Now we’re talking! If the new season of ‘The X Files’ underwhelmed at first, the third episode is an instant classic that justifies the entire revival.
‘Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-monster’ was written and directed by Darin Morgan, the loopy genius who wrote several of the original show’s very best episodes. Namely: ‘Humbug’ (season 2), ‘Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose’, ‘War of the Coprophages’, and ‘Jose Chung’s From Outer Space’ (all season 3). He also wrote a couple great episodes of Chris Carter’s ‘Millennium’. All of Morgan’s episodes immediately stand out for their use of quirky dark comedy, twisty multi-layered narratives, and snappy character interactions. The Clyde Bruckman episode won Emmys for both Morgan and guest star Peter Boyle, and is frequently cited as many fans’ single favorite episode.
The new entry opens with a cameo appearance by a pair of stoner losers (Tyler Labine and Nicole Parker-Smith) previously featured in a couple of Season 3 episodes (including the Coprophages ep). Huffing paint by a swamp, they happen upon what looks like a lizard man attacking two people. The strange creature runs away when it sees them. One of the victims is dead, but the other – an animal control officer played by Kumail Nanjiani – survives unharmed.
Sitting in his old office, Fox Mulder is depressed. Many of the old mysteries he obsessed over in the past have been debunked as hoaxes in the meantime. “Much of the unexplained has been explained,” he laments. He’s left doubting his entire belief system. Scully perks him up when she announces that they have a new case, and it involves a monster.
Mulder and Scully arrive at the scene and find a total of three mutilated corpses. Mulder is skeptical that they were really attacked by a monster rather than just a regular human being. Scully calls this his “questioning phase.” The animal control officer claims that he was knocked unconscious and didn’t see anything.
At a nearby truckstop, Scully and Mulder question a transgendered hooker who says that she fended off the monster by hitting it with her purse. She confirms the lizard-man description, but adds the peculiar detail that it was wearing tighty-whitey underwear.
Hearing screams nearby, Mulder chases after the monster. Determined to get a photo of it, he fumbles with the camera app on his phone and only gets a bunch of blurry shots. Mulder follows the creature to a porta-potty and throws open the door, but only finds an odd man inside (Rhys Darby from ‘Flight of the Conchords’).
That night, Mulder hears more screaming at his motel. In the room where the sounds came from, he finds a medicine bottle. He also discovers a hidden passage behind one of the walls that opens onto a secret hallway with peepholes into all of the rooms, including his own. The hallway leads to the motel office, where the drunken manager makes excuses about the passage being a “security feature.” Mulder isn’t interested in his perversions; he just wants to know about the screaming. The manager admits that he was spying into the room when he saw a man turn into a lizard creature before his eyes. He screamed at the sight, revealing the hallway to the monster. His description of the creature’s human form sounds a lot like the guy from the porta-potty.
Mulder is officially excited. He rattles off a bunch of crazy theories about genetic experiments and government cover-ups. Scully remarks that, “This is how I like my Mulder.” She’s glad to have him back. Me too!
The prescription on the medicine bottle leads Mulder to a kooky psychiatrist who tells him about a patient with the obviously fake name Guy Mann. The patient suffered delusions of being a lizard monster. The shrink prescribed him some anti-anxiety meds and recommended that he take long walks through the cemetery to ponder his mortality.
Scully calls Mulder to tell him that she found the man from the porta-potty working in a cell phone store with the hilarious name “Smart Phones Is Us.” Mulder tells her to stay put, but she decides to go in and question the man anyway. By the time Mulder gets there, the store is a wreck. Scully is fine. She says that as soon as she went up to the man, he threw over a display table, announced he was quitting, and stormed out for no reason.
Following a hunch, Mulder heads to the cemetery. (A couple of the tombstones provide a nice tribute to former ‘X Files’ director Kim Manners and assistant director Jack Hardy, both of whom have since passed away) Sure enough, Mulder finds Guy Mann there drinking and feeling sorry for himself. He doesn’t seem at all dangerous. In fact, he talks about wanting to end his own life. When Mulder reveals that he’s an FBI agent investigating the recent murders, Mann half-assedly pretends to attack him, but it’s clear that he really just wants Mulder to kill him. Mulder won’t play along. At this point, he’s just kind of perplexed by the whole situation and wants to hear the guy’s story.
Mann launches into a tale beyond belief. He claims that he’s always been a harmless lizard man living in the swamp. One day, while he was lounging about minding his own business, a strange human hauling a corpse through the swamp ran up and bit him on the neck. Afterwards, he found himself transformed into a human being. Yes, he’s a were-human! In his new form, he’s overwhelmed by strange compulsions he can’t control – such as wearing clothes, and getting a job, and adopting a puppy. Although he reverts to his lizard form at night, it’s short-lived and he turns back into a human every morning. It’s terrible! He just wants this awful curse to end!
When he gets to the part about working in the phone store, he says that a beautiful woman (Scully) walked in and seduced him and had sex with him in the back room. Mulder throws up his hand. “That did not happen,” he says. That part’s clearly a fantasy. Is all of this guy’s story pure delusion? He must be nuts, right?
Guy Mann insists that he never killed anyone. He doesn’t eat meat. He’s an insectivore, but nobody cares about insects. “What kind of a monster do you think I am?” he asks.
While Mulder tries to process this, Mann runs off. Rather than chase after him, Mulder takes one of his bottles of whiskey and gets drunk.
Mulder wakes up later to his phone ringing. (His ring tone is the ‘X Files’ theme music!) It’s Scully calling. She’s at the animal control office following a separate lead. While she fawns over a puppy that reminds her of her old dog Queequeg (it’s Mann’s puppy Daggoo), the animal control officer from earlier attacks her. Mulder hears the commotion on the phone and immediately calls the local police. He then races to the pound, only to find that Scully has the situation well in hand.
The animal control officer is just a regular ol’ crazy serial killer, nothing supernatural about him. Scully subdued and arrested him, no problem. Case closed.
(Scully takes the dog for herself.)
Mulder later runs into Guy Mann again. He says that he’s going into hibernation and hopes the curse will break by the time he wakes up. When Mulder asks how long the hibernation will be, Mann does some rough calculating in his head and says about 10,000 years. Mulder, still doubtful, tells him that “I want to believe.” Suddenly, Guy Mann transforms into a lizard before his eyes and runs off.
Mulder is ecstatic. He can believe the unbelievable again.
This is a fantastic episode. It’s hilariously funny, and smart, deeply layered and complex. The character relationships are pitch perfect. The episode is also loaded with easter eggs, both to the old show and also some of its famous influences. (Guy Mann’s wardrobe is modeled after the suit and hat Darren McGavin wore in the 1970s ‘Kolchak: The Night Stalker’ series, for one thing.)
This is prime ‘X Files’ and I love it. Even if the remaining episodes this season turn out to be total dogs, I’ll forgive the show anything for giving me this little slice of perfection.