With the return of The X-Files, we get the return not only of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, but also four of the show’s most important writers. I’ve already written about some of creator Chris Carter’s Alien Mythology, and this week I’m going to talk about someone who is easily my favorite writer in the history of the show. He only wrote four episodes, contributed story elements to another, and guest acted in a sixth, but his legacy looms very large on the history of the show. His name is Darin Morgan, and his episodes are some of the most memorable and quotable in the whole of the series.
Why are they so memorable? Well, The X-Files was—most of the time—very dark and dour, and even the episodes that tried to lighten the mood a bit with Mulder and Scully’s wry banter were doing so mostly in service of a very arch narrative full of evils and monsters and things. Darin Morgan’s episodes are all about changing points of view, about poking fun at the show that had already set itself up to be a bit self-serious, and about making Agent Mulder look as ridiculous as possible. Here was a character who always had the most outrageous theories and they were somehow right 90% of the time. Darin Morgan skewered holes in all of it.
His brother, Glen Morgan—along with James Wong—were two of Chris Carter’s most go-to staff writers during the first two seasons, and then a little bit again in the fourth. Darin worked right in the middle of their two tenures, contributing first to the creepy and awesome “Blood” (S2E3). Glen and Wong wrote the teleplay, but the story of a nutso guy seeing messages in LED readouts telling him to kill people is credited to Darin, and it was one of the first episodes that truly scared me as a 12-year-old. It’s a dandy of an episode and guest actor William Sanderson (later of Deadwood) turned in a chilling performance.
His first script as a solo writer came in episode 20 of the second season. “Humbug” took the agents to the Florida part of Vancouver where a sideshow performer known as the “Alligator Man,” was killed viciously by some THING. They encounter a number of carnies, including Dr. Blockhead (Jim Rose) and his geek sidekick the Conundrum (The Enigma). [Sidebar: by “geek” in this instance, I mean the traditional usage of the word, meaning someone who bites the heads off of things.] It’s not just the Alligator Man, though; other former and current sideshow performers become victims of the tiny creature that turns out to be the undeveloped conjoined twin of one performer that is able to free itself from his brother’s body and go and kill and devour people. Gross.
This episode is fun for sure, and certainly high on the creepiness scale. But the point of everything is that most of the “freaks” are just regular, good people trying to make a living and they just happened to be outcast because of being different. It’s actually kind of a great message, even if it is couched in a story involving a tiny fetal monster.
Morgan’s other three episodes came in the third season. Two of the three are my 1 and 2 favorite episodes ever, and the third one’s good but not one I return to very often. (Still great, though.) “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” is the fourth episode of season three and centers around someone murdering psychics—first a palm reader and then a tea leaf reader. Mulder and Scully are brought in, but the police have called in a famous TV psychic, the Stupendous Yappi, and though he makes insanely vague proclamations, the police are thoroughly impressed. Mulder, however, is much more impressed with the man who found the second body, Clyde Bruckman (Peter Boyle), who knows more than he ought about the goings on of the case. Bruckman, we learn, is a very specific kind of psychic, in that he can only see the circumstances of people’s deaths, including his own.
This episode is glorious and incredibly deep. There are many long conversations between Bruckman and Scully about the nature of life and death, and about chance happenings and fate and really deep thoughtful things like that. Bruckman’s just a regular guy who happened to get this “gift” after becoming obsessed with the confluence of events that led musician the Big Bopper to be on the airplane that crashed and also killed Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. Boyle, for his part, won a Primetime Emmy award for guest acting and it’s very deserved. It’s a sweet, funny, and touching episode I could watch about a million times.
The third season’s 12th episode is Darin Morgan’s “War of the Coprophages.” (Coprophages are things that eat poop, FYI.) This is an episode entirely about things appearing one way—usually being evidence of the supernatural or nefarious government plot—but possibly being explained by something mundane and coincidental. Mulder is off alone investigating the death of an exterminator who is found in a client’s basement, entirely covered with cockroaches. Pretty horrifying. But then later, a kid who is huffing manure fumes (it’s called “jankem” it turns out) thinks a roach is crawling into his skin and when he tries to tear it out with a blade, he nicks an artery and ultimately bleeds to death. Later still, the medical examiner dies on the toilet and is likewise found covered in roaches…are they all connected?
Well, not really, but kind of. After each death—and with each new theory about how the roaches are involved—Mulder calls an on-vacation Scully who is all too eager to help Mulder, offering “real” theories as to what’s going on; Maybe the exterminator died of anaphalaxis, maybe the teenager had delusional parasitosis, maybe the M.E. just bust a brain aneurysm from pushing too hard. These turn out to be very true, despite Mulder believing a huge conspiracy and getting help from the inordinately attractive roach expert, Dr. Bambi Berenbaum. This is a really fun episode, despite having to see roaches all the time onscreen. One even crawls on your TV screen as you watch it, just to creep you out.
Darin Morgan’s final episode is the single X-Files episode I’ve seen more than any other: episode 3×20, “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.” Playing with the often absurdly disparate stories surrounding paranormal things, this episode is all about two teenagers who get abducted by grey aliens after a night of sex in a car, only for the grey aliens to also be abducted by a much larger, cycloptic alien—which we later learn is named Lord Kinbote. An author named Jose Chung (played by Emmy-nominated Charles Nelson Reilly) is writing a book about the phenomenon and is interviewing Agent Scully for it. She gives her side of things and we also hear other people’s accounts. Truth is stranger than fiction a lot of times.
This is one of the funniest, weirdest, and most quintessentially X-Files-y episodes in the whole history of the show. After this, even though Morgan would leave and not return until this week’s “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” the series would include these more absurd and overtly comedic episodes—many written by future writer Vince Gilligan, whom I’ll talk about in a few weeks. I mean, where else can you see the Men in Black portrayed by Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek?
Those are the episodes of Darin Morgan, which I would absolutely recommend checking out right now. It won’t take you all that long and they all contain great ideas and truly fantastic dialogue. I’d equate Morgan’s work on The X-Files to Steven Moffat’s work during the Russell T. Davies regime of Doctor Who; you always knew you were in for something slightly left of center, a bit different, but always magical.
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor as well as a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. He loves The X-Files so very much and loves that he has an excuse to write about it again. Tell him your favorite episodes on Twitter!