Review: Tonight’s ‘X-Files’ Went ‘Home Again’ With a Literal Trash Story
Once we’ve gained some ground on The X-Files’ six-part return, I have to imagine looking back on the questionable choice of outweighing mythology with standalone episodes as the dominant conversation. It’s one thing for Chris Carter and co. to treat the return like a greatest hits compilation than any real continuation of the story, but each outing since the premiere has felt more jarring than the last, for good and ill. After all the apparent urgency of the premiere, putting Mulder and Scully back to a regular grind feels downright off.
More disorienting still, tonight’s hour was originally slotted as the second episode of the season, which creates a bizarre continuity of returning Mulder and Scully’s child William to the conversation. “Home Again” feels far more weighty than “Founder’s Mutation,” which itself could justify its placement later in the season, but could also have read the other way. In its original spot, would the passing of Scully’s mother have created an outburst of emotion over treating William like “trash,” and facilitating a more balanced grief with Mulder in “Founder’s”? Or is the new continuity suggesting that the “Founder’s” case put William on Mulder and Scully’s mind in a manner that Scully’s mother brought to catharsis?
It’s a messy approach to weaving serialized elements into these standalone cases, and especially more noticeable with such throwaway (no pun intended) cases like this week’s Banksy-esque “Trash Man.” This time around (or technically the first time around, given the switcheroo), we’re thrown into the mystery of a massive, decomposing killer who rips apart those involved in relocating a Philadelphia homeless population, before disappearing into nearby wall as art. Also, he steps maggots, and rides in the back of someone’s garbage truck. A homeless artist accidentally brought him to life with Tibetan philosophy, or something. It’s really not important, seeing as the figure successfully kills everyone he goes after, and everyone collectively shrugs.
That shouldn’t feel so frustrating as it does, to watch four separate sequences of the giant killer stalking and tearing apart victims, nor does whatever magic animating the figure necessarily warrant any satisfying explanation. As we saw last week, weird for the sake of weird is right at home with The X-Files’ well-honed dynamic, but the more esoteric approach of “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” offered much-needed balance. Here, we’re simply going through the motions of a killer who isn’t ultimately caught, or resolved in any meaningful way, and won’t be revisited ever again.
There’s a pervasive feeling throughout this limited series of never knowing exactly which portion of the audience to appeal to, and that’s especially clear injecting Scully’s family history into the middle of such a disorganized story. As mentioned in the initial review, I’m well-versed enough in the overall story to recognize the significance of Scully and Mulder’s son William, but far less so her mother or off-screen brothers Bill and Chuck, that it reads exceptionally bizarre to incorporate them at all without some physical presence. Gillian Anderson is textured enough to create at least some sense of emotional context all by herself, but the script* certainly isn’t.
*Not to mention, the use of old footage feels very much like cheating, to add some kind of nostalgic depth to Scully’s grief, rather than shoot an actual story around it.
We’re 2/3 of the way through The X-Files’ return, with no guarantee of seeing these characters ever again, and it still seems inescapably odd to have swapped these episodes neatly within an ongoing story. Carter himself explains at the above link that “Founder’s” more consistent focus on William made for a better transition from mythology to stand-alone, but what of the now-final two episodes? Will “Babylon,” originally intended as the fourth episode, now bear less emotional weight? Will William be just as suddenly back to the forefront for the finale?
It’d be a shame to put so much of Gillian Anderson’s work tonight to waste, should the William emphasis not set up more meaningful development in the finale, and I’m back to wondering about this format. There had to be better ways to revisit these emotional beats without such literal throwaway storytelling.
AND ANOTHER THING …
- It’s worth ackowledging that “Band-aid Nose Man” (Sidenote: Eww.) works really well from a stylistic standpoint, if only the story had any meaningful use for him than to just show up and tear people apart.
- I think the intent was perhaps that Scully kept misreading “William” on her phone as her son, rather than brother, but it read confusingly in context. Her father’s name is also William, as is Mulder’s, and it doesn’t get any less confusing from there.
- It might have seemed so much weirder for Scully to break down so often this week, and be all smiles by the time of “Were-Monster,” though she at least acknowledges a need to work to escape her grief.
- I still don’t think I understand what those other monsters in the basement were.
The X-Files Season 10 will return February 15 with “Babylon”, airing at 8:00 P.M. on FOX.
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