Skip to main content

I thought it'd be great to get back to work.

The X-Files
10.3: Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster

I’m a sucker for anything written by Darin Morgan. Well, provided it’s of-a-piece with the sensibility he brought to his previous X-Files and Millennium scripts; his contribution to Intruders was invisible, although that was likely down to fitting his brother’s template for the moribund show. Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster exhibits his greatest strengths – although those not so enamoured of his style might cite them as worst indulgences – from unreliable narrators, to the hopeless/ hopefulness of it all, to swathes of self-referentiality.  I’m not sure he’ll ever equal Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’ (which, mystifyingly, Rob Shearmen took a disliking to in his X-review book wanting to believe; “pretentious, overwritten, and desperately self-indulgent” to which I’d respond “So?”), but that’s not to diminish the first episode of this new run to evidence the old show still has it, provided those producing it are putting in the effort.


Morgan also directed Were-Monster, his debut on the show wearing such shoes (he helmed both his Millenniums), and he brings the same quirkiness to his visuals as he does to his writing. He makes every scene, every line, count in his writing, releasing a deluge of wit and insight in teleplays that have an enormous amount going on beneath their flippant surfaces. There is, of course, the danger that even the most vibrant and distinct writer can become too reliant on pet devices. Shearman (wanting to believe is a solid read, for all his Chung-dissing) also commented that Jose Chung is symptomatic of what happens when you tell an extremely talented writer he’s a genius once too often. We should be so lucky, if Jose Chung is the “risible” result. But he does have a point (much-vaunted genius Steven Moffat has turned out utter dreck as showrunner of Doctor Who for the past five years). Were-Monster is exactly what you’d expect from Morgan, and so stuffed with cleverness it’s almost choking.


Morgan’s approach was evidently inspiring, as it wasn’t long before another X-Files writer, one who has since slipped into obscurity, Vince Gilligan, penned Bad Blood, a virtual fan letter to Morgan’s revelation of how much fun can be had basing an episode around unreliable narrators. This kind of dissection is integral to how Morgan approaches storytelling – if not acknowledging the artifice directly, at least drawing attention to the mode of it through telling stories within stories – but Shearman felt Jose Chung’s failing was in missing the wood for the trees; this time the tale he told was empty, it had no heart. Which makes Shearman sound like a guy who probably doesn’t much care for the majority of the Coen Brothers’ work (except for Fargo, the one that does have heart). I’d have thought he probably would like Were-Monster, though, revolving as it does around a lizard who dreamt he was a man, and quickly discovered he didn’t like it very much.


Scully: We’ve been given another case, Mulder. It has a monster in it.

Morgan has no compunction in grasping hold of the series’ return and locking it in a bear hug. He revels in the fact of it, and in so doing perversely complements the half-arsed way Carter put the investigative duo back on the X-Files. Mulder opines “Scully, since we’ve been away– meaning not on TV – much of the unexplained has been explained”. Duchovny is never more at home than when he’s given comedy to chew on (witness his Zoolander cameo), of course, but his lines here are as much about the makers of the show as their lead character (“I’m a middle-aged man. No, I am, I am”, one who thinks it’s time to “put away childish things, the sasquatches and mothmans and jackalopes”), and whether indeed it’s a fool’s errand to try to dust off the series a decade-plus later (there’s no picture of the creature “which is odd, as everyone has a camera on them these days”; as if to prove the point, antediluvian fogey Mulder is unable to get his camera app to work properly, on a phone with a Mark Snow ringtone). Mulder is repeatedly called on to admit this all “Sounds a bit silly, doesn’t it?”, the refrain of someone unsure if a past-it show should be dragged out of retirement, someone who may have wasted their best years on nonsense (“Maybe I was just foolish, Scully. Maybe I always was”).


Mulder: Maybe he was a nudist. Took a midnight hike in the nude Got attacked by a lion, or a wolf, or a bear. Maybe all at the same time. That’s how I’d like to go out.

And again, Mulder’s disenchantment with all things X- (or Fortean, Charles getting a salutatory shout out), intentionally or not, mirrors the entirely unfinessed manner in which Carter has burdened the character with a “I don’t think the aliens did it after all” thesis in the first episode. There are points where Morgan appears to be taking a direct poke at his showrunner’s less-than-adequate inspiration for this new run. But there’s a broader sense in which he is merely asking his ongoing question of “What is the point?”, where the only preventative from ending it all is laughing at it instead. In the first scene, the paint-sniffers can’t see any purpose to life beyond getting high, even as werewolves (the scene is a succession of quick-fire gags, from Tyler Labine’s sniffing sounding like a wolf howling at the full moon, to the repetition of “Dude”, to the dude who isn’t okay; there’s more goodness in these two minutes than could be distilled from the entirety of the previous 85).


Mulder: Not everything can be reduced to psychology.
Dr Rumanovitch: That’s what you think.

No answers are forthcoming from headshrinkers, certainly (perhaps Morgan speaks from experience). This one, Dr Rumanovitch (Richard Newman), partly a standard caricature of the sex-crazed Freudian (“our ancestors were as obsessed with impotency as we are”, he comments after detailing how much impalement features in stories of monster slayings), has prescribed our lizard man but is winningly blunt about the likelihood of anti-psychotics failing to help (“He seemed pretty crazy”).


Dr Romanovitch: Who is in more need of an anti-psychotic? A man who believes himself to be a were-lizard, or a man who believes that man?

Even the not-so-good doctor is filled with existential angst, advising his clients to visit the local cemetery when things get too much, as a reminder that “no matter how overwhelming our anxieties might be, they will soon be resolved when we are dead and buried for all eternity”. It’s an appropriate snub then, that Mulder turns down the offer of a prescription from this “witch doctor”, having got his investigative mojo back.


Guy Mann: I had to hunt down a…
Mulder: Human victim?
Guy Mann: No, a job. The craze wouldn’t be satiated until I found steady work. Rather tragically, I found something right away.

The most sustained exploration of this theme comes not from Mulder but Rhys Darby’s (Flight of the Concords) Kolchak-clad were-lizard Guy Mann.  The reversal of a creature infected by a human is neat enough in itself (“There is no difference. Both scenarios are equally foolish” advises Scully), but the real winner is the way Morgan uses it to instil a Solomon Grundy quality to Guy’s overnight over-burdening with the drudgery and hopelessness of the modern world (to be keenly relevant, The X-Files ought to be highlighting this absurdity every bit as much as popular conspiracy offenders). 


There’s even a touch of How to Succeed at Business Without Really Trying (by the end of the day Guy’s become manager of the phone shop, by dint of the ability “to BS my way through anything”). In no time, he has descended to the state of a fast-food consuming porn addict, and “now that I had a job, all I could think about was how much I hated my job”.


Morgan has Guy voice the ludicrousness of the western malaise, fearful of quitting his job as without it “I’d never get a loan and start a mortgage, whatever that is”, terrified he isn’t saving enough for his retirement and “If I haven’t written my novel by now, I’m never going to write it, you know?” By which point, Mulder just wants to get back to the good stuff, as probably audiences less than enamoured of X-Files’ comic turns are (“Now we’re getting somewhere!” he enthuses when Guy relates how he wanted to strangle and eat the flesh of the person who turned him human).


Guy Mann: If there’s nothing in life more than what we already know, then there’s nothing but worries, self-doubt, regret and loneliness.

But Guy is given a happy ending, and a detailed knowledge of Shakespeare, and in so doing he gives Mulder a happy one too. Guy’s problem is the same one faced by billions (“I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and have to go to work”), but Mulder, on shaking hands with a lizard man, has renewed reason to go to work in the morning. And implicitly, if Morgan is questioning the validity of bringing a show like The X-Files back to TV, the one kernel of value he can seize is that it’s a show in which, for all its inveterate scepticism, audiences are invited to imagine the possibility of something beyond a fixed, determined, mundane system.


Mulder: That did not happen.

One might suggest Guy’s story is a self-reflexive take on Morgan’s own self-reflexive narrative propensities; Mulder doesn’t find any of it very likely, and we wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover it was all a ruse. So the twist is that it is indeed the truth, as impossible as that sounds. Of course, it wouldn’t be Morgan without some outright embellishment, which comes in the form of Guy’s Dana Scully fantasy (“Come on, I want to make you say cheese”). If Duchovny always seems right at home ad-libbing and joshing, it’s less likely and so possibly more effective when lines like “guys don’t send me pictures of their junk” are given to Anderson.


Morgan is rightly resistant to retconning Scully back to the disbeliever as Carter has done, hence the “I know what you’re going to say” scene, and there might even be a bit of self-congratulation on how much his cast prefer his whacky hijinks to the usual fare (Mulder: You’re really enjoying yourself, aren’t you Scully? Scully: Yeah, I am. I’d forgotten how much fun these – Darin Morgan’s – cases could be), particularly so with the offhand dismissal of the killer plotline, and the series – and Millennium’s – propensity for such fare (“You’ve seen one serial killer, you’ve seen them all”). 


And what to make of Scully’s “And besides, you forget, I’m immortal” in response to Mulder admonishing her that she shouldn’t be going off and confronting suspects alone (in both cases she rather shortcuts Mulder’s investigative donkey work by just happening upon the individuals)? On the face of it, it’s another meta-reference (she’ll be back next week, barring an extended abduction/pregnancy), unless it’s a cryptic foreshadowing of events later in the season (edit: it's been pointed out to me that this is more than likely a reference to Peter Boyle advising Scully she doesn't die in Morgan's Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose, which I really should have realised - I'll be worse than Chris Carter for recalling X-continuity at this rate). A nice touch too that Morgan gives Scully a new dog, after the rather mean monster munching of Queequeg in Quagmire.


Scully: You were attacked by a six-foot horny toad?

Not everything works here; the transgender gags feel like they come from a different generation (probably because they do), and with the Mulder cottaging scene last week there’s a sense the makers are trying a bit too hard to seem witty/relevant in terms of sexual politics but succeeding only in putting their feet in it. It surely isn’t a coincidence that the best line with DJ Pierce’s prostitute has nothing to do with her gender (the police have dismissed her story –  Annabelle: But they think I’m on crack. Mulder: Are you? Annabelle: Yeah!); unreliable narrators again.


Scully: Mulder, the Internet is not good for you.

But there are nevertheless many mirthful incidentals; the hotel manager (Alex Diakun) looking through his peephole at Mulder in his (red!) undies (“Oh, baby!”) The manager also has easily the best political gag, referencing his distinctive surveillance system (“That’s a security feature. I had it put in after 9/11”). And on a more earnest note, the tributes to Kim Manners and Jack Hardy are quite touching.


Guy Mann: I don’t understand half the things I’m telling you right now.
Mulder: I find that… disconcerting.

Darin Morgan manages to deconstruct not just the validity of The X-Files existing any more, but of any of us. The only recourse seems to be getting back to nature (Guy) or believing in something more than ourselves (Mulder). Otherwise, we’ll be beset with questions regarding internal logic and reach the inevitable conclusion that “There isn’t an external logic to any of it”. As for the Kolchak thing? Rather than his tenure as Consulting Producer on the ill-starred remake, perhaps it’s another reference to whether this show is now “old hat”; more time has elapsed between the revival and the first X-Files episode than that episode and its 1970s inspiration.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Once that first bullet goes past your head, politics and all that shit just goes right out the window.

Black Hawk Down (2001)
(SPOILERS) Black Hawk Down completed a trilogy of hits for Ridley Scott, a run of consistency he’d not seen even a glimmer of hitherto. He was now a brazenly commercial filmmaker, one who could boast big box office under his belt where previously such overt forays had seen mixed results (Black Rain, G.I. Jane). It also saw him strip away the last vestiges of artistic leanings from his persona, leaving behind, it seemed, only technical virtuosity. Scott was now given to the increasingly thick-headed soundbite (“every war movie is an anti-war movie”) in justification for whatever his latest carry-on carried in terms of controversial elements, and more than happy to bed down with the Pentagon (long-standing collaborators with producer Jerry Bruckheimer) to make a movie that, while depictinga less than auspicious intervention by the US military (“Based on an Actual Event” is a marvellous catch-all for wanton fabrication), managed to turn it into a parade of heroes pe…

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…