The X-Files have been reopened. Join special agents Susan Stover and Peter Counter for the next five weeks as they pick apart the adventures of Mulder and Scully, episode by episode, desperately trying to believe while trusting no one.
Who doesn’t love a little silliness? The world would be a drab and dark place indeed without the comical and absurd moments to remind us that every once and a while, it’s important to put it all in perspective. The X-Files, with all its terrifying creatures, diabolical conspiracies, and heavy handed existential musings has succeeded in blending humour in a way that not only gives the viewer a good chuckle, but has always been a vehicle to investigate humility, humanity, and the seemingly laughable injustices this world has to offer.
“Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster” is the ‘comedic’ episode in the six part revival. We were more than excited to partake in the funny, the meta, the silly, and the absurd. However, we were ultimately let down by the installment because sometimes, when things are silly for silliness sake, the absurdity is the kind that offends, rather than being entertaining and thought-provoking.
What We Do In the Moonlight
Peter: “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster” is the story of a reverse werewolf (well, were-horned lizard) named Guy Man (Rhys Darby) and an animal control officer with a penchant for torturing animals and strangling humans (Kumail Nanjiani). Looking for answers to solve a mass murder, the agents are put on the trail of Mr. Man and Mulder finds himself on the path to a mid-life existential crisis. In the end, the bad guy gets caught, the good guy goes to bed, and we find ourselves more interested in the nature of a monster than in the motivations of a killer. Once you’ve heard one serial killer story you’ve heard them all.
In Poor Taste
Susan: I cannot help but be left with a bad taste in my mouth as this episode relies on (unfunny) transphobic jokes. We see a sex worker, a trans woman of colour, attacked by the “monster” Scully and Mulder seek. She’s questioned about what she saw, saying that the reptilian creature wore tighty whities, the kind she wore before she transitioned. When asked if she is on crack she nonchalantly says, “yeah” because of course all trans women sex-workers are on drugs, right?! Later we are subjected to the ignorant arguments about how transitioning is when “they cut off your junk.” It’s utterly cringe-worthy, and when Mulder and Guy Man argue about Hamlet’s meaning that we are all “ignorant idiots” I cannot help but apply this to the writers and showrunners of this episode who thought this garbage was hilarious.
Peter: It was pretty gross. I think, beyond the surface level representation problems, what bothered me most about the transphobic jokes was how they fit into the episode’s general conceit. Guy Man, a lizard monster that turns into a human for unspecified reasons, begins to naturally exhibit human behavior. It is through his bullshitting, porn watching, burger eating, and death fearing/wanting ways that we are given a look into the absurdity of the modern human condition. As such, Guy Man’s perspective is presented as the natural human truth, so even when Mulder unsuccessfully stands up for the trans woman’s identity, the message is clear: in the context of “Were-Monster” trans people are not really human.
Susan: The episode didn’t start off on the wrong foot. It begins with a truly funny encounter of two spray-paint huffing clowns (do you remember the pair from “War of the Coprophages”?) in the forest and our monster of the week. The ominous full moon has them discussing what it would be like to be a werewolf (they would be high all the time), and I tingled with anticipation about the “were-monster” we were surely about to be introduced to. Instead of the wolf like creature one would expect, we see in the full glow of the moonlight a scaly reptilian creature terrify the junkies and leave a corpse on the ground, “I don’t think that that dude is okay” remarks the gold-faced goon.
Peter: The huffing cold open was a big win. Comedic episodes of The X-Files rely heavily on a strong, surprising start, because even now that we have come to expect the occasional quirky episode from this show, there’s still an edge of surprise.
From Outer Space?
Peter: That token humor is courtesy of legendary X-Files writer Darin Morgan. He penned “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster” and that was a big deal for me. A lot of my X-Files revival cynicism evaporated when I initially heard Morgan would be writing his fifth episode in the series history because, in my mind, he is responsible for one of the most magnificent hours of television ever aired: “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.” Last week, we rewatched that episode in preparation for “Were-Monster,” and you know what? The ending of “Jose Chung” makes me tear up.
“Jose Chung” is a special episode of television, one that proves an episodic crime procedural about things that go bump in the night, no matter how absurd, can make you laugh, cry and consider existence. “Were-Monster” has a lot of the ingredients that make “Jose Chung” work — an unreliable narrative within a narrative, a self-awareness about how silly The X-Files is, and excellent guest casting—but it lacks its older brother’s compassion.
Susan: I agree, which is why I’m so disappointed. There are so many elements that could have been strung together to make this episode a great one.
It all seemed to be going so well as Mulder penetrates Scully’s “I Want to Believe” poster with the sharpened pencils usually reserved for the ceiling. Mulder experiences a crisis of faith coupled with the horror of the realization that he is “a middle aged man.” He pours over the monster cases he once so believed in. Pranks, hoaxes, the product of boredom, and even ice all explain the monstrous beings Mulder once was so adamant to find; leaving him feeling impotent, old, and useless.
I loved the subversion of their usual dynamic with Scully as the one who’s fascinated with finding the truth about this new “monster” on the loose. Mulder’s grumpy as all hell, but she doesn’t let him sink to a pit of skeptical self-loathing. They find the creature lurking in a truck stop and, although he’s really super dad-level bad at working the camera on his phone, Mulder gets a shot of the scaly terror, and also a shot of a dapperly dressed man on the can who ends up being the monster – but it’s not what you think! This lizard-dude-man-guy was actually bitten by a human so now he turns into one during the daylight hours.
Another subversion! But sadly, this is where it goes off the rails for me. It just… doesn’t make sense. Why wouldn’t Guy Man just kill himself, instead trying to bait Mulder into a fight? His monologue about the “human condition” did have some roots in the tradition of absurdity: why do we need to work, wear clothes, eat meat, etc. However, as all the pieces are put into place with the overly done exposition I couldn’t help but yearn for a little more mystery, and a little less one-on-one therapy.
The Kind of Mulder We Like To See
Peter: Playing with Mulder and Scully’s dynamic is always a recipe for fun. It felt amazing to see the X-agents being funny again. One of the best strengths of the original series was its ability to deviate from it’s self-serious norms on occasion and showcase Duchovny and Anderson’s amazing chemistry. It turns out they still have it, and are just as funny as they have ever been while toting badges and chasing monsters.
The self-parody aspects of “Were-Monster” gave the episode it’s brightest moments. Mulder’s monologue, in which he considers every possible were-lizard scenario except the actual one without accepting input from Scully, is a fantastic bit of meta humor.
Susan: This episode was super meta including Mulder’s ringtone as the X-Files theme, the headstone at the graveyard reading “Kim Manners” who directed many episodes, and the red speedo Mulder wears to bed (apparently) from season two’s “Duane Barry”.
Peter: Scully’s material works for laughs in the episode too, first subverting our personal mythologies by claiming ownership over the I Want To Believe poster in the old X-Office before laying on some deep cut callbacks. Scully’s referencing of the season six episode “Tithonus,” in which she may have been granted immortality, was a fun way to point out that even when the show is serious it’s absolutely bonkers. Also, her dognapping incident had her talking about Queequeg — the much beloved dog Darin Morgan wrote for her in the original series.
Susan: Scully is hands-down my favourite, if not the only redeeming thing about this episode. She’s pretty much picking up most of the slack on this case, amusing Mulder’s existential rantings. He berates her for approaching a potentially dangerous suspect alone, not once but twice, even though he ends up alone in a fucking graveyard with what he thinks is a homicidal hybrid. Yo, double standard there much bro? She’s the one who pretty much figures it all out, you know, like the murder part, while Mulder gets wasted with a horny toad.
Peter: That’s a big positive for the whole revival. Scully is a fucking badass this season. I’ll tell you what’s really absurd: that Gillian Anderson was originally offered half Duchovny’s pay for this mini-series.
Susan: And SHAME on them for trying to do so. Anderson is a tour-de-force and I agree that it’s more absurd than anything in this episode that they tried to swindle her out of fair pay simply because she has lady parts. It inflames my rage to know that for the first few seasons they wouldn’t even let her stand directly next to Mulder—always behind him. She literally had to stand up for herself, and then again to ask for the same amount of money, and AGAIN when they approached her to remake this show. I WOULD HAVE TOLD THEM TO FUCK THEMSELVES. Which, actually I wouldn’t be surprised if Anderson did, as she was in fact paid a fair wage. For all the tediousness of trying to bring The X-Files into the present (buzzword… drone… buzzword… internet… buzzword… Snowden) it’s a travesty that FOX is still steeped in perpetrating the conspiracy of the patriarchy.
Peter: I wanted so hard to believe that I liked this episode. I wanted it to transform into its inner-self and reveal a truth to me that, while insignificant in the cosmic picture, would at least give me the fleeting vindication of confirmation. But when the cold blooded New Zealander walked off into the light of the full moon to hibernate, I was struck with disappointment. All the excellent pieces didn’t add up to a satisfying whole, and now I’m questioning why I want more X-Files in the first place.
The funny episode was supposed to be the best one. My faith has been shaken, the absurdity of my fandom has been brought into the light, and I have once again learned the folly of worshipping humans who’ve written a few great things. In a way, I suppose, that makes “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster” a success; it made me realize when it comes to media I love, I have no choice but to go through the motions until I die like the mere human I am.
Susan: Peter is much more of a paranormal Pollyanna than I. Not that I didn’t also want to believe this was going to be a great episode. Alas, for me the episode’s potential was squandered on the easy out of relying on the flimsily executed concepts of silliness and absurdity. I can clearly see what the messages are meant to impart to us as the viewer: monsters are inside of us all, anyone can be considered a monster, that human life and existence is hum-drum and depressing… blah, blah, blah. I GET IT.
Humour and absurdity are very powerful tools and when aimed at the right subject and pointed at meaningful themes it can be utilized to subvert as well as entertain. “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster” falls short on continuing in this tradition, rather offering silliness for it’s own sake with sloppy writing and disjointed narratives. I walked away feeling as though the episode was begging me to partake in the mantra, Credo quia absurdum (I believe because it is absurd). But I do not believe, because it is not absurd enough.
-Under The Tin Foil Hat-
Susan: What the fuck is wrong with the people in this town? Getting high off spray paint? Drinking rubbing alcohol?
Peter: I’ve never actually huffed paint before, but if it’s anything like using spray paint indoors, I’d probably just want to throw up and have a nap. I read recently that you can use whipping cream chargers to get high on nitrous. I wonder why we don’t see that portrayed more often in the media?
The X-Files Files
Peter: Guest star Kumail Nanjiani has an essential podcast for any of you readers out there who are re-watching the old series. It’s called The X-Files Files. I highly recommend the two interviews Nanjiani conducted with Darin Morgan himself, especially now that the two personalities have converged in “Were-Monster.”
The Laughter is Out There
Peter: For any new viewers who really liked the humourous tone of “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” here are a few episodes you should check out from the earlier seasons (each written by either Darin Morgan or Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan):
- “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”
- “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space”
- “Bad Blood”
- “Small Potatoes” (written by Gilligan and guest starring Morgan)
Three Things Every Agent Should Do Before They Die
Peter: Well, we’re past the halfway point. What do you want from the remaining episodes? Personally, now that we’ve seen the 2016 mythology episode, the 2016 comedy episode and the 2016 monster of the week (government edition) episode, I want to see a good old fashioned so scary it’s banned from TV standalone episode (yes, that actually happened). This revival will be a failure if some unknowing child doesn’t stumble upon it and traumatize themselves. Also, I want The Lone Gunmen.
Susan: I actually am not sure what I want. But I know that I am DONE with all this exposition. Give me some grand scheme, give me scary monsters, give me Skinner with his shirt off again, give me Gillian Anderson as continuing to play Scully with grace and wisdom. Give me something that is not contrived, but real and actually something that makes me want to believe that The X-Files is relevant NOW.