One of the most enduring traditions on the “X-Files” has been self-parody. If parody is not the right word, then it is a continual self-awareness. It was a staple of the best moments of the Mulder-Scully era, producing some of the most oft-quoted lines of dialogue…especially when they were designed to stir up the passions of those aching for the latest double entendre. In the later seasons of that era, this tradition often stepped too close to the line, even leaping over it without looking back. But in the last couple years, this has not been utilized often, and certainly not as well as in this episode.
The premise is fairly well-worn…a child with the power to create whatever his imagination can conceive, based on the power of his fear, winds up causing the death of his beloved pet and then his mother. The father desperately tries to force the child to face his fears, unwilling to recognize that the child has already learned to enjoy his developing abilities. Enter the agents on the X-Files, and hilarity ensues.
If that had been the extent of the episode, it would have been a weak offering at best. Sure, there were scary parts, but the premise was obvious before the end of the first act, and it really amounted to how the agents would get themselves out of trouble. There was also a subplot involving Scully, which ultimately went nowhere, and would have been a waste of time. However, the episode was also written as the flipside to last season’s “Alone”, a mild send-up of fan commentary itself. This time, the commentary is a little more biting, and there are some amusing analogies drawn between the child in this episode and Chris Carter himself.
This episode marks the return of Agent Harrison, a character from “Alone” which stood as a tribute to a fan that died shortly before the episode script was finalized. Agent Harrison was a wide-eyed young woman from accounting who was paired with Agent Doggett in his first case without Scully, and her inexperience was only matched by her fannish knowledge of the previous X-Files. The episode was mostly a walk down memory lane, a nice way to bring the series to a close, if that had indeed been the final season. It wasn’t, of course, but her return in this episode serves largely the same purpose.
Scully’s subplot in this episode is used to highlight the absurdity of her continued presence post-“Existence”, juggling the demands of motherhood with the bizarre needs of the X-Files. She initially gets contacted with the possible case by Agent Harrison, and from that moment on, her attempts to stay out of the situation are repeatedly dashed. Though it goes nowhere in terms of plot resolution, it is easily the source of the most entertaining moments in the episode.
Along the way, we get a very nice example of how Agent Doggett can be willing to entertain certain paranormal notions, but that is a long way from acceptance or belief. Indeed, for once, his inability to completely believe in the bizarre happenings around him serves everyone well. It could have been played very seriously, and for that matter, it might be as we see the series come to a close. But here it works very well, and leads to an ultimate conclusion where Doggett understands how to use a “suspect” and his belief system against him.
Some of the more rabid Mulder-Scully Era fans might take a little offense along the way, but in retrospect, this episode says things that needed to be said. No matter how well drawn the characters of Doggett and Reyes might be (and there’s plenty of debate on that, I know), they will always live in the shadow of Mulder and Scully…and this is reflected in Harrison’s repeated attempts to compare the new with the old. Doggett’s weariness over such comparisons echoes the attitude of his fans, as does the flippant commentary regarding Mulder from Harrison’s love interest. Still, it must be noted that the script still manages to give more than a little credit to Mulder and Scully along the way, honestly pointing out that their legacy is impossible to live up to, but pointing out that perhaps it never should have been attempted. (In other words, the new characters ought to have been allowed to stand on their own two feet.)
This episode also stands as a bizarre and clever commentary on Chris Carter. Certainly Tommy is meant to represent Carter, where his strange and frightening imagination leads to something with a life of its own. In a certain sense, this is also a comment on the fans, because Carter’s conceptions are more real than reality for some fans, consuming them as completely as the monsters in this episode threatened to consume Monica. Taken that way, we see that Doggett’s acknowledgment of the situation, matched with his underlying sense of what is “real”, depicts a more ideal version of fandom in the eyes of 1013.
It’s also more than a little ironic that the easiest way to keep Tommy’s fevered imagination from spiraling out of control is to sit him in front of endless hours of television…perhaps another commentary on fans! Imagine how interesting it would be if some of the more negatively outspoken fans were to channel that attitude into creations of their own, rather than cutting down the efforts of others. It’s an old argument, certainly, but a valid one. It’s also a funny reference to Carter’s constant references to all of the television shows he watched as a child!
While I prefer my “X-Files” either endlessly filled with angst, conspiracy, and complexity or absurdity, I do appreciate a well-crafted and balanced episode that delivers the dark material along with a cynical bite. This episode is the first in a long time to provide that balance, and it’s good to see it air this close to the end of the season. Sure, this episode was originally meant for earlier in the season, but it fits perfectly right where it is.
Some other thoughts:
- Needless to say, this is not an episode to watch with the young children before bed.
- Even though she is a bit annoying, it was good to see Agent Harrison again.
- The only other episode written by Schnauz that I can recall is “Lord of the Flies”, so this stands as a much better effort, in my view. Too bad he won’t have the chance to continue on this series.
- “Spanky”? There’s got to be one hell of a story behind that name…
- Not to belabor a point too much, but once again…not an actual X-File! That makes 1 out of 14 episodes this year where the case was an X-File from the get-go.
- “How’d ya spend your Friday night, John? Riding around like an idiot…”
- Anyone else remember Tommy when he played Samuel on “Roswell”, back during the holidays?
- Tommy’s father was also very familiar, but I can’t remember where I’ve seen him before. If nothing else, he bears a striking resemblance to Michael O’Hare.
- I was laughing hysterically at Scully’s reaction to Spanky!
- Um…snow? In Pennsylvania? This year? That’s an X-File, right there…it’s pushing 90 in April!
- “I don’t know about Agent Reyes, but Agent Doggett’s gonna sit his tired ass down…”
- Gee, those were some interesting little CGI critters…
- Maybe Scully should quit the Bureau, shack up with Mulder, and offer at-home autopsies. But she’d have to do it wearing that apron!
- “Mulder and Scully, Scully and Mulder…blah, blah, blah…”
- Ya think Ma Scully is going to come by with an itemized bill one of these days? She’s gotta be racking up the daycare hours!
- Interesting line: “Because I couldn’t believe in it, not really…it couldn’t hurt me.” Nice metaphor for the whole Luke situation!
- Nice shot with the fire, especially when you could see the unspoken battle of wills between Tommy and Doggett.
Overall, this was a very enjoyable and balanced episode. It gave us the scares, the humor, and the layered commentary that we had come to expect from the series. With only five episodes to go, it’s the perfect time for 1013 to be giving the series a good bit of resolution, even if it’s more metaphorical than actual.
I give it an 8/10.
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