Review: Why tonight's 'X-Files' made the whole revival worthwhile
A review of tonight's The X-Files coming up just as soon as the internet isn't good for me...
"It's silly." -Mulder
"Life's hopeless. A few fleeting moments of happiness surrounded by crushing loss and grief. Why bother?" -Guy Mann
From the moment I learned that Darin Morgan would be writing a new script(*) for this X-Files revival, my attitude was, "Even if the rest of it's terrible... dayenu." I hated the premiere and had mixed feelings about last week's episode, but Morgan's "Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster" lived up to every wish and hope I had for it.
(*) New-ish, anyway. This was actually a modified version of "The M Word," an unproduced episode Morgan wrote for Frank Spotnitz's short-lived Night Stalker remake (and note that Guy Mann's wardrobe resembles what Kolchak wore on the original series). You can read "The M Word" script here, if you're curious about what changed beyond substituting Mulder and Scully for Kolchak and Reed.
Because of "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" and "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" — and perhaps because he played the Monster of the Week in "Small Potatoes," thus causing confusion with that episode's actual writer, Vince Gilligan — Morgan has a reputation as The X-Files' comedy writer. But he also wrote a few more straightforward horror episodes, and even the ones best remembered as parodies have tragic undercurrents to them. "Clyde Bruckman" is at heart a very sad episode about a man cursed with a superpower that exposes him to nothing but misery, even if there are a lot of good jokes, including a brief piece of misdirection suggesting that Mulder will die of auto-erotic asphyxiation. (This instead turned out to be Clyde's sad fate.)
So "Were-Monster" largely functions as parody of an X-Files episode — down to the delightful scene where a giddy Mulder acts out both halves of the believer vs. cynic argument he and Scully used to have in every episode — casts comic actors Rhys Darby and (X-Files superfan) Kumail Nanjiani as the primary guest stars, has a great running gag about how smart phones might have changed everything Mulder and Scully did back in the day, and even gives us a fantasy Scully sex scene with Guy Mann. And when Nanjiani's killer started monologuing about his origin story, Scully shut that cliché down straight away, then joked about the idea (hinted at in several vintage X-Files episodes, starting with "Clyde Bruckman" itself) that she's immortal. Laughs for everyone!
But there is, again, that melancholy foundation to it, and not just because a good chunk of the episode takes place with a tombstone for longtime X-Files director/producer, the late Kim Manners (with Manners' "kick it in the ass" catchphrase as the epitaph), in the background. Making Guy into a monster cursed to transform into a human, rather than the other way around, not only upends our expectations, but allows Guy to offer a stinging outsider's indictment of humanity. To some degree, it's even more of a joke — Guy has only been transforming for a short period of time (and assimilated quickly enough to get a job at a phone store) — but that part of the scene is played straight, and the force of Guy's words is enough to make Mulder delete most of the evidence of the were-monster's existence.
At TCA, David Duchovny expressed some mild concern that, because this series will have only six episodes, the tonal shift from the first two episodes to this (and then back to whatever we're getting next week) would feel more jarring than when the occasional Morgan or Gilligan oddball episode would pop up in the middle of a 22-episode season. And, obviously, this is a big change. But the episode was so much fun — including by far the liveliest Duchovny performance of the three so far — that I don't mind in the slightest. With the other episodes, I had to squint a lot of the time to recognize the show I used to love. "Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster" was reflective of a very narrow slice of the original X-Files experience, but it's also the first episode of the revival to feel like it could (give or take the technological references) slot comfortably in with the best of the '90s shows.
Like Scully says, "I forgot how much fun these cases can be."
Some other thoughts:
* At the motel with the Peeping Tom alley, Mulder sleeps in nothing but red bikini underwear. Perhaps he was inspired by his old FBI badge? UPDATE: Or more likely, as many of you reminded me, an homage to "Duane Barry."
* Heh, of course Mulder's ringtone is The X-Files theme song.
* I want a scene in Transparent season 3 where someone watches Mulder explain transgender to Guy.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org