Humbug 2×20: I think I hit my left ventricle.


Finger Licking Good

“Humbug” starts off with a classic Monster of the Week teaser, or so you think, until you realize the monster is actually the good guy… and the prey. It’s amazing that even though you would think that… it’s one of the most frightening teasers The X-Files ever did. Straight away you know you’re not only in for a twist on the typical, something that The X-Files is already good at, but you’re in for a twist on the typical X-File. This is the first time we see the show lovingly mock itself and it’s such jolly good fun that it quickly becomes a tradition.

“Humbug” unearths our presumption, our prejudice, really, that everyone wants to be “normal” and that by “normal” we mean perfect and without blemish. Upon first learning of the case, Scully is so distracted by Jerald Glazebrook’s skin that she pays no attention to the details of his murder and instead says with politically correct pity, “Imagine going through your whole life looking like this.” I’m sure she fancies herself empathetic. Gone are the days when your average person would have felt secure in bullying or mocking such people, instead we stuff them full of knowing glances and sympathetic nods. But Scully makes a gross misstep in that like the rest of us, she assumes that we’re the lucky ones and that no one in their right mind would want to look like Mr. Nutt rather than Mulder. By the by, I’m not ragging on Scully. I’m guilty of the same thoughts myself, which is exactly one of the reasons why this episode is so engaging. We’re forced to look at ourselves in a funhouse mirror. That the story concludes with Dr. Blockhead making the same word-for-word observation about Mulder that Scully made about Glazebrook. How strange that in a society more obsessed than ever with eliminating every wrinkle, every unsightly hair, every crooked tooth, there would be those that blasphemously enjoy their imperfections. Pure. Television. Genius.

For this we can only stand in awe of X-Files legend, writer Darin Morgan. A comedy writer reluctantly converted into joining the staff of a sci-fi show, he didn’t realize at the time that he penned an episode that in retrospect is easily identifiable as a giant evolutionary leap forward for the show. It opened up whole new possibilities for story ideas and, most importantly, humor. The X-Files has always had its share of funny one-liners, it’s true, but this is the first time an episode has been as equally focused on getting a laugh out of its audience as eliciting a scream. One of my major regrets on behalf of The X-Files is that Darin Morgan was around for so few episodes. Yet, unsurprisingly judging by his first outing, he’s one of the best-remembered players.

We also can’t go without acknowledging the directorial contribution of the late, great Kim Manners. His use of mirrors in this episode is Stupendous. The scene where Hepcat Helm is killed is pretty much all filmed in reflection and is a masterpiece. (Have I used enough superlatives to make my point yet?) The funhouse… I’m sorry, Tabernacle of Terror scene ain’t half bad either.

And I can’t let this review go by without paying tribute to the most memorable ensemble cast The X-Files ever put together. It’s no secret that most of these “actors” are actual freaks and geeks and it shows. They’re playing the same exaggerated versions of themselves that they play in real-life sideshows.

What’s so wonderful about this town that time forgot is that they have their own brand of normalcy. This fanciful community has it’s own set of rules. It’s a world turned upside down where the stranger you were born the more respect you receive. Scully is as much an oddity and an interest to Lanny as his appendage of a conjoined twin is to her. Morgan turns flips his own premise inside out again by not merely showing us society’s prejudices against the weird, but showing the prejudices those on the outside have against society. They’re not to be sympathized with because we pity them too much or not enough, but because they’re exactly the same as us, issues and all.

Even though I wholeheartedly love the humor of later seasons, what I like about this episode is how underplayed it is. I’m not knocking later episodes like “Small Potatoes” (4×20) or “Bad Blood” (5×12). Never that!! But like I said earlier, in this episode humor is equal to horror and later on, there will be episodes purely for the sake of humor itself. I just appreciate that in this early era The X-Files isn’t overly self-conscious. Mulder and Scully’s quiet reactions to the madness in this episode are subtle bits of glory.

Conclusion:

This is one of those few episodes where I can find not a single flaw. Not one. It’s gross. It’s funny. It’s shocking. It’s tongue-in-cheek. It’s perfect. I’ll be able to say the same of another Darin Morgan penned episode come Season 3, but I won’t spoil the surprise and tell you which one.

Moreover, it successfully delivers a message without being preachy or worse, boring. Yes, I’m looking at you “Fearful Symmetry” (2×18).

If you like, you can take away the feel-good moral that everyone is strange in their own way and everyone is special. Or you can just sit back any enjoy the fact that the strange and the normal alike are made fun of equally in “Humbug.” Even David Duchovny in all his manly grandeur isn’t safe.

A+

Bepuzzlements:

Why are Mulder and Scully on a serial killer case, less than typical though it is? There’s no hint of paranormal phenomenon. Sometimes we’re reminded with a jolt that it’s not just the supernatural, it’s also unsolvable cases that get shunted down the tube to the X-Files division. Not that the show plays up that angle often.

Comments:

Mulder, the admitted porn addict, indignantly comes to Scully’s rescue and wards off the innocent Mr. Nutt. Mulder: The Gentleman Pervert.

OK, if I’m going to make a full confession, Mulder pouncing on the Fiji Mermaid angle out of nowhere is a little weak. But, hey, Mulder makes illogical jumps pretty much every episode. Consider this the show taking another jab at itself.

Scully delivers a summary to The Human Blockhead at the end of the episode that obviously would have been delivered to Mulder if it wasn’t for the need to set up for that last, brilliant gag.

I don’t have an uncle who’s an amateur magician… and I have 9 uncles not including the ones that married my aunts.

Best Quotes:

I could pretty much copy over the entire script here, but instead you should go watch it and I’ll limit myself to a few gems.

Hepcat Helm: Who are the rubes?
Sheriff Hamilton: These are FBI agents Scully and Mulder. This is Hepcat Helm, he operates a carnival funhouse.
Hepcat Helm: Oh man, how many times have I told you not to call it that! It’s not some rinky dink carny ride. People go through it they don’t have fun, they get the hell scared out of them. It’s not a funhouse, it’s a tabernacle of terror.
Sheriff Hamilton: It’s a funhouse.

——————-

Mulder: Tell me, have you done much circus work in your life?
Mr. Nutt: And what makes you think I’ve ever spectated a circus? Much less been enslaved by one?
Mulder: I know that many of the citizens here are former circus hands, and I just thought that…
Mr. Nutt: You thought that because I am a person of short stature, that the only career I could procure for myself would be one confined to the so-called “Big Top.” You took one quick look at me, and decided that you could deduce my entire life. Never would it have occurred to you that a person of my height could have possibly obtained a degree in Hotel Management.
Mulder: I’m sorry. I meant no offense.
Mr. Nutt: Well then why should I take offense? Just because it’s human nature to make instantaneous judgements of others based solely upon their physical appearances? Why I’ve done the same thing to you, for example. I’ve taken in your all-American features, your dour demeanor, your unimaginative necktie design, and concluded that you work for the government, an FBI agent. But do you see the tragedy here? I have mistakenly reduced you to a stereotype, a caricature, instead of regarding you as a specific, unique individual.
Mulder: But I am an FBI agent.
Mr. Nutt: Register here, please.

——————-

Lanny: Mr. Nutt, the kindhearted manager here, convinced me that to make a living by publicly displaying my deformity lacked dignity. So now I carry other people’s luggage.

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29 responses to “Humbug 2×20: I think I hit my left ventricle.

  1. Not much else to say. Definitely a masterpiece, an absolute XF classic. A must watch. (Ok maybe i insisted too much 😉 )

  2. Good point about balancing the humor and scares (this was my favorite mix of humor). I actually met The Enigma at Universal Florida for their horror nights. I was so excited to meet him because of this episode and when I asked him about it he nonchalantly said something to the effect of, “I’ve been on a lot of stuff,” to which I thought in my head, BUT THIS WAS X-FILES! -SG

  3. Wow, really cool story Sal, can’t believe he dismissed The X Files as ‘stuff’.

    I love Humbug I really do, the most perfect episode of the show, this is definitely a contender for Best Ever Episode.

  4. I really enjoyed the episode, and just wanted to echo everyone else’s warm praise for Humbug.

    This time around, watching the episodes back-to-back on a nearly daily basis (kudos, on the pace Salome, BTW, I don’t know how I’ll keep up when my exams start next week), I’ve really started to get a feel for different writers/directors styling of a given episode.

    IE: Rob Bowman can make a garbage script engaging/visually stunning, Morgan’s humor convinces me that the series could have survived on comedy alone, Glenn and Wong’s theatrics, etc.

  5. I love this one. And it has a guest appearance by The Man From Another Place. I liked it when Twin Peaks (my no.1 fave show) and X-Files overlapped. Too bad it stopped when the show became super-successful.

  6. I gotta tell you, no show ever scared me like Twin Peaks. I love it to bits, I really do, but Bob scared the hell out of me like no other fictional character in history.

  7. BOB is the scariest thing ever. Just rewatched it recently and had BOB nightmares. TP scared the bejeezus out of me when it first ran and it still scares me 20 years later. I think it’s a testament of how good the show was that it holds up so well AND that Lynch was able to have something so unsettling run on network tv. OK, let’s face it, everything Lynch does freaks me out (and that’s why I love him so).

    Salome, what’s CI?

    • Crime & Investigation Network.

      You see how useful X-Files discussions are?? We’re disseminating all sorts of important information.

  8. No body does horror like Lynch, I’d love to know what goes on in that guy’s head.

  9. Emily Michelle

    “Gentleman Pervert!” I just about died when I read that. I totally agree with your analysis–it’s a great episode that’s as funny as it is scary. And dang, it’s scary.

  10. I love Humbug, I love Clyde Bruckman’s FInal Repose, War of the Coprophages is very good, and Jose Chung’s From Outer Space is, in my opinion, the best hour of television ever. Darin Morgan’s episodes are the crown’s jewels of the show. Those 4 are easily in the top 15 X-Files episodes.

    Now I will say one bad thing about Darin Morgan and his amazing four episodes. They made others in the writing staff think they could write comedic scripts and make instant fan-favorites. While all Darin Morgan episodes had plenty of humor in them, at the same time they were pretty depressing, dealing with loneliness or how futile life can sometimes be, keeping with the original mood of the series, and the cases themselves were scary enough. Other writers didn’t keep that into consideration and had Mulder and Scully deal with silly situations. Things got so bad, that by Season 6 half the episodes were either comedies or light-hearted. Darin’s episodes were especial, because everything else during seasons 1-3 was serious, for the most part.

    Don’t get me wrong, I also like Vince GIlligan’s Bad Blood and Small Potatoes (even if I prefer his darker episodes like Pusher, Paper Hearts, Unruhe, etc.). Chris Carter though? Not quite as good at those, and in the later season he tried it a lot… even if it might be because PMP got him close to winning an Emmy, and he chased that award ever since by trying to do similarly gimmicky episodes.

    • I think the show naturally evolved into something a little lighter, partially because of how serious and dark the mythology episodes grew and partially because it was self-conscious about its popularity. I guess it would have been hard not to be.

      I’m more than fine with it Seasons 5 & 6 but I’m downright grouchy over Season 7, not so much because so many episodes are light but because they’re light without being very good.

  11. I love how Mulder and Scully seam so helpless in this episode, lost amongst the weirdness of those around them, almost desperate (digging up potatoes XD). You would think they should feel superior, being the normal ones, the pretty ones. At the same time it turns out that the people you would call freaks are far more superior, with their intelligence, tolerance and their attitude towards life.

    • *seem (damn, I make mistakes in every comment I post!, sorry english is not my native tongue ;))

      • No worries! I make mistakes every post and English *is* my native tongue.

        The message I got wasn’t so much that freaks are superior, but that “ideal” people like Mulder aren’t necessarily superior and some people actually prefer a little weird in their coffee.

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  14. After watching countless episodes over all the seasons over all the years, I have come to the conclusion that Humbug is THE one. It is the greatest episode of them all. This is the episode I show to my friends who have never watched the X Files before. It is funny, it is terrifying, it is fascinating, it is moral, and nothing is ever what it seems. This is Mulder and Scully at their best doing what they do best. Here here to Darin Morgan for penning this gift to us and making Humbug the elite episode of them all!

    • I can’t even argue with you. This was one of those episodes I couldn’t watch before the premiere for fear of getting too emotional – It’s that perfect.

  15. The mini twin killing fully grown men so easily and out-pacing M&S when they chased after him were bad enough, but the Conundrum eating it so quickly, bones and all, without getting any blood on himself ruined it for me.

    • I might agree with you but I love it too much to worry about it being realistic. And we do already know the Conundrum is able to swallow things he shouldn’t. That’s the conundrum! ^^

      • I love this episode as well. It was so good and engaging that I had high hopes for it’s resolution only to be let down at the end (still a terrific episode). Can you imagine a detached conjoined twin the size of child that can only crawl using it’s arms killing a man the size of the Alligator man? But then this tiny terror fails to kill the Conundrum who devours it before M&S (who just heard the screams while on their chase) quickly make it to the scene. The mini twin left blood everywhere it went, yet there’s not a mark left on the Conundrum after he was attacked and subsequently ate the thing in a flash — this was too much. Or maybe I’m missing the joke here; is this part of the parody? The Conundrum breaking character at the end was also a bit much and it would have been better if it was Dr. Blockhead who said “Maybe it’s something he ate.”

        It could be because it’s the first time I’ve watched this episode that it bothered me so much. Perhaps on subsequent re-watches I’ll get over it as well.

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  17. Maybe, it’s because I’m not watching this upon it’s initial release, but this episode did not impact me like it did the reviewer. I feel like this episode has been done to death by other TV shows (I can’t name them) and any shock from this episode has long been lost now in 2017. This review sounds like it was written from OP’s thoughts on first viewing back from ’95.

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