Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The X-Files Season 10 Recap: "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster"

Typically, The X-Files concerns two dueling viewpoints or philosophies.

We can understand the world through Romantic principles (belief and faith); and these ideas are usually expressed in the series by Mulder.

Or we can experience and comprehend our reality via the tenets of the Enlightenment: science and reason. 

Most often, Scully is our voice for this world-view.

Sometimes -- such as those occasions when Christianity is involved -- these roles and viewpoints are reversed.

But there is a third philosophy that viewers encounter in The X-Files, particularly in the catalog of writer (and now director) Darin Morgan.

In episodes such as “Humbug,” “War of the Coprophages,” “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” and now 2016’s “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” we encounter a philosophy of existential angst and nihilism.

Nihilism -- the philosophy that life is meaningless -- probably sounds like too strong a descriptor for these stories, though I have utilized that term many times regarding Morgan’s contribution to Chris Carter’s universe.

Ordinarily, Morgan’s episodes of The X-Files (and Millennium [1996-1999] as well…) picture human existence itself as, if not meaningless, then certainly as absurd.

Perhaps this quality sounds depressing in nature, but Morgan uses humor and pathos to escape nihilism’s darkest corners.  In some cases, life’s absurdity is the very thing -- the very factor -- that makes human connection, like the relationship shared by Mulder and Scully, so important.

Life is nuts, but at least we have each other to help us get through it, right?

“Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” is actually a Master’s Thesis of sorts on the Darin Morgan X-verse: a crafty summation of this thematic paradigm. It is also a bit more hopeful in its musings than some of the author's other episodes.

Why? Well, the episode merrily and deftly dissects horror stories and mythology, thus qualifying it as post-modern in intention. 

Yet “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” is simultaneously a story that honors series history -- taking stock of the past and present -- and then, in conclusion suggests that there is indeed an antidote to what Jose Chung once termed the inevitability of “1000 more years of the same old crap” (“Jose Chung’s Doomsday Defense.”)

That antidote to such stagnation is, simply, transformation.

What makes us, as individuals, transform?  

Well, perhaps catching a glimpse of something wondrous. Or, perhaps, catching a glimpse of something just wondrous enough to re-fill the empty well of faith.

In the episode, Mulder’s mid-life ennui is resolved, for example when he sees a were-lizard in the flesh. His faith is restored. He transforms beyond depression and mid-life crisis.

But in real life the effect could have been the same (or approximately the same), if he had witnessed an eclipse, found a four-leaf clover, or witnessed even an especially beautiful sunset.

In all such moments -- whether there are scientific explanations or not -- we feel that, at the very least, we are at the right place at the right time.

And that feeling can keep us afloat against the crashing tides of nihilism. Life may be meaningless. Life may be absurd. But Life still shows us, occasionally, these odd little grace notes. 

And being there to witness them, is, in the final analysis, better than not being there to witness them.

And having someone like Scully to share them with you? 

That’s the best way to get by in a universe -- in the words of the episode -- constructed of “nonsense” or “madness.” 

Transformation occurs when people feel supported in their choices and passions, and face the world with renewed purpose. Scully may disagree with Mulder, but she is buoyed to see him be his old self again, feeling a renewed sense of meaning in his life.

In “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” a downcast Mulder (David Duchovny) questions his career and life choices. Scully (Gillian Anderson) brings him some respite by reporting that they have a new case…and that it involves a monster.

In particular, there has been an incident in Shawan, Oregon.

There, dead bodies have been discovered (following the night of the full moon…) with vicious-looking bite wounds.  

Two stoner witnesses (Tyler Labine and Nicole Parker) claim to have seen a “man-sized lizard with human teeth.”

The hunt for the lizard-man, leads -- strangely enough -- to Guy Mann (Rhys Darby), an oddly-dressed man facing his own crisis of identity.  Mulder believes that Guy transforms into a monster by the full moon.

The truth is somewhat different than that explanation, however…

Darin Morgan’s thesis in “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” is quite brilliant. Specifically he seems to note that man and monsters are one-in-the-same, two-sides of the same coin. 

Humanity tells and re-tells all these elaborate stories of monsters that prowl under the full moon -- the inaugural image of the episode -- and then makes up crazy ways to defeat them, like a green glass bottle to the abdomen.  

What these horror movies and horror stories are about, really is the fact that mankind is a judgmental S.O.B. In all these stories, we quash those who transform; those derided others who undertake so-called unacceptable change.

Take Guy Mann  for example, our Monster of the Week. He is a real monster, a Lizard-Man who has been bitten by human and now suffers the ultimate curse: daily transformations into a man.  He has to get a job. He lies about his sex life. He feels the irrational need to cover himself up when naked, and so forth. Instead of being a man who becomes a monster, he is monster who becomes a man.

His most fearsome power as a human being? Being able to b.s. his way through any situation.

Guy Mann, interestingly, is dressed as cult-TV’s greatest monster-hunter, Carl Kolchak (from Kolchak: The Night Stalker) and actually pinpoints Mulder, verbally, as a monster. These things reinforce Morgan’s notion that there aren’t any real monsters; that we just perceive each other as such because we are all different. To us, Mulder isn't a monster, and neither is Kolchak. But to their quarry?

Our subjective, perceptual sets selectively classify people as monsters, and then we weave together stories of death (“and penetration,” to quote the episode’s psychologist) to legitimize our beliefs, and thereby destroy the threat of unsanctioned transformation.

Morgan’s story not only inverts the classic werewolf tale and opens with that classic image of the genre (the full-moon), it contextualizes the werewolf myth, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and now, The X-Files as stories that express some crucial aspect of the human psyche; the need to assign the world monsters when what mostly people simply dread are those who are different.

The episode features some remarkable continuity and call-backs to earlier X-Files episodes in terms of Scully’s immortality (“Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” “Tithonus”), Mulder’s choice in underwear, the re-appearance of the stoners (“War of the Coprophages” and “Quagmire”) and even legendary (and much-missed…) series director, Kim Manners.

But again, what the episode is really about --  if such a claim can be made -- is transformation and its practical value in a world without meaning. 

The world is nonsense and mad, and utterly meaningless, unless we choose to transform ourselves and view it differently. 

Look at Scully.  Instead of being kidnapped and abducted by a serial killer (“Irresistible” and others) she transforms herself here with a word, noting that she is “immortal.”   She is so immortal, in fact, we don't even need to see her apprehend the episode's real villain.

Mulder, when faced with the idea that his life has been a sham and pointless, sees something amazing and re-fills the well of his faith.  He transforms, once more, into a “bat-crap-crazy” believer. Now he is ready to "see" the world again.

And Guy Mann attempts to transform too. He has changed into a man, but he wants to be a monster. 

He attempts to hibernate and kick the “man” part of his body away, permanently. He is going to will himself to sleep, so he can transform, to wake up anew. To see the world, transformed.

This leitmotif of transformation is the reason why the episode is in no way trans-phobic, as some critics on the Internet have suggested. I suspect that they don’t know how to interpret art and imagery, and should stick to (the apparently humorless) world of political activism instead.

What is a transgender individual, after all, but a person who has seen and recognized that transformation (or transition, to use the appropriate technology) can remake a person’s life?  

Transgender individuals have imagined a purpose or destiny for themselves amidst a world apparently without meaning, and sought, against much criticism, to make it happen. They have attempted to re-order the chaos of life in a way that brings them true happiness. Too many people do call them "monsters," but that's the point of the episode, isn't? 

That which society calls monstrous, on closer look, is merely different from some socially acceptable norm.

Disapproving critics should connect Mulder’s journey, Mann’s journey, and, yes, the transgender journey, and see that they are all about one thing; the hunt for meaning; for finding a purpose and identity in a world that at times seems absurd.  

The quest is not big. It is, in the words of the episode to “find a few fleeting moments of happiness” before inevitable death.

We all transform in different ways, but constant transformation is an inescapable part of the human equation. This episode embraces the transgender dynamic, and indeed, makes such transition or transformation the center-piece of the drama.

Watching an episode like “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” reminds me that The X-Files is no more about monsters of the week than Star Trek was about new life forms and new civilizations ,or The Twilight Zone was about a "fifth dimension" beyond our own.

All these series use the “other” (the so-called alien or the monstrous) to help us better understand ourselves and our nature. 

Frankly, I never expected Darin Morgan to be cheery in his imagination. His stories are dark, because he imagines a universe of absurdity and meaningless. But "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster" is the most optimistic, nihilistic work of art I've ever seen, if such a thing can exist.  

This episode of The X-Files reminds us that life is absurd, but we hold the power within us to combat the absurdity; to transform meaninglessness into meaning, to transform purposeless into purpose.

The episode is funny as hell too. It's an argument for belief from someone who doesn't believe. But clearly wants to believe.

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