The X-Files have been reopened. Join special agents Susan Stover and Peter Counter for the next three weeks as they pick apart the adventures of Mulder and Scully, episode by episode, desperately trying to believe while trusting no one.
Denial can’t save you from the Trashman. Ignore the problem all you want but the smell will remain, an ever present reminder of your impending doom. The X-Files has created a new urban legend with episode four of its revival series, “Home Again,” an hour that serves as a warning to the selfish and ethically blind, but which also illustrates a deeper truth about Dana Scully. It’s the best kind of X-Files episode: formidably executed with style and humour and ready to give you guilt ridden nightmares.
Not Home Again
Peter: When I saw the title “Home Again” I let out a little nerdy shriek. Since the whole revival series could easily be described as The X-Files Again, systematically taking a shot at remaking every type of episode from the original iteration, I think anyone could be forgiven for jumping to the most exciting of all potential truths: that this was a sequel to the infamously banned episode “Home” from 1996. But as the hour progressed and Scully found herself confronting deep dark questions of mortality, I realized I was wrong.
“Home Again” is a family drama monster of the week episode, sort of a subcategory of the mythology that explores the relationship between Mulder, Scully, and their various (mostly dead by now) relatives. A monster-related homicide brings the agents to Philadelphia but is interrupted by a call from William. Not that William, of course, since Scully can’t possibly have her son’s contact information in her phone, but William Scully Jr., her brother. Bill tells Dana that their mother is in intensive care after a heart attack, and the remainder of the episode is split between bedside ruminations on life and a thematically affirming splattercore procedural.
While episodes that focus heavily on the families of the agents sometimes run the risk of taking too much of the sci-fi horror out of the equation, becoming boring and overwrought with melodramatic secondary character development, “Home Again” succeeds spectacularly for two reasons. Firstly, it manages to use a compelling creature feature as an allegory for Scully’s internal turmoil. Secondly (and most importantly), it uses Scully’s strife as a springboard for some of the most tender moments we’ve ever seen between her and Mulder.
Susan: Mulder calls Scully from outside the ICU. He can see Scully through the glass, sitting with her ill mother, yet he doesn’t come in and sit by her side. It’s as though this phone call is his way of asking for permission to enter into her personal life, instead of barging in and trying to make things “all better.” Mulder is not a white knight, he’s a cornerstone, showing us that Scully and Mulder—in every way possible—are respectful and equal partners.
Portrait of an Urban Legend
Peter: Trashman is technically a misnomer, I guess. The monster of the week is really called Bandaid Nose Man. Whatever you want to call him (I’m sticking with Trashman), the stinking piece of walking street art is the stuff of modern urban legend. I can easily see the evil graffiti golem remembered among the pantheon of X-Files spooks alongside the Flukeman, Eugene Tooms and (my personal favourite) the smallpox bees.
Susan: Artists use their mediums to attempt to address and challenge the status quo. But is art enough to make a stand against injustice? In “Home Again” we see the literal impact of art as the Banksy-like artist (played by Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong) who puts “a lot of energy” into his pieces watches as his subjects turn into living and breathing entities (perhaps one could even say they are a “Time Bomb” for social equality). As the forensic scientist points out, this being is neither alive nor dead, it just is and is that not a way in which we see art?
Peter: The Trashman clicks as a monster because he carries his own set of rules, like a modern day Bloody Mary. He doesn’t rip apart just anyone, but it’s likely that most people who watch this episode are guilty of at least minor infractions of his code of conduct. Therefore, Trashman is a moralistic monster, who layers fear on top of an already existing guilt in the audience.
His easy to understand motivation is compounded by a lack of definition in terms of how the Trashman’s allowed to operate. He can transfer from paint to corporeal form, but he can also take rides in the back of dump trucks. Are those garbage mobiles real or phantom aspects of his curse? Is he getting in the back, crawling to the front and driving them? If so, does he have a license? Or is he simply hitching rides hobo style?
Susan: The lack of clarity is what makes this monster so scary, giving credence to the sentiment that “we fear what we do not know.”
The “douchebags” that treat the homeless like a stain on the streets are deliciously horrible and callous, so that when we see their demise we are both racked with terror, but also given a sense of catharsis. My favourite scene is when the head of the school board returns to her large and expansive home after remarking on how the “downtown people” are going to fuck up her Stepford vibes. “Downtown” by Petula Clark plays, as this affluent asshole eats rice pudding and makes Keurig cups of coffee. Little does she know that her body bits are going into the very same disposal as her senseless waste.
Peter: The irony in the song choice is layered like a landfill during the suburb evisceration. I completely agree with you—the home invasion was easily my favourite scene. And it hammered the point home: no matter where you go to forget all your cares, the Trashman can get you.
The unsolved mysteries regarding the Trashman’s modus operandi, rather than poke holes in his story, makes him scarier. The agents don’t catch him despite their efforts, and instead we are left to fear dismemberment anytime we look the other way when society’s invisible people are displaced to make way for condos.
The Smell Of Invisibility
Peter: One of my favourite details of “Home Again” was how it used smell to help illustrate its points about invisibility. Smell is independent of sight and sound, so while the episode’s social villains keep the voices and optics of the homeless obscured, they are not capable of ignoring the stench of their paranormal champion.
Adding another layer to this is, as a viewer, smell is one of the senses we are incapable of comprehending in conventional storytelling media. It’s an oft used horror convention, to herald the coming of a monster with a terrible odour, but such a thing is so difficult to comprehend on film that it’s usually supplemented with the buzzing of flies.
Susan: The stench of the homicidal effigy is something I thought worked in the simple metaphor the episode related: We are so quick to toss away our trash and have it disappear from sight, but that does not mean it’s not there. “You Are Responsible” is featured on the flyers that instruct the homeless to GTFO of the city’s core, but the scope of the message widens to implicate us all in that responsibility.
Susan: What is it about the final words before death that carry such meaning? These verbose death rattles often have more significance about life than they do about death, for it is the ones who hear the calls of the dying that make sure the words live on. When Dana Scully hears that her mother has been calling for her estranged brother Charlie from her sickbed—not her or William Scully Jr.—she’s perplexed and understandably hurt that her mother wouldn’t first think of the children who were there for her.
There may be more than enough mystery around the Bandaid Nose Man; however, it seems that Margaret Scully is a puzzle as well. Dana is reeling from her her mother’s heart attack but also grapples with why her mother would be wearing a coin medallion Scully has never seen before. Even more mysterious is her mother changed her living will without consulting Dana, changing her wishes from being kept on life support to signing a DNR. Two “naval officers” signed this change to her Last Will and Testament. Perhaps she could have just decided to go quietly into that night, but I smell something nefarious going on—not a literal smell this time—and I want to know who these signatories are.
Peter: The naval co-signers on Margaret’s DNR form are mysterious, though I got the sneaking suspicion that one of them was Dana’s brother Bill, who (as has been heavily implicated in past episodes) followed in his father’s footsteps as a man of the waves. Whatever the case, Margaret’s permission to die really landed like a betrayal on Scully, and lead to one of Gillian Anderson’s better acting beats of an episode that really showcased her talent.
Susan: That’s a good point, given that Bill didn’t show up at the hospital and asked his sister point blank if his mom was going to die. Maybe he already knows that she will? I have so many questions and so does Dana Scully, who begs her mother not to “go home” just yet. In an attempt to revive her mom, Scully gets a confused sounding Charlie on the phone. This does the trick and Margaret opens her eyes. “My son is named William too,” she says, not to Scully, or to the disembodied medicinal Charlie, but to Mulder, the father of her lost grandchild. And with that parting statement, Margaret dies.
William. A name that carries a meaning fraught with questions only a parent would ask: Is he safe? Does he think of his biological mother? Did Dana and Fox do the right thing by sending him away? “I want to believe. I need to believe that we didn’t treat him like trash,” says Scully to Mulder, bringing an elegant conclusion that weaves together an episode about monsters that actually go bump in the night and the demons that exist in the minds of the two agents.
Our street artist packs up his art supplies and moves on, leaving an effigy of the Trash Man on the side of a public building. Will the terrifying art-man will come back to kill again? We will most likely never know. Something we might get to know is the circumstances around Margaret’s death and how they are linked to the long lost William Jr., Jr. I am game to guess that Charlie has something to do with this. Perhaps Margaret intervened with the adoption and has been in contact with her grandson? Scully now wears the mysterious necklace, but it is definitely more than just a baffling sentimental heirloom, perhaps a key to finding out the truth of what happened to her child.
Under the Tinfoil Hat
Legacy of Bills
Peter: William is a super common name in The X-Files. Fox’s dad is named Bill, Dana’s dad is named Bill, and so is her brother. Of course, we have the fifteen year old, possibly half-alien William, and let’s not forget: Agent Mulder’s middle name is William too.
Susan: Is this just lazy writing or perhaps there is a connection. I guess we Will see (snicker).
Peter: According to a fragment on the X-Files Wikia, William is the name of Chris Carter’s father. So, there’s the truth. It was out there and it was kind of boring.
Laugh, Even Though You’re Crying
Susan: Despite the episode’s dark and very scary tones, there was some comic relief. I loved how Mulder was so caught off guard by the use of the word “douchebag” and then asks the arguing parties if they are married.
I also adored Scully’s “Ginger Rogers” moment when she chirps Mulder for not running up the stairs. “Back in the day I did stairs—and in heels” she quips. Yeah, girl, yeah you did.
Peter: “Home Again” was an excellent example of how The X-Files can be funny outside of its goofy episodes. Part of what has always made Mulder and Scully so lovable is their banter. Sure, they’re cold and spooky by reputation, but they’re also the funniest FBI agents in the bureau.
This Is Really Happening
Peter: In order to hammer home the immediacy of the episode’s monster mayhem, we see multiple shots of announcement posters setting the bulk of the hour in the day after the episode’s airing (Tuesday, February 9, 2016). So everyone: you have until exactly now to stop ignoring the homeless, under punishment of dismemberment.
Susan: “Home Again” does a very subtle job of bringing our attention to the impact of gentrification. Something all too familiar to the city of Vancouver where the show is filmed, a city geographically and psychologically divided between the rich and poor.
All Of This Has Happened Before
Peter: Canadian actor Alessandro Juliani played Joseph Cutler in the cold open of “Home Again.” For those Battlestar Galactica fans keeping track, Juliani counts as the second Galactica alum to make it into this revival (Aaron Douglas was in “Founder’s Mutation”). I am currently working on a theory that combines a Battlestar crash in Roswell that ties both show’s mythologies together. Stay tuned.