Terms of Endearment 6×6: Hey, come on, you’re makin’ me feel weird.


Sympathy for the Devil

This is one of those episodes, and it won’t be the last this season, that I’m not really sure how I feel about. The issue isn’t that I don’t enjoy it because I do. It’s that “Terms of Endearment” is somewhat schizophrenic; this episode isn’t sure whether it’s an homage to Hitchcock, a Rosemary’s Baby knockoff, a comedy, a tragedy, or an X-File. It’s also undecided as to whether its protagonist is an F.B.I. agent with an uncanny mind, a demon with an identity crisis, a naïve wife or a diabolical one.

Yes, the point of view changes so often in this episode that rather than what evil the demon villain is up to, the main mystery is which character is actually the protagonist. Whose perspective are we supposed to be seeing the story through? Ultimately, I believe the protagonist is meant to be Wayne Weinsider. In a twist on Rosemary’s Baby, the story is told from the viewpoint of the devil rather than that of the hapless female. However, the references to Hitchcock’s Suspicion, such as the glowing glass of poisoned milk Wayne carries up the stairs to his wife, and consequently the audience’s identification with the wife who doesn’t know if her protector is actually her destroyer, causes some confusion. Throw scenes with Mulder and his uncanny intuition into the mix and it’s hard to hold out for a hero… as there isn’t one. This is almost an ensemble piece.

The main source of confusion, however, lies with the demon character of Wayne Weinsider himself. This is one of the rare X-Files where the guest star is actually the protagonist. Actually, it may even be the first depending on how you think of previous episodes such as “Leonard Betts” (4×14). Yes, it’s a joy to have Bruce Campbell, previously of Hercules, Xena and now Burn Notice fame, on board for an X-Files adventure and as much as lies within him, he does an excellent job with the role. But there’s weakness in the Wayne Weinsider character that has nothing to do with how he’s played.

The way the character is written it’s hard to either hate him or love him. He’s neither an underworld nemesis worthy of an exorcist nor is he a sympathetic soul in his quest for normalcy. He’s doing the unspeakable, killing his own children, and yet he’s so harmless a few mere bullets can incapacitate him. Tell me, what kind of demon is felled by bullets?? They’re not even silver bullets! You just shoot the devil’s minion a couple of times and he goes down? That’s all it takes? Where’s the holy water? Yegads.

It’s inevitable that the devil loses his impact when there’s no God for him to rebel against. Rosemary’s Baby pulls this off, depicting a fight against the king of evil without claiming any standard of good, but it can do that because the claustrophobic nightmare of its heroine, her rape and the ongoing violation of nourishing within her own body a monster not of this world, is enough to convince anyone of the evil of her enemy. Here Mulder is so unimpressed by Wayne Weinsider that baits him, teases him, and initiates a campaign of harassment against him all without any fear of being pulled into the lake of fire.

I also wonder if the homage to Rosemary’s Baby, the decision to depict Wayne’s true demon identity in a distinctly 1960s style, may have been lost on the audience. Those horns, those rubbery looking hands, they’re hardly the stuff of horror in recent years. The demon that a 1990s audience would nightmarishly conjure up at the food of their beds wouldn’t be so… Harryhausen-esque. The demon baby too, with its claws peeking out over the car seat in a direct reference to the earlier film, I fear isn’t as impactful as it could be. Perhaps this is all too stylized for primetime television. Perhaps the elemental horror of the Rosemary’s Baby storyline keeps guards the special effects from being perceived as hokey and “Terms of Endearment” doesn’t have that built in fail-safe.

There was a golden opportunity here to turn an insurance salesman into something more nefarious than his job already makes him, but I suppose that wasn’t the point. The point was to have a sympathetic villain. The problem is, since when is the devil sympathetic? How do you make him a well-rounded character? He loses all his power that way. He’s supposed to be the devil, dang it. Turning him into a sentimental family man is laughable. And yet, this isn’t a comedy. Neither is it a horror story despite the brooding gothic manor Wayne resides in. It falls into the nether regions in between – a fate that also awaits first time writer David Amann’s sophomore attempt, “Agua Mala” (6×14).

I say this isn’t a comedy, but I don’t mean to say that it isn’t funny or that the laughs are all unintentional. I enjoy watching David Duchovny and Bruce Campbell play in the same sandbox. And I can’t deny that my 14-year-old self and her best friend giggled for days over Wayne being blindsided by wife number two and the cool factor of her subsequent joy ride. The use of the band Garbage’s music in the soundtrack didn’t hurt either.

And the Verdict is…

Too bad the devil isn’t so easy to identify with. If he had been, this could have been a rousing success. Turning his nefarious plans back on him in a twist ending isn’t quite enough to create sympathy for the devil, though his decision to give life back to his victimized wife comes close. Then again, I would have preferred it if it had been completely, well, devilish. If he had been an unapologetic villain along the lines of Eugene Victor Tooms I could have relished the story more.

But now that I’ve poked my fingers in all of this episode’s open wounds, let me also attest that I do enjoy it and I find most critiques of “Terms of Endearment” to be unduly harsh. This isn’t the first X-Files episode to fall slightly short of its promise and it won’t be the last, that doesn’t mean it’s a dismal failure. By no means is it “Teso Dos Bichos” (3×18).

We have a very talented guest lead, some memorable visuals, funny moments and taboo subject matter – All the makings of an X-File. The disparate elements are here, if only they worked in concert.

B+

Demon Seeds:

How would you prosecute a demon for killing his demon spawn? Is that even a crime?

I realize much has been made about Mulder’s “I’m not a psychologist” comment and it’s hard to defend since Scully introduces Mulder to the audience as an “Oxford-educated psychologist” way back in the “Pilot” (1×79). But though this offhand comment may smack of discontinuity, it doesn’t bother me in the least. I can’t excuse it by claiming that Mulder was being sarcastic since his tone doesn’t bear evidence of that, but does it really matter? Besides, it’s not like he went to graduate school in the field.

So, you just shoot a demon a couple of times and he goes down? That’s all it takes? Where’s the holy water?

How does Betsy know just where to find Mulder and Scully in the middle of the night? If demons read minds, surely Wayne would have better avoided detection… and would have picked up on his wife’s duplicity.

I see you, Mark Snow, throwing in that Gregorian chant.

Maybe Bruce Campbell’s just too funny. It’s hard not to interpret his actions as comic because he’s so naturally hilarious.

Best Quotes:

Deputy Stevens: I know this went right into your caseload but I never imagined you would get here so soon, Agent, uh…
Mulder: Oh, Mulder. Fox Mulder. Though I ask you not to make that known to anybody. The F.B.I. likes to keep our work on these cases very hush-hush. [He holds a shredded report that’s been taped back together]
Deputy Stevens: Sure, of course. But I would like to thank Agent Spender.
Mulder: Oh. No, no, no. I’ll thank him for you because I have to call in my, uh, progress report.

——————–

Mulder: Scully, this is a classic case of demon fetal harvest, what they called in the middle ages “atum nocturnem,” the impregnation of an unwitting woman by a dark lord of the underworld…
Scully: As host for his demon seed.
Mulder: Exactly.
Scully: I saw Rosemary’s Baby on cable the other night, Mulder.

——————–

Mulder: [Carrying out a large container of dietary fiber supplements] Whatever else we find, I know everybody in this house is regular.

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15 responses to “Terms of Endearment 6×6: Hey, come on, you’re makin’ me feel weird.

  1. I didn’t realize anyone had commented on Mulder saying “I’m not a psychologist.” I have to say, I don’t have any problem with him saying that because, umm, he isn’t a psychologist. He studied psychology and used that to move into criminal profiling; they’re related fields but that’s different from him being a psychologist. I majored in linguistics and editing and used what I’d learned in those areas to become a technical writer; they’re related fields but I don’t claim to be a linguist. But then I have to admit that I almost never rewatch this episode, so I’ve forgotten the context in which he says that quote, so I don’t actually know what I’m talking about.

    I’ve always felt the same way about this episode that you do–it’s just muddled and confused. Is it supposed to be funny? scary? Are we supposed to hate or sympathize with the demon? I have no idea. But Bruce Campbell is fabulous in anything.

    • I have to say, I don’t have any problem with him saying that because, umm, he isn’t a psychologist. He studied psychology and used that to move into criminal profiling; they’re related fields but that’s different from him being a psychologist.

      Thank you!! Exactly.

      I haven’t looked it up so I can’t say for sure, but the muddled messages in this episode make me think that there were too many cooks involved. It probably went through quite a few rewrites under several different hands. That would explain the lack of vision.

  2. Bahhhhh I hated this episode. Okay maybe I didn’t hate it. But this is one of my least favorites of season 6. LOL.

    I will say, Wayne is basically a Dementor from Harry Potter. I wonder if they got the idea from X-Files when they began making the movies… because… hahahahah.

    One thing I found interesting – Scully is Catholic but doesn’t believe in demons? Am I missing something? I thought that demons were part of the whole kit and kaboodle of Christianity… maybe I am wrong?

    • I will say, Wayne is basically a Dementor from Harry Potter. HA! Someone give the man a cloak.

      Okay so, dude… Scully’s Christianity has a convenient way of disappearing whenever it’s inconvenient. This episode is one example. Signs and Wonders is another. Sigh.

  3. Honestly this episode has never thrilled me to any extent.
    It has a few moments that get me excited, but for the most part I find it cheesy.
    It does however have one of my favourite Scully scenes of the whole series. When’s she interviewing that guy at the beginning of the episode and she asks him if he has ever taken drugs, takes drugs, consorted with or knows people who are dealing/taking drugs, etc..
    And then camera cuts to him and he is the biggest pot head ever with his dreadlocks, blood shot eyes and generally buzzed out demeanour. I can’t help but laugh out loud as he firmly asserts that he hasn’t and you can see Scully’s chewing her tongue with disbelief. Gold

  4. Is it okay to say I actually like this one? Why do I like it? Four words. Guest. Starring. Bruce. Campbell. It had me at hello. :)

  5. I can imagine him being a fan. Interestingly, his own mid 90s’s series, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr, premiered at the same time as The X Files did in 1993 and used to be broadcast in the Friday at 8pm slot before The X Files itself. Fox hyped it to the hilt and believed it was going to be a bigger hit than The X Files which they basically ignored during that time believing that it wouldn’t be a hit.

    Oh the irony. :D

  6. This one will always hold a special place in my heart because it took place in Roanoke, which is about 40 minutes away from where I went to high school, and about the same from the other direction where I went to college; compared to both of those towns, Roanoke is a “bubbling metropolis,” so I’ve spent quite a bit of time there over the years. So, to see that town listed at the beginning of the ep…made me happy. Made me a little sad, too, when the people I knew thought it’d really been filmed in Roanoke.

    I will say this; it looks nothing like the Roanoke I know, though I’m sure there are parts of it I’ve never explored. Also, there is NOT ONE PERSON with a southern drawl. If anyone has ever traveled to that part of the country, they know that a drawl is prevalent, and those without the accent are few and far between. Oh well.

    I’m not sure how Bruce Campbell got on the show (seeing as how everyone else was a fan, I’d believe it about him as well), but I did hear that he was a contender for the role of Agent Doggett. Now, I love Robert Patrick and everything he did on the show, but can you imagine what the show would’ve been like with Bruce Campbell as a regular? Awesome!

  7. There are several things that made me scratch my head about this episode, you mentionned most of them, Salome, I’ll just add the last scene with Betsy driving her devilish son around : What was that about ? What if she gets pulled over by a cop or something, the guy just takes a quick look at the car and sees a devil in a baby car seat ?

    Apart from this problems in the plot itself, I do like this episode. Yet another episode treating about the devil (Irresistible, Grotesque).

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