A full moon brings out all the crazies, as proven by the opening sequence of the latest X-Files. There is the familiar pair of huffing stoners. There is the scaly monster with a seemingly murderous taste for human flesh. And behind the scenes, there is Darin Morgan one of the series' finest writers, returning after a long hiatus to give us the sublime, and aptly named, "Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster."
The episode fully exhibits the alternately sardonic and melancholic perspective that Morgan cultivated in such peak X-Files installments as "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" and "Jose Chung's From Outer Space." (To say nothing of his two astonishing, thematically dense writing-directing efforts — "Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense" and "Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me" — on creator Chris Carter's sister series Millennium.) This is the first time Morgan has directed one of his scripts for The X-Files, and his loping, leisurely rhythms pair beautifully with this tale of a beast who discovers, quite accidentally, how absurd it is to be human.
The ludicrousness of life is exactly what FBI special agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) is pondering right before this strange case crosses his desk. He's looking through old case files in his basement office, distraught at how mistaken his paranormal-leaning perspective tended to be. "It's amazing going through these archives with fresh, if not wiser eyes," Mulder says to his amused partner, Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), who openly wonders if he's been taking his medication. An exasperated Mulder then invokes the writer Charles Fort, who researched unexplained phenomena and, at the end of his life, wondered whether his work had been worth it or a complete waste of time.
"I'm a middle-aged man, Scully," Mulder says. "Is this really how I want to spend the rest of my days? Chasing after monsters?" A half-smiling Scully eyes him silently, then says, "We've been given another case, Mulder. It has a monster in it." No surprise, Mulder's inner child can't help but come gleefully alive. The agents are soon in the Oregon woods, investigating the case of a man-eating, blood-squirting, red-eyed lizard-monster.
Except that's totally not what's going on, despite many claims from a rogues' gallery of witnesses. The piecemeal clues are preposterous: Does the creature have three eyes or only one? Does it really — per a transgender prostitute (D.J. "Shangela" Pierce) at the local truck stop — wear tighty-whities? What about the Peeping Tom motel owner (Alex Diakun) who swears he saw the monster in human form? Or how about the vaguely Transylvanian psychiatrist (Richard Newman) who says he's been treating the monster for various emotional ailments? "Not everything can be reduced to psychology," Mulder says to this quack headshrinker. "That's what you think," the doc replies.
How true that sentiment is: In one of the episode's funniest and most incisive scenes, Mulder paces back and forth in front of Scully, talking out multiple theories about the case, as well as what he expects her rebuttals will be. She can't get a word in edgewise, but still seems elated by her partner's pathetic and comical display. "Yeah, this is how I like my Mulder," she says. This is their relationship in a nutshell — two people forever arguing, but all the more alive because of it. "So you're agreeing with me?" a confused Mulder finally asks. "No!" Scully shouts. "You're bat-crap crazy!"
Perhaps not so crazy, though, as the story Mulder finally gets when he approaches the lizard-monster in the local cemetery. It turns out he's not a man who turns into a monster. In a classic Darin Morgan twist, he's a monster who turns into a man. In human form, the creature assumes the hilarious nom de guerre Guy Mann, and he's played — with a brilliant mix of exasperation and desperation — by Flight of the Conchords co-star Rhys Darby. An entire act is dedicated to Mann's gut-busting and mortifying story. It plays like a companion piece to a sequence in Morgan's Millennium episode, "Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me," in which an office drone goes depressively about his day until life's little annoyances drive him to kill himself. (It's really funny, I swear.)
Since Mann isn't actually human, his emotional displeasure is more instinctual than anything else. He knows what people are supposed to do: Cover up their naked bodies, find jobs so they can pay their mortgages, keep pets to counter their loneliness. But because Mann is still a lizard at heart, he finds human behavior to be ridiculous at best and barbaric at worst. "Life's hopeless," he says. "A few fleeting moments of happiness surrounded by crushing loss and grief." This is Morgan at his finest, exploring the senselessness of existence with a potent mix of playfulness and pathos. (Again: It's really funny, I swear.)
"I'm just looking for some kind of internal logic," Mulder says, as the non-man-eating, blood-squirting, red-eyed, shape-shifting, lizard-monster's tale becomes increasingly labyrinthine. "Why?" Mann replies, "There isn't an external logic to any of it." This exchange might be Morgan's way of commenting on the very show for which he's writing. For better or for worse, The X-Files thrives on impenetrable narratives that can never be neatly decoded, which act as a contrast to the emotional clarity of Mulder and Scully's relationship.
That's why Mann's story is most intelligible when he tells his biggest lie: that he got hot-and-heavy with Scully earlier in the day. (It cannot be overstated how hilarious the resulting fantasy sequence is, especially watching Gillian Anderson as she gleefully plays the busty tramp.) "Stop!" Mulder says in the midst of Mann's exaggerated reverie. "That … did not happen." This is Mulder's only certainty, though he's also fairly convinced that Mann isn't a flesh-eating killer.
It takes Scully to solve the case, though. The real culprit is the animal-control employee, Pasha (X-Files superfan Kumail Nanjiani), who's been lurking in the background the entire time. It was Pasha's bite that made Mann transform from lizard to human, and he's the one who's been toothily ripping out the throats of the Oregon locals. Morgan even sets up a classic Scully-in-peril scenario that's immediately defused: A panicked Mulder arrives at the animal-control center, only to find that Scully already bested the villain and barely broke a sweat doing it. "You forget," she says to her gently admonishing partner, "I'm immortal." (More on that in the bullet points.)
Mulder then seeks out Mann one last time, just before he goes into a 10,000-year hibernation, during which he hopes the human-transformation curse will wear off. Morgan's episodes tend to end on a sarcastic or downbeat note, and it makes sense to expect as much here. (His last installment for The X-Files was season three's "Jose Chung's From Outer Space," which concluded with the bleak line, "We are all … alone.") However, he pivots in interesting ways with the finale of "Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster." It seems like age has somewhat mellowed Morgan, even if it hasn't dulled his satirical sting.
There are a few caustic digs, of course, like Mann expressing his contempt for ties as a wardrobe accessory, and Mulder's priceless look of discomfort when Mann strips off every last piece of his clothing, tighty-whities included. But there's also a lovely sense that something profound has come to pass. The human who keeps chasing monsters and the monster who just wants to avoid humans understand each other a little bit more now.
"This has been a real trying time for me," a stammering Mann says. "What I'm trying to say is … I'm glad to have met you." He extends his hand to Mulder. The agent shakes it. "Li …" he begins, then pauses. Mann has at last changed into his full beastly form. They stare at each other. Mann runs off into the woods. Mulder stands there, slightly shocked and speechless. Then he smiles. Somehow, it all makes sense.
"Likewise," Mulder says, a believer at last.
Musings of a Non-Cigarette-Smoking Fan:
- The huffing stoners and Scully's "immortal" line are just two of many Easter eggs in this episode. I've collected a bunch of them in a supplementary article.
- Another side-splitting interlude: Mulder's misadventure with his phone camera, which keeps flashing despite his protestations, and ultimately provides him with no concrete evidence of the man-eating, blood-squirting, red-eyed lizard-monster.
- The supplementary article has some longer thoughts on Daggoo, the dog that Guy Mann adopts and Scully later finds at the animal shelter. I just had to note here that I'm dying to know how many takes Morgan shot of Duchovny shouting "Daggoo?!" in the graveyard scene.
- Scully is on the periphery in this episode, but she still provides a sweetly rueful counterpoint to the frustrated Mulder. I especially like her line in the autopsy bay when she talks about forgetting "how fun these cases could be," as well as a later exchange where she sighs about how "some jobs keep pulling you back." Meta in a good way.