Season 6, Episodes 4 and 5: “Dreamland I/Dreamland II”
Original Airdates: November 29, 1998 and December 6, 1998
The body-swap narrative, she is a satisfying old gal. A morality tale with a science fiction spin; empathy, but for real this time. “Dreamland” is the story of a couple of G-Men who get body-swapped and nothing really bad comes of it, except one of them gets a slightly cleaner apartment and the other, possibly, a better marriage. It absolutely shouldn’t work—heaven’s sake, it’s a two-part episode with a single part concept—but somehow, it does. Endearingly so.
The story goes that Mulder has an informant, and that informant has told him to come to Area 51, and he goes to Area 51 with Scully and they’re intercepted by a group of Men in Black. One of these Men is a man named Morris Fletcher, a self-satisfied smarm-factory played by Michael McKean. McKean is perfect in the role, loutish and cold in the way of a man who is full of authority but sapped of drive. He might be a powerful man working for a powerful government, but even black-ops and cover-ups can bore a man, eventually.
Fortunately for Fletcher, Freaky Friday is a’coming. In the midst of the shakedown, a UFO flies overhead, and something something magic wavy hands, Mulder and Fletcher swap bodies. Fletcher barely flinches, which is the best part—the man just turns around and gets in the car with Scully, coolly accepting (a) this ridiculous fate (b) whatever mysterious circumstances created it. Fletcher’s indifference is the episode’s greatest joke, as funny as it is terrifying. What’s scarier than a Man in Black who will stop at nothing to protect the truth? How about the one who couldn’t care less.
You’d think this would be great news for Mulder, though, right? Because swapping bodies with a Man in Black means access, means files, means evidence. Sure, there are things to sort out—like where the hell he lives, and why the hell his wife is mad at him, and what the hell are the names of his children—but! An industrious guy like Mulder could probably spend the next few days taking down the whole thing from inside. Except “Dreamland” is not interested in that, “Dreamland” is interested in showing Mulder as the fish-out-of-water that he is outside of the X-Files. To be fair, Fletcher didn’t leave Mulder much to work with, but the point is—one day with the grim Fletcher family and Mulder’s got to know that this life isn’t for him.
Fletcher, meanwhile, is thrilled with his uncommon common life, thrilled by the twin opportunities to slack off and to make improvements to Mulder’s sorry apartment. Most people who know Mulder would love it if he’d just chill out for a second; Fletcher is totally fine with that. Only of course, Scully quickly clocks her partner’s sudden indifference (and deference to authority) and recognizes it for bad news. When Fletcher—like Eddie Van Blundht before him—makes a go at seducing Scully, she’s ready with the handcuffs. And not even the fun kind. With a gun pointed at him, Fletcher offers up the worst seduction technique in the book: protesting that he doesn’t know what happened and he doesn’t know how to fix it.
If the episode has a weak spot, it’s the fact that it’s two. Part I is silly-entertaining, complete with a goofy Duck Soup mirror scene tribute. Part II is, well, kind of a drag. There’s plot, all of a sudden, a reveal about how Mulder’s informant was actually Fletcher’s boss. There’s a meeting in a bar, a few too many LOL fishwifery jokes, some nonsense with a flight data recorder that either will or will not have evidence on it, and then…there’s a reset button. One minute, everything is wrong and no one knows what to do; the next minute, everything is mostly back to normal and no one remembers everything. Except now Mulder owns a water bed.
There’s not much for Mulder and Scully to learn from their time on the edge of Area 51, so when that reset button gets hit, it’s not the worst thing ever. They’ve seen UFOs before. What’s new—and then lost, unfortunately—is Fletcher’s confession that he doesn’t even know if aliens exist. He just does what he does, plays with the toys he’s given, shuts down what he’s meant to shut down. Mulder may be just as disillusioned with his job, but “Dreamland” demonstrates once again how unique he is, to use that disillusionment to push forward. So long as he does that, so long as he cares, he’ll never have to be Morris Fletcher again.