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Scully struggles with the little questions on The X-Files

Illustration for article titled Scully struggles with the little questions on The X-Files
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I’m not sure exactly how to explain how little I care about Scully and Mulder’s child. Intellectually, I get how this could be a useful, and powerful, story hook. It underlines how much our heroes’ quest has unsettled their personal lives, and serves as a constant reminder of what they’ve sacrificed; William binds Mulder and Scully together, and the horror of losing a child is something that most of us can relate to, even if we don’t have to worry about giving one up for adoption to protect him from a government conspiracy. And yet, I do not care. Gillian Anderson acts the hell out of “Home Again,” but every time we pause to hear her lament her missing son, the episode sinks into a quagmire from which it never entirely recovers.

It doesn’t help that the nominal central plot of the hour, the latest monster of the week, is a weak one, suffering from the sloppiness and underwriting that plagued the show in its later seasons. The concept is certainly striking enough: a hulking avatar of the homeless, barefoot and clad in rags, travels via painting and dump truck to murder the rich and callous. Each attack sequence (there are four of them) plays with the same winking brutality that provided The X-Files with its greatest scares, and while familiarity has robbed them of some of their power, it’s still fun to see idiots getting torn apart by supernatural nasties.

The problem is that there’s no real second step to any of this, no deeper understanding of the monster that changes our perspective or makes it more intimately disturbing. Mulder and Scully eventually track down the creature’s creator, a street artist who was looking to make something that would give the city of Philadelphia’s downtrodden and suffering a voice. So he did. And now it kills people. That’s pretty much it. There’s a cool moment where Mulder and Scully stumble across one of the man’s half-alive creations in a darkened hallway, but apart from that, there’s no explanation given as to why any of this is happening beyond the obvious.

Plausibility isn’t the issue here; I’m willing to accept just about anything is possible in The X-Files universe. But the premise feels like a half-considered idea someone picked up and never bothered to develop. The creature itself is visually striking, and there are moments of dark, rudimentary wit in its behavior, but that wit never extends to the actual story. We meet a bunch of selfish people who probably don’t deserve to die, but who you don’t really mind seeing dead. They get killed, and we move on.

Mulder and Scully have no real impact on events, and while that’s not a new turn for the show, it robs the case of any serious urgency. Even Mulder seems to be feeling the pointlessness of it all; his aggressive dismissal of two squabbling (and doomed) potential victims is one of the hour’s better gags. The moments of self-awareness sprinkled throughout help to elevate this from a complete snooze, but it’s disappointing that this awareness couldn’t have translated into something more interesting in the actual plot.

But I’m only talking about half the episode here. The other half is harder to dismiss out of hand. Early in the story, Scully gets a call from her brother William, and learns that her mother is in the hospital. Mrs. Scully isn’t long for the world, so what follows is a lot of angst from Dana over questions she’ll never have answered, and a lot of worry about her younger brother Charlie, and, eventually, the absent William, Jr.


Some of this works. Anderson is a great actress, and both she and Duchovny commit to the realness of the situation in a way that gives it weight. The melodrama is laid on fairly thick, though, and it’s questionable if this is the best way to spend the limited time available to this six episode season. As a meditation on the frustratingly inarticulate nature of death, it has its moments, but those moments never fit well with the broader, more overtly horrific murder story happening back in Philadelphia. The one time Glenn Morgan does try to connect the two plots, giving Scully a speech about the responsibility of parents in response to the street artist’s efforts to deny guilt over the monster attacks, has the all the convoluted desperation of a three a.m. term paper thesis.

Eventually it all comes back to William. Mrs. Scully dies, and the final scene is Mulder and Scully sitting together on a beach with the lady’s ashes, Scully mourning both her mother and the choices she’s made and what’s she’s had to give up. I want to be moved by this, but the problem with using an absent child as an emotional placeholder is that I have no connection with the kid to make me wonder about him. I can see Mrs. Scully and watch her die, and be sad about that. I can see Scully and Mulder are upset, and I care about that. But William himself is a cipher.


And yet, as I said with the pilot, there’s still considerable pleasure in this. The novelty of seeing Mulder and Scully fighting (or failing to fight, as the case may be) unnatural crime remains a delight, and the few moments when both characters are allowed to acknowledge the absurdity of their situation does more to endear us to them than hours of forced despair. There are moments of quiet beauty in “Home Again,” and the death of Scully’s mother is big enough even to warrant some screen time. But the end result, while watchable, doesn’t live up to its ambitions.

Stray observations

  • A cursory Google search indicates that Charlie Scully was on the show once, but briefly; I don’t remember his estrangement ever coming up before.
  • Alessandro Juliani has a cameo as the Band-Aid Nose Man’s (terrible name, neat visual) first victim, so I guess whoever’s doing the casting this season is a Battlestar Galactica fan.
  • “Who knew you could make so much money off the homeless?” -one of the art thieves just before death. Unfortunately he didn’t have time to add, “It’s a good thing no one will ever punish us for our crimes!”
  • “You’re a dark wizard, Mulder.” -Scully. Man, those two. I don’t care how bad this show gets, I could watch those two forever.
  • “I don’t care about the big questions right now, Mulder. I just want a chance to ask my mother a few of the little ones.”
  • “Mulder, back in the day I used to do stairs and three inch heels.”
  • “Scully, back in the day is now.”
  • “I want to believe—I need to believe—that we didn’t treat him like trash.” It’s a bit obvious, but this is a strong closing line, and it’s so good it almost makes me reconsider the rest of the episode.