UK TV review: The X-Files Season 10 (2016), Episode 3 (Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster)
James R | On 22, Feb 2016
When a show is brought back for a limited series, it’s hard to know what it should be; exactly the same as the old days or something self-aware and new? The X-Files’ 2016 reboot has been a typically uneven affair, with Episode 1 feeling enjoyably nostalgic – and full of nudge-wink references – and Episode 2 feeling old-school in the most dated way possible. Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster, though, gets the balance just right.
The secret lies in the only two words to get fans more excited than “Mulder” and “Scully”: Darin Morgan. Morgan has only contributed five previous episodes to the show, but he made a lasting impact. With Humbug’s parade of sideshow freaks, he joined writer Vince Gilligan in realising The X-Files’ dormant sense of humour, and with Clyde Bruckman’s FInal Repose, he merged humour with tender emotion to spectacular effect. Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster is another gem.
Morgan’s comedy has always been on the knowing side of The X-Files spectrum, debunking the mysterious in favour of the absurdity of real life – the truth was out there, yes, but it was normally just the fact that people are weird. It was the perfect antidote to Mulder’s earnest belief in everything paranormal, balancing out the show’s more laughable moments to create something both self-aware and subtly convincing. After all, the ability to laugh at how daft alien abduction sounds makes any crackpot seem less crazy.
Here, that deconstructive streak works to the opposite effect: now, Mulder is the one of the pair who is busy trying to debunk everything he once fastidiously bought into; he and Morgan, for once, are as post-modern as each other.
“Yeah, this is how I like my Mulder,” comments Scully at one point, and it’s hard not to agree – becaus this is the episode where the deflated, modern-day Fox gets to relax. David Duchovny’s dry delivery has always been an unsuspected font of comedy – and it proves as surprising as ever, as he lounges around a cemetery, drinking, making wild statements and looking like he’s just discovered what cheese on toast is. Gillian Anderson is, naturally, the perfect partner for him, able to both encourage and endorse his soul-searching while still rebuking him for being ridiculous. She’s the believer of the two now, but the dynamic isn’t that clear-cut; it’s more that she’s the sceptical one who questions his scepticism.
It’s that kind of balance that Morgan excels at – and it’s summed up brilliantly in Guy Man (Rhys Darby), who emerges as the chief suspect for a string of murders that appear to involve bite marks and full moons. Werewolves? No, decides Mulder. It’s more likely wolves or mountain lions. The fact that most of the witnesses seem to have been abusing substances or otherwise compromised in their accounts of the beast that attacked them doesn’t make the legendary creature any more believable. Even the safari ranger-type Pasha (Kumail Nanjiani) seems a little too eccentric for a normal person.
Man is the epitome of that everyday eeriness and Darby sits alongside the great guest stars in The X-Files’ canon. He splutters his lines more than speaks them – a preposterous delivery that made Murray in Flight of the Conchords seem ludicrously uptight and here, makes Guy seem unsure of anything he’s doing. There’s a hilarious thrill to not knowing what he’s going to say next – made even more so by the fact that he doesn’t seem to either. He relates accounts of his movements during the crimes with a deadpan astonishment – the way he tells it, everything from pet dogs to employment seem incredulous.
It’s a masterful subversion of the myth the title conjures up; while we go in expecting stories of hairy transformations and silver bullets, we end up with a confused, middle-aged bloke rambling and clutching a green bottle. But just as with Mulder and his debunked theories in Morgan’s previous episode, that undermining only makes Guy Man and the bizarre mythology that comes with him seem more realistic – by subverting the new Mulder’s stance, Morgan, perhaps for the first time, endorses the Mulder of old. There’s a recognised harmony between Fox’s weary attitude to life and Morgan’s logical perspective, both embracing the old man behind the curtain of magic, but both also beginning to buy into the magic too – 20 years on from Fox’s frantic, youthful investigations, life doesn’t turn out the way we want it to, but it’s also something wonderfully weird. (Even the mention a transgender witness, which Fox seems initially riled by – he remains the butt of the joke, not the trans community – becomes something that he embraces as commonplace.)
It’s a fascinatingly layered approach to The X-Files that captures both 21st century cynicism and the fevered conspiracies of the 1990s. But for all the nuance, mature character development and fantastical goings-on, it’s also got something else that made the best The X-Files episodes so good: it remembers how to enjoy itself. Even the title is the kind of thing you’d find in an Alvin and the Chipmunks movie. “I forgot how much fun these cases could be,” observes Scully at one point. Then they get back to work.
At the halfway point of this new run of The X-Files, it seems unlikely that it will ever reach the heights of the show’s peak – but then why should it? Episode 3 is a perfectly positioned reminder, just when people might tune out, that things don’t always have to be what we expect them to be. There are episodes of this reboot that feel dated and episodes that feel like knowing throwbacks. Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster feels like a modern classic.
Season 10 of The X-Files (2016) is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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