The X-Files, in its original run in the 90s through the early 00s, was a classic of television, considered one of the greatest shows of all time. And that is absolutely accurate. Unlike modern television shows, where a show like Breaking Bad (Vince Gilligan learning a thing or two from his time on the X-Files) tells basically one long story divided up into chapters, or one long character study, the X-Files had two strengths: It told a long-form narrative story about government corruption and alien existence, and then it also told absolutely self-contained stories. The two different episodes were known as “Mythology” episodes and then there were “Monster of the Week” episodes.
And again, comparing X-Files to something like Breaking Bad, Breaking Bad is the better show because of its sheer consistency. Every episodes of Breaking Bad is uniformly great—every episode achieving the same level of excellence, with peaks here and there, where some episodes were standouts of a particular kind of achievement. The X-Files, on the other hand, was a mostly above-average television show, with some real stinkers… but the difference is that the great episodes of the X-Files weren’t just great in terms of the show and its self-contained universe, but the absolute whole of television and, hell, a great episode of the X-Files was better than most movies. Any given James Wong and Glen Morgan episode of the show (Home, Die Hand Die Verletzt, etc.) would be just as appropriate to throw on during a dark Halloween night as it would be throw on something like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Rosemary’s Baby.
Some of the greatest episodes of the series’ entire run were written Darin Morgan (brother of Glen). What Darin specialized in with his scripted episodes of the X-Files was to take the show as we know it, and then dissect it completely. He would take the characters we know and love, and tear them down to their essential, skeletal frames as absolute caricatures of their former selves. And then, he would do the same thing to the actual formula and plotting of the world that the show takes place in. From there, his stories would rebuild and reconstruct the show, with an interesting twist and a unique spin on the mythology we’re all accustomed to. An episode like Jose Chung’s From Outer Space is a deconstruction and a re-construction of the idea alien abductions, taking the silliness inherent in scrutinizing details to such a degree and creating a commentary on reality being paper thin. War of the Coprophages is all about Mulder and Scully’s relationship and total dependency on each other.
When I found out that Darin Morgan was going to be writing Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster for the X-Files’ limited, 6-episode return to FOX, I think I jumped up and clicked my heels. Just as he’s done before, he’s torn down an idea in order to resurrect it. With Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster, Mulder is seen as no longer relevant in a world where anything can be Googled from a pocket-sized device at any time. When Mulder would once describe an ancient monster just from historical knowledge from his own obsession, he was a unique individual. Today, literally anyone can be a Mulder. Just plug in a keyword search and you, too, can go on a long rant about cryptids being found by conquistadors. Mulder no longer feels relevant because, really, in today’s world, he just isn’t. An Agent Mulder is a dime a dozen, these days.
But no Mulder is complete without their Scully. In a world seeking relevancy, the most important aspects to its points are its counter-points. Scully, on the other hand, is quite adept at handling the situation she’s thrust into. She has no crisis of faith. On the contrary, she feels invigorated. She teases Mulder into compiling actual clues in order to perform actual policework. Sure, he has theories, but let’s just focus on the case and see where it leads us, okay?
The story here is a classic “Monster of the Week” with a classic Darin Morgan twist, subverting our expectations completely. What we have here is a man who becomes a giant lizard when the moon glows in the night sky. Or, is he a giant lizard creature that becomes a man when the sun rises in the morning? According to him, he’s a monster trapped in a man’s body, and he hates being human. Is he delusional or is he correct? The answer doesn’t matter, because his insistence is the entire point of the episode and holds a magnifying glass up to humanity and studies it for all its absolute absurdity. A “werewolf” makes sense because a man becomes a wolf and acts out in bestial way. A “were-human” is hilarious because so much of our nature is societal and has nothing to do with primal instinct… it’s all a manufactured construct. To see something acting out in that construct and struggling is always going to be funny. It’s like a truncated, sillier version of Vonnegut’s thesis in Breakfast of Champions.
When I saw the pilot episode of the limited 10th season of the X-Files last week, I have to admit how disappointed I was. It was rushed… it was clunky… aesthetically, it was sort of ugly. It seemed just like every other attempt to revitalize something a decade too late. But, with this week and last week’s episode, I’m absolutely happy to have been proven wrong. The X-Files have always been like comfort food to me. Even the ugliest episodes are just comforting somehow, there’s something about the score and the hushed voices that are spoken. And it’s proudly intelligent. It’s just great television, and I’m glad that it’s returned to form. It’s nostalgia without coasting on its reputation or resting on its laurels; it’s reinventing itself and showing how, if anything, the ongoing investigations of Mulder and Scully are even more relevant today than they were twenty years ago. In an era of such government mistrust and presidential races looking as buffoonish as they are, and declassified information being made public, the X-Files have a point to be made today. The truth is still out there, and in an age of unprecedented access to knowledge and truth, it’s still being hidden and obfuscated by powerful forces.