the previous two, a not dense enough plot, it does not reach the heights of Darin Morgan’s previous episodes. Mulder and Scully, on the other hand, are definitely having fun! Unfortunately we might not have the opportunity to see another Darin Morgan script turn to life — this was essentially a ten-year-old idea, and Darin is too rare…
- No Skinner, no Mitch in the opening credits
- An impressive bit of casting! The stoners in the teaser (Tyler Labine, Nicole Parker) are of course the same stoners we saw in 3X12: War of the Coprophages (where the third member of that group committed suicide thinking he was trying to remove cockroaches from under his skin) and in 3X22: Quagmire. Twenty years older, but still stoned!
- The motel manager is portrayed by Alex Diakun, a face we have seen many times in Darin Morgan episodes and in works of Ten Thirteen in general: he was the curator of the museum of curiosities in 2X20: Humbug, a tarot dealer in 3X04: Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, the hypnotherapist in 3X20: José Chung’s “From Outer Space”, the very memorable serial killer Dr. Ephraim Fabricant in Millennium‘s 1×18: Lamentation, one of the demons in 2×21: Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me, and the Russian doctor who was performing the transplant surgeries in I Want To Believe!
- The culprit is Kumail Nanjiani, the man behind The X-Files Files podcast, who managed to guest star here thanks to his podcast, where he did some amazing lengthy interviews with Glen and Darin Morgan!
- In the graveyard, we see tombstones for two of the most important X-Files crew members who have passed away since the show ended: the much beloved Kim Manners, director of 52 episodes and several of Darin’s (“Let’s kick them in the ass” is what he said before a take during shooting); and Jack Hardy, first assistant director in Millennium, The Lone Gunmen and I Want To Believe.
- More Glen & Darin Moby-Dick references: Guy Mann’s and then Scully’s new pet is named Daggoo! This is one of the harpooners on the Pequod in Herman Melville’s classic — exactly like his ill-fated predecessor, Queequeg.
- Meta+1: Mulder’s ringtone is The X-Files theme. Also, a lot of citations of the theme in Mark Snow’s score for the episode — we used to get that once a season or less, I have the impression that we are hearing it on every episode!
- The scene where Mulder tries to convince Scully he has photographic evidence, looking at blurry photos, is an exact repeat of a scene in 3X22: Quagmire: “a tooth?”
- Finally, we get us some Vancouver forests! But it shows that, unlike in the early seasons, they have shot this during summer.
- A consequence of moving the episodes’ airing around compared to production order: the X-Files office is much, much emptier than how we saw it in 10X2: ounder’s Mutation!
- Scully’s line that she’s “immortal” is from 3X04: Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, reinforced by 6X09: Tithonus, and has taken enormous proportions among fans…let’s see what “My Struggle II” has to say about it.