Grotesque 3×14: You never fit your own profile.

Art Therapy

“Grotesque” is a unique episode and admirably ambitious, yet I can’t help feeling that it takes itself a little too seriously at moments. And that, of course, just makes me want to roll my eyes at the most inappropriate times. I appreciate the plot and the concept and while it’s mostly successful, I feel slightly disengaged when I watch it. It’s sort of Mulder’s answer to the Scully-centered episode “Irresistible” (2×13) where the line between the paranormal and natural human evil is blurred, but this one is psychological rather than emotional. Good, and admirably ambitious, but not great.

Last time we actually saw Mulder care about someone’s negative opinion of him we were still somewhere in Season 1, when the memory of his former glory days at the F.B.I. weren’t far behind him and you could tell that the occasional dig still hit a nerve. Skepticism directed at Mulder’s abilities/sanity is nothing new. “Squeeze” (1×2) and even “Lazarus” (1×14) give us a glimpse at how often there’s sniggering behind his back. But every time we meet one of Mulder’s former colleagues, Jerry in “Ghost in the Machine” (1×6) and Reggie in “Young at Heart” (1×14), they have a healthy respect for Mulder’s capabilities. Heck, later on there will be Diana Fowley, another former partner who, er, recognizes Mulder’s strength. Between what we know of these characters’ relationships with him and his current partnership with Scully, to know Mulder is to love Mulder, or at least to learn to appreciate him despite himself. This is the first time we’ve seen someone who worked alongside Mulder actually dislike him. And it’s the first time in a long time that Mulder has reacted to anyone’s dislike. So what is eating Agent Patterson?

We never really find out why Mulder irritates Patterson so. But I remember having this genius friend in High School who aced Latin even though she spent 99% of every class passing notes with me, when she even came to class that is. Our teacher couldn’t stand her. I suspect something similar is going on with Patterson and Mulder. Either that or he’s the stereotypical 1950’s father who can’t tell his son how proud he is of him but put a few drinks in him and he’ll have no problems telling the rest of the world. I’m leaning towards the former as his venom toward Mulder denotes both admiration and jealousy.

His relationship with Scully in this episode isn’t much better. The further down the rabbit hole he goes the more he consciously shuts her out. Season 3 has seen the writers as a whole putting distance between Mulder and Scully in quite a few episodes. Things were too perfect between them in Season 2 to continue that way; they’d lack depth in the long run. But maybe there’s too much distancing going on now. Too often only one of them has enough of a personal connection to solve a specific case. Whatever happened to them figuring it out together? That hasn’t really occurred since “2Shy” (3×6) or possibly “The Walk” (3×7). Even “Nisei” (3×9) and “731” (3×10) saw them going down different investigative paths and drawing different conclusions. I submit that such a device makes logical sense in mythology episodes where the writers need to disseminate lots of material to the audience, and it allows both Mulder and Scully to grow as characters. But at some moments this season I’m left wondering why they’re even partners when they’re not working together.

I think soon the collective writing club at 1013 Productions comes to realize the Mulder and Scully seesaw is tilting too far in one direction and they start adding weight to the other side for the last half of the season, a development which I’m forever grateful for. It’s not that I don’t agree that Mulder and Scully should have independence, autonomy and interests apart from each other and even apart from the X-Files. That was part of what I enjoyed about “Revelations” (3×11) was that Scully had a supernatural niche all her own. I just miss seeing them work as a team rather than acting as an antagonist of sorts in each other’s individual drama.

The Verdict:

Besides the less than inspirational interpersonal dynamics, my other bone to pick with this episode is that the solution is too clear from the beginning. Only someone from the crime team knew the ins and outs of the murders? Then someone from the crime team committed the murders. And it’s certainly no shock when Patterson, obsessed with finding the killer, turns out to have found his killer’s obsession instead. In fact, we’re expecting it. With the 1980’s/1990’s rise to prominence of Criminal Profiling, the tale of an investigator becoming what he hunts isn’t exactly fresh and new. I couldn’t say for sure, but I don’t believe it was fresh in 1995 either.

I don’t think “freshness” is a concern here regardless. It’s a vehicle to let David Duchovny strut his emotional stuff, which he certainly does a solid job of. This episode is about exploring more of the tragic side of Mulder’s nature and his ability to intuitively understand people, the gift that’s actually a curse. Writer Howard Gordon, even more so when working with partner Alex Gansa, has a propensity toward the solemn and the serious when it comes to giving us X-Files. His previous offerings include “Conduit” (1×3), “Born Again” (1×21) and “Sleepless” (2×4), all episodes with a rather grim sense of loneliness, a theme echoed again here. He also successfully adds poeticism into the mix in “Dod Kalm” (2×19). “Grotesque” reminds me a lot of “Dod Kalm” in tone and theme; both show us a man slowly turning into what he hated and both are continually swathed in blue light.

After all that tepid to cold praise, I do like this episode. It’s a brave departure from the norm. I just wouldn’t turn it on to have a good time.


Peanut Gallery:

It’s a little difficult to believe Mulder went that crazy that fast, but then, they only have 43 minutes.

I kinda dig the exploration of insanity vs. demon possession. Which is which and how do we know? Like “Irresistible” before it, we don’t get a straight answer in the end.

Didn’t Mulder already have his tortured soul moment in “Oubliette” (3×8)? Maybe that doesn’t count since this one brought up Samantha and this one has absolutely nothing to do with his sister issues?

Scully’s one moment of glory in this episode, as she cocks her chin in Skinner’s office, is my favorite part.

Best Quotes:

Scully: So you’re not going to tell me when your love affair with Patterson ended?
Mulder: Patterson never liked me.
Scully: I thought you were considered the fair-haired boy when you joined the bureau.
Mulder: Not by Patterson.
Scully: Why not?
Mulder: Didn’t want to get my knees dirty. Couldn’t quite cast myself in the role of the dutiful student.
Scully: You mean you couldn’t worship him.
Mulder: Something like that, yeah.


Mulder: Patterson had this saying about tracking a killer. If you wanted, uh, to know an artist, you have to look at his art. What he really meant was if you wanted to catch a monster you had to become one yourself.


Agent Patterson: I have to tell you, I am really disappointed in you.
Mulder: Well, I wouldn’t want to disappoint you by not disappointing you.


Agent Patterson: My advice to you, Scully: Let Mulder do what he has to do. Don’t get in his way and don’t try to hold him back… because you won’t be able to.


Skinner: Are you worried about him, Agent Scully?
Scully: No, sir.
Skinner: Off the record.
Scully: [Cocks her head]
Skinner: So am I.

16 responses to “Grotesque 3×14: You never fit your own profile.

  1. I always think Grotesque is like a Stanley Kubrick directed episode of The X Files. It looks great, it’s deep, very intelligent yet it’s heart is quite cold. It’s a seriously good looking episode, the use of the colour blue is startling, yet it seems to, like a good profiler should (and maybe this is deliberate) , stay at a distance unlike Irresistible which was quite visceral and packed a deadly emotional punch.

  2. Yeah, I totally get what you’re saying, don’t get me wrong it’s not the worst episode, far from it in fact (dare I say that honour goes to the third season episode that you’re four episodes away from), but there are many others I’d rather watch over it.

  3. I liked Grotesque. We get a glimpse at tortured!Mulder when he profiles. I think this would have been a good two-parter, to make the Mulder-going-insane-from-profiling bit much more realistic, but I get it. Hated the wedge between Mulder and Scully during this episode, but it almost makes what’s to some a bit sweeter. I enjoy seeing a tortured Mulder at times because sometimes it feels like all the bad stuff happens to Scully and then I have to pull out my inner cultural anthropologist and start talking about traditional gender roles in television series. But I digress. Good ep that is a stand alone and also foreshadowing for what Mulder gets into when he is put onto cases like these. Def nowhere near the best of the season – but not the worst either.

    • That’s a good idea, actually, because I think if Mulder’s descent into darkness had taken a little longer I would have been more inclined to buy it. Then again, didn’t he experience a swift decline into darkness in “Anasazi”? And that was awesome.

      Don’t be afraid to pull out your inner cultural anthropologist. Scully would be proud!

  4. This was my favorite season three episode and my second favorite episode of the entire series, with Darkness Falls being #1; I liked the darkness and blue lighting used, I think this may be the darkest (lighting) episode of the series.

  5. Agent Venkman

    Underrated episode for sure. A very dark, depressing, gritty X-Files episode. Kurtwood Smith was a great guest-star in this one. Always liked the misdirection of having that other agent get bitten, hoping to throw off viewers that were (correctly) assuming that Patterson was behind the recent murders.

    In my opinion it is clear that there was no possession here. The artist was crazy, Patterson became obsessed with the murders, and Mulder almost went down that same path.

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  8. Yeah, as you said, maybe the reason Patterson resents Mulder so much is the same reason I kind of resent Darin Morgan. He’s a genius talent, but he only wrote four episodes, most or all being fan favorites, and they all have more comedy than this show is known for. I go for the really serious stuff, and maybe that’s why I think this is one of the series’ (not just the season’s) strongest examples of the traditional monster-of-the-week format. It’s horror-movie-as-television at its best. Also, the music is even more fantastic than usual.

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  10. I thought this was a solid episode and in terms of visuals very striking.

  11. I feel as if Grotesque would have come together better if what I perceive to be the subtext had become a little more of the text. I understand why in 1996 they downplayed the homoerotic elements of the episode but watching it with fresh eyes 20 years later, it seems pretty clear that is the subtext.

    We have a man killing attractive men, mutilating them so that they become grotesque. Mulder makes a point of saying Mostow doesn’t sexually assault them but that screams of either network fear or maybe the writer’s fear.

    Meanwhile, on parallel, we see a dynamic between Patterson and Mulder that is attraction/repulsion. Mulder says he wouldn’t “get down on his knees” for Patterson. Patterson is attracted to Mulder’s genius but is also repulsed by it. Most commentary focuses on the idea that Patterson is a paternal stand in for Mulder but I don’t think so – he comes off as more of a stalker than a father.

    Even today, highlighting these elements of the episode would be difficult, particularly because it would be challenging to do so without looking like you’re indulging in hysteria about gay men being predators. Nevertheless, by not acknowledging that subtext, I think it robs the episode of its true power.

  12. I think this episode is a 5 Star classic,and defo one of my favourites of the season- and its absolutely in my favourite episodes of the entire series.

    I love a good , darkly told psychological drama- and when the X Files gets the perfect balance between the paranormal and the psychological- it is right on the money. Like with “Irresistible”- any monsters on show here the Gargoyle f’instance- is metaphorical. This, along with Irresistible were definite foreleaders into CC’s “Millennium”- which , if you liked episodes like this, then lads, you gotta check out Millennium! Season 2 of that in particular would have made great X files stories aswell.

    Anyhoo, back to this. Okay, if there is some critique – some have perhaps rightfully said here that Mulders sudden obsession into the case,and the mind of the killer -and his realisation at the end- is all a bit in and out too fast- but to me, absolutely none of that matters. We of course know from the offset that Mulder is never gonna descend down the abyss and wind up as a serial killer,but I love a brilliant drama like this that brings you on for the emotional spin,and DD does a terrific job here. Also great is Kurtwood Smith,who I remember being pleased to see in this the first time I saw it, from being a huge fan of the original Robocop movie.

    Grotesque looks and sounds fantastic- it is one of my favourite episodes of the entire 9 series to just throw on and absorb myself in its nocturnal nightmarish atmosphere. Its got a great Gothic grandeur about it, be it the ghoulishly grinning gargoyles glaring back at you, or the swooping,sweeping showers of synth and piano that punctuates the scenes themselves.

    My favourite scene is Mulder’s sudden awakening from a night fever dream in his apartment, which leads him to the art studio. His arrival is superbly captured in a hue of dark Gotham midnight blue,and the accompanying soundtrack is disturbing, dramatic, and cinematic.

    And the final revelation is haunting and harrowing for both Mulder and Patterson- I totally was hooked into the tragic trail of tormented obsession that ultimately led Patterson to his fate.

    Season 3 is perhaps my favourite season- Its a hard call to make- the first 5 season in general are cast iron classics, but s3 for me sees the show at the top of its game,with a confident and incredible balance of moods and atmospheres throughout- its like listening to a classic rock and roll band’s best, most revered album. Grotesque may not be everybodys cuppa tea, regarding a little lack of onscreen presence with M and S together, or paranormal activities in general, but as a unique step into gothic enriched dark night of the soul, it is absolutely brilliant.

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