Agua Mala 6×14: Don’t all the nuts roll downhill to Florida.


I came down for the weather.

I’ve always had a soft spot for “Agua Mala” because it takes place so near to my own neck of the woods. An X-File in my own South Florida backyard? Score! All those scenes of wind and rainy mayhem leave me feeling quite nostalgic.

It starts off as a classic Monster of the Week –  almost as an homage to The X-Files itself. In fact, much of this episode feels like a Season 2 flashback in the best kind of way: the rain, the flashlights, the creature from the blue lagoon…

Trapped in a building with a hidden but deadly monster? I call that freaky. That old, claustrophobic feeling is back, the one we used to get from episodes like “Ice” (1×7) and “Darkness Falls” (1×19). But despite the obvious parallels to those two classics, where Mulder and Scully are trapped with a deadly and previously undiscovered organism, “Agua Mala” actually feels more like the spiritual spawn of Season 2 to me, when the show grew much darker and even more disturbing because of episodes like “The Calusari” (2×21) that opened the door to topics like child on child murder. “Agua Mala” doesn’t subject us to a murder, but it does start out with a young child being strangled by the translucent tentacles of a sea monster. Then there the obvious parallels to iconic episode “The Host” (2×2), which is the last time I can remember Mulder and Scully chasing down a wormlike creature. And with the infested holes this new mutation of a jellyfish leaves in people’s necks, I’d say it’s just as creepy.

Or at least it has the potential to be. “Agua Mala” has the dubious distinction of being a textbook case of “X-Files Lite.”

Unlike the early attempts to meld humor and The X-Files by writer Darin Morgan where episodes like “Humbug” (2×20) and “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (3×4) were just as frightening as they were hilarious, X-Files Lite is neither frightening nor hilarious. Nor is it self-parody in the vein of “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” (3×20). Neither is it the pure comedy that humor heir apparent, writer Vince Gilligan, graced us with in episodes like “Bad Blood (5×12). It’s the next step in the evolutionary process: tongue-in-cheek X-Files. There’s a self-consciousness to the X-Files in Season 6 that didn’t really exist before, or I should say, only poked its nose out of the door occasionally. This self-consciousness is inevitable considering the iconic status the show was enjoying. If it took itself too seriously just think of how silly it would have looked.

After all, the mythology episodes became progressively harder not to smirk at as the story of the Syndicate built to its conclusion. When the conspirators in (necessary) bits of long-winded exposition start unraveling the mythology plot out loud, it’d be denial not to confess that sci-fi can be a little silly. What better way to balance the over-seriousness of a plot to conquer the planet by turning the human race into a set of living incubators than to use the episodic side of The X-Files to cheer things up a bit?

Personally, I don’t have anything against X-Files Light. I’m a fan. But it can cause some confusion in the tone of certain episodes and “Agua Mala”, unfortunately, is one of them. My inclination is that this is supposed to be a serious X-File, but my diagnosis is that it suffers from an overdose of comedic elements.

Scully sparring with Arthur Dales? That’s welcome. The dimwitted Deputy? He’s entertaining. But right about the time we’re introduced to the emasculated father-to-be and his exaggeratedly stereotyped girlfriend, I start to wince. The wannabe militia member is downright overkill.

If only the humor had leaned toward the subtle, dark humor of seasons past. If only “Agua Mala” had taken another page out of the Season 2 playbook. After all, this isn’t the first time Mulder and Scully have conducted an investigation surrounded by a cast of characters. “Excelsis Dei” (2×11) and a nursing home full of withered old perverts comes to mind – another of the darker episodes of Season 2 (the topic of entity rape has a way of bringing down the conversation) leavened with well-placed moments of humor. “Agua Mala” is slightly bogged down by its motley crew.

Fortunately, the banter between Scully and Mulder and Scully and Dales more than makes up for that. I sound like a broken record repeating how much I love Scully this season, but I’m not alone. Arthur Dales loves her too. And watching Mulder’s pride squirm as Arthur Dales lavishes praise on his pretty partner is decidedly satisfying… especially since Mulder really did figure out how to save himself on his own.

The Verdict:

I always liked this episode well enough, but now I think I may actually be a fan of it. I especially welcome the return of Darren McGavin as Arthur Dales and can only shake my head in sad regret that his health prevented him from coming back for more. What an asset his character could have been to Season 7!

The truth is, if it weren’t for a few unfortunate moments of overblown humor, and maybe even despite them, I could call this the most classic X-File of Season 6. In fact, I believe I will. And in case you were wondering, all the nuts really do roll downhill to Florida.

B+

Debris:

Instead of immediately calling Mulder to come down from Washington, D.C., why doesn’t Dales first call the police? Maybe they couldn’t have solved the X-File, but they could have checked to see if the Shipleys were all right.

There’s a bit of an easter egg hidden in this episode. If you watch the scene where Arthur Dales leaves Mulder a message with the closed-captioning on, you’ll find this little treat where the audio ends, “If this is you, Scully, call me on my cell phone. I think you know the number.http://www.insidethex.co.uk/transcrp/scrp614.htm

What’s with the Southern accents? This is South Florida even if it is the west coast of it. Deputies with New York accents would have made more sense. Ironically, to hear a Southern accent you’d have to drive far north of Goodland.

Scully leaving Mulder out in the hallway even once the threat of the gun has passed still rubs me the wrong way.

Best Quotes:

Arthur Dales: Why did you bring her here?
Mulder: Well, she knows your reputation, your early work on the X-Files and she has a knack for getting to the bottom of things.
Scully: [Glances wryly at a trash can full of empty liquor bottles] Apparently, so does Mr. Dales.
Arthur Dales: It’s a good thing I have a reputation. Otherwise, how could it be impugned?

——————–

Scully: Well, what else would we be doing out here on a night like this?
Deputy Greer: You could be looters. For all I know, you could be part of the Manson family.

——————–

Mulder: [In his best narrator’s voice] If the sea is where life began, where our ancestors first walked ashore, then who’s to say what new life may be developing in its uncharted depths?
Scully: You know what? Maybe you are a member of the Manson family.

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20 responses to “Agua Mala 6×14: Don’t all the nuts roll downhill to Florida.

  1. Strange sense of timing here, but I actually just finished reading this review after doing a review of Detour, which is another example of X Files ‘Lite’. My biggest problem with Agua Mala I think is that, like Syzygy in season three, it’s doing too much. It wants to be funny and light and yet it’s hard to escape the fact that it opens with a scene in which a mother and her son are strangled to death by the monster of the week and it’s a little difficult to go along with the humour after such a disturbing opener. I’m like you Salome, I love X Files ‘lite’ and for the most part I adore season six because of the high levels of quirkiness and fun running throughout, but here it jars too much. The atmosphere of the episode (hurricane inflicted Florida, the night time setting, the rain) suggests dark foreboding horror, yet the dialogue, characters and Mark Snow’s music is telling us to laugh. I find it a strangely confused episode.

    • Strange sense of timing again because when I wrote up Monday, I was thinking about how Agua Mala couldn’t seem to make up its mind what kind of X-File it wanted to be but that Monday managed to be both intense and intensely funny at the same time without the story suffering in the least. Riddle me that.

      But I do think Agua Mala had the makings of a classic, if only they had toned down some of the more obvious attempts to provoke us to laughter. I really wish they had because I love that water monster; talk about a nightmarish demise. Even Excelsis Dei had some quietly hilarious moments while still managing to be dark and disturbing… it can be done.

  2. You know, the last disc was 4 really serious episodes and now this disc is 4 “X-Files lite”…. Agua Mala, Monday, Arcadia, and Alpha. Hahah.

    This was a decent episode. I enjoyed the “I don’t need my metal tested” line from Scully also haha.

  3. I’ve watched this eppy many, many times with the captions on and have never seen that gem. Oh, but I’ve been looking for it for a long time, damnit! I wonder if the CC has changed from release to release, and if I should start hounding my dad for the old collector’s edition boxsets I sold him a few years ago.

  4. I really liked this episode, despite you’re bloharded review. It had a great mix of subtle comedy from Mulder and Scully, and I wasn’t subjected to over seriousness in episodes like Ice and Darkness Falls. The ending with the father shooting the sprinkler was a little dumb, but I enjoyed everything else about it, especially the ending debrief with Dales. I’d also like to point out Scully looks 10x hotter when she’s not wearing a suit and decked out in makeup with her hair done up. When she was soaked, wearing that apron and hankerchief, I wanted to Small Potato her right there and then!

    • Maybe you missed the review? I also declared myself a fan of this episode.

      And I’m not sure declaring your desire to “Small Potato” Scully actually counts as a compliment.

  5. I agree with the review. I don’t particularly hate this episode, it’s just an OK one to me. The fact that no one actually cares for the mother and the son, and also the deputy who died in a horrible manner is still bugging me. These guys are gone but nobody tries to at least find the body ?

  6. Agent Venkman

    Agua Mala could’ve been better if the characters trapped in that building weren’t such broad caricatures. The monster itself is scary, the episode itself almost looks like something out of the Vancouver era… but those characters, and those actors ruin the episode for me. From what I’ve read Rob Bowman wanted to play up the comedic elements, fearing the episode would’ve been too dark otherwise. Strange, I thought it was supposed to be a scary show. But that’s season 6 for you.

    I’m baffled some people consider Monday to be “X-Files Lite”, it’s probably the best attempt at doing a Twilight Zone episode by TXF’s writers. Sure, some of Mulder and Scully’s conversations are amusing, but Pam’s predicament is very dramatic.

  7. A B+ really? This is quite possibly my least favorite episode ever. Well, of the first 7 seasons anyway. It is way too campy, and not in a good way. The humor falls flat, and the characters are irritating caricatures. The Latina woman stereotype made me literally gag. I really hate this episode and skip over in whenever I have a marathon. Sorry, but this one gets a D – from me.

  8. Fellow Floridian here, checking in with this blog because I needed to link to the “nuts roll downhill” quote.
    Are you excited for the return of the show this 2015?

  9. SUPER excited doesn’t even begin to describe it. I just hope Chris Carter doesn’t kill one or both of them off to keep fans from asking for more.

  10. Your reviews have been very satisfying as I rewatch the series for the first time. It’s good to have a place to go to work out stray thoughts on the episodes. And I completely agree about this episode overcooking the comedy and callousness.

    When I read what you said about Scully leaving Mulder in the hall, I was all “Heck yeah! Not right!” but then…maybe Scully is cooled off after being dragged into the middle of a Florida hurricane immediately after being snubbed over Diana Fowley in the last episode. Mulder has so much faith in Diana, let her bust down a door and save him from the sea tentacles. Oh that’s right, she’s NOT THERE. Hmm, what’s a g-woman multi-tasking 3 crises to do? I say this mostly in jest, because I really feel they just wrote Scully wrong in that instance, again pushing too hard for comedic drama but I just wanted to toss it out there.

  11. Great review! I always had mixed feelings on this episode. It was unsettling in its premise, i.e. the mysteries of the deep ocean we’ve yet to discover and how it left some tentacles in its unconsumed prey. But despite that, it never really rated highly for me because something always felt off and prevented the episode from flowing together seamlessly for me. And I think you’ve nailed it with the whole funny element. It just didn’t work in this episode. The whole emasculated husband and overbearing wife was so unnecessary, same the the crazy militant. It just seemed to clash with the suspense of the monster and ruined the flow of the episode. There was no need for it imo.

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