Monday, February 1, 2016

REVIEW: 'The X-Files' - Mulder Questions His Life's Purpose During an Investigation in 'Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster'

FOX's The X-Files - Episode 1.03 "Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster"

When a dead body is found in the woods, Mulder and Scully are called in to investigate whether it was an animal attack, a serial killer or just maybe a strange creature as described by eyewitnesses. Mulder is able to confront some of his own demons about feeling disillusioned with his life's work.

During its original run, The X-Files had many different operating modes. Of course, there were the mythology based episodes. But the monsters-of-the-week became much more captivating and distinctive of the overall show. Within those episodes, there were the ones that took things much more seriously about an overall conspiracy, the ones with a creepy and distinctive monster, ones with a thought-provoking message, and others still that were actually quite humorous. Writer Darin Morgan helped the show turn into a more humorous edge with the characters and the storytelling. In doing so, he crafted some of the best episodes the series has ever produced - "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" and Jose Chung's From Outer Space." It was so thrilling and exciting to learn that Morgan was returning for the revival to write and direct one of the episodes. Again, six episodes isn't a lot of time to truly experiment with the format. But once again, Morgan has proven himself an excellent storyteller with these characters. He has created an episode that is easily the best of the revival so far.

"Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster" isn't a perfect episode. Like most of this season so far, it features too much of the characters just standing around and talking with one another to explain the plot. Plus, Scully is sidelined for a lot of it - though when she does pop up, she's fantastic! And yet, those criticisms really didn't hinder the overall enjoyment of this episode at all. This comedic mode is something the show does really well and Morgan has such a mastery of it - though I'm dreading what's to come after this when it gets back to being serious all the time. It's great to see Mulder and Scully like this again. Yes, so much of the story in this episode is about Mulder finding purpose and fun with investigating the x-files again. But he still gets a number of really funny moments that work well as he looks into this latest case with a monster in it.

Mulder is in a funk because he has realized just how vastly his previous reports of monsters across the country have been discredited since the last time he and Scully were working the x-files. Scientific proof has proven a lot of his claims to be wrong. There was enough of a conspiracy to force him back to this job with urgency. But looking at the day-to-day operations of this team, it's just incredibly depressing to him. It's probably a little unnecessary for Scully to note that Mulder was taking medication to fight this depression. But all he really needs is a weird case to pull him out of this state. Fortunately, Scully has just the thing. It's a case with another monster in it. But it's also a case that pulls the fun and amusement out of Mulder and Scully as well. Scully gets to talk about how much fun these investigations could be in the past. This really isn't a story about Scully but at least she's having a blast with this latest investigation into the latest serial killer. Mulder is the one who sees this monster up close. He gets to hear this creature's incredible story. It's absurd but completely delightful nevertheless.

A were-lizard creature has been terrorizing a small community. The twist of the story though is that the lizard form is the creature's natural form while his human embodiment is a completely new development - after he gets bitten when he wakes up from his hibernation. It's a completely fascinating twist to the very familial story. It's also so interesting to see how this man talks about his life in a way that is completely profound because of the mundane details of the existence he has created in just a few days. He has already gone through such a huge life cycle. He is awakened only to have his life completely change. He's not used to a human form. But he has intimate knowledge of how to function in a normal society as just another man doing his job in order to have a potentially happy life. It's a life filled of wonder, amusement, danger, melancholy and depression. Even though he is quickly promoted to manager at the local phone store, it's still quite depressing to him to see this as his life. He questions whether or not these choices he has made are actually all that worthwhile. He really wants to die when he first meets Mulder. But as he tells this incredible and crazy story to Mulder who's not as easily buying into it, something changes within him as well. He finds a man he can truly connect with.

Mulder needed to see this incredible change in order to undergo one himself. At the start of the investigation, he's largely just offering up dry sarcasm to the various witness statements he and Scully have collected. But the more contact he gets with this creature, the more he gets excited by it. It's funny when he's offering up both sides of the argument that he usually has with Scully regarding just how incredible this is. That's great. But it's also wonderful when he takes in this whole story - with a number of questions and being able to call the creature out when he lies - and then leaps to help Scully finish solving the actual investigation. Again, much of the procedural elements happen offscreen with Scully. She confronts two potential dangerous suspects by herself. She proves herself capable of taking them down - though that happens offscreen as well. But it's just so amusing to watch as Mulder puts the pieces together but doesn't know how to get to the animal control center to help Scully in her time of need - to which she just proclaims that she wasn't scared to die because "she's immortal, remember." Comedic beats like that just work so well in this hour. It really does so much for the revival.

It's also amusing to see Kumail Nanjiani wind up being the true serial killer in all of these deaths. The creature is connected to each site where bodies are found. He has no problem stealing clothes or enjoying the pleasures of life - like getting a dog (which Scully might be taking care of in the future). But it's also a meaningful twist that the monster-of-the-week is just innocent. He's the reason why Mulder and Scully were brought in to investigate. But he's completely harmless to the investigation while being very vital to the success of this episode. He brings out a new light in Mulder that should be captivating and exciting to watch in future episodes as he digs deeper into the new conspiracy. Until then, Scully is more than capable of taking the animal control guy down. Plus, the humor about him having a very formulaic story about why he kills was another well executed joke to end the episode on. Overall though, this episode was just a ton of fun.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster" was written by Darin Morgan and directed by Darin Morgan.
  • There are many great Easter eggs in this episode for fans of the original series - from Tyler Labine and Nicole Parker-Smith reprising their roles as the two stoners to Mulder's red speedo to Scully talking about her famed immortality. But the most meaningful was the cemetery tombstone that honored the late Kim Manners, who directed a number of episodes of the show.
  • The hooker who attacked the were-lizard and mentioned that he was wearing tighty whities was a fun joke. Things became even more delightful once that image was actually shown later on when he was telling his story to Mulder.
  • A lot of this episode does hinge on the belief that Mulder and Scully just don't text with one another. You think they would given the severity of the details to the investigation they've just uncovered. Scully tries telling Mulder something about the blood they sampled over the phone. And then, he hangs up on her and she is frustrated. Why doesn't she just text him? Google may be good for these two but not all technology is working to their benefit.
  • Another great Scully scene is the fantasy that the creature creates in order to prop up his own sexuality as a human. It's playful in a way that immediately throws the audience off. Scully would never do such a thing. But the sight of it is still very captivating.
  • The title is a little misleading - considering Scully never really meets the were-monster.