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

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…

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…

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

No time to dilly-dally, Mr Wick.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)
(SPOILERS) At one point during John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, our eponymous hero announces he needs “Guns, lots of guns” in a knowing nod to Keanu Reeves’ other non-Bill & Ted franchise. It’s a cute moment, but it also points to the manner in which the picture, enormous fun as it undoubtedly is, is a slight step down for a franchise previously determined to outdo itself, giving way instead to something more self-conscious, less urgent and slightly fractured.

She worshipped that pig. And now she's become him.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)
(SPOILERS) Choosing to make The Girl in the Spider’s Web following the failure of the David Fincher film – well, not a failure per se, but like Blade Runner 2049, it simply cost far too much to justify its inevitably limited returns – was a very bizarre decision on MGM’s part. A decision to reboot, with a different cast, having no frame of reference for the rest of the trilogy unless you checked out the Swedish movies (or read the books, but who does that?); someone actually thought this would possibly do well? Evidently the same execs churning out desperately flailing remakes based on their back catalogue of IPs (Ben-Hur, The Magnificent Seven, Death Wish, Tomb Raider); occasionally there’s creative flair amid the dross (Creed, A Star is Born), but otherwise, it’s the most transparently creatively bankrupt studio there is.

Isn’t Johnnie simply too fantastic for words?

Suspicion (1941)
(SPOILERS) Suspicion found Alfred Hitchcock basking in the warm glow of Rebecca’s Best Picture Oscar victory the previous year (for which he received his first of five Best Director nominations, famously winning none of them). Not only that, another of his films, Foreign Correspondent, had jostled with Rebecca for attention. Suspicion was duly nominated itself, something that seems less unlikely now we’ve returned to as many as ten award nominees annually (numbers wouldn’t be reduced to five until 1945). And still more plausible, in and of itself, than his later and final Best Picture nod, Spellbound. Suspicion has a number of claims to eminent status, not least the casting of Cary Grant, if not quite against type, then playing on his charm as a duplicitous quality, but it ultimately falls at the hurdle of studio-mandated compromise.

I mean, I think anybody who looked at Fred, looked at somebody that they couldn't compare with anybody else.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018) 
(SPOILERS) I did, of course, know who Fred Rogers was, despite being British. Or rather, I knew his sublimely docile greeting song. How? The ‘Burbs, naturally. I was surprised, given the seeming unanimous praise it was receiving (and the boffo doco box office) that Won’t You Be My Neighbor? didn’t garner a Best Documentary Oscar nod, but now I think I can understand why. It’s as immensely likeable as Mr Rogers himself, yet it doesn’t feel very substantial.

I think, I ruminate, I plan.

The Avengers 6.5: Get-A-Way
Another very SF story, and another that recalls earlier stories, in this case 5.5: The See-Through Man, in which Steed states baldly “I don’t believe in invisible men”. He was right in that case, but he’d have to eat his bowler here. Or half of it, anyway. The intrigue of Get-A-Way derives from the question of how it is that Eastern Bloc spies have escaped incarceration, since it isn’t immediately announced that a “magic potion” is responsible. And if that reveal isn’t terribly convincing, Peter Bowles makes the most of his latest guest spot as Steed’s self-appointed nemesis Ezdorf.

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

She can't act, she can't sing, she can't dance. A triple threat.