It’s wonderful to see that after that clunky first episode, the rest of the new X-Files season has been strong. Honestly, last week’s “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” (minus that awful transphobic joke) and this week’s “Home Again” are among the best episodes the show has ever produced. Where last week focused on Mulder and his evolving quest for THE TRUTH, this week brought us down to a human level, as Scully dealt with personal tragedy.
This week’s cold open is perfect. A heartless bureaucrat is using a firehose to drive homeless people away from a camp in West Philadelphia. After saying some heartless things, he goes up to his office, and we see the remaining homeless people scramble into their tents as a rumbling comes up the street. A garbage truck pulls up, and a giant, terrifying man-shaped thing appears. The bureaucrat doesn’t stand a chance. As he gibbers away to 911, the creatures comes in and literally rips him apart.
God I’ve missed this show.
“Home Again” has two threads woven together with perfect precision. When Mulder and Scully arrive to investigate, Mulder is just beginning to float some crazy theories when Scully gets a call from her brother: Their mother has just suffered a heart attack. Scully rushes back to D.C. to be with her, and Mulder stays on the case.
It’s simple: Our Cold Open Bureaucrat is employed by an Even More Heart-Free Bureaucrat, who wants to force the homeless people into an empty hospital so he can develop the property. He’s being opposed by a member of the Buck County School Board (possibly the most terrifying monster of the week yet) who puts up a compassionate front, before revealing that she just doesn’t want those people living so close to the school. What if one of them offers drugs to one of the upper-middle-class students? What if a child notices them and starts thinking really hard about class inequality? Won’t somebody please think of the children of the 1%?
Meanwhile, Mulder notices that he has a gooey Band-Aid stuck to his shoe, and that there’s creepy graffiti on the wall outside Lesser Heartless Bureaucrat’s office. Hmm… a quick investigation reveals that the homeless community refers to the creature as Trashman and that he stands up for them when no one else will.
We check in with Scully at the hospital. Her mother has only asked for Charlie, the estranged son whom I honestly didn’t remember. Now she’s in a coma, and Scully sits with her, essentially begging her not to go into the light. She tells her that she knows she’s with Ahab and Melissa, but that she and William and Charlie still need her here. This is obviously calling back to the episode “One Breath,” when Scully was in a coma. In her experience she was on a lake, deciding whether to come back to life. She remembers hearing Mulder talking to her, and she believes her mother can hear her now. This is a fascinating scene. Scully is always the strong one, the skeptic, the one making tough decisions, yet here she’s asking her mother to stay for fairly selfish reasons. She’s upset that her mother asked for Charlie instead of her. She’s baffled by the envelope of her mother’s possessions—why was Maggie wearing a quarter on a string? What do these things mean?
And then the final blow comes. William calls from Europe and asks Scully to work out the probability of their mother’s life: Should he bother coming home? Or will she die before he gets back? As Scully listens to this nonsense, someone in another bed dies, and she watches as the body is loaded onto a gurney and taken away. Scully insists William come home. Their mother wanted to be kept alive as long as possible. But immediately after she hangs up she learns that this isn’t the case: Maggie changed her will, without consulting Scully, and is now listed as DNR. Scully now has to confront not only her mother’s death, but the idea that the woman had a life and intentions that she did not share with her children.
Back in Philadelphia, the Bucks County School Board Member fastidiously disposes of her trash in a variety of trash compactors. She is then rent asunder by Trashman as Petula Clark’s “Downtown” blasts on the soundtrack. Well played. We get lots of close-ups of gooey horror, maggots, and a hefty dose of ironic punishment. One interesting thing to note here is that we don’t see the woman’s murder. We see men brutally killed in this episode, but they cut away in this scene.
Mulder gets to D.C. just as Scully’s reached her breaking point. They sit together beside her mother:
Scully: “Back in the day, didn’t we ever come across the ability to wish someone back to life?”
Mulder: “I invented it. When you were in the hospital.”
Scully: “You’re a dark wizard, Mulder.”
Charlie calls, and Scully puts him on speaker so her mother can hear. She regains consciousness just long enough to see Mulder and say, “My son is named William, too,” and then she’s gone. Scully sees the gurney coming, turns to Mulder, and insists that she needs to work right now.
This is it right here. This is the hero for two generations now: She has suffered so many losses over her life, but rather than give up and collapse in tears on the floor, she’ll go back to work. She can process her grief later, but right now she needs to face a monster. And Mulder, co-hero, nods in understanding and goes after her.
The two of them engage in some hot flashlight action and track
Banksy Trashman down to a basement room. There are more creatures running around, but they don’t attempt to hurt the agents, and Trashman himself is a loopy but well-meaning street artist. He’s trying to give the homeless and forgotten a voice through his art, not through violence, but one of his paintings, the creature with a Band-Aid over his nose, came to Trashman, and didn’t disappear. He comes alive and seeks vengeance seemingly because Trashman allowed violent intentions to creep into his mind while he was painting:
“There must be spirits and souls floating all around us, looking for homes…this is what came to me in my dreams. He thinks the violence is what he was made to do.”
Mulder is used to this sort of thing and listens quietly until Trashman claims the creature is tulpa – a magical emanation that can take form through concentrated thought in Buddhism – at which point Mulder takes issue with Trashman. A real tulpa would never hurt anyone, and that the vengeance-seeking creature is a Theosophist mistranslation of a Tibetan Buddhist idea. Scully, who is meditating on her mother, Charlie, and her own son, is more direct: “You’re responsible,” she says to Trashman. “You’re just as bad as the people that you hate.”
Later that night, the Band-Aid Golem turns up at the hospital, and Heartless Bureaucrat Number One meets his doom. I couldn’t muster up too much sympathy—he took homeless people’s dogs away and sent them to shelters, come on—and Trashman splits, but not before another painting appears, implying that Trashman will soon reckon with his creation. The agents, having failed to solve another case, retire to a beach with Scully’s mother’s ashes. And yes, it looks extremely similar to the lake in “One Breath.” Scully allows herself to grieve, but also thinks she understands her mother: Maggie wanted to check on Charlie specifically before she left because of their estrangement. She was responsible for him in a way that she doesn’t need be for her other children. In the same way, she was trying to remind Mulder and Scully that they need to be responsible for their child. And here of course is where Scully breaks down again. She believes that Mulder will find all of his answers someday, but her own questions center on William:
“I can’t help but think of him, Fox. My mysteries—I’ll never have answered. I’ll never know if he thinks of me, too.”
This was a great episode. If they had chosen to focus on the X-File alone, it would have been a classic: X-File as social commentary, with a dash of moral exploration, and just a hint of religious implication. Instead, as in last week’s Mulder and Scully meeting with the Were-Monster, the Files serves as backdrop for a much more poignant story. While “M&SMtW” was actually about Mulder’s mid-life crisis, this is actually about Scully taking the terrible final step into adulthood. In losing her mother, she has to face up to her own choices about motherhood, and accept that while she can believe that Mulder will find THE TRUTH, she may never know the truth about her son William. Does he miss her? Does he know that she loves him? Does he think she treated him like trash to be thrown away? These scenes could have gone straight into drivel, but Gillian Anderson is flawless as ever.
Thematically, this episode is absurdly strong. The Band-Aid Golem comes to punish those who would treat humans like trash. Fine. But the more interesting emotional question is: Which Scullys have done that? Maggie Scully and Charlie Scully haven’t spoken in years because they threw their relationship away. Now Maggie wants to repair it when it’s nearly too late. William Scully just wants to talk about the DNR, and only plans to fly home if Dana can guarantee that Maggie will still be alive when he gets there. Dana gave her William up, but was that throwing him away or protecting him? Finally, Dana first wants to keep her mother alive at all costs, then watches in horror as a corpse is loaded onto a gurney and taken away, and then finally rejects the same gurney when it comes for her mother. She is horrified by the idea of a human body being carted off like so much garbage, but is it any worse than prolonging someone’s life against their will? Isn’t that just treating their choice as something to be ignored and thrown away, too?
The mirroring use of the hospital is also excellent. A place that should be a site of healing is instead a grim nightmare, where people either die alone and out of site, or, in this week’s case, a hospital is used as a holding pen for unwanted members of society.
There is also the hint that “Home Again” is a reference to the infamous episode “Home,” the Peacock Brothers family hoedown. Now there were some boys who knew how to treat their mother. Here again the notion of the family bond is tested. Mrs. Peacock challenged Scully when they met, telling her that she couldn’t truly understand her, or her family, because she was not a mother. Scully, who has so often been defined by her desire for children, her inability to have them, and her inability to keep them, seemed haunted by that. And now she is haunted again. This is possibly the most gruesome episode since that one. Humans are literally ripped asunder. At a certain point you see a creature holding a decapitated head with part of a spinal cord trailing out of it. (Reader, I confess I might have yelled “Mortal Combat!” at this moment.)
The X-Files has successfully brought its characters and stories into a new era. Mulder and Scully have the fears of older people; they wear their experience on them at all times. Scully asking for just a few more minutes with her mom is miles away from a twenty-years-younger Mulder begging his partner to come out of her coma. Older, hungover Mulder wondering if he’d wasted his life last week is a very different beast than fired-up, super-paranoid genius Spooky Mulder questioning whether he wants to spend his life on a quest that might cost him his life. The hunt for Samantha was much more thrilling than the depressing obsession with William. This was never always a fun show, and I’m pleased to see that the writers, for the most part, are honoring the characters we love.