Who knew the day would come when you could pay your mortgage with perfect precision and still be evicted for violating your neighbors’ aesthetic sensibilities? Or more accurately, for violating your neighbors’ property values? I’m just going to put it out there and say that the true horror of “Arcadia” will be lost on anyone who hasn’t been subject to the capricious cruelty of a homeowners association.
You may think I exaggerate, but I’ve personally witnessed the unmarked cars that slowly and suspiciously pass by to inspect the nearly identical lawns in our neighborhood for flaws. A trashcan in plain view, an unshapely bush, or a front door with off color paint and you can expect to receive a terse notice post haste.
Not too long ago, we received an anonymous flyer in the mail rallying the neighborhood to help right a terrible wrong. It seems there’s another, less expensive neighborhood, down the street with the nerve to have newer, blacker pavement than us. If we’re not careful, visitors may think those people actually make more money than we do, what with our beat up grey streets. It’s urgent that each family invest a couple of hundred dollars over and above their association dues, taxes, and grocery budgets, yes, even in this bleak economy, so that we can bring our neighborhood back up to a grasping middle class standard.
And it was written in all caps. I swear to you.
This is all my way of saying that there’s a great subtext in “Arcadia” about the pitfalls of the pursuit of perfection. Not to mention the demotion of the American Dream into some cookie cutter concept of middle class home ownership and matching SUVs – A monotony of conformity. First time writer on The X-Files, Daniel Arkin, came up with the idea based partially on his own experience in a co-op.
This was originally supposed to be the first episode aired after “One Son” (6×12), an episode the events of which turned The X-Files’ longstanding mythology on its head. It’s no wonder then that The Powers That Be opted for more lighthearted fare to follow that up. Unfortunately for “Arcadia”, the two episodes that ended up airing directly before it also featured heavy doses of humor so some fans were getting restless at this point for a good, old-fashioned X-File.
In that respect, in terms of the X-File itself, “Arcadia” doesn’t earn the highest marks. The Stepford-style homeowners are much more frightening than the actual monster in this Monster of the Week. An Übermenscher made of garbage? Really??
Distractingly smelly pile of garbage aside, the basic plot reminds me of “Our Town” (2×24) where another seemingly ideal community hides a dark and deadly secret. In that episode, outsiders and misfits face the threat of being cannibalized, which holds a heck of a lot more emotional weight than being torn to pieces by a garbage heap. Hiding the absurdity of the “Tibetan Thought Form” by filming it mostly in the dark does help, but it still manages to be more funny than frightening.
I truly wish for “Arcadia’s” sake that it had a better monster because it deserves it for being so hilarious otherwise. Unlike “Agua Mala” (6×14) where the monster was effective but the characterizations were over the top, the humor here is on point the whole way through. “Arcadia” has the exact opposite problem.
Oh, and you may hear the occasional unfounded complaint, but Daniel Arkin doesn’t succumb to the temptation to turn “Arcadia” into a tantalizing adventure in UST and I’m grateful for that. Yes, there’s a whole lotta banter going on. But there’s never any serious threat of Mulder and Scully getting personal; no pregnant pauses, no yearning glances. The jokes are all in cheeky fun. Despite what you may read in fanfic, I don’t spy any secret desire in Scully’s eyes for Mulder to stop teasing and take her in his arms, nor do I imagine Mulder tossing and turning on a couch downstairs resisting the urge to break down Scully’s door in the heat of passion.
Whatever their feelings for each other, neither wants to be trapped together in some sterile suburbia. “Arcadia” is just an opportunity for the characters to good-naturedly rib each other, and maybe the audience at home as well. More importantly, it’s as though Chris Carter & Co. were trying to say, “Don’t worry. The recent, painful split between Mulder and Scully that we willfully, cruelly and unnecessarily inflicted upon you was only temporary.”
But that’s no thanks to Mulder. He is absolutely the highlight of this episode as he takes advantage of every moment possible to irritate Scully. He’s like the annoying kid at the back of the class who dips the girls’ pigtails in the inkwell. In fact, he overdoes his act to such an extent that the least believable part of this episode is that anyone would think Mulder and Scully were a happily married couple. Between his exaggerated smiles and Scully’s pained ones no one would buy it, which is ironic since when they don’t try everyone assumes they’re together.
And I’m not complaining because watching Mulder drive Scully up a wall still makes me laugh out loud. And seeing Mulder nearly pee on himself is its own reward. Silly monster or no, “Arcadia” is worth it just for the belly laughs.
You may want to cherish this moment because pretty soon, successfully funny X-Files will be few and far between. In fact… nah. Spoilers.
By the way, we live in a planned community built on reclaimed land. Like Mulder, we’ve been denied the portable basketball hoop in the driveway, a gift from my uncle. Currently, the light in our lamppost is out and we have yet to replace it.
In other words, if you don’t hear from me by Friday… feed my fish.
Tibetan Thought Forms:
Didn’t the Kleins hear about the unibomber? Who opens packages with no return address?
Why would Mulder leave Scully alone in the house after he’s all but summoned the monster by name?
If Big Mike was the one who warned Mulder by sticking a note in his mailbox, if he’s the one who kept fixing the mailbox, where were the telltale signs of much? After all, he was living in the sewer at the time. For that matter, where’d he pick up the paint?
Interestingly, neither Mulder nor Scully seem to have their cover story straight. Aren’t you supposed to settle those details before going undercover? I’d say that Mulder was spontaneously changing the plan, but their mutual hesitation before answering personal questions makes me think they never concocted an official lie.
Notice there are no children in this episode.
It’s that guy from Monk… and from everything else.
Scully’s exposition of the case while she videos the crime scene is rather see-thru. It’s so long I start tuning her out after a minute. And you know what? It’s not even essential to understanding the plot.
I like Big Mike.
Okay, one of the best things about rewatching something you’ve already seen 20+ times is still finding new nuggets of gold. There’s a moment right after Gogolak breaks the news to Mulder that he can’t have a basketball hoop where Scully with an all too serious face pats his hand in a gesture of comfort. Priceless.
Win Shroeder: So how was your first night? Peaceful?
Mulder: Oh, it was wonderful. We just spooned up and fell asleep like little baby cats. Isn’t that right, Honeybunch?
Scully: That’s right, Poopyhead.
Gene Gogolak: Rules are rules. It may not sound like anything, a simple basketball hoop. But from there, it’s just a few short steps to spinning daisy reflectors and a bass boat in the driveway.
Mulder: In other words, anarchy.
Win Shroeder: Sweetheart, did you use the dolphin-safe tuna this time?
Cami Shroeder: Dolphin-safe all the way, Honey.
Win Shroeder: We always use the dolphin-safe.
Mulder: You’ve got to love those dolphins… although they’re pretty tasty, too.
Win Shroeder: [Stunned Silence]
Cami Shroeder: [Horrified Silence]
Scully: HAHAHA! Ha.
Mulder: [Pats the bed beside him and poses suggestively] Come on, Laura, you know… we’re married now.
Scully: Scully, Mulder. Good night.
Mulder: [Walks past her] The thrill is gone.