Thursday, February 4, 2016

Mulder And Scully Meet The Were-Monster And Forgot to Get a Selfie

Sooooo, last night there was some silliness, a lot of pandering to the fan base bringing back cameos and reminders of past episodes and a shout out or twelve to those lost and gone from us, and it being a Darin Morgan episode there was surprising human depth to what could have been a campy "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster" episode.

My immediate takeaway from Darin's work was that - AGAIN - Darin was trying to find some pathos in the meaning of the human experience - what drives us, what we seek and can never find - in a universe that keeps spinning on regardless of whether we buy or sell enough smartphones.

On the surface of this episode, I got the impression that Darin also reads the webcomic xkcd, because "Were-Monster" had a lot to say about the prevalence of smartphone cameras and the diminishing return on believable photographic evidence of Bigfoot and UFOs, like thus:
When I saw this cartoon, it broke my heart.
My childhood reading up on UFOs and Bigfoot and ghosts,
and all I got in the end was an LG480 with Verizon service.

Because our story opens on a disgruntled and despairing Mulder, back in the basement working the X-Files cases like he's wanted to but frustrated more than ever that his work is meaningless. As Scully enters with a case - and yelling at him for throwing pencils into HER "I Want to Believe" poster (because Mulder shredded his back in "My Struggle") - Mulder rants back about the lack of genuine evidence over 25 years of work on the paranormal. He flips through fake photo after fake photo of men in rubber suits either trying to sell car tires or pretending to be armadillos. He's gotten to the point where he's tired of chasing after monsters because it turns out the monsters are either alligators ("Quagmire") or wolves or bears or tigers or plain old human serial killers in a rubber mask.

Scully smiles and tries to bring up they have a new case to investigate. "It has a monster in it," she adds.

This is Mulder finally hitting his mid-life crisis: where the passion of his career as an FBI agent investigating the bizarre and unusual - and not achieving any permanent results - have finally taken its toll. When they reach the backwoods of Oregon - again - Mulder is flippant about the grisly details - dead bodies everywhere of men with their throats chewed out - and dismissive of the eyewitness testimony - by the same two stoners that pop up in other X-Files episodes - that can't agree on whether the horned lizard monster spotted at the scene has three eyes or two. The Animal Control officer working the forest that night and had been accosted by that lizard monster refuses to comment.

That the same two stoners from "War of the Coprophages" and "Quagmire" return reflects Mulder's ennui. It's been 25 years for them as well, and all they've done has been to get high on anything (nowadays inhaling paint). Even the stoner guy's musing about turning into a werewolf is meaningless: even as a lycanthrope he'll likely waste his time getting high.

The first act is essentially Mulder confronting that ennui, teamed up with Scully who genuinely tries to snap him out of it by pointing out inconsistencies and the likelihood of a real monster on the loose. Even working the spooky shadows of a truck stop where a transgender prostitute Annabelle beats off that lizard monster - uh, with her purse, guys - doesn't make Mulder any giddier. He looks a little bit like Gary Shandling did playing Mulder in the "Hollywood AD" fake movie, all dour sarcasm as he questions if the prostitute was currently high on crack. "Yes!" she says, as if it was part of her natural persona.

When the truck stop becomes another crime scene with a fresh dead guy and sightings of the lizard monster, rather than break out a gun he'd drop again during the chase Mulder breaks out his smartphone and starts taking pictures. It's that reference to the xkcd chart: Mulder would prefer documenting the proof rather than arrest it. In a shameful display of cranky-old-geezer syndrome however, Mulder doesn't know how to operate the damn thing and ends up taking bad pictures of himself and the nearby Animal Control officer when the lizard monster charges at them with blood spraying out of his eyes.

The lizard monster, not Mulder. Mulder's too busy getting bad selfies of himself.

Scully's trying to avoid Mulder's attempt to show those bad photos as well as him digging up Wikipedia articles about normal lizards that can shoot blood out of their eyes as a defense mechanism. "Mulder the Internet is not good for you," Scully sighs, but she admits with a smile that she missed this kind of craziness during their previous MOTW assignments.
Preach it, Scully

There's a lot more craziness - a creepy motel of stuffed animals and a mounted jackalope head, a psychiatrist treating not only a man who claims to be a lizard but also a werewolf (he sees the werewolf on Mondays... wait this episode was on a Monday...), and far too many people on drugs - before Scully tracks down the suspected were-lizard - the aptly named Guy Mann - selling smartphones in town. Mulder races over to find the store in shambles and the suspect in flight. Using the powers of deduction known as "contrived plot elements," Mulder follows Guy to a graveyard full of X-Files producers and asks for the Truth.

What Mulder - and the audience gets - from Guy is a beautifully crafted subversion of the standard Werewolf/Cursed Man story. It turns out that Guy is really a normal, happy-go-lucky lizard monster who tragically came across a human eating another human in the forest, and in an effort to do the right thing gets bitten by the crazed serial killer... which turns him into an average, almost pitiful human. Where werewolves are cursed with the instincts to hunt, main and kill, Guy found himself cursed with the instincts to wear clothes, find a low-wage job, and worry about a mortgage he never really had before.

In Darin Morgan's classic style, Guy's tale deconstructs what it means to be a human being. There's a horrifying element to the mundane chores and meaningless BS he uses to get that job and even get promoted to manager. Even though he's been at that job for one day he's already bored out of his mind and soul-crushed by it. The only joy he gets is when he discovers that at nightfall he switches back to being a lizard... and that joy ends when daybreak comes and turns him back into a human again.

Having never really been human before, he has no friends and is driven to find a pet puppy to fill that lonely ache - in a nice touch, the dog is happy to play with Guy when he switches back to his lizard self at night - only to have his pet disappear from the motel room when he comes home from work, worsening his mood. His isolation is so bad he's willing to lie like a normal human - badly - about his sex life by trying to tell Mulder that Scully seduced him in that phone store.

Ah... Uh... Um... I'll be in my bunk.
Me and twenty million other guys (and gals)

"Stop." Mulder insists at this point. "That. Did NOT. Happen."

With that bold a lie, Mulder seems unable to accept Guy's tale, and remains at Kim Manners' gravesite while Guy - realizing Mulder views him as the monster rather than the victim - runs away.

As with most X-Files, it's left to Scully to put the finishing touches in the case. Having chased down Guy's lost puppy to the Animal Control shelter, Scully immediately falls in love with Daggoo, and gets attacked by the Animal Control guy who was the human monster all along. Mulder, overhearing the fight over the phone, races to the shelter fearing the worst... only to find Scully had single-handed captured the serial killer. The Animal Control guy starts going into his violent past of torturing small animals, at which points Scully tells him to shut up and pushes him towards the local cops. "But I had a speech prepared," the Animal Control guy whimpers, underscoring the banality of even serial killers in the human condition.

Realizing Guy wasn't the monster after all, Mulder races off to find him, again using the powers of the plotline to find the poor lizard Werehuman stumbling back into the forest. It's his species time to go back into hibernation, a cycle lasting 10,000 years during which Guy hopes his human illness will fade (will he become a lizard who dreamed he was a man?). As Guy strips off the human clothes, he admits it was good to have met Mulder - someone who at least listened to his sad lot in life - and shakes hands with him.

Mulder starts to say "Likewise..."

...Only to see Guy's hand has gone scaly, and Mulder looks up to see a lizard monster with two eyes staring back, maybe smiling, before he turns and runs into the forest, hopefully free at last.

And Mulder smiles as well. After an episode of complaining there were no real creatures of mystery - that all the monsters were human - he finally saw with his own two eyes.

It's a pity he didn't have his smartphone with him to take a picture.

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