“Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” is the X-Files episode so nice we had to review it twice. Julianne’s a hardcore X-Files fan. Here’s her review. Kelly is a casual fan. The following is his review:
Can we stop and appreciate the audacity of “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster”, the third episode of X-Files’ new limited season? Due to euphoric word-of-mouth from the critics who received advanced screeners, it came to us having already been anointed an instant-classic. Thankfully, it is indeed quite good; it was always going to be, though.
To borrow a line from Dos Equis, “Were-Monster”‘s writer and director Darin Morgan doesn’t always write for The X-Files, but when he does his episodes are always classics. Peruse any top 10 list and his four prior X-Files efforts (“Humbug,” “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” “War of the Coprophages” and “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space”) will be well represented. As EW put it, Morgan’s episodes are always “playful, experimental, and even metaphysical, with a sensibility that’s lighthearted and melancholy and brain-twistingly cerebral all at once.” So, of course his “Were-Monster” would include as its big twist the reveal that the titular monster was actually an innocent, ancient lizard creature who after being bitten by a human was now stuck turning into a human during the day, racked by a sudden self-awareness and overwhelmingly human needs like securing clothing, shelter and steady employment.
That’s clever, sure, in the same way that most of X-Files‘ vaunted funny monster-of-the-week episodes are at some level fairly clever. However, this inversion of the were-monster concept isn’t the sole reason that I’d call this episode audacious. No, I’d used that word because “Were-Monster” featured as its centerpiece a 15-minute (!!) conversation between Mulder and the titular monster, in its human guise, going by the hilarious nom de guerre Guy Mann (Rhys Darby). Moreover, this was a conversation set in a cemetery, reflecting both Mulder (who’s suffering a bit of a mid-life crisis) and Guy’s mental states. “I know this sounds weird, but until a few days ago, I didn’t know we died,” Guy tells Mulder, explaining the immediate impact he felt the moment he attained consciousness as a human.
The sad truth in the statement was further punctuated by the fact that the two visible headstones behind them featured the names of actual people who used to work on The X-Files but have now passed away, specifically Kim Manners (who directed more X-Files than anyone else) and Jack Hardy (an assistant director on Millennium, The Lone Gunmen and X-Files: I Want to Believe).
The hint that Darin Morgan actually had something surprisingly profound to say with this episode was evident in the cold open which brought back Tyler Labine (Reaper, Deadbeat) and Nicole Parker Smith, who previously appeared together as stoner kids in season 3’s “War of the Coprophages”and “Quagmire.” Here in 2016, their characters have graduated to paint-huffing, leading into a classic comedy set-up where two stoned idiots see something insane (in this case, a lizard monster running straight at and then past them), scream and then pause to ask, “Did that just happen?”
Ah, good, a funny episode. Thank you, X-Files.
However, there’s more going on in that scene than you might immediately realize. Before the stoners walk into a supernatural crime scene, Smith’s character gazes at the stars in the night sky and ponders, “Do you ever think life is so amazing that maybe we shouldn’t waste it by getting high all the time?” Labine’s character replies that he mostly thinks about what it would be like to be a werewolf, but that even if he was a werewolf he’d still mostly get high all the time.
We can laugh because seemingly every thing Tyler Labine does and says is inherently funny. However, it’s almost tragic that these two have not changed, even if one of them is at least beginning to suspect that they’ve been wasting their lives.
That directly informs the rest of the episode since Mulder goes through, as I said earlier, his version of a mid-life crisis. We find him throwing pencils at the “I Want to Believe” poster in his office (a poster, we later find out, was actually purchased by Scully), a change of pace since his usual target would be the ceiling. He’s taking his frustration out on the poster representing his classic mantra because he’s gone through endless old case files and discovered that the majority of them have been solved through cold, hard logic. My personal favorite of the bunch, which he ran down for Scully, was how an apparent rock monster turned out to be part of a publicity stunt by a local landscaping business:
The paint-huffers have definitely wasted their lives, and killed quite a few brain cells in the process. However, here is Mulder, the righteous warrior forever engaged in a quixotic quest for the truth, openly saying to Scully that as a middle-aged man who’s now closer to the end of his life than the beginning he’s beginning to wonder if he too has ultimately wasted his life. Will all of his supernatural theories be proven wrong by time, and if so what the heck was the point of it all?
This instantly feels like a better use of the new X-Files than the season’s prior 2 episodes, which were both perfectly fine and often adhered to vintage X-Files rules, e.g., aliens, mad scientists, shadowy cabals of bad guys, oh my. “Founder’s Mutation” at least paused to remind us that Mulder and Scully will forever miss their son, but “Were-Monster” takes full advantage of the dramatic possibilities to be had with an older Mulder and Scully. Duchovny neither sounds nor looks like his old self anymore (although most 55-year-olds would kill to look that good), and the show shouldn’t pretend otherwise. So, you can happily play for comedy the idea that Mulder wouldn’t quite know how to work a new camera app on his phone, or observe the drama in Mulder’s extended bout with self-doubt.
Of course, as the partners work the lizard creature case Scully is quick to cut through Mulder’s new cynicism by pointing out that their goal is still to ultimately stop a killer and save lives, an interesting reminder since at no point during Mulder’s ruminations on his legacy did he remember just how many people he’s saved over the years. They interview the animal control officer (actual X-Files superfan Kumail Nanjiani) who survived an attack, and they actually end up chasing the lizard around a rest stop area.
With the assistance of a peeping tom motel owner, Mulder identifies a prime suspect, the aforementioned Guy Mann, who works at a cell phone store. Mulder’s done all of this so many times before that he can finish all of Scully’s logical counterpoints to his crazy theories before she’s even had a chance to speak, which is exactly what he does after he begins to believe that they might actually be dealing with a legitimate monster. If this episode itself is not an instant classic, this scene definitely is, ending with Scully observing of her partner’s manic presentation of evidence, “Yeah, this is how I like my Mulder.” To which he replies, “So you’re agreeing with me?” thus eliciting Scully’s stern declaration, “No! You’re batcrap crazy!”
Those two in a nutshell.
The next day, Scully inadvertently causes Guy to run for it, and when Mulder tracks him down in the cemetery it kicks off their 15-minute conversation, which cuts back to earlier scenes in the episode to show them from Guy’s point of view. That essentially means that for two consecutive act breaks on this broadcast TV show the action was relegated to two guys in a cemetery and flashbacks, an impossibly complicated twist to pull off without seeming boring. On top of that, everything Guy says sounds sort of funny because of Rhys Darby’s impeccable comic timing, but it’s actually all a sobering reflection on the mundane, soul-crushing realities faced by human adults who to have let go of the frivolous things in life and punch the clock every day, sadly counting down to their inevitable death.
As it pertains to the murder mystery at hand, the story Guy lays out, implicating the animal control officer as the real killer, is silly and illogical, exactly the type of thing a younger Mulder would have jumped at. However, this Mulder is searching for some kind of internal logic to it all. “Why?” Guy replies, “There isn’t an external logic to any of it.”
Guy talked his way into a job, and was promoted in record time. He started worrying about saving up for a mortgage. He got a pet to counter loneliness and watched porn to fulfill some biological need for procreation, even lying to Mulder about having sex with Scully out of some male need to brag about sex. However, he’s desperate to be rid of his humanity, lamenting, “Life’s hopeless. A few fleeting moments of happiness surrounded by crushing loss and grief.”
We essentially have a monster and a monster-hunter both going through separate existential crises, and they meet up in the middle, Mulder’s faith in the unreal gloriously restored in the final scene when Mann switches back to his lizard form right in front of him.
Of this episode, Darin Morgan told EW:
“[Mulder’s] crisis is a crisis that everyone goes through at some point in their life, regardless of what they do. They just question: Did they make the right choice in life? Going down this career path, or dedicating their life to whatever Mulder does, seeking for the truth or whatever. I know I’ve changed. When you’re first starting out as a writer, everything seems wonderful, it’s a great job. And then at a certain point you go: Why did I ever become a writer?”
That lizard assures Mulder that he’s right to want to believe, but on a larger level this episode verifies that Darin Morgan made the right choice: he’s one heck of a writer.
1. Who had more fun making this episode – Duchovny or Anderson? I’d say Anderson because she didn’t have nearly as much heavy lifting, and thus appeared to be on the verge of busting into laughter multiple times.
2. Let’s not go crazy, internet GIF makers, with that Scully fantasy sex scene, okay?
3. So, so many easter eggs in this episode, from the name of the dog being yet another Moby Dick character to Scully’s reference to her Clyde Bruckman-confirmed immortality.
What did you think? Did this qualify as an “instant classic” in your book? Or was the hype too big? Or was it all just a bit too weird?