Editor’s note: This review of The X-Files contains spoilers.
The X-Files Season 10 Episode 3
Let’s get straight to the point: If revivals, reboots, and remakes are the three “R” words fueling the Hollywood machine at the moment, then “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” smashes any pessimism attached to those loaded industry buzz words. It laughs at them, really, with a cheeky Monster of the Week so full of life that it alone justifies the re-opening of The X-Files.
The gift to X-Files fans comes from the scriptwork of Darin Morgan, whose contributions to the series are few, yet meaningful. Morgan, who donned the iconic Flukeman suit in season two, joined the writing team alongside his brother Glenn (who’s up next as the writer of episode four) shortly after. He went on to pen season two’s “Humbug,” the seminal “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” and later on “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” and the underrated “War of the Coprophages.” With neither psychics, nor aliens, nor freaks, nor insects at his disposal, Morgan returns with the tale of a lizard-turned-man, who is assumed to be chowing down on the necks of citizens in the X-Files playground of leafy, unassuming Oregon.
Less an ode, and more of a fortunate connection, the script was originally written for Frank Spotnitz’ The Night Stalker remake for ABC. Chris Carter constantly references Kolchak: The Night Stalker as a key influence on The X-Files, and Spotnitz, of course, directly influenced The X-Files as an executive producer. Morgan told EW of the original script that ABC didn’t want them to do “stories about monsters,” or “even use the word ‘monster.’” The story sat dormant for years until Carter came calling. With Spotnitz unavailable to contribute the revival as he’s working on his current series, The Man in the High Castle, using a script from his former show is just the first of many homages throughout “Were-Monster.”
Morgan sticks fairly close to the original script, which you can read a summary of here, possibly substituting stoners for paint-huffers, and definitely swapping Carl Kolchak for Fox and Dana. Anywhere you look, and Morgan directed the episode as well, you see 45 minutes of perfectly executed “revival” television. And when you break it down, that’s a daunting task. Coming up with an original, compelling story is hard enough! Then tie in years old storylines, preserve continuity, mix with humorous nostalgia and point out how aged all the actors are, and make it feel like you’re not pandering to the audience. That’s nearly impossible! “My Struggle” barely checked off any of those boxes, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if the five subsequent episodes suffered from the same mistakes.
Am I wrong here? The Hollywood machine has duped us time and time again on the three “Rs.” If we were going to let our guards down for anyone, however, it was going to be Morgan. He’s the guy you throw out there midseason and tell him to rattle the cages. He tells stories his way. This was supposed to be the comedy episode, but save for a few brief flashes of William, it holds more weight than the previous entries. James Wong nicely baked in the ongoing story arcs in a true Monster of the Week in “Founder’s Mutation,” but Morgan finds a way to build on Mulder’s midlife crisis in belief, and restore Scully to peak form. Where Chris Carter misused funnyman Joel McHale in “My Struggle,” Morgan chooses his comic relief more wisely. X-Files super fan and comedian Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) is more than at home in his dream role and fellow comedian Rhys Darby (Flight of the Conchords) turns loose in a memorable performance as lizard “Guy Mann.”
As a suddenly reinvigorated David Duchovny meets his goofy supporting cast, the story of the episode becomes the gradual restoration of Mulder’s supernatural beliefs. When it comes to what the X-Files does best, I think Duchovny summed it up perfectly when our X-Files correspondent spoke with him at the red carpet premiere. “Life happens in and around the cases, the show doesn’t revolve around our lives,” he told Den of Geek. “Our lives revolve around the cases.” That’s exactly what the two latest episodes do well that was lost in the original series finale, the revival premiere, and I Want to Believe.
To get us on the road back to classic X-Files, Morgan has to once again challenge Mulder’s convictions. He uses a funhouse mirror to channel his last X-Files entry, season three’s “War of the Coprophages,” in which Mulder surmises that he’s stuck in the holding pattern of reacting, not ruminating. It shakes his faith to the point where he wonders if UFOs are really just nocturnal insects in swarms.
Morgan comes at it from the inverse for the revival; a passive aggressive Mulder who after thumbing through closed X-Files needs actual proof this time around. That’s a funny idea in itself, and Anderson and Duchovny fully embrace the material. What better way to show that Scully, at least for this episode, is believer, and Mulder is the skeptic, with “Mulder, what are you doing to my poster?”
As entertaining as the breezy hunt for the killer is, with peeps shows, man thongs, and Scully/lizard fantasy sex scenes, Morgan again uses humor to transition to existential magic, which propels “Were-monster” into the cannon as an instant classic, on par with his other epics. Guy Mann’s questioning of the human thought process in particular feels like it’s on the same wavelength as Clyde Bruckman’s musings about the genetic collision that forms human life.
Despite writing easily two of the top five standalone episodes of the series (though he also contributed as a story editor), Morgan’s television work is limited after leaving The X-Files to help produce and write Chris Carter’s Millennium in 1997, where he’d again go on to pen fan favorites. He’s an anomaly in the world of The X-Files, one we thought we’d never have a big enough net to ever be able to recapture.
Maybe we hold on to the Morgan episodes a little bit closer because of the scarcity of his work, but there’s levity to the way Morgan writes that directly appeals to the fans. All the subtle winks at the audience only build on Morgan’s X-Files lore as a man who can crack the fourth wall without breaking it. His best work of all? Making the audience, and Fox Mulder, believe all over again, even if it’s just for another 45 minutes.
I love the ode to the late director Kim Manners, who did marvelous work on Morgan’s first solo writing credit, “Humbug.”
In “War of the Coprophages,” Scully is jealous of Mulder’s insect-loving lady friend. Here, Mulder gets uneasy by Guy Mann’s erotic phone store tales.
Tomorrow’s think piece: “Is Guy Mann is the new Hank Moody?”
Mulder’s ringtone is the X-Files theme song. My life is complete.
“That’s how I like my Mulder.” *drops dead*