The series’ only non-mythology-arc two-parter starts here. Albeit, I tend to regard it as pseudo-mythology arc, at very least, dealing as it does with arc-friendly concepts in much the same way as Jose Chung’s From Outer Space and The Unnatural, yet relegated from such status through being quirky/comedy. Of which, this is the series operating at its most confidently humorous (or should that be humorously confident?), dealing with Area 51 in a manner that may not have satisfied those expecting one of THE alien conspiracy subjects to be given due diligence but is otherwise immensely satisfying, while creating one of the show’s most memorable (and subsequently returning) guest characters in Michael McKean’s Morris Fletcher.
Morris is deplorable heel, a Man in Black who gloats at being able to hold it over others, plays around from home (Nora Dunn is outstanding as his alternately infuriated and bewildered wife Joanne) and sees his unforeseen body swap with Agent Mulder as an opportunity to start afresh and sow some wild oats in a trimmer, younger shell. He’s also very funny, as you’d expect from McKean (Garry Shandling was originally asked), and the trio of Vince Gilligan, John Shiban and Frank Spotnitz collaborate on the episode to great effect; there’s no hint of too many cooks or teething troubles in this, despite credits that might otherwise alarm.
Scully: Mulder, you are acting bizarre.
It’s curious, per the Wiki page, to see a predominance of negative takeaways of the two-parter. I’d read Rob Shearman’s before – what do you expect, he’s the killjoy who didn’t like Jose Chung – but I’d assumed it was ranked fairly highly as a funny one that worked. I’d also refute the charge that it’s unable to sustain itself across an extended canvas. If I have a criticism of the first episode, it’s in the standard sphere of a Scully gripe. She more than makes up for her denseness in Dreamland II, but her slowness to catch on here is like something out of Simple Jack. Mulder’s slapping her bum, reporting on her to Kersh (“We’re federal officers. We go by the book”), smoking Morleys and generally eliciting her bafflement, so when someone claiming to be the actual Mulder tells her a range of personal details, what does she do? She dobs him in to the authorities.
McKean and Duchovny are having a whale of a time, though. Kersh’s confusion at his agent’s sudden change of attitude is only surpassed by Mulder having to deal with the tribulations of domestic life, most of all his inability to say anything right to daughter Christine (Dara Hollingsworth): greeting her with her brother’s name; misconstruing her request to have a nose piercing as a plea for rhinoplasty, he responds, to her horror that she’s “a little young for plastic surgery”. Every time he brings JoAnne on side with an intimation of being sensitive – “I’m just a little, you know, lost in my head”; “They have that pill now” – he blows it by consorting with Scully. Best of all is the Duck Soup homage (I can’t believe some people GRIPE at this scene; even worse is calling out their not being perfectly in synch).
Mulder: How do we get the lizard out of the rock?
Balanced against such malarkey is a genuinely engrossing plotline; someone in Area 51 is a whistle-blower, but who? And the effects of the tear in the space/time continuum are genuinely unnerving/gross; the co-pilot trapped in the rock suggests the Philadelphia Experiment; the brutal dispatch of the Atomic Café proprietor, fused with his shop floor before being shot in the head. On the more amusing side, Julia Vera’s performance as Captain McDonough is hilariously scrupulous, the kind of idiot who won’t let changing bodies with an elderly Hopi woman prevent him from following orders to the letter.
Morris: I’ve got a top secret for ya. There’s no such thing as flying saucers.
Groom Lake/Area 51 is famous for its reverse-engineered alien tech aircraft, of course, but there are other explanations which – if you consider the ET mythology to be an elaborate smokescreen – tie in with more current concerns of the Q-variety, that it “was so highly classified because the U.S. government used… deformed children for medical testing and human experiments” and “continuation of what German scientists did with human experimentation at their concentration camps”. If there’s a kernel of truth there, it makes a fun-packed X-Files on the subject effective misdirection.