10.3: Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster
I’m a sucker for anything written by Darin Morgan. Well, provided it’s of-a-piece with the sensibility he brought to his previous X-Files and Millennium scripts; his contribution to Intruders was invisible, although that was likely down to fitting his brother’s template for the moribund show. Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster exhibits his greatest strengths – although those not so enamoured of his style might cite them as worst indulgences – from unreliable narrators, to the hopeless/ hopefulness of it all, to swathes of self-referentiality. I’m not sure he’ll ever equal Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’ (which, mystifyingly, Rob Shearman took a disliking to in his X-review book wanting to believe; “pretentious, overwritten, and desperately self-indulgent” to which I’d respond “So?”), but that’s not to diminish the first episode of this new run to evidence the old show still has it, provided those producing it are putting in the effort.
Morgan also directed Were-Monster, his debut on the show wearing such shoes (he helmed both his Millenniums), and he brings the same quirkiness to his visuals as he does to his writing. He makes every scene, every line, count in his writing, releasing a deluge of wit and insight in teleplays that have an enormous amount going on beneath their flippant surfaces. There is, of course, the danger that even the most vibrant and distinct writer can become too reliant on pet devices. Shearman (wanting to believe is a solid read, for all his Chung-dissing) also commented that Jose Chung is symptomatic of what happens when you tell an extremely talented writer he’s a genius once too often. We should be so lucky, if Jose Chung is the “risible” result. But he does have a point (much-vaunted genius Steven Moffat has turned out utter dreck as showrunner of Doctor Who for the past five years). Were-Monster is exactly what you’d expect from Morgan, and so stuffed with cleverness it’s almost choking.
Morgan’s approach was evidently inspiring, as it wasn’t long before another X-Files writer, one who has since slipped into obscurity, Vince Gilligan, penned Bad Blood, a virtual fan letter to Morgan’s revelation of how much fun can be had basing an episode around unreliable narrators. This kind of dissection is integral to how Morgan approaches storytelling – if not acknowledging the artifice directly, at least drawing attention to the mode of it through telling stories within stories – but Shearman felt Jose Chung’s failing was in missing the wood for the trees; this time the tale he told was empty, it had no heart. Which makes Shearman sound like a guy who probably doesn’t much care for the majority of the Coen Brothers’ work (except for Fargo, the one that does have heart). I’d have thought he probably would like Were-Monster, though, revolving as it does around a lizard who dreamt he was a man, and quickly discovered he didn’t like it very much.
Scully: We’ve been given another case, Mulder. It has a monster in it.
Morgan has no compunction in grasping hold of the series’ return and locking it in a bear hug. He revels in the fact of it, and in so doing perversely complements the half-arsed way Carter put the investigative duo back on the X-Files. Mulder opines “Scully, since we’ve been away– meaning not on TV – much of the unexplained has been explained”. Duchovny is never more at home than when he’s given comedy to chew on (witness his Zoolander cameo), of course, but his lines here are as much about the makers of the show as their lead character (“I’m a middle-aged man. No, I am, I am”, one who thinks it’s time to “put away childish things, the sasquatches and mothmans and jackalopes”), and whether indeed it’s a fool’s errand to try to dust off the series a decade-plus later (there’s no picture of the creature “which is odd, as everyone has a camera on them these days”; as if to prove the point, antediluvian fogey Mulder is unable to get his camera app to work properly, on a phone with a Mark Snow ringtone). Mulder is repeatedly called on to admit this all “Sounds a bit silly, doesn’t it?”, the refrain of someone unsure if a past-it show should be dragged out of retirement, someone who may have wasted their best years on nonsense (“Maybe I was just foolish, Scully. Maybe I always was”).
Mulder: Maybe he was a nudist. Took a midnight hike in the nude Got attacked by a lion, or a wolf, or a bear. Maybe all at the same time. That’s how I’d like to go out.
And again, Mulder’s disenchantment with all things X- (or Fortean, Charles getting a salutatory shout out), intentionally or not, mirrors the entirely unfinessed manner in which Carter has burdened the character with a “I don’t think the aliens did it after all” thesis in the first episode. There are points where Morgan appears to be taking a direct poke at his showrunner’s less-than-adequate inspiration for this new run. But there’s a broader sense in which he is merely asking his ongoing question of “What is the point?”, where the only preventative from ending it all is laughing at it instead. In the first scene, the paint-sniffers can’t see any purpose to life beyond getting high, even as werewolves (the scene is a succession of quick-fire gags, from Tyler Labine’s sniffing sounding like a wolf howling at the full moon, to the repetition of “Dude”, to the dude who isn’t okay; there’s more goodness in these two minutes than could be distilled from the entirety of the previous 85).
Mulder: Not everything can be reduced to psychology.
Dr Rumanovitch: That’s what you think.
No answers are forthcoming from headshrinkers, certainly (perhaps Morgan speaks from experience). This one, Dr Rumanovitch (Richard Newman), partly a standard caricature of the sex-crazed Freudian (“our ancestors were as obsessed with impotency as we are”, he comments after detailing how much impalement features in stories of monster slayings), has prescribed our lizard man but is winningly blunt about the likelihood of anti-psychotics failing to help (“He seemed pretty crazy”).
Dr Romanovitch: Who is in more need of an anti-psychotic? A man who believes himself to be a were-lizard, or a man who believes that man?
Even the not-so-good doctor is filled with existential angst, advising his clients to visit the local cemetery when things get too much, as a reminder that “no matter how overwhelming our anxieties might be, they will soon be resolved when we are dead and buried for all eternity”. It’s an appropriate snub then, that Mulder turns down the offer of a prescription from this “witch doctor”, having got his investigative mojo back.
Guy Mann: I had to hunt down a…
Mulder: Human victim?
Guy Mann: No, a job. The craze wouldn’t be satiated until I found steady work. Rather tragically, I found something right away.
The most sustained exploration of this theme comes not from Mulder but Rhys Darby’s (Flight of the Concords) Kolchak-clad were-lizard Guy Mann. The reversal of a creature infected by a human is neat enough in itself (“There is no difference. Both scenarios are equally foolish” advises Scully), but the real winner is the way Morgan uses it to instil a Solomon Grundy quality to Guy’s overnight over-burdening with the drudgery and hopelessness of the modern world (to be keenly relevant, The X-Files ought to be highlighting this absurdity every bit as much as popular conspiracy offenders).
There’s even a touch of How to Succeed at Business Without Really Trying (by the end of the day Guy’s become manager of the phone shop, by dint of the ability “to BS my way through anything”). In no time, he has descended to the state of a fast-food consuming porn addict, and “now that I had a job, all I could think about was how much I hated my job”.
Morgan has Guy voice the ludicrousness of the western malaise, fearful of quitting his job as without it “I’d never get a loan and start a mortgage, whatever that is”, terrified he isn’t saving enough for his retirement and “If I haven’t written my novel by now, I’m never going to write it, you know?” By which point, Mulder just wants to get back to the good stuff, as probably audiences less than enamoured of X-Files’ comic turns are (“Now we’re getting somewhere!” he enthuses when Guy relates how he wanted to strangle and eat the flesh of the person who turned him human).
Guy Mann: If there’s nothing in life more than what we already know, then there’s nothing but worries, self-doubt, regret and loneliness.
But Guy is given a happy ending, and a detailed knowledge of Shakespeare, and in so doing he gives Mulder a happy one too. Guy’s problem is the same one faced by billions (“I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and have to go to work”), but Mulder, on shaking hands with a lizard man, has renewed reason to go to work in the morning. And implicitly, if Morgan is questioning the validity of bringing a show like The X-Files back to TV, the one kernel of value he can seize is that it’s a show in which, for all its inveterate scepticism, audiences are invited to imagine the possibility of something beyond a fixed, determined, mundane system.
Mulder: That did not happen.
One might suggest Guy’s story is a self-reflexive take on Morgan’s own self-reflexive narrative propensities; Mulder doesn’t find any of it very likely, and we wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover it was all a ruse. So the twist is that it is indeed the truth, as impossible as that sounds. Of course, it wouldn’t be Morgan without some outright embellishment, which comes in the form of Guy’s Dana Scully fantasy (“Come on, I want to make you say cheese”). If Duchovny always seems right at home ad-libbing and joshing, it’s less likely and so possibly more effective when lines like “guys don’t send me pictures of their junk” are given to Anderson.
Morgan is rightly resistant to retconning Scully back to the disbeliever as Carter has done, hence the “I know what you’re going to say” scene, and there might even be a bit of self-congratulation on how much his cast prefer his whacky hijinks to the usual fare (Mulder: You’re really enjoying yourself, aren’t you Scully? Scully: Yeah, I am. I’d forgotten how much fun these – Darin Morgan’s – cases could be), particularly so with the offhand dismissal of the killer plotline, and the series – and Millennium’s – propensity for such fare (“You’ve seen one serial killer, you’ve seen them all”).
And what to make of Scully’s “And besides, you forget, I’m immortal” in response to Mulder admonishing her that she shouldn’t be going off and confronting suspects alone (in both cases she rather shortcuts Mulder’s investigative donkey work by just happening upon the individuals)? On the face of it, it’s another meta-reference (she’ll be back next week, barring an extended abduction/pregnancy), unless it’s a cryptic foreshadowing of events later in the season (edit: it’s been pointed out to me that this is more than likely a reference to Peter Boyle advising Scully she doesn’t die in Morgan’s Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, which I really should have realised – I’ll be worse than Chris Carter for recalling X-continuity at this rate). A nice touch too that Morgan gives Scully a new dog, after the rather mean monster munching of Queequeg in Quagmire.
Scully: You were attacked by a six-foot horny toad?
Not everything works here; the transgender gags feel like they come from a different generation (probably because they do), and with the Mulder cottaging scene last week there’s a sense the makers are trying a bit too hard to seem witty/relevant in terms of sexual politics but succeeding only in putting their feet in it. It surely isn’t a coincidence that the best line with DJ Pierce’s prostitute has nothing to do with her gender (the police have dismissed her story – Annabelle: But they think I’m on crack. Mulder: Are you? Annabelle: Yeah!); unreliable narrators again.
Scully: Mulder, the Internet is not good for you.
But there are nevertheless many mirthful incidentals; the hotel manager (Alex Diakun) looking through his peephole at Mulder in his (red!) undies (“Oh, baby!”) The manager also has easily the best political gag, referencing his distinctive surveillance system (“That’s a security feature. I had it put in after 9/11”). And on a more earnest note, the tributes to Kim Manners and Jack Hardy are quite touching.
Guy Mann: I don’t understand half the things I’m telling you right now.
Mulder: I find that… disconcerting.
Darin Morgan manages to deconstruct not just the validity of The X-Files existing any more, but of any of us. The only recourse seems to be getting back to nature (Guy) or believing in something more than ourselves (Mulder). Otherwise, we’ll be beset with questions regarding internal logic and reach the inevitable conclusion that “There isn’t an external logic to any of it”. As for the Kolchak thing? Rather than his tenure as Consulting Producer on the ill-starred remake, perhaps it’s another reference to whether this show is now “old hat”; more time has elapsed between the revival and the first X-Files episode than that episode and its 1970s inspiration.