Last night was episode three of The X-Files, and not only did it finally deliver on the promise of the reboot, it was a perfect showcase of everything that made The X-Files great in the first place.
“Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” simultaneously had a very low bar and a very high one to clear. On the one hand, the first two episodes weren’t particularly good. On the other, the return of fan-favorite Darin Morgan as writer and director meant that expectation was super high among X-philes. Not only are his four episodes are almost invariably counted among the best of the entire series, he played one of the original show’s best, most iconic monsters—the Flukeman. Morgan has nearly legendary status among X-Files fans.
So not only did Morgan have to meet the impossibly high expectations of the hardcore fans, it had to win back viewers who were disappointed by first two episodes. And “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” managed to pull it off... but with one small hitch.
We’ve got everything we need from a proper X-File setup in this episode: there’s a mysterious attack in the cold open; there’s a weird town that Mulder and Scully visit; and the crime they’re investigating seems like one the FBI really shouldn’t care all that much about. (Wondering why on Earth the week’s case is somehow in FBI jurisdiction is an integral part of the X-Files experience.).
But there’s obviously more than the set-up. The characters are always, always what propelled the X-Files to its greatest heights. We didn’t just care about Mulder and Scully, but we depended on their reactions—believer and skeptic, respectively—to give us a framework for every strange phenomen, every bizarre monster, every case. Mulder would believe and Scully would doubt. “Scully Meet the Were-Monster” not only gave us that, but it incorporated a bit of character growt, too.
As is his occasional wont, Mulder starts off the episode in mid-sulk. Everyone’s lied to him, all his work feels like a sham, boo hoo hoo. Morgan thankfully portrays this all for laughs, something only he could do, because everyone watching (even casual fans) know that believing is Mulder’s raison d’etre. His lack of belief here is whiny complaining and not real conviction. This is how you use a show’s history without getting bogged down in mythology.
This leads into the real highlight of the episode, which isn’t figuring out the mystery or catching the bad guys. It’s watching Mulder ramp up to one of his wild theories—something that sounds like insane bullshit—and just so happens to be right. Watching Mulder’s vindication is a triumph for the viewers,a nd so is watching Scully’s happiness that he’s burst out of his disillusionment.
The fact that she’s happy for him but also says that he’s “batcrap crazy” is the perfect sign of the characters’ growth without ten minutes of joyless exposition about how things have changed. When the series first began, Scully would merely think her partner was crazy. Now, she’s still skeptical of Mulder’s insane theories, but still understands that an insane theorizing Mulder is the best Mulder. She’s now more supportive of him, without fundamentally altering her character, and it’s subtle and wonderful. These two should always be having arguments like this, because this is what we loved about the old show.
My favorite little thing in this episode is watching Mulder completely fail to use his smartphone to take pictures. He’s about as good at holding onto that thing as he was with his gun in the old episodes, which is to say “not at all.” Even better, Scully’s ability to get shit done is now practically a given. We don’t even need to see her take down the real criminal, so foregone is that conclusion.
There’s also something about this monster that strikes to the core of the X-Files. Rhys Darby steps into a long line of creatures that are familiar to us by way of pop culture (vampires, Jersey devil, etc) but have been given an X-files twist (they aren’t really out to hurt anyone, it’s looking for its mate, etc.) In this case, Darby’s Guy Mann’s were-ism is that he’s a lizard who tragically turns into a human. This could easily veer into “what kind of monster is man” territory, but Morgan’s script emphasizes the humor.
Additionally, Darby is hysterically funny with his monologues and his delivery of every line; his performance alone would put this episode up with any of the great X-Files ones. It wasn’t just that David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were great, it was when other actors showed up and embraced everything that made the show beloved in the frst place.
Additionally, this episode had a bunch of Easter eggs that epitomize the X-Files relationship with its fans. There’s the casting of superfan Kumail Nanjiani. Scully saying “I’m immortal” is a shout-out to an insane fan theory worthy of Mulder himself. And lastly, and most touchingly weird, was this memorial to X-Files producer and director Kim Manners.
Some shows would have done an “In Memoriam” card at the end. Not the X-Files.
As I’ve mentioned before, the only real downer note in the whole episode is a truly baffling transphobic moment where Mann says that “she hit like a guy” and Mulder says “she used to be” and then they talk about surgeries for a bit. Fan vidders, if you could bring me a cut of this episode that removes that, we’d have a close to perfect reboot episode. But even that tone-deafness is in-keeping with a show that originally featured episodes with monster rape and was generally very clearly written by a bunch of white men. That Mulder is a disaster of a human being is a reflection on the writers more than anything.
There’s still a lot of wasted opportunity in these new X-Files, but what Darin Morgan did with “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” is remind us that the format and the characters are still so full of promise. Everything about them still works, so long as the writers knows what to do with them. We come for the weird stories, the backwater towns, and Mulder and Scully’s banter. Do that right and not only does the episode work, so does the show.