Yes, this is the moment we’ve been waiting for since 1996. Darin Morgan is back on The X-Files. Tell your moms. Tell your mutants.
Whether you’re an old head or a newbie Phile, if you’ve made it as far as the revival then you already know that writer Morgan is a giant among giants as far as this show is concerned, and nearly as mythical as Big Blue, considering that he all but disappeared no sooner than his genius was recognized, and in the wake of his disappearance a legend was born. After all, what is a legend but magic once witnessed and thereafter unseen?
And herein lies part of this episode’s inescapable hurdle: The expectations for it, and its writer, are so high that it will either inevitably fail to live up to the wishes of the viewer, or it will inevitably succeed in the eyes of the viewer by virtue of the legend, and either way the viewer will inevitably fail to see it for what it is.
So now that we’ve cleared up the vanity of our little exercise, let’s take a look at Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.
As much as I welcome the return of Darin Morgan, what matters to me more than anything is that MULDER AND SCULLY ARE BACK. And Scully, especially my Scully. Her attitude is back. Her facial expressions are back. Her voice is back.
Scully!! There you are! There you are!!! *sobs* Where have you be-e-en! Where were you? WHERE WERE YOU WHEN I NEEDED YOU???
This is my girl. No, she doesn’t believe this nonsense. But she’s still here. She’s still giving it her all. Why? Because Mulder. And why else? Because there are victims who need her help.
And one more thing: Scully has officially confirmed that she prefers her Mulder bat-crap crazy. Can we let that confession stand now? Can we stop feigning every so often that Scully is turned off by Mulder’s insanity instead of admitting the truth we all know, that she thrives off of it? Okthanksbuhbye.
Yet even as I celebrate Scully, I recognize that this episode is mostly about Mulder. We can call that unfair if we want to, but we all know that this quest began with Mulder, that Scully joined in and jump started a mission he was already on. And, frankly, both he and we needed some reminding that this journey on the X-Files is still about a quest, a quest in search of a reality that most mortals never get to see, a key aspect of the show that the show itself seemed to lose sight of as far back as Season 7.
This confirmation of the quest and the recommissioning of our resident believer comes at an interesting time in my personal fandom as I’ve been in an internal debate with my various selves since the premiere. Yes, much of the success of the early seasons relied on the audience vicariously experiencing Mulder and Scully’s awe and wonder with each new extreme discovery. But how much awe and wonder do Mulder and Scully still need or could they realistically still have at this stage of their lives? As every episode of the revival so far has taken great pains to remind us, they’ve been around the block more than a few times.They’re no longer the upstart non-conformists they used to be. They’re coming back, middle-aged and emotionally scarred, to the institution and authority they once ran from. Can anything still believably surprise them? And if it did, would the joy of discovery still be in it?
Thank you, Darin Morgan, for making the answer a clear “Yes.” That gleam in Mulder’s eye after he finally gets to shake hands with a prehistoric lizard man… well, it’s a gleam I haven’t seen in a very, very long time. But I’ll be a leaping lizard if I don’t still recognize it.
Earlier in the episode, Mulder quotes the Apostle Paul, musing that it might be time to put away childish things.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. – 1 Corinthians 13:11 (NKJV)
But he momentarily forgot that “childish” and “childlike” are two things that shouldn’t be conflated. Childlike faith, childlike optimism, childlike curiosity… suffer the little children, my dear Mulder! Go ahead and grow a brain, but don’t grow up completely. I don’t want you to grow up. I need a Monsters-R-Us kid.
Let’s say the newly skeptical side of Mulder is right. Let’s say most of what he thought and believed in the 90’s is intellectual flotsam and jetsam these days. Even if 99% of what Mulder and Scully encounter on the X-Files is bunk, that 1% can rock the world, or at least, completely change the course of Mulder’s life and give meaning to his own existence, a motivation that he at long last has recalled.
Meanwhile, as the rest of the episode not so subtly draws to our attention, he’s not the only one who needs his life infused with some meaning. Because it wouldn’t be a Darin Morgan episode if said author didn’t poke his finger in the hole of the side of the futility of human existence. The perceived futility, anyway.
Just like having no choice but to see every episode of The X-Files within the context of every other episode of The X-Files, it’s impossible to watch this episode without comparing it to Darin Morgan’s other work on the show, so I won’t try not to. Frankly, as self-referential as this is, it invites comparison. I haven’t seen this many easter eggs since I was seven and on an actual easter egg hunt. There are about twenty too many Easter eggs, if I’m being honest.
For Darin Morgan especially, it’s more than a bit on the obvious side of self-parody. “Humbug” (2×20), the pointed and pointedly underplayed comedy that started it all, opened the door to The X-Files commenting on The X-Files, but it did it in such a way that you could easily miss the elbow to your ribs. It was more like a gentle brush than a jab. “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’” (3×20) was much more obvious, but it also gave itself completely over to biting philosophical commentary. Now that’s a jab to the ribs. “War of the Coprophages” (3×12) was a mad world, but what it lacked in focus it made up for in laughs and memorable moments. And my favorite, Darin Morgan’s pièce de résistance as far as I’m concerned, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (3×4) was the perfect balance of everything: deep questions, deep belly laughs, and good-natured self-awareness.
How does “MASMTWM” fit into this overall picture? Well, I think if we took “Humbug’s” preference for the freakish over the mundane, mixed in a hefty dose of “JCFOS’s” spoofishness, added a dash of “CBFR’s” sentimentality and middle-aged it just right, we might approximate something close to what we have here.
We’ve arrived back again at the irrationality of humanity. Guy Mann echoes every above-mentioned episode when he tells us that human behavior makes so little sense, it’s frightening. Humans with their 9-5’s, their plans for futures they’d rather not live, their pants – they’re the freaks. The comedy here is the tragedy of the invisible question mark that hovers over most people’s heads. But whereas once, Morgan seemed to make fun of Mulder for trying to make sense of it all in “JCFOS”, he now seems to be anointing Mulder to go and make sense of it. For all our sakes.
In one of the more obvious spiritual parallels of the show, Mulder has always been out to prove that there’s something out there, something more than the banality of mundane human existence. This episode is a moment of validation to affirm that not only is that exactly what he’s doing, that’s exactly what he needs to be doing. If there’s nothing more, what in the paint-filled bag are we doing this for? So go to it, Mulder and Scully. Find a rhyme and reason for lives that seemingly have neither.
All that said, and as genuinely relieved and amused as I am at this episode, it’s so loaded down with easter eggs oozing gooey chocolate that it doesn’t match the depth and profundity of Morgan’s earlier work, not that I truly expected it to, I just kinda hoped it would. And before you say it, I do realize that not everything needs to be deep or profound or even perfect. But “MASMTWM” actually attempts anchor itself in the depths of shrewd observation and winds up treading the shallow waters of long-winded exposition. A slightly more balanced “show” to “tell” ratio would have increased its impact dramatically.
Don’t get me wrong, It’s the clear best we’ve seen from the revival so far. It justifies both by its very existence and by its content the resurrection of these characters. But maybe part of the reason it’s forced to rely on in-jokes so much is because a dramatic series needs time to develop rhythms and patterns before those rules can effectively be broken in the name of comedy. Darin Morgan’s reign as a writer on The X-Files didn’t commence until the show had already firmly established its routine and its aesthetic. And as Chris Carter likes to remind us in nearly every single interview, this isn’t a reboot. This revival is a fresh creation and it’s saying and doing things the series proper never dreamed of. I suspect I would have found “MASMTWM” even funnier if it hadn’t harkened back to the old days as much as it was rooted and grounded in the new.
Mulder and Scully have met a Silurian from Dr. Who and I think the game is officially afoot, Watson. Mulder has his sense of wonder back and Scully her sense of adventure, two things we both historically got and desperately needed from both characters. They’ve changed, they’ve grown, they’ve endured, but at least we know we still know them. (Though I submit the show is overdoing the awkward middle-aged, post-90’s thing a little. It’s not like our two leads are pre-computer dinosaurs. Heck, they’re not even retirement age. They’re smart people and I’m sure they would have learned how to work smart phones right along with the rest of us.)
It’s funny, but it’s impossible to know yet whether this will be an enduring masterpiece. It will have to endure for us to tell. For me, it isn’t only not “CBFR”, it’s not even at a “Bad Blood” (5×12) level of funny. Then again, I was a freak who thought “Bad Blood” was only okay the first time she saw it. So take my opinion for what you will. Humans are truly the unfathomable creatures.
But if this episode gets credit for anything, besides for reigniting my love for these two characters, it’s for its note perfect tribute to the late, great Kim Manners whose aesthetics as a director, without exaggeration, were foundational in shaping the show into what it became. I’m merely one of the unprivileged masses who never knew the man personally, yet somehow I’m quite sure that he would have gotten a kick out of Mulder stealing flowers for him and getting drunk at his grave. I’m pretty sure that’s the highest known form of flattery.
I’m not going to bother with all the easter eggs because we’d be plopping them into our baskets all night. But I think the first one was the best one: The stoners from “Quagmire” (3×22) and “WOTC”.
The scene between Scully and Guy Mann in the phone store started off funny and quickly devolved into much too much. That was one of those moments that took me out of the episode.
Mulder hears a panicked cry of “Monster!” but takes the time to put his shirt on so he’s presentable before he goes to investigate?
Again, Scully’s in trouble, and Mulder takes the time to put his suit jacket back on before running with the cavalry to her rescue?
How does Guy Mann know not only about Shakespeare, but about the history of folios? Did those instincts download in the bite of an animal control officer too?
Mulder: I’m just looking for some kind of internal logic.
Guy Mann: Why? There isn’t an external logic to any of it.
Guy Mann: Because if there’s nothing more to life than what we already know, then there’s nothing but worries, self-doubt, regret and loneliness.
Dr. Rumanovitch: No matter how overwhelming our anxieties might be, they will soon be resolved when we’re dead and buried for all eternity.
Annabell: They think I’m on crack.
Mulder: Are you?
Scully: Mulder, the internet is not good for you.