Re-Opening The X-Files: Humbug, The Calusari

the_x_files___humbug_by_jjlendl-d8j4e4x

Mr. Nutt: You took one quick look at me, and decided that you could deduce my entire life. Never would it have occurred to you that a person of my height could have possibly obtained a degree in hotel management.
Mulder: I’m sorry. I meant no offense.
Mr. Nutt: Well then why should I take offense? Just because it’s human nature to make instance judgments of others based solely on their physical appearances? Why I have done the same thing to you, for example. I have taken in your All-American features, your dour demeanor, your unimaginative necktie design and concluded that you work for the government. An FBI agent. But do you see the tragedy here? I have mistakenly reduced you to a stereotype. A caricature. Instead of regarding you as a specific, unique individual.
Mulder: But I am an FBI agent.

Humbug

Since the beginning The X-Files was a show with a sense of humor.  Most of that sense of humor was displayed by Mulder’s quips and observations on things.

But it’s with “Humbug” that the series goes for an all-out comedy instead of just the occasional quip to break the tension.  And it succeeds in spades.

From the opening moments, “Humbug” toys with our expectations for an episode of The X-Files.   Set in a small town where side show workers live during the off-season,  the show takes a hard look at our perceptions of what makes someone or something normal.    And along the way, it gives us some huge laughs — so many that I had a very difficult time picking some of my favorite dialogue to include in the quote section for the episode.

Darin Morgan’s first official script for the series is an absolute gem.  Morgan is one of the first writers to really begin a deconstruction of Mulder and to point out that maybe the lead of our show isn’t necessarily the most heroic guy.  It’s not quite as pronounced here as it will be a year from now with “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space'” and it’s clear that David Duchovny is in on the joke.  The continued sparring between Mulder and Mr. Nutt, the trailer park manager is an absolute highlight.   Seeing that Mulder could be seen as the “freak” and the “outsider” in this town is so well done and it begins to show us some of the cracks in Mulder’s armor.

The show also benefits from some superlative direction.   Visually, this is an episode that is a treat to watch and one that also plays with the conventions the series has developed over the past season and a half.

In many ways, this episode is all one long joke that builds to the final punchline.   And yet, it all works.  Every single element, every single note, every single scene.   Morgan is clearly having a good time here — as is the rest of the cast.  And so do we.

If you haven’t re-watched this one in a while and do yourself a favor — watch it again.

And it’s this script and the others to come that make me absolutely delighted that Darin Morgan is bringing his unique take on the series back when the revival begins in January.

The Calusari

As funny as “Humbug” is, “The Calusari” is dark.

It’s The X-Files take on the Exorcist — and boy does it ramp up the creepy factor.

A lot of the credit goes to the casting of the child actor as Charlie and Michael.  He’s not asked to do a lot, but he does well at being creepy and threatening.  He also does just enough to clue the audience into the fact that there are two kids on hand — well, one real kid and one ghost.

And yet it still feels like an anthology story with our characters penciled into it.  It’s not that Mulder and Scully don’t have anything to do or come up with any answers or the solution.  It’s just that I’m not sure how pivotal they are to anything.  Yes, they keep the pressure on the family as the death toll rises (and boy howdy are there some unsettling deaths, especially the father on the garage door opener) but I can’t really say that either what makes the characters unique is needed here.  Scully seems a bit quick to believe that there is a supernatural force at work here…or maybe a bit more willing to go along with Mulder’s theories than usual.

I also can’t help but wonder how the family explained Charlie’s hospital room once Michael has been exorcised.   I think their insurance company is not going to be happy about that bill.  It also makes me wonder just where the nursing staff is while the Calusari are performing the exorcism.

The ending even pulls the usual horror movie trope of warning Mulder that the demon ghost has seen him and knows who he is.   I wonder if the writer hoped we might get a sequel or a return visit to the series someday.

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Filed under Re-Opening the X-Files, review, The X-Files, TV review

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