Fan favorite writer, Darin Morgan, returns with a brilliant ‘X-Files’ story that’s the season’s best episode yet
“We’ve been given another case, it has a monster in it!”
It’s hard to believe that I was actually second guessing this X-Files revival a week ago after watching “My Struggle”, because after Wong’s “Founder’s Mutation” and this week’s exceptional episode, The X-Files revival is now batting 2/3, and it’s a very strong 2/3 at that. I daresay that this reflexive episode is right up there with “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’” and “Bad Blood” in terms of episodes on that end of the spectrum.
Darin Morgan has developed an interesting reputation through his work on The X-Files. The more reserved brother of fellow scribe and director, Glen Morgan, Darin would turn out some of the series’ most eccentric outings that weren’t under the name Vince Gilligan. Darin only penned four episodes during his three years on The X-Files (as well as writing what might be the two best—certainly the most interesting—Millennium episodes, “Jose Chung’s ‘Doomsday Device’” and “Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me”), but each episode took the still-growing show in new, bold directions helping establish what it was capable of. These aren’t just a few good episodes, but stunning scripts that truly made an impact on the show. Entries like, “Humbug”, “War of the Coprophages”, ““Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’”, and series favorite, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (which also netted Peter Boyle an Emmy win, impressively) are standout entries that saw his voice greatly missed once he left the show early in its run.
It’s fascinating to hear Morgan open up on Kumail Nanjiani’s “The X-Files Files” podcast talking about his tenure on the show. Morgan talks about being a hypochondriac who was constantly worrying about deadlines, the demands of working on a television show, while talking about repeatedly going into Chris Carter’s office and trying to quit. His brother, Glen’s, presence on the series helped improve his stability and calm his nerves some, but judging by the lack of writing that Darin did post X-Files (as well as noting how many of those projects had some sort of connection to Glen, too), it seems to be an exercise that stresses him greatly, regardless of his obvious skill in the field. Morgan talks about dismissing now-classics like “Clyde Bruckman” as he was writing them, and witnessing how critical he is of his own work is also an enlightening realization.
There must have been a great deal of trepidation that Morgan felt before deciding to rejoin the series for this revival, and I’d say that we’re fairly lucky that he agreed to come back on at all. The fact that this return not only marks an incredibly sharp script that rivals his best work on the show, but that he was also director of the effort is a true feat. I’m not sure if this exercise led to Morgan’s revitalization or exhaustion, but I hope him getting his feet wet in these waters once more means that we’ll be seeing more scripts from him, somewhere, anytime soon.
Morgan’s episodes sometimes so often feel like a hodgepodge of elements (“Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’” is certainly guilty of this), with this one being absolutely no different. Seeing pieces of his life and X-Files iconography weirdly fit into the installment (such as Kumail’s casting here) is part of the fun, and even though he’s been out of the game for a long time, “Mulder & Scully…” feels like a very comforting return to home for Morgan. If nothing else, this episode nicely subscribes to the “Darin Morgan Checklist” that so many of his episodes do. Some of these are really superb touches, like Tyler Labine(!!) and Nicole Parker returning as their stoner and friend characters from “War of the Coprophages” and “Quagmire” as a nice nod to the audience and a deep cut. Another Morgan trademark, Queequeg, Scully’s former dog, gets brought up (and Scully acquiring a new dog, no less—hopefully Queequeg II), too. Not only is this a lot of fun for the fans, but this feels like Morgan is also amusing himself rather deeply, and even if this episode turns out to be a huge failure, there’s no denying that his energy and enthusiasm for it is rampant throughout it all. Mulder and Scully’s excitement here is his excitement.
Part of the fun of this X-Files revival has been looking at how each of these original X-Files writers chooses to make use of the 13 years that have passed between the “series finale” and now. Darin Morgan explores the idea of Mulder being disillusioned over whether his life has been a waste or not. Sure, this isn’t the first time this has happened, but while Mulder and Scully were out of commission, a lot of cold case X-Files have turned out to just be pranks or publicity stunts. So when the current case of the week screams “Werewolf!” it doesn’t help his malaise very much. This is mostly channeled through the episode being a prime example of Mulder acting like the Scully here—which admittedly isn’t the first time this has been done, but there’s a fresh dynamic to it now as Mulder carries an air of “I’m getting too old for this x-shit.”
I couldn’t help but have a huge smile on my face as Mulder reduces these werewolf claims to mountain lions and grey wolves rather than think a creature is afoot. Even after knowing this beast has transformed he tries to simplify all of this to science. “Mulder, the Internet is not good for you,” Scully tells him in one scene, as he uses the web to become the ultra-Scully and deduce that this monster is some sort of horned lizard thanks to practical, scientific explanations. It’s pretty fantastic and probably the best Mulder and Scully scene to come along so far this season. This episode is all about flipping their dynamic, and the actors look to be having great fun with it all, too. Even when Duchovny is having to work through huge monologues (and speaking for both himself and Scully) and exposition. It’s really nice—as simple as it is—to see these two getting back in their groove here and excited to have a classic mystery on their hands. Both of them are having fun in their element and eager to see who is right in all of this.
Mulder’s theme of disillusionment is prevalent throughout the episode as a whole when it looks like nearly everyone is questioning their career and life decisions, listless in their own ways. It’s present in a smaller sense in Kumail’s animal control worker, Pasha, and then in the central case of the episode, Rhys Darby’s were-lizard creature.
That’s right, Rhys Darby of Flight of the Conchords fame, is revealed fairly early on to be the monster-of-the-week, this hideous were-lizard creature. The early reveal is always a good indication that who the threat is isn’t the priority of the episode, and sure enough, Morgan has packed a monster of a spin on this traditional premise. Darby is perfectly cast here as a fidgety, odd individual with transformation issues. In typical Darin Morgan fashion, the beautiful lore of the were-lizard is a hilarious subversion on established monster killing rules. The only way to kill a were-lizard, we learn, is by stabbing green glass into its appendix. It’s so silly, yet great mythology building that makes just as much sense as anything out of vampire of werewolf lore and the arbitrary ingredients involved with them.
This is already entertaining enough when the episode suddenly turns even crazier when we realize that Darby’s character is a lizard monster first who has now found himself plagued with turning into a human (after being bitten by one, of course). Not the other way around. It’s also retroactively a viable explanation for Darby’s off kilter behavior that’s so entertaining throughout. Furthermore, his jubilation when he’s no longer stuck as a human and turns back into a monster is perfect and an appreciated take on an overdone transformation trope. This is what he wants.
Let me just say, I cannot get enough of this plot. A monster who’s turns into a human, who then learns to realize regular, everyday, human problems are the worst and begins to go crazy, only to then become desperate to turn back into a monster again is so brilliant. The X-Files has played around with this monster-of-the-week perspective before in creative ways—like “Hungry”, for instance—but this is very, very different. There’s a stupefying majesty to watching Darby’s were-lizard in his newly found human form getting a dog to make his life happier, slowly acquiring more coping mechanisms before ultimately being reminded that life is shitty and hard. It’s all so simple, but it’s in that simplicity that all of this connects so well. This isn’t a man lamenting over the problems of turning into a werewolf. It’s a monster being like, “Shit, is my job going to give me enough money to pay my mortgage?” He has lines like, “Ever since I’ve become a human I can’t help but lie about my sex life” and other such great human observations that are all such tiny nuggets of humanity that we take for granted. Darby’s monster seeing these mundane things for the first time (before becoming disenchanted, like humans are so wont to do) is a wonderfully fresh angle on an X-Files monster. In fact, it poses the question of who really is the “monster” here, as Mulder tries to determine if Darby’s character is still to blame for these murders, perhaps slaying them in his confusion with the ways of being a human.
While some poignant topics are dug into, Morgan still isn’t past getting goofy when the time calls for it. There’s an extended sequence where Mulder is unable to work his camera phone and apps properly, still lost from the times. We also literally get a monster considering transgender surgery as an answer to their problems, and it’s safe to say that we’re officially in modern X-Files. There’s also a fairly gratuitous Scully wish fulfillment sequence that is pretty terrific and must have been sitting in a drawer of Morgan’s for 15 years waiting to get some use. The tone of the episode is already so ridiculous and broad that by the time that Mulder’s cell phone goes off and his ring tone is Mark Snow’s theme song to the series, you kind of just have to go with it. That’s how surreal things feel.
I understand that a lot of this review has touched upon Darin Morgan’s legacy within the series, and for any sort of revival of this magnitude I think the topic of the past is an important one to get into. While more than anything this return to The X-Files should be good, it should also honor and pay respect to the original seasons, too. While Morgan is all about paying respect to the past here, the most touching example must be during Mulder and Darby’s conversation in the cemetery about life. The two of them are standing against two prominent headstones, one for Kim Manners, and the other for Jack Hardy. Manners directed over 50 episodes of The X-Files and passed away in 2009, but Hardy is a lesser-known name, and only passing away less than a year ago. Hardy was close to the production team, acting as the first assistant director not only on Carter’s Millennium (which Morgan and Wong were also heavily involved in), but also Glen Morgan’s feature films, Willard, Black Christmas, and Final Destination 3. Clearly he’s particularly close with the Morgans, and seeing his tribute alongside Manners’ is really, really sweet.
All of this culminates in a rather contemplative episode that goes out on an unexpected twist that’s pretty in line with the rest of Morgan’s dynamic. There’s a great Scully in distress scene that’s subverted by her not needing anyone to save her in the end. She manages to be her own hero while simultaneously solving the whole case by herself, off camera, in mere minutes.
It’s not important though. None of this is. After all, it was probably just ice…
See you again in 10,000 years.