Skip to main content

What’s not to like? I mean, you couldn’t dream up a more perfect suspect. He’s potentially Jon Wayne Gacy with a monkey.

The X-Files
11.8: Familiar

(SPOILERS) There’s a certain degree of familiarity to aspects of Familiar, not least the opportune recharacterising of childhood tropes as objects of terror, recently witnessing an extraordinarily successful resurgence with the adaptation of It, but this episode easily overcomes potential weariness through juggling these elements with thematic material in a manner that for once seems on point.


I’m presuming the trial by Twitter of #MeToo wasn’t yet a thing when staff writer Benjamin Van Allen (another example of new blood doing the series prouder than the old hands) wrote the episode, but it’s easy to see the parallels when Mulder stops for a (probably Carter written) pondering on “What happened to the previous presumption of innocence?” before shining a light on how pederast Melvin Peter(Ken Godmere) has been “reconvicted for sins of the past with a fervour we see all too often in this American experience”.


I’m trying to think of a really good witchcraft episode hitherto in the series, but I’m not coming up with one; there was the poppets one (Theef), but that was merely so-so and was more a straight curse. There are also a few where child murder is a plot device, and if this one flirts with distastefulness, it manages to land on the right side, just about. The only disappointment with Familiar is how perfunctorily it’s wrapped up; dabbling in the black arts gone out of control on the part of Anna Strong (Erin Chambers) was probably an inevitable reveal given that the child killing precludes anyone with malicious intent towards them from the suspects who aren’t red herrings (although, Van Allen does a fine job juggling suspicions; it’s even possible to envisage Emily as the culprit, before she ends up a victim), but her flaming on in a rash of spontaneously combusting candles feels like a copout, however foreshadowed it is by an earlier conversation.


The highlight of the piece is the eerie presence of Mr Chuckleteeth with his sinister rhyme, a freakily inspired creation. Indeed, it’s difficult to conceive why any right-minded kid would want to follow him into the depths of the woods rather than be sincerely freaked out (as every kid who ever saw Jigsaw’s Mr Noseybonk, Van Allen’s inspiration, would attest they were). 


So too the Bibbletiggles (“She’s obsessed” explains Emily’s mother: “Well, who wouldn’t be?” deadpans Mulder), nightmarish versions of the already nightmarish Teletubbies, complete with devil’s horns and Whitley Streiber-esque features.


Mulder: I still don’t like it.
Scully: What’s not to like? I mean, you couldn’t dream up a more perfect suspect. He’s potentially Jon Wayne Gacy with a monkey.
Mulder: It’s too perfect. I don’t like perfect like that. It makes me uncomfortable.

But like all decent X-Files episodes, this stands out because it doesn’t falter or start freewheeling once it has established its intrigue. It’s always great to see Mulder with the bit between his teeth, knowing when he’s on to something and confident of his facts as his prognosis unfolds (his suspicions are confirmed as he unearths a salt circle in the woods; later he declares at the arraignment “There will be two injustices here. The death of an innocent man, and the release of a guilty officer”). And the small-town paranoia, with a subordinate officer warning “You ought to take a beat, chief” as Strong (Alex Carter) seems about to reveal all (except that he doesn’t know all, so what was that about?) underlines the disquiet.


If Familiar peaks at the point where Eggers (Jason Gray-Stanford) puts a bullet in Melvin’s head, just as you think the riot has been quelled, and the subsequent materialisations are a little par for the course, director Holly Dale keeps up the tension (another first time credit on the series). I have to admit I rather wanted Mulder to whip out some witchcraft lore to defend himself in the final scene, but as it happened there was no time for him and Scully to come under any influence.


Mulder: No, I wasn’t thinking wolf. I was thinking more like a hellhound.

Notable among supporting cast members is Roger Cross in his fifth appearance in the show playing his fifth different character; his association stretches all the way back to the first season. That must be some kind of record, outside of stuntmen. Almost all the really trad episodes since the series’ return have been faintly underwhelming, but despite some over-strenuous dialogue – always the show’s Achilles heel – Familiar more than recovers lost ground.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Dude. You’re my hero and shit.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was going to say I’d really like to see what Vince Gilligan has up his sleeve besidesBreaking Bad spinoffs. But then I saw that he had a short-lived series on CBS a few years back (Battle Creek). I guess things Breaking Bad-related ensure an easy greenlight, particularly from Netflix, for whom the original show was bread and butter in its take up as a streaming platform. There’s something slightly dispiriting about El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, though. Not that Gilligan felt the need to return to Jesse Pinkman – although the legitimacy of that motive is debatable – but the desire to re-enter and re-inhabit the period of the show itself, as if he’s unable to move on from a near-universally feted achievement and has to continually exhume it and pick it apart.

The past is a statement. The future is a question.

Justified Season Six
(SPOILERS) There have been more than enough damp squib or so-so show finales of late to have greeted the demise of Justified with some trepidation. Thankfully it avoids almost every pitfall it might have succumbed to and gives us a satisfying send-off that feels fitting for its characters. This is a series that, even at its weakest (the previous season) is leagues ahead of most fare in an increasingly saturated sphere, so it’s a relief – even if there was never much doubt on past form – that it doesn’t drop the ball.

And of those character fates? In a show that often pulls back from giving Raylan Givens the great hero moments (despite his maintaining a veneer of ultra-cool, and getting “supporting hero” moments as he does in the finale, 6.13 The Promise), it feels appropriate that his entire (stated) motivation for the season should be undermined. He doesn’t get to take down Boyd Crowder, except in an incarcerating sense, but as always he is sanguine about it. After…

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…

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.

It’s not every day you see a guy get his ass kicked on two continents – by himself.

Gemini Man (2019)
(SPOILERS) Ang Lee seems hellbent on sloughing down a technological cul-de-sac to the point of creative obscurity, in much the same way Robert Zemeckis enmired himself in the mirage of motion capture for a decade. Lee previously experimented with higher frame rates on Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, to the general aversion of those who saw it in its intended form – 48, 60 or 120 fps have generally gone down like a bag of cold sick, just ask Peter Jackson – and the complete indifference of most of the remaining audience, for whom the material held little lustre. Now he pretty much repeats that trick with Gemini Man. At best, it’s merely an “okay” film – not quite the bomb its Rotten Tomatoes score suggests – which, (as I saw it) stripped of its distracting frame rate and 3D, reveals itself as just about serviceable but afflicted by several insurmountable drawbacks.

You’re only seeing what’s in front of you. You’re not seeing what’s above you.

Mr. Robot Season 2
(SPOILERS) I suspect my problem with Mr. Robot may be that I want it to be something it isn’t, which would entail it being a much better show than it is. And that’s its own fault, really, or rather creator and writer-director of umpteen episodes Sam Esmail’s, who has intentionally and provocatively lured his audience into thinking this really is an up-to-the-minute, pertinent, relevant, zeitgeisty show, one that not only has a huge amount to say about the illusory nature of our socio-economic system, and consequently the bedrock of our collective paradigm, but also the thorny subject of reality itself, both of which have been variably enticing dramatic fodder since the Wachowski siblings and David Fincher released a one-two punch at the end of the previous millennium.

In that sense, Mr. Robot’s thematic conceit is very much of a piece with its narrative form; it’s a conjuring act, a series of sleights of hand designed to dazzle the viewer into going with the flow, rath…

What you do is very baller. You're very anarchist.

Lady Bird (2017)
(SPOILERS) You can see the Noah Baumbach influence on Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, with whom she collaborated on Frances Ha; an intimate, lo-fi, post-Woody Allen (as in, post-feted, respected Woody Allen) dramedy canvas that has traditionally been the New Yorker’s milieu. But as an adopted, spiritual New Yorker, I suspect Gerwig honourably qualifies, even as Lady Bird is a love letter/ nostalgia trip to her home city of Sacramento.

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.

You’ll just have to face it, Steed. You’re completely compromised.

The Avengers Season 6 Ranked – Worst to Best
The final run, and an oft-maligned one. It’s doubtful anyone could have filled Emma Peel’s kinky boots, but it didn’t help Linda Thorson that Tara King was frequently earmarked to moon over Steed while very evidentlynot being the equal Emma and Cathy were; the generation gap was never less than unflatteringly evident. Nevertheless, despite this imbalance, and the early hiccups of the John Bryce-produced episodes, Season Six arguably offers a superior selection of episodes to its predecessor, in which everyone became perhaps a little too relaxed.