Warning: This contains spoilers.
The X-Files’ 11th season has been an enjoyable blend of absurd retcons and attempts to break new ground. For those who were deterred by last episode’s near-silent technophobic comedy, genuinely unlike any other episode of Chris Carter’s long-running sci-fi series, Familiar will be much more… familiar.
The episode takes us, in time-honoured fashion, to a remote community in the middle of Connecticut, where a boy has gone missing in the woods. It’s the kind of scenario that needs little introduction to modern TV viewers – missing children are rife on our screens, from Save Me to Missing, and there’s a real emotional trauma that goes with such a loss. If the notion of a small village torn apart by the grief and suspicion that accompanies such an event recalls Broadchurch, though, The X-Files quickly reminds us that this is a long way from that; we immediately see the cause of the boys’ disappearance, and it seems to involve a life-sized version of “Mr. Chuckleteeth”, perhaps the freakiest kids’ TV character you’ve ever seen.
Is someone dressing up as Mr. Chuckleteeth and luring children away? That’s the kind of logic that sets in, as the young boy’s mother, Diane, is frantically trying to find where her son as gone to. His dad, Rick, meanwhile, is a policeman, which means that the child’s brutal murder automatically calls in the FBI. And so Mulder and Scully take their signature approaches to the mystery: Mulder suggests some kind of beast, while Scully is more taken with the scientific evidence that the boy was shaken to death, likely to have been carried out by a human than a demonic predator.
A possible suspect looms in the form of Melvin, a man who is on the convicted sex offender register and also has a history of working as a clown at children’s parties. That news soon gets around and the community swiftly decides he’s their culprit. The result is a depiction of mob mentality that leads Mulder to deliver a timely lecture on the importance of the legal process, and the American value of being innocent until proven guilty – unfortunately, while it’s a general truth worth remembering in life, such talk inevitably carries connotations of the #MeToo movement currently sweeping society, a vital and important cause that its detractors try to dismiss as a “witch-hunt”.
The idea that Fox Mulder, a man scarred by his own past grief, would be on the side of the accused, not the victim, rankles as much as the unfortunate timing of his witch-hunt defence. It helps, though, that because this is The X-Files, any mention of a witch-hunt automatically comes with the potential of the word “witch” being meant literally. There’s a missed opportunity, perhaps, to go further with the plot than a mere commentary on trial by hearsay, with the underlying theme of trying to find William shaping this season – a brief aside about Mulder having a child who’s grown-up gives David Duchovny something more rewarding to sink his teeth into. But if this is the most standalone case-of-the-week case of the season so far, there’s a refreshing quality to being able to just enjoy The X-Files on undemanding auto-pilot. Gillian Anderson, for one, is clearly enjoying the knowingly daft dialogue, as our duo go through the usual motions and weigh up the weird evidence, and things escalate into a satisfyingly fiery conclusion. The result is far from a classic chapter in Season 11, let alone The X-Files as a whole, but it’s a spooky, quick-paced hour that genuinely leaves a creepy impression. Who says familiar is a bad thing?
Episode 8 of The X-Files Season 11 is available on My5 until 19th April 2018