Dec 6 2012 12:00pm

Reopening The X-Files: “Arcadia”

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Season 6, Episode 15: “Arcadia”
Original Airdate: March 7, 1999

What is more terrifying than perfection? Than knowing that it exists, knowing that it is possible, knowing that you—definitely—have not yet achieved it? Who would want to be surrounded by perfection, to be entirely devoted to its pursuit? In “Arcadia,” Mulder and Scully go undercover at a creepy planned community that has had some creepy unexplained deaths and Mulder pouts. “This isn’t an X-File,” he says. “Sure it is,” says Scully. “It’s unexplained.” But no, it’s more than that. It’s perfection. It’s the eeriest, most unforgivable thing there is.

“Arcadia” is a comic episode about something that is true, which is, a lot of people like to live in controlled conditions. In a world full of aliens and mutants, why not pick a home on a street that is perfect, next to other homes that are perfect, and other lawns that are perfect. Right? But science fiction has always hated this sort of thing, this control over the universe, this suppression of individuality. There’s no way a planned community can be a good place, because a planned community ignores the unpredictable-unknowable-unexplained: the very heart of science fiction. Not to mention the X-Files.

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So the community of “Arcadia” is untrustworthy, but in a somewhat unexpected way. It’s not that the universe—the messy, messy universe—has risen up to punish those who would choose to limit it, but that the man who founded the community is so obsessed with perfection that he has conjured a Tulpa to brutally discipline any community members who step outside the lines. “Arcadia” is not, then, about the damned imperfections of the world, but about a villain named Gene. A man who believes “it’s important that people fit in.”

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Unfortunately, before we can find out why Gene believes people need to “fit in,” he’s captured by Mulder and murdered by the very monster he conjured. Wah-wah. “Arcadia” is thin in this way, in its anti-perfection, in its morality. In fact it would actually probably be half-forgettable if it weren’t for the very best idea: Mulder and Scully, married. Finally, am I right? But no, I mean they’re undercover as a married couple, Rob and Laura Petrie (like the dish, or nerd hero), as perfect as two slightly deadpan FBI agents can be, in this situation.

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Mulder has a sweater around his neck and Scully has hers buttoned all the way up and the two of them are looking around, bemused, and not particularly scared. There’s a lack of urgency to their investigation, more of a methodical kicking-the-hornet’s-nest than anything else. The people of “Arcadia” have chosen to live in Arcadia, plus it’s kind of on them that they also harbor a terrible, deadly secret. Solving this episode’s mystery seems to be less about, you know, solving the mystery, and more about poking holes in the reality of the Petries’ neighbors.

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Of course, not all the neighbors are bad. The Petries, in fact, have a protector—a man named Big Mike, who takes to the new neighbors immediately and tells Gene that he thinks they ought to be informed about what they’re walking into. Gene doesn’t like that; Gene sends the Tulpa after Big Mike, Big Mike somehow survives and hides out in the sewer (!) to try to save the Petries. When Mulder puts a pink flamingo in his lawn, Big Mike takes it out. When Mulder kicks his mailbox, Big Mike rights it. And when the Tulpa goes after Scully, Big Mike locks her in a closet and shoots until the Tulpa takes him, instead. Big Mike is in fact so damn nice that one wonders how Big Mike got involved in Arcadia at all, how he kept the secret, why he bothered. But—again—there’s a thinness, here. We don’t know why Gene, or why Big Mike, we just know: this is a bad place that asked for it.

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So instead we try to focus on watching our married couple be married. The jokes are predictable but nonetheless charming, Mulder constantly insinuating that the two of them should have sex while Scully rolls her eyes and complains about the toilet seat being up. The spark is in the lack of spark, in the way that Scully doesn’t react to Mulder’s reaction to her green skin mask. We’re so super-far-away from the mosquito bites of the pilot episode, from any sort of embarrassment at all. There’s not a domestic thing that one could do that would upset the other, not really. They’re perfect just the way they are.

Meghan Deans is going to price some rattan furniture. She Tumbls and is @meghandrrns.

Benji Cat
1. benjicat
Cracks me up when Mulders tells Scully, "Make me a sandwich, woman!"
2. obriennyc
Rob and Laura Petrie were named for the characters of the Dick Van Dyke Show, played by Dick and Mary Tyler Moore.
3. Merry3
What, no mention of the original Rob and Laura Petrie:
Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore? :)
Margot Virzana
4. LuvURphleb
I like how scully throws her gloves at mulder after he demands the sandwich. LOL. Or how he jokes about eating dolphins.

Serious note: why cant the dogs be bigger than 25 pounds was it? It was some ridiculous number and i note it because this is a "house" community not a trailer park or apartment complex. Why cant i have a dalmatian or german shepherd if i want?
For that reason alone Gene must go.
Alan Courchene
5. Majicou
It's a standing joke in our family that violations of the neighborhood covenants will get you killed by "the garbage monster." We know damned well that the only reason the homeowners' association doesn't really have a tulpa to send after people is that tulpas don't exist. If they did, the HA would be all up ons. Their appearance regulations are almost on par with the ones in the episode for anal retention and general crazy.

So I don't think this episode is so thin. It's real life + a supernatural element + a psychopath (psychopaths, of course, are also real.)
6. cbgbstokyo
Ah, the younger generation . . . ;) Just to beat a dead horse further into the ground, especially since the little joke made me laugh when I first saw the episode, Rob and Laura Petrie are the names of the nice screwball couple at the center of the Dick Van Dyke Show, which aired from 1961-66 and was still in syndication in the 1970s when people like Chris Carter, his writers, and, um, myself were growing up.
7. Eugene R.
There is a wonderful irony in the title, too, "Arcadia", which refers to the classical Greek idea of an unspoiled wilderness Utopia, about as far from the manicured lawns of Suburbia as one can get.

And, of course, for the conspiracy theorists in the crowd (and you know who you are, my darlings), there is the link to the famous mystery phrase "Et in Arcadia ego" (usually rendered as "Even in Arcadia, I (death) exist") that has been spot-welded onto the whole Priory of Sion/Holy Blood, Holy Grail/DaVinci Code legendarium.
jeff hendrix
8. templarsteel
the episode seemed like a weird version of children of the corn-Garbage monster=the monster in the corn i forgot his name

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