There’s a point in this week’s episode of The X-Files where Scully smiles up from her hotel bed after her partner has gone on a solid two-minute rant covering both of their points of view, and ending on the word monster, and she says “…Yeah, this is how I like my Mulder.”
Well, this is how I like my X-Files, so I guess everyone’s happy.
In “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” our intrepid agents investigate a series of murders that appear to have been committed by a lizard beast. Mulder is feeling a bit down because all the monsters he ever wanted to discover have been debunked over the years, but Scully is adamant that do their job and stop people from getting murdered. Mulder learns that a gentleman staying in the hotel where they’ve set up shop (which turns out to be a creepy Bates-Motel-ish kind of place where taxidermy heads are used as peepholes to spy on the guests) might be the very creature they’re seeking, and that he transforms from human to monster. He uses the guy’s meds to track down his psychiatrist, then finds him in a graveyard having a stroll. The potential lizard beast—who has been calling himself Guy Mann—tells Mulder his story, explaining that he is normally a lizard creature who now has the ability to turn into a human by virtue of a bite he received on the night of the first few murders. Mulder wants to believe, of course, but he finds the story too entirely outrageous.
In the meantime, Scully has tracked down the real perpetrator—the local animal control guy, Pasha, who has been found around each crime when they occurred. He’s just your run-of-the-mill serial killer, and Scully takes him down before Mulder can arrive on the scene. He realizes that his photos of Guy (that appear to be when he was in lizard-y form) show a bite mark, and that it wouldn’t make sense for his story to align so well with what happened if it weren’t the truth. So he tracks Guy down on the edge of the forest, where he’s returning to hibernate. Mulder asks him how long his kind hibernate for, and Guy tells him about 10,000 years. He tells Mulder that he’s glad to have met him, then shakes his hand and turns suddenly back into his lizard self before dashing off into the woods. Mulder is dumbstruck, but understandably pleased.
The stoners are back! They appeared twice in season three, twenty flipping years ago, and here they are, still getting high and stumbling into unfortunate situations. What a fantastic callback.
Can we talk about the fact that The X-Files is handling genuine midlife crisis issues in an interesting and more importantly hilarious way? (Because midlife crises are boring when they’re sad, I’m sorry, it’s been done to death at this point.) When they announced that they were reviving the show, this is what I was waiting for, what I was hoping-against-hope that they’d tackle. The audience needs to see this version of Mulder. We need him to own up to the ridiculousness of his fantasies, to realize that he spent most of his youth grasping at the tiniest straws to his own detriment. For a show that traded stock in every conspiracy imaginable, it takes a healthy dose of self-awareness to allow your characters this journey. For Mulder to throw pencils at that beloved poster, to say to Scully “I’m middle-aged now and this sucks,” to feel foolish and behind the curve, it speaks to the show understanding its place in the zeitgeist and embracing it with open arms. If we’re going to have more X-Files, then Fox Mulder needs to grow into an entirely new kind of hero.
And then we need Scully to tell Mulder that he has to stop whining because not everything is about him, and their job is actually about helping people. What we have now is a new mission statement, two people who have come back to the same table for different reasons; Mulder because he’s trying to figure out if there are truly any mysteries left for him in the universe, Scully because she’s finally admitted to herself that the job was fun when they got right down to it. (Scully doing anything for fun is a plus in my book—in fact, Scully coming back to the X-Files to enjoy herself is pretty much my favorite plot-twist of all time.)
My other greatest hope with the relaunched series was that they’d take the vast real-world technological leap forward and just run with it. And nothing on this earth says that better than Mulder running around with a flashing smartphone and just repeating “I think the app is broken” over and over, like, I would take a show that was primarily just that, please. Scully actually tells Mulder that “the internet is not good” for him, and that is really all I could ask for. I mean, this episode features them finding a monster on a port-a-potty, so I’m pretty sure this is a peak achievement in television on those merits alone.
While The X-Files has gone meta before—of course—they’ve rarely given themselves leave to acknowledge their own tropes so blatantly. Yet in perfect irony, Mulder bursting into Scully’s room to have their entire typical conversation by himself while she smiles and settles back into her pillows is precisely what we require to continue taking the show seriously. Mulder loses his blinders, but he’s still full of wonder. Scully is there to bring him down to earth, but without anger or worry. It’s a healthier version of what we had twenty years ago. Here’s hoping it stays healthy-ish. I know it’s hard with these two.
What’s extra fun about the glorious meta aspects going on in this tale is that there’s another show on television that has made a point of pushing the meta envelope for the past decade plus—and that’s Supernatural, a show that owes its entire framework to The X-Files, full stop. There were points where it almost seemed as though this episode was unintentionally in conversation with the Winchester boys, showing how the originals often do it one better. This was driven home in a pointed way when Mulder stopped to put pilfered flowers at the grave of Kim Manners, next to the grave of Jack Hardy—Hardy was first AD on the X-Files film, and Manners directed over 50 episodes of the show… plus 16 episodes of Supernatural.
There were plenty of other shout-outs in the episode: Scully’s immortality, Mulder’s red underpants (which is a callback to the swimsuit he’s wearing when he meets Krycek…), and Scully’s pup Queequeg, who is no longer with her. Which leads to her stealing a dog at the end of the episode for her very own.
Sure, she adopted it. But she never filed any paperwork with animal control, so, you know. She’s a dog-stealing rebel. Dog’s damn cute too.
Also… dat ringtone. What is going on.
The only icky spot in an otherwise sublime episode are the trans jokes during the long talk between Mulder and Guy. (And the fact that the character is a sex worker because come on, it’s 2016, you can’t write a respectful role for a trans woman?) It doesn’t seem that Mulder has any serious prejudices around the subject, but Guy’s reaction to being told about transition surgery isn’t funny, and perpetuates the idea that transitioning is somehow “strange.” (I know, he’s not human and that’s the point of misunderstanding—it’s still a crappy joke.)
That aside, we have a fantastically fun reprieve in the middle of this short season—possibly one of the best X-Files episodes ever produced. It’s a look at the scaffolding around monster stories, a tale about the human need for mystery, a deft examination of why the X-Files still works, and what’s better, we get to remember why we love Mulder and Scully so much. Because while we don’t need Mulder to believe everything, we do need him to have that capacity to believe. And we need Scully to be mercilessly logical and perfect with every breath she takes.
Gillian Anderson does that all by herself, really. The world just bends around her.