In the third episode of the new series, viewers were presented with the X-Files revival’s first Monster of the Week. In contrast to last week’s dark and serious plot, Monday’s stand-alone, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster, is full of absurdity, screwball comedy, and camp. Penned by Darin Morgan, writer of my favorite X-Files episode – the Emmy-winning Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, this episode is like a parody of the long-running show and, in particular, the revival miniseries. Even the Abbott and Costello-esque title indicates this episode is meant to make you laugh.
Opening in a full-moon-lit forest in Oregon, we hear a disconcerting sound. As the camera pans around, we realize it’s not a monster, but two spaced-out druggies huffing spray paint. The couple is disturbed from their reverie by the sounds of a struggle nearby. They go to investigate and come upon a large lizard creature tussling with a man. Interrupted, the scaly, green monster assumes a threatening position, growls and runs away. Attending to the victim – who, coincidentally, is an animal control officer – the couple discover the body of another man, dead with a gruesome wound to his neck.
In a switch of their typical positions, Mulder is unenthusiastic and skeptical; it is Scully who insists on pursuing the case. Mulder’s zeal for the paranormal was crushed when he discovered that in their absence, many of the X-Files had been explained as hoaxes and fraternity pranks. He’s having a crisis of faith and is questioning whether, as “a middle-aged man… no, really I am” (no one was arguing, Mulder), a career chasing Sasquatch really fits his #lifegoals. But three additional bodies were found and, monster or not, there is a serial killer to catch. Mulder agrees to investigate.
The agents are called to a truck stop where a prostitute encountered the lizardman and clocked him with her purse. She directs them to the animal control officer, who took her statement then went off with a dog-catching pole and a big butterfly net in search of the monster. The three encounter the monster, but it escapes, shooting blood out of its eyeballs to temporarily disable Mulder.
Back at the motel, Mulder questions the rubbing alcohol-swilling, pervy manager, who claims to have seen a man transform into a lizard monster through one of the peeping-tom holes he uses to spy on motel guests. He IDs both the monster and the man from pictures Mulder has on his phone. Apparently this evidence is how Mulder gets his groove back. He excitedly tells Scully about the man-to-lizardman transforming monster in one of those classic Mulder rants, but exaggerated to epic proportion. Scully listens with fond amusement and declares, “Yeah, this is how I like my Mulder.” She follows with “You’re bat-crap crazy” and voila! The agents return to their traditional roles of zealot and skeptic.
Mulder identifies the man/monster as “Guy Mann” from a medication bottle he swiped from the motel room. He visits the prescribing doctor, a caricature of a psychiatrist, complete with German accent. The shrink has clearly never heard of HIPAA and ends up giving Mulder a clue that eventually helps him locate the creature. Elsewhere, Scully has also made progress in the case, uncovering some important forensic evidence in lab results from the autopsies of the murder victims. She keeps trying to tell Mulder, but can’t seem to hold his attention long enough to get it out. After losing Mann at the store where he works, Scully again tries to relay the info to Mulder, but he dashes out in keystone kop fashion.
Mulder catches up with Mann at the cemetery, in front of an Easter-eggy tombstone honoring the memory of the most prolific director from the original series. We then hear the story of the whole episode so far, but from Mann’s point of view. Mann claims that he was minding his own business, chillin’ in the forest in his natural, lizardman state, when 2 men suddenly appeared. One of them was attacking the other, tearing at his neck with his teeth and killing him. Instead of being sensible and lying still or shooting blood out of his eyeballs, he panicked and tried to scare away the predator. Unphased, the man bit him. Lucky for Mann, the spray paint huffers came along and he was able to escape.
The next morning, he awoke in human form and was, for the first time, self-aware. He became a mass of neuroses, worrying about things like getting steady employment and his newfound understanding of mortality. The transformations happen nightly and he is miserable. Being human sucks. Mann is depressed and suicidal from the drudgery of having a day job, worrying about retirement savings, and realizing that if he hasn’t yet written a novel, he never will. He is horrified by human aggression, selfishness and – most of all – the brutality he keeps witnessing as he he keeps running into the serial killer.
His story wasn’t Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; it was Mr. Hyde and Dr. Jekyll. Mulder doesn’t believe him, but feels a kinship with Mann. He expresses the same existential angst that Mulder has been suffering throughout the episode. At the end of their talk, Mann discovers Mulder is with the FBI and flees, disparaging the agent for his oh-so-human duplicity. Meanwhile, Scully, having determined who the actual serial killer is, goes to arrest him. When Mulder arrives at the scene, he realizes Mann may have been telling the truth and goes out to find him.
He finds Mann in the forest and tells him they caught the killer. In a heartfelt conversation, Mann thanks Mulder for being kind to him and for believing his story. Mulder, obviously still in the throes of his metaphysical dilemma, tells Mann that he wants to believe. The lizardman tells Mulder that it’s time for him to into hibernation; he’s hoping the effects of the human bite will wear off before he awakes again in ten millennia or so. As they shake hands to say goodbye, Mann transforms back into his natural state before Mulder’s eyes, then runs off into the forest.
Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster’s self-referential spoofing is campy, silly, and practically vaudevillian. It has many of the same elements as some of Darin Morgan’s earlier episodes, such as the alien abduction story, Jose Chung’s From Outer Space; the circus sideshow episode, Humbug; and the cockroach invasion tale, War of the Coprophages. Using a Rashomon-style series of conflicting, unreliable narrations appears to be a signature move of the screenwriter, as is his use of absurd humor amid stories of rather grisly deaths. This episode has all that in spades. At the same time, it provides a lot of commentary on the human condition and, in particular, on Mulder’s need to believe.
Next week’s episode was written by Darin Morgan’s big brother, Glen, who has authored more than 15 X-Files episodes. He has a markedly different style than Darin so the fourth episode is likely to be back to the more typical, mostly-serious X-Files format. I’m looking forward to seeing what he has in store for us.
I give this episode 3.5 out of 5 blood-shooting eyeballs.