A satisfying, disturbing ‘X-Files’ hits both the frightening and the familial in an episode that you shouldn’t even try to logically explain
“It’s not alive. It’s not dead.”
Oh, that episode of The X-Files where a homeless person’s thoughts manifest themselves into vengeful murderous trash? Yeah, I remember that one.
That very well might be the legacy that “Home Again” leaves behind. And that’s not a bad thing.
Officially past the halfway point now, this episode comes courtesy of Glen Morgan. Much like James Wong, Glen Morgan knows how to do horror, and the cold open for this episode is some classic slow burning dread. The stage is effectively set with the backdrop of relocating housing projects and the rolling progress of gentrification, but then before you know it you’re screaming at the legitimately terrifying stuff that’s happening on the screen. Much like what we saw with his brother last week, Morgan hasn’t lost his touch and seeing him tap into this heavy horror monster-of-the-week vein is deeply gratifying. If anyone checked out his promising-yet-cancelled Intruders, you got to see him flexing a bit of this muscle, but he really let’s loose here. The sequence set to Petula Clark’s “Downtown” or the final set piece with Landry are exercises in tension that show you how far Morgan has come. It really is a shame that he didn’t catch on as more of a horror feature director because the talent is obviously there. There are moments here where it feels like he’s intentionally trying to outdo and outgore his work in “Home” (if the title alone is any indication), and I’d say that he manages to pull it off…in fact he pulls both of them off, right from the torso.
Morgan’s directorial eye is also at display here, with a number of gorgeous shots and creative filming styles, like mounted cameras, adding some nice touches that amp up the atmosphere. There’s a particularly beautiful/gratuitous shot of Mulder and Scully’s flashlight beams (“Back in the day, is now.”) crossing and making an X as they descend into the unknown. It’s a very pretty episode to look at. Carter has gone on to say that this was the most expensive episode of the season to produce (which includes the crazy UFO and explosion special effects that went down in the premiere), but none of that money is that obvious (other than the ripping effect).
Once again, a very traditional sort of story sees itself being told here when a string of city officials are murdered in a way that defies all conventional logic. They’re murders that scream monster-of-the-week, and our intrepid FBI agents even acknowledge its on-its-sleeve-spookiness from the jump.
Morgan gets to push all of his favorite buttons here between inexplicable monsters, technology, and the big one—Scully’s family. I suppose it wouldn’t be a return to The X-Files without something horrible happening to one of Scully’s family members. Morgan effectively balances Scully opting out to deal with her ailing mother, while Mulder gets the opportunity to go “Full Mulder” here with a case that’s perfect for his limitless imagination. Not having Scully as the usual sounding board is exactly what he needs for these unexplainable murders. Also, for those that have been hungry for that snarky, sardonic Mulder, “Home Again” is going to make you happy. There are tons of instantly quotable one-liners at Mulder’s ready.
Scully delving back into her family life ends up seguing rather organically (which can be the case when pretty much every male in your family has the name “William”) into her woes of putting William up for adoption. Carter has spoken about how “Home Again” was originally slated to be the second episode of this revival, which means all of this William discussion here was meant to happen before what we saw in Wong’s “Founder’s Mutation.” This doesn’t change a lot, but it does show Scully dealing with this trauma alone, and unsure of herself, before she ultimately decides to push it further with Mulder, which we saw in the second episode. There’s heavier motivation to that action now. It’s got the weight of her mother’s last words, even. Those that have been looking for the entry of this season that gets to be the breakout Gillian Anderson vehicle where she gets to show what she’s capable of, look no further than “Home Again.” Anderson really kills it here, but Mulder’s pained looks at her as she compartmentalizes and forces herself back to work are equally devastating. And on the inverse, it’s nice to see that after thirteen years Bill Scully is just as much the asshole brother as he always was, too.
What I kind of love about this episode—and this isn’t necessarily saying that it’s a good thing—is the entry tying its monster to some ridiculous, unrelated concept. In this case: homeless people, graffiti, and tulku Buddhism. There are so many early X-Files that decide to throw in an element like some “Magical Homeless Man” and cryptic nomenclature like “The Band-Aid Nose Man” just to pad out the supernatural aspect that’s going on. Again, this might not be good writing per se (this honestly feels like Gilliam’s The Fisher King mixed with Guillermo Del Toro’s Mimic more than it should), but it distinctly feels X-Files-ian, and Morgan does a flawless job at harkening that tone. The idea of the collective plight of the homeless personifying itself into some horrible crusader doesn’t make any sense, but it fits, y’know? I mean, this whole thing is basically a big, fat parable for “People treat each other like trash”, but it somehow sells itself. The classic storytelling also only makes the horror of The Band-Aid Nose Man (or “Trash Man,” to each their own) hit all the harder when special effects and filmmaking have improved considerably since the show ended.
Watching the mystery of “Home Again” unspool is part of the fun, and as you begin to connect the dots between these disparate elements and figure out how this Trash Man can be neither living nor dead, the madness only becomes more entertaining. The end of this sees Mulder and Scully tag-teaming the monster and basically getting a big ramble of nonsense to explain it all. Like so many X-Files episodes, this one doesn’t try to explain the specifics, and Mulder and Scully really don’t do anything to stop this carnage. Everyone on the Trash Man’s kill list gets theirs, and then this monstrosity ceases to be. Frankly, I didn’t need an explanation and the episode’s decision to coast more on tone than logic worked for me just fine.
What didn’t exactly work for me however are the connections that the episode tries to make between the enlightened nature of the Trash Man, and Mulder and Scully’s child. There are a lot of superfluous flashbacks and attempts to tie things together that are treated like there’s a larger pattern at work, but there really isn’t. I suppose it’s fair to reason that Scully is incredibly emotionally fragile at this moment, so these leaps in vulnerability that she’s taking aren’t exactly out of character. The show has certainly made bolder claims in the past, but this still felt a little inorganic to me.
The episode’s final thoughts focus on an introspective, albeit overdue, moment between Scully and Mulder. The idea of turning Scully’s “quest” for William and plaguing her with these unanswerable questions as her own “Samantha Mulder” equivalent is an interesting move by the show (“I want to believe—I need to believe—that we didn’t treat him like trash.”). This episode very much sets up William to be Scully’s ultimate payoff in the same way that The Truth is Mulder’s, and I suppose I’m okay with that. It’s really the biggest piece of lingering mythology for the show to address, so it’s focus makes plenty of sense. Any symmetry is nice, and more than anything it seems like this path is taking us down to a William reunion either when the finale, or inevitable next movie, take place. Mulder, Scully, and William somehow ending up as one happy family wouldn’t be the worst ending for the show that I can think of. They’ve certainly ended the solitude at this point.
Until then, let’s all keep searching for the dark wizards in our lives.