Editor’s Note: this is a recap/review. That means there are spoilers! Please read at your own risk if you’ve yet to watch the third episode of The X-Files event series, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.”
This standalone, monster-of-the-week throwback from the beloved Darin Morgan was probably the episode fans were most looking forward to with The X-Files reboot, and after seeing it, I doubt many came away disappointed.
Whether you know Morgan’s name or not, if you are a fan of The X-Files he’s probably one of your favorite X-Files writers. Morgan was chiefly responsible for only four episodes, but all of them are memorable. Our own Kyle Anderson wrote about those episodes, and Morgan’s contributions to the show today (something all fans should absolutely read), but needless to say Morgan holds a special place in the show’s history.
(I just want to add, too, that “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”—the episode where Peter Boyle plays a man who can see how someone will die—is one of my favorite episodes in television history.)
This is what Kyle wrote about Morgan-penned episodes before tonight’s show aired. He might as well have been talking about the “Were-Monster.”
“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.”
I couldn’t describe this episode any better. It was self-aware, irreverent, funny, and managed to turn many X-Files tropes back onto the show and its characters. It isn’t always easy to pull off a meta-style episode, because you can end up being uncomfortably unfunny, or even worse, you accidentally point out how stupid your normal episodes can be. None of that happened here though, because much of it was done through genuine characterization that felt true to the characters and their motivations.
Whereas the first episode tried to relate to the modern world (eavesdropping, drones, terrorism, the Iraq War) in a way that felt forced and clumsy, simply addressing something like the preponderance of smartphones and their ability to take pictures hit the perfect note (not to mention Mulder chasing a monster with his phone instead of a gun and then screwing up his own chance to prove himself with a picture were two of the best things the show has ever done). How many myths and legends have essentially died because, “everyone has a camera on them these days?” If Bigfoot were really walking around we’d surely have some pictures of him—and the same goes for werewolves and leprechauns and all sorts of other magical beings (except vampires, they might actually exist, I don’t believe they photograph so you can’t say a lack of pictures is proof).
It’s why the start of the episode, when Mulder had an existential crisis about his life’s work (and how most of it has been debunked), felt honest and kind of heartbreaking. Yeah, it was silly, and he wanted to believe so badly that he was blinded by childish naivety. Throughout the rest of the episode, he grappled with both this new revelation and his insatiable desire to want (or rather need) to believe. That’s what allowed the self-aware aspect of the script to work the way it does: Mulder can say these incredibly outrageous things out loud, but with a laugh (from him and then us), we all just move forward. The character has gotten older along with the audience, and even if we all see this whole thing as outrageous, believing is more fun, so that’s where we go. Everyone is in on it—the fictional characters, the writer, the actors, all of us—and when everyone is on board it works. That’s why all of the wink-wink lines (“Mulder, the internet is not good for you.”) landed. It’s also why, finally, the scenes between Mulder and Scully worked.
I’ve been critical so far of the interactions between the two, calling those moments joyless and flat. I’ve even wondered how committed to their roles Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny have been. None of that was an issue here. They were clearly having fun, and as result the scenes between them were better, livelier, but, most importantly, sincere. Scully may have forgotten how much fun these cases could be, but we didn’t—and it was a relief and a pleasure to get to watch them try to solve another one as the people we know they really are, alone and together, past the baggage of their experiences.
It wasn’t a perfect episode (I thought the Were-Lizard’s explanation to Mulder at the cemetery went on a couple minutes too long), but that’s hardly a criticism. It was fun, it had Mulder and Scully doing Mulder and Scully things, and was totally absurd in the best way. Everything here just worked, and it fits right in with some of the more enjoyable episodes the show has ever produced.
Even Rhys Darby was an inspired casting choice. I know he’s not everyone’s cup-of-tea (I ride or die with Flight of the Conchords, so I’ll always defend him), but casting an over-the-top actor in a totally absurd role and then having him do it in an understated manner was amazing. That story he tells Mulder needs the sincerity and the lack of self-awareness that the rest of the episode has for it to work, and that’s exactly what he brought to the role. Having the transformation (lizard-to-man) work in the reverse just made everything about it even better. It makes that story from his point-of-view (and his commentary on humans) even funnier.
(Kumail Nanjiani was also great in his role, but obviously his “serial-killer-that-chews-his-victims-necks” was very low key in comparison to the lizardman.)
Then of course the ending gave Mulder something that he needed—and that we all needed too—the knowledge that none of this has been a waste of time. Thus far, the reboot has suggested that everything we ever witnessed wasn’t real; That Mulder may have been wrong about everything, and even things we saw as the audience—independently of Mulder’s own experiences—were misrepresented and false, like an untrustworthy narrator had led us astray.
There was no doubt at the end though, and as Mulder smiled at the restoration of his beliefs and life’s work I couldn’t help but smile too. Being a fan of The X-Files has always been about wanting to believe. To do otherwise means to put away childish things, but who wants to do that when you’re watching a show like this. Sure, there might not be a rock monster out there, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a were-lizard, you know?
The first two episodes didn’t work, but it didn’t mean this one wouldn’t, or the final three won’t. I have always wanted this reboot to do justice to the greatness of The X-Files, and Darin Morgan’s Were-Monster rewarded that faith, for everyone.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Don’t go into a 10,000 year hibernation, tell us in the comments below.