This review contains spoilers.
Like Founder’s Mutation, this is an episode with the arc plot concerning Scully’s baby William at its core, masquerading as a stand-alone story, and it blends the themes, tone and ideas of its two plots beautifully.
Twenty years ago, The X-Files did an episode called Home. It was written by James Wong, who wrote and directed Founder’s Mutation, and Glen Morgan, who wrote and directed this episode. Home was the first episode to be given a viewer discretion warning for graphic content and it wasn’t repeated by the network for years. It’s something of a Marmite episode; many loved it for its shocking content, classic horror vibe, and exploration of the nature of the nuclear family and the idea of ‘home’, while others found the violence and the stomach-turning revelations of the plot to be a step too far, resulting in an episode that was downright unpleasant to watch.
In some ways, Morgan’s Home Again is the inverse of his and Wong’s original Home. Where that episode was set in rural small-town America, isolated and inward-looking, this is set in the urban anonymity of Philadelphia. Where that episode was about the close-knit nature of a nuclear family home being taken to grim extremes, this episode is all about broken families and those with no home at all. As the homeless are being forced out of the street that is all they have (even their dogs taken away to a shelter), Scully is forced to confront her broken family – her dead father and sister, the son that she gave away, her fractured relationship with Mulder (who nevertheless acts largely as her partner – of the personal variety – here), her brother who hates Mulder unable to get to them and another brother (the one we knew the least about in the original series) who has become estranged from her dying mother.
Scully’s mother, the last remaining parent (not counting Cigarette Smoking Man, who may or may not be Mulder’s biological father) was always a steady rock on this show, somehow keeping it together through one family tragedy after another, a character you always felt pleased to see on screen because you knew it meant someone was about to talk some sense at some point. Her loss is felt by the viewer in a way only possible in a series that has been going since 1993, and even without her last words (interestingly, addressed to Mulder rather than Scully, ensuring that he is firmly established as part of the Scully family), her death would surely re-open the wound that is the loss of William for Scully.
Another contrast between this episode and Home lies in the answer to the mystery of the week. Home was one of the few episodes of The X-Files in which the ‘monster’ of the week was revealed to be entirely human, monstrous only in the metaphorical sense. In this case, the monster is definitely paranormal. It may look like a golem, but it is actually a tulpa, a creature born entirely of thought and belief. The episode draws a link between this creature created from the mind (in this case, with a physical body created more practically, by hand) and the connection of a mother with a child she has given birth to, even if physically separated. Where Home drew its horror from a twisted physicality, Home Again draws both horror and hope (Scully says “I wanna believe” again) from the idea of a mental and spiritual connection that goes beyond the physical.
Like Mulder And Scully Meet The Were-Monster, this is an episode that feels much more comfortable in its skin, much more like just another episode of The X-Files, than the first two. The mini-series is still a little bit under-confident about itself, still shoe-horning in references to age and the passage of time rather than feeling free to be its own thing in the here and now, with references to Scully’s three-inch heels from “back in the day” reminding us yet again, unnecessarily, that this is a story with a lot of history. However, the use of flashbacks feels more natural, as they genuinely add to the story as well as making the audience think “Oh my goodness they’re babies!” when suddenly confronted with 1995 Mulder, while it is presumably an unfortunate coincidence that any child of the 90s will take one look at the location ‘West Philadelphia’ and have the theme song to The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air stuck in their head for the rest of the day. Let’s hope that when Mulder says “back in the day is now”, it marks a move away from the series obsessing about its age and into a new emphasis on the current story
This episode gives us all the strengths of The X-Files, rendered beautifully – from Mulder and Scully’s relationship, to the body horror (there are several points where my notes just say “eeeeewwwwwww”), to the emotional and intellectual themes of the story, to the performances. It’s rather a shame to see Mrs Scully so briefly before her body is whisked away for organ transplant, but it’s a moving goodbye to a beloved character, and with the mystery of her medallion still unsolved, it’s unlikely we’ve heard the last of her. In these middle two episodes, it really does feel like The X-Files has come ‘home again’.