The Post-Modern Prometheus 5×6: Gypsies, tramps and thieves.


Rewind. Play. Stop. Rewind. Play. Stop. Rewind…

If you’ve been with me since at least “Quagmire” (3×23), you’ll know that I’ve asserted for a while now that more than sci-fi, more than paranormal fantasy, The X-Files is really a romantic literary adventure at heart. Here we have two heroes who are, erm, heroic… not because they’re faultless, but because like their predecessors in the great romantic tradition, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, they refuse to give up their idealistic and foolhardy quest out of some antiquated sense of honor; their audience of fans being forced to waffle between nodding in admiration and shaking their heads in exasperation.

My arguments may ring flat to some but if you won’t take it from me, take it from series creator Chris Carter who wrote and directed this milestone episode giving us clear look into his personal predilections.

“Mr. Carter said he hoped the episode would remain true to the original story’s [Frankenstein’s] romantic roots. ‘I have always been a fan of romantic literature,’ he said. ‘In creating Mulder and Scully, I knew they could be likened to romantic heroes.’” [Editor’s Note: Told. You. So.]

Chris Carter based “The Post-Modern Prometheus” on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (or The Modern Prometheus), which is probably one of the most famous examples of literature produced during the Romantic movement. As an unusual of a departure as this episode is, its familiar theme, man elevating himself to the place of God through genetic manipulation, shouldn’t surprise us much.

It’s not hard to see where the Frankenstein motif has left its mark over much of the series already. From individual episodes back in Season 1 like “Young at Heart” (1×15), to the alien-human hybrid story arc encased within the larger, ongoing mythology, to the personal woes of Scully who has had her ova stolen and experimented on in the name of… well, in the name of what we’re not sure of yet.

If these fears and nightmares seem a little melodramatic, do The X-Files a favor and remember that this was the 90’s and we weren’t that far removed from Dolly the Sheep. The Human Genome had been mapped, cloning had become a reality, and not too far under the surface we all wondered just how far down the rabbit hole these new powers would take us. Could mankind be trusted with the God-like ability to remake life in its own image?

There’s a practical protection against such a danger: defining what it is, what it means to be human.

It’s not an unfamiliar subject to broach. Heck, Star Trek: The Next Generation basically tried to define humanity every other episode. (Yet another example of how 90’s progress and paranoia led to pop culture perfection.) And even aside from the pressure of rapidly progressive science, myths of synthetic humans largely predate the advance of technology. Besides Frankenstein, there’s the myth of the Golem, not coincidentally a myth also addressed by The X-Files in “Kaddish” (4×12). And not to belabor the point, but why else did the Tin Man want a heart, the Scarecrow want a brain and the Cowardly Lion want courage if not to become human rather than merely humanoid?

All that is to say that what “The Post-Modern Prometheus” is really saying is that to be “human” isn’t merely to meet a genetic requirement. After all, we share so much of our genetic material with the lowly Drosophila. No, humans are required to be humane; we’re made in the image of God and we’re supposed to act like it. Here all these freaky looking townsfolk are hunting a mutant monster only to find out that not only are they uglier on the inside than he is on the outside, but the monkey really is their uncle. Literally.

Verdict:

Sometimes I’m amazed at what The X-Files makes it possible for us to enjoy without guilt. Here’s a tale about rape and animal-human hybrids, and somehow, that’s OK.

Maybe that’s because the whole episode is a Fractured Fairy Tale from start to finish. It starts and ends as a conscious piece of fiction being deliberately framed in comic book format. The gorgeous black and white cinematography, undoubtedly a feather in the cap for Director of Photography Joel Ransom, sets this episode apart as something other than an X-File and something more akin to Chris Carter’s personal fan fiction. There are also the repetitive shots, or as Chris Carter likes to call them, “visual quotes”, peppered throughout the episode, giving a disorienting sense of déjà vu to the entire story. And best of all, the wide-angle lens shots exaggerate even the most mundane moments eliminating all traces of the real world eeriness that The X-Files is famous for. It’s not a loss, it’s a welcome departure; pure escapism in a show that’s already fantastical in content.

This one was originally written for Cher and Rosanne Barr who both expressed interest in appearing on The X-Files. Rosanne Barr who was originally supposed to play Shaineh Berkowitz and Cher who was supposed to play… Cher. But at the last minute, schedule conflicts ruled out this potential clash of the titans and substitutes had to be found. I think it’s a good thing in the long run that Chris Carter didn’t get the famous guest stars he wrote the story around (except for you of course, Jerry Springer). They would have only been a distraction. This way the “The Post-Modern Prometheus” itself gets to shine.

The question is, who do we owe its success to? You’d think it’d be obvious, and yet Mulder and Scully take over the script from Chris Carter, quite literally. Interestingly enough, they’ve already done it figuratively, recreating the show in their own image despite, or perhaps because of, their creator’s best intentions. It’s all quite meta, no?

Speaking of intentions, I saw that look cross your face, David Duchovny. Mulder and Scully came this close to making Shippers everywhere collapse in spasms of geeky bliss during that final scene. As it is, there may have been embarrassingly girly squeals rising from a in front of a little television near the Everglades somewhere. I have read that there was an actual kiss filmed, but who knows if the footage still exists or if it will ever see the light of day.

That’s OK because ultimately, I didn’t need it and I still don’t. I can honestly say that’s the most purely joyful moment of television I’ve ever been graced to witness.

The End.

A+

Sweet Nothings:

The quote above from Chris Carter was surreptitiously stolen from here: http://www.nytimes.com/1997/11/19/arts/tv-notes-x-files-tries-frankenstein.html

Not to be blasphemous, but Marc Cohn’s original version of “Walking in Memphis” is actually my favorite. Speaking of which, does anyone remember when it was featured on VH1’s Pop Up Video? I’m aging myself, yes?

Composer Mark Snow has absolutely outdone himself. For reals. The whole score is a vaguely circus-like dream.

The looks on Scully’s face this entire episode… you can watch it with the sound off and it’s still hilarious. Her face says it all.

Recurring guest star Chris Owens is back for his 3rd appearance on The X-Files, this time as a monster that doesn’t smoke.

The Great Mutato wants to create someone just as miserable as he is so they can be miserable together. How… touching.

For once, there’s no need for Chris Carter to reign in the purpleness of his prose. It works to this episode’s fantastical advantage.

I could touch on why, yet again, Cher is presented as the sacred mother to all the outcasts and misfits of the world. But then, that’s been done.

Best Quotes:

Scully: [Reading in a deadpan voice] Dear Special Agent Mulder, I’m writing to you for help. Several years ago I had an experience I cannot explain. I was lying in my bed when I felt a presence in the room. Though I was awake, I felt that something had taken control over my body. I don’t remember much else, but I woke up three days later pregnant with my son Izzy. [Exchanges a look with Mulder] That was eighteen years ago but now it happened again. I was in bed and could swear I heard Cher singing (the one who was married to Sonny). [Exchanges another look] Then the room got all smoky and I saw some kind of monster. He had a really gross face with lumps all over his head. I was too scared to scream then I got all groggy and conked out for three days. Guess what happened when I woke up. I got your name off the TV. Some lady on The Jerry Springer Show who had a werewolf baby said you came to her house. [Yet another look] Well, I got her story beat by a mile, so maybe you’ll want to come see me too. Sincerely, Shaineh Berkowitz.
Mulder: Scully, do you think it’s too soon to get my own 1-900 number?

———————–

Mulder: I’m alarmed that you would reduce these people to a cultural stereotype. Not everybody dreams to get on Jerry Springer.

———————–

Scully: Mulder, I’m alarmed that you would reduce this man to a literary stereotype, a mad scientist.

———————–

Scully: Mulder?
Mulder: You may have been right, Scully.
Scully: What, that these people could be reduced to a cultural stereotype?

———————–

Mulder: This is all wrong, Scully. This is not how the story’s supposed to end.
Scully: What do you mean?
Mulder: Dr. Frankenstein pays for his evil ambitions, yes, but the monster’s supposed to escape to go search for his bride.
Scully: There’s not gonna be any bride, Mulder. Not in this story.
Mulder: Well, where’s the writer. I want to speak to the writer.

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31 responses to “The Post-Modern Prometheus 5×6: Gypsies, tramps and thieves.

  1. I am a fan of this episode. It’s just so gorgeous and has a lot of great dialogue. Chris Carter (and his thesaurus) got this one right. Some other musings:

    I actually wrote about this episode on my blog a long time ago. The main takeaway was that I love Cher. I absolutely love Cher. I think that actual Cher in this episode would’ve just been the bee’s knees.

    Yes, I remember the Marc Cohn Pop-Up Video. His version is better and they should have chosen a different Cher song. It’s not like she doesn’t have a big enough catalog to choose from.

    This is the second time that rape has been kind of a throwaway because (like in Small Potatoes) the reason the rapes occur is because the rapist is an “oddity” (albeit a sympathetic oddity) and it’s the only way they can get some. Since it’s not violent, I guess that makes it ok…? I really don’t have a point there except that this isn’t the first time it’s happened. I don’t want to get into the semantics of consent, legality, etc. But what our your thoughts on that?

    As always, an enjoyable read.

    • Objectively, rape being taken this lightly is disturbing. Unobjectively, it’s hard to take the topic seriously in this format. Just like in Small Potatoes, the violation becomes comical. I mean, remember that moment when “Dr. Frankenstein’s” wife looks so excited when she finds out she may have been impregnated? You can try not to laugh if you want to…

  2. a look is worth a thousand words and in this final chapter Mulder and Scully to express their love in all its glory when they are dancing …
    this chapter is not one of my favorites but if I confess that the ending fascinated me, if there is an alternate ending for a kiss, I do not know if it really can be true but I think with that look that had both was as if they had kissed .
    the first time I saw him was seeing black and white old movie reminded me of terror.
    when mulder challenges the writer as final ends, this great …

  3. Okay, can I express my ignorance here and say that as many times as I’ve seen this episode, I’ve never, ever understood it? Who actually is Izzy’s father? Are he and the rest of his animal-like peers actually scientific experiments? And if so, by who? I feel dumb asking this because it’s sort of the climax, but I’m genuinely confused.

    I have very mixed feelings about this episode. The first few times I saw it I really liked it; the monster movie vibe is unusual and entertaining and it’s clever and interesting. But the more I watched it, the more the rape angle put me off. Especially when you consider that, if I’ve understood it correctly (and we’ve already established I may not have), the rapes were part of the plan for the monster to find a friend. Specifically, he wanted to a woman “as deformed and horrible as [him]self [who] would not deny herself to [him]”–so in other words, he wanted to have an incestuous relationship with the offspring of one of his rapes. Did I get that right? Because no matter how pitiful his circumstances, and no matter how much I enjoy the concept of this episode, that is something I can’t feel okay about.

    • You know, I never fully thought out the implications of this episode when I first saw it as a teenager. I’m pretty sure my thoughts were more along the lines of, “Black and white!,” “Great music!,” “Deadpan and funny!,” and “HOLY CRAP DANCING WHEEEE!”

      But watching it again as an adult, my takeaway is very similar to yours. There are so many aspects of it that I enjoy, but the rape thing is just a little too much.

      I stand by my, “HOLY CRAP DANCING WHEEEE!” assessment, though.

    • Okay, without rewatching yet again… Izzy’s father is more than likely a barnyard pig. No real surprise there, eh? That scene in the barn where the camera keeps cutting from people to the animals they resemble is supposed to let us in on the joke without stating it outright. Don’t feel dumb. It’s not exactly like you see that twist coming!

      The older I get, the more I feel like the rape angle should put me off and on one level it does. But I have to work too hard not to enjoy this episode, despite the fact that The Great Mutato’s motivations are less noble than Chris Carter would have us believe.

      • Okay, I’m sorry to beat a dead horse (especially since it’s probably someone’s dad), but how is Izzy’s father a barnyard pig? Is this all related to Mr. Peterman’s scientific experiments (sorry, can’t remember the character’s name), or is it part of the old farmer’s efforts to create a friend for his adopted son?

        • ROFL!! Yeah, you don’t want Black Beauty’s child coming after you.

          Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but the half human, half barnyard people are results of the farmer’s effort to create another deformed creature for his son. Unfortunately, they turned out too normal.

    • I was confused about the rapes too…so if Mutato is “25” years old and Izzy is “18” and the rapes happened again, now with Shanae having a mutated baby, then who’s Izzy’s dad? my assumption was the farmer is Izzy’s dad. He did it then so Mutato could have “playmates”, but the townsfolk were scared and thought Mutato was a monster. So now the rape was done to give Mutato a “son.”

      So I guess its all in good fun, everybody got what they wanted in the end.

  4. Please excuse me while I type this with this ridiculous grin on my face…. just finished that last scene! 😀 Yes there was a kiss filmed – I’ve not seen the footage but I’ve seen a B&W still of the scene, I saw it on tumblr. I will dig it up for you if you’ve not seen it.

    This episode continues me theory that post-Redux II happenings (well, that whole arc, really), the Mulder/Scully dynamics are completely different.

    I’m sorry, I cannot type anymore. I must squee for a bit then put in Christmas Carol.

  5. I don’t know if I’ve ever thought too hard about the rape aspect of this ep; probably because I first saw this ep in high school and, like most, flipped out over the dancing and pretty much didn’t think about anything else in the ep ever again. Just the dancing. Even now, though, my mind won’t even let me think about it in a violent context; my mind tends to categorize things and this one is just firmly entrenched in the whole “X-Files equals Love” part of my mind.

    Anyhoo…I’m not ashamed to say this is one of the maybe three eps that brings tears to my eyes. It didn’t back in the day, but now that I’m older…oh yeah, it definitely gets to me. I love seeing the “monster” so happy during the Cher concert, and knowing how much it means to him gets me weepy. When I hear Walking In Memphis, I get weepy. I’ll also confess that I prefer Cher’s version of the song, but that’s due to this episode and how much I enjoy it (plus…I looooooooove Cher). But I grin through the entire end of this ep, even as I cry. It’s just so good and such a happy, sappy ending.

    As much as I love Cher and it would’ve been awesome to see her, in retrospect, it’s good that she wasn’t in this one. It really would have taken away from the whole story. We didn’t need to see Cher’s face to know that HE was seeing Cher, and really, it was his reaction to it that made the situation, not us seeing Cher. I think it worked.

    And I won’t even go into the dancing. Okay, maybe a little. I love it. The only other alternate take I know of, though, has Mulder twirling Scully…I wouldn’t mind having that as one of my deleted scenes.

  6. I adore this episode. I watched it again today, and it’s funny, but I never thought about the medical rape aspect until recently (no, I don’t believe The Great Mutato got down and dirty with these women). I always figured that, in the end, TGM was still arrested for his part in the crimes. He had to have been. Scully even says, “The prisoner is in the car.” So he’s been arrested, but Mulder isn’t happy with the ending as it has played out.

    Before this moment, I could be led to believe that all of this actually happened. It’s very impossible, but in the X-Files world, it’s certainly plausible. With Mulder’s “I want to speak to the writer” we fracture off into something completely different – how Mulder would have ended the story. This is Mulder’s fantasy. Everyone gets what they want. TGM isn’t arrested for his crimes because he was so earnest. He gets to see and dance with Cher, the women go on Jerry Springer with mutant baby success stories, and Mulder gets to not only see Scully laugh and smile, but pull her close and dance with her. Alas, I wish this all would have actually happened – well, at least the dancing part, I could do without the mutant babies.

    • Let me clarify something quickly. When I was younger and first watching through the series, I thought that when Dr. Polidori was hauled away in the police car, that meant that TGM was in fact not going to be arrested. This led to a multitude of confusions including why Mulder and Scully would then take him and all of hick-town to see Cher in concert. I have since realized that at least part of this episode didn’t really happen, but it wasn’t until my watch today that I really saw the ending as Mulder’s personal fantasy.

      Also, something that is part hilarious and part annoying – the small town hick stereotype. Coming from a small rural town in the Midwest, I always think it’s funny when Hollywood makes us all backward. Although, I have never been to Indiana, so I can’t say for sure that they aren’t really like that.

      • This is one of those episodes where the exaggerated stereotypes work for it rather than against it, probably because it’s so clear CC is being facetious. But is he? I think I remember reading somewhere that he based this loosely on the area he grew up in.

  7. Found on IMDb. Well said, sir.

    Liberating Mutato 10/10 | greatwhitesandparasites | 15 Dec 2011

    I felt a strong urge to create an IMDb account after reading several other reviews making claims that the element of sexual assault was overlooked in the episode. I am writing a submission of my own to exculpate the character of Mutato of any accusatory allegations. The users who refer to him as a rapist or sex offender are no better than the villagers bearing torches, who are blinded by their own ignorance. If they had paid closer attention to the scene in which Mutato reveals the truth behind the mysterious impregnations, he explains that it was his “father” Old Man Pollidori who had been inseminating the women of the town with mutated DNA that was fused by his own farm animals. That is why there are several clever hints distributed throughout the episode alluding to Mrs. Berkowitz’s son Izzy as a pig and the reporter as a chicken. Another fact to consider is that there were several mentions that Mrs. Berkowitz would not be able to get pregnant the “traditional” way, making the traditional form of rape also impossible. Mutato did act as an accomplice to the crimes the Old Man commit, but any charges against him would be dropped in American court by reason of mental disease or defect, being that he had spent his life in isolation and was psychologically impaired from making informed decisions. It is my understanding that Mutato did not believe he was doing anything wrong. He was dancing along to Cher and eating the peanut butter of the houses that the Old Man broke into! He has the mind of a child and even made a statement of being incapable of wrongdoing. The Old Man received justice for unlawfully fertilizing these women against their knowledge with the capital punishment: death. Dr. Pollidori was arrested for killing his father. Mutato’s dream of meeting Cher came true. Everyone got exactly what they deserved. So let this episode be as intended, a wonderfully creative and anecdotal addition to the X- files

  8. I perrsonally just love knowing that it’s actually Chris Owens in the Mutato costume, dancing and goofing around. He usually looks so seriuos on the show. 🙂

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  13. i loved the dance scene so much. the way scully almost gravitates to mulder like a magnet and the way they look into each others eyes; its such an electric moment. it really satisfied the old romantic in me as well as my ever present shipper side. 🙂

  14. What a gorgeous episode and it feel so incredible to be able to share the excitement with you Salome and all the team who comment! This is my first run with the x files and it has completely changed my experience (for the better, no for the best) to have your reviews to give all the context and insight that come from long term love. You know everything AND you give a female perpective on the whole kit and caboodle, most importantly the most captivating on screen relationship I have ever experienced. What a wonder the Internet is! I just wanted to thank you so much for the work you put into these and the community you have fostered! ☺️

    • A first timer! Great, I can live vicariously through you and enjoy it all over again. Thank you for your kind words and I do hope you join in and share as you watch! Help us fill in the blanks. ✌️

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