While there’s a slew of innovative and/or oddball/quirky episodes in Season 6, Season 7 is often almost pedestrian by comparison, such that its attempts at the same often feel like conscious variations on past glories (The Amazing Maleeni) or are generally regarded as entirely regrettable (Fight Club). There are a few noble exceptions, however, and one is the attempt at a verité homage to Fox’s popular brand fly-on-the-wall show, depositing our heroes in such a case. Vince Gilligan gleefully grasps the mettle, be it emphasising the absurdity of the fantasy show being deposited in a “realist” backdrop and trappings, or simply (and effectively) producing a decent and engrossing X-File itself.
Wetzel: I haven’t been on the job that long myself but I’ve seen more than my fair share of crazy stuff. When the moon is full, it’s just times ten.
Gilligan’s credits include funny episodes (Small Potatoes, Dreamland, Bad Blood) as well as high-concept ones (Pusher, Drive, Monday) and here he’s dovetailing the two. We start with a crew following Deputy Wetzel (Judson Mills) as he bemoans how weird the streets get at full moon; immediately thereafter, he hightails it from an incident and shows reluctance to describe what he saw (“Yeah, it was gangbangers”). We’ve already seen large scratch marks on a door in the neighbourhood, so when the police and crew come across armed suspects in the area – the FBI! – it’s natural for us to assume a hilariously unguarded Mulder is on point.
Mulder: What you saw was large, right? Seven, eight feet tall, when it stood up on its two legs? And it was covered in fur and had glowing red eyes and claws.
This isn’t the eccentric he said/she said of Bad Blood, or the doppelganger laughs of Small Potatoes; it isheightened, in that Mulder’s proselyting is gloriously uncensored, but it’s mostly about how batshit crazy he sounds to anyone. Not to mention his entirely leading any witness on as to what it was they saw “however strange or terrifying or bizarre”. Scully, in contrast, does not want to be a part of anything caught for posterity; it’s embarrassing being party to Mulder anyway, let alone having it broadcast on national TV. Her curtness towards and disdain for the crew throughout is priceless, and easily one of the best Scully things there’s been in more recent seasons of the show.
Mulder: This presents an opportunity. I feel we’re very close here. The possibility of capturing concrete proof of the paranormal? Of a werewolf in front of a national audience, even an international audience? What’s not to love?
Mulder, in contrast, is highly amenable, happy to have an audience that doesn’t object to his theorising. Probably the best moment in the episode comes as he explains the search for the scientifically unverifiable, and how conclusive evidence tends to remain elusive, adding that, when you think about it, that’s (the lack of scientific proof) “validation in itself”. When it becomes clear they are not dealing with a werewolf – Wetzel describes the wasp man, who haunted him as a child, an invention of his older brother, while Chantara Gomez (Maria Celedonio) puts Chuco Munos in the frame, who threatened to “twist my neck off like a little chicken” – Mulder seizes on the idea of a creature that feeds on its victim’s worst nightmare (as Scully asks “How do you catch someone like that?”)
Ricky: You don’t think it’s some guy dressed up like Freddy Krueger, do you?
It’s thus a bit on the nose – albeit highly amusing – that one of the witness reports has the spitting image of Freddy Kreuger. After all, Freddy would invariably set up a gag death preying on his victims’ worst fears (so too, it’s exactly what The Keller Machine from Doctor Who’s The Mind of Evil did, complete with physically consistent signs of demise). The episode thus slips seamlessly from a kooky scenario into a more genuine “What is going on here?” one. I’m unconvinced Gilligan ever had a clear idea of what it was.
Scully: Well, I want to examine Chantara Gomez.
Mulder: For a possible contagion?
Scully: Your “contagion of fear”?
Indeed, that it both visits during the full moon and can take form as a deadly (hanta) “virus” suggests this contagion of fear is an entity rather than anything that could be materially quantified. The autopsy scene makes for a rather apposite retrospective encapsulation of the recent plandemic narrative, as it revolves around the “power of suggestion”, with the same MO – mortal fear – as before, but the coroner’s assistant (Tara Karsian) is panicked by a passing Scully reference into believing an invisible but deadly force is assailing her, to which she succumbs. “We’re not even wearing masks” she protests, terrified, and expires seconds later. Scully attempts to apply defined virus theory – “no virus in the world kills like that” – so underscoring official parameters of how they operate, but the whole epidemic in miniature, complete with the undeniable proof there is something going on (the presence of an authenticating camera crew), is darkly amusing in its resonance.
Coroner’s Assistant: Well, we got murder victims stacked three-deep in the freezer. Plus you got this camera crew reporting everything. Why?
Scully: (to camera) Because the FBI has nothing to hide.
Of which, Skinner’s off-screen advice (above) is one of his most amusing lines ever, so it’s ironic Pileggi, often consigned to the least gratifying dialogue and plot function, shouldn’t even get to say it. There are various such humorous or pointed moments dotted throughout. When a sketch artist falls victim, Wetzel delivers a caveat-laced eulogy for one of their former comrades, even one operating in an “artistic capacity”. When Mulder interviews gay couple Steve (JW Smith) and Edy (Curtis C), the extreme campery, particularly from the latter, has Duchovny visibly trying to keep a straight face (“He won’t make love to me” Edy implores Mulder of the reason for their domestic disturbance). Wetzel opines on how the public hate cops, but even worse would be fellow officers labelling him crazy (“Tell me about it” replies Fox).
Mulder: The Sun just came up.
It’s true that the episode ends rather classically with a big tense confrontation – they realise Wetzel is still frightened, so will likely be attacked again – and being what it is, it’s less compelling than the prior quirky and/or intriguing events, but even this has the odd aside (“I hate you guys” says Scully, finding a camera crew cowering in a cupboard). Gilligan ends X-Cops the only place he can, but he’s done what he needed to by then (he had the idea brewing since the fourth season).
Mulder: Well, hey, it all depends on how they edit it together.
The show itself is parroting the official line on the unexplained, which might sound like I’m stating the obvious, as within its fictional confines, the duo never end up with any proof (or the general paradigm would irrevocably change) but the way X-Cops signs off is neat nonetheless (Gilligan pointed out – and wanting to believe picked up on it – the parallels with The Blair Witch Project, but I’d rather not draw any correlations with that dreck beyond the basic found-footage conceit). While much of Season 7 seems rather tired and worn out, this is the kind of let-loose concept that shows the series was only as depleted as it allowed itself to be.