As we go forward with these reviews, I'm going to keep the following themes in mind:
1. The show is as much about Scully's journey toward becoming a believer as it is about the paranormal events she and Mulder encounter.
2. Scully is only a skeptic when viewing things from a clinical distance; when the shit hits the fan, she acts on Mulder's crazy beliefs because she knows it will keep her alive.
3. Mulder isn't right nearly as often as he thinks.
4. The evolution of the Mulder/Scully relationship - not just the romantic involvement that eventually occurs, but their dynamics of trust and distrust, the changing ways they view each other, and the friendship that grows over time.
5. Assault on a federal officer never seems to lead to jail time.
6. Mulder is kind of a dick.
7. Hotel managers must be crazy to rent to FBI agents.
8. The enormous top-secret government conspiracy actually really sucks at keeping things quiet.
9. There are some serious homoerotic undertones in this show.
10. The X-files department is super toxic to anyone who comes close to it.
11. Mulder and Scully are both terrible at their jobs.
12. Local law enforcement is protrayed in an extremely negative light
I reserve the right to add more items to this list as the series progresses and you can't stop me!
Just a little note before we start: I've seen this series multiple times, so I'll be referencing characters and plots and events that haven't yet occurred. There will be spoilers. If you're seeing this series for the first time and reading this reviews, consider this fair warning.
I am finding season 1 really hard to get through, y'all. There are only four episodes this season that I absolutely love - Ice, Beyond the Sea, Eve, and Darkness Falls. It's not that I hate all the other episodes, but they're just not on the same level. Compare S1 to S4 (where pretty much every episode is a masterpiece) and you can probably see why it feels like I'm running uphill with a headwind here. I'd really appreciate it if some of you could leave comments telling me what you like/dislike about the blog, or just encouragement in general, so I don't feel like I'm running up that hill alone.
Anyway, 1x05, The Jersey Devil. The episode that momentarily made me obsessed with the idea of feral humans and provided one of my favorite chapters in The X-Files: Book of the Unexplained. (Some of my favorite books to come out of the series, by the way, along with The Real Science Behind the X-Files.)
New Jersey, 1947
We open on a scene straight out of a nostalgic version of Harry and the Hendersons, with a family rolling down the road singing Bingo. Suddenly we hear a loud bang as a tire blows, and the dad gets out of the car to change it. He sets a flashlight on the ground and aims it at the tire, but knocks it off the road as he reaches for his wrench. Smooth move, Exlax. He heads into the woods to retrieve it, and the viewpoint suddenly switches to that of something or someone in the woods, watching him. He goes back to the car, where the kids are asleep in the backseat, and taps on his wife's window. "Hey honey, could you hold the flashlight for a secAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"
Forgive me for laughing as he gets yanked into the woods by some unseen beastie to get torn apart, but that was awesome.
The mom picks up the flashlight and calls out for him, but she doesn't see what we see: his lifeless legs as he gets dragged into the woods.
Now it's dawn and there's a search party with guns and dogs combing the woods for dear departed dad. A voice calls out that they found something, and all the men run towards the voice. It's the dad's body - and his leg's been eaten off.
Suddenly there's a yell from another area of the woods, and again everyone rushes toward it to find several police officers pointing their rifles into a cave. They say "it" is in there and "it" is as tall as a house. The viewpoint switches to inside the cave, looking out all all the men with guns. Someone yells, "It's coming at us!" and they all fire into the cave again and again.
Opening credits roll.
Scully walks through a busy office and makes her way to the significantly less busy X-Files hovel, where she spots Mulder looking at a centerfold in HankyPanky magazine. Was (is?) that actually a porn mag? I don't know that I've ever actually seen printed porn, so I have no idea what sort of name such a publication would carry, but that seems a little (1) generic and (2) obvious for a real porn mag. Just the sort of name a TV writer would come up with when they needed to clearly suggest someone was looking at porn, but couldn't use a more specific anatomical reference because this was 90s network TV.
The look on Scully's face is priceless. And for once, I don't hate her outfit. The coral is a little much, but at least the suit fits. Also, I think I had that exact same watch.
Mulder tries the whole "just reading it for the articles" excuse, saying the woman claims to have been abducted and held in an antigravity chamber for 3 days. And Scully's all, "Antigravity is right." You go Scully.
She tells him that she's just a heard a story that's right up his alley: dead homeless man found in the New Jersey woods, right arm and shoulder missing... presumably eaten... by a human.
Predictably, Mulder pops an enormous paranormal boner and tells her he thinks it's the Jersey Devil - a beast that supposed to come out of the woods and attack people like an East Coast Bigfoot - and he's got a casefile on it dating back to 1947. Scully asks him to summarize it and, as Mulder goes about filling out some forms, he recounts and adds to the scene from the teaser: dad gets dragged off and nibbled on, and the cops corner a large naked man in the woods and gun him down. The autopsy revealed human flesh in his digestive tract.
Scully tells him she's heard stories like that since she was a kid, but they're just myths; Mulder says he hears the same stories as a kid, but he believed them. He says the fact is they have a cannibalized body, and someone or something out there is hungry. He heads off, and Scully just looks after him and sighs.
|Yes, Scully, you will always be chasing after him, trying to protect him from his own insanity. May as well get used to it.|
What did you expect, Scully? That you would tell Mulder something freaky is happening and he WOULDN'T want to run off and poke it with a stick? You know him better than that by now, sweetie.
Atlantic City Morgue
Mulder and Scully examine the victim's body, while the coroner explains that the teeth marks are definitely human. Scully asks if the victim was alive when it happened, but the coroner isn't sure: there's a skull fracture and a high blood alcohol level, so the guy probably didn't even know what hit him. She tells them that the size of the bite mark indicates a large adult male.
A detective walks in and M&S introduce themselves; he says he doesn't recall anyone calling in the FBI on this case. When Mulder explains they're there on in unofficial capacity, Detective Thompson tells them they're gonna have to leave, they have no jurisdiction here, he doesn't work for the Feds, this is a local matter, blah blah blah. #12. I've been told time and again that this isn't actually the way law enforcement works, and that cooperation is far more common than pissing contests over jurisdiction and who gets credit, so I'm really hoping my cop friends haven't lied to me and that this is just a plot device to get the viewer on Moose and Squirrel's side.
Mulder and the detective have a stare-down, and then the agents depart.
Outside, Scully tries to soothe Mulder by telling him the detective was in the right, and besides, how would Mulder feel if someone was horning in on his work. Mulder tries to talk her in to staying the weekend (woohoo!) and digging a little on the case, but Scully says she has to get back to DC. He asks her, with a faint hint of disbelief and maybe even jealousy, if she's got a date, but she explains that it's her godson's birthday party.
Mulder tosses her the car keys and walks off. She yells after him that it's going to be a three hour drive, by her self, in Friday night traffic. Then she huffs and gets in the car because #6.
|Why does she put up with this shit?|
Somewhere in a casino, Mulder looks through a phone book until he finds the Parks Services phone number - the department listed on the vic's toetag as being the ones who found the body.
Later, the majestic pine forests of... New Jersey... Mulder and a park Ranger get out of a pickup truck, and the ranger points to where they found the body. He says that in his 32 years with the park service, he's never seen anything like this. Mulder asks if they get a lot of homeless out in the woods, but the ranger tells him no - most of them are scared, maybe of the Devil. Mulder asks what he thinks of the myth, and the ranger tell him a story about the time he saw a huge naked man out in the woods, sniffing the air like an animal and then running off into the woods so fast he didn't seem human; he also says he's found half-buried scat that looked human, a half-eaten rabbit with a human tooth in it, and some deer bones that looked like they'd been sharpened into tools. He doesn't want to say too much, because he's up for pension in a few years, but he never comes out to the woods without his weapon anymore.
|Pictured: a guy who has seen some serious backwoods shit.|
Mulder tells the ranger that he'll be staying at a motel in town for a few days, and to call if he thinks of anything more, then goes walking off into the woods.
Like an idiot.
Meanwhile, Scully is at her godson's birthday party, where a bunch of kids wearing gorilla masks chase each other around with baseball bats, a dog is licking the frosting off the birthday cake, kids are breaking dishes... dogs and cats living together, mass chaos. Scully asks her friend (who we've never heard of before and will never see again) how she keeps it altogether, and says she doesn't think she's cut out for this whole motherhood thing. This is the first time Scully's talked about motherhood or the desire for a family, and while I don't give this show too much credit for foreshadowing, it is a new trait for her character that adds a level of depth. Like Mulder will say in Home, we've never seen Scully as a mother before, and this scene plants the seed of things we won't see for a few more seasons.
|I love casual!Scully, but I cannot forgive these outfits. Is that a VEST? A SUEDE vest? And your friend, in that shapeless floral moomoo thing. Sweet zombie Christ, people, what are you thinking?|
Her friend Ellen says that the FBI academy must have been perfect training for motherhood, but first she's got to get a life and a man. She asks about "that guy" she works with, who apparently Scully once said was "cute", and Scully answers.
SCULLY: He's a jerk. [pause] He's not a jerk, he's obsessed with his work.
Cut back to Mulder, idiotically strolling through the woods with no backup whatsoever because he's ditched both his partner and the park ranger who was kind enough to drive him all the way out here. Something is watching him from the bushes. You are wearing dress shoes and a suit, Mulder; you are clearly not prepared to be poking through the woods.
Also... is that the same jacket Scully was wearing in the pilot? Are they trading clothes? Did he pick it up off the floor by accident after a night of hot, tawdry sex? A girl can dream...
Back at the birthday party, Scully answers the door to find a guy named Rob who has arrived to pick up his son. She smiles as he crouches down to talk to his son, and Ellen stage-whispers to her that Rob is divorced. He looks up at her and smiles, and Scully gets all coy and blush-y.
|It's kind of sad that she's so unaccustomed to male attention. You're a regulation hottie, Scully, don't you ever forget that.|
Ahh, the complex mating rituals of successful upper-middle-class white people.
Outskirts of Atlantic City
Mulder walks through a shanty town of homeless people, asking if any of them knew the victim. One of them comes up to Mulder and says he's got something to show him, but he needs money. Mulder hands him some bills and the guy pulls out a drawing:
He says he's seen the thing here, digging in the trash, and that everyone's pretty freaked out about it. Mulder gives him the keys to his hotel room, telling him to sleep there tonight. The guy is pretty stoked when he hears the hotel has HBO.
|"Aww hell yeah, I'm gonna catch up on some GoT and Trueblood!"|
Later that night, Mulder is sleeping in the homeless dude's hovel - again, no backup and no one knows where he is. It's like he's trying to get eaten. #11. He hears a noise and gets up to see a figure at the end of the alley, digging through the trash. He sneaks up on the figure slowly, but it bolts over a fence and out of sight. He follows, but a police car comes up and an officer - quite reasonably figuring Mulder for a drunk - grabs him by the arm and takes him somewhere "to sleep it off."
See, Mulder, this is why you don't run off without Scully to vouch for your sanity and sobriety.
At the police station, Mulder is sitting at a table in a small room when angry local Detective Thompson comes in and asks him what the hell he's doing here, he'll go to the DA's office, Mulder's obstructing an investigation, misconduct, blah blah blah #12. Mulder says he may as well add withholding evidence to the list of charges, specifically statements describing "something" stalking the back alleys of Atlantic City. He accuses the detective of trying to keep things quiet so as not to disturb the tourist industry, but the detective tells him to quit wasting everyone's time and leaves.
Back at FBI HQ, Scully is walking through the same busy office as the opening of the episode when another agent calls her over - he's got Agent Mulder on the phone. Why Mulder would wait until morning to call an office that isn't even theirs, rather than call her at home, is beyond me. It's not like he's had any qualms about waking her up before. Anyway, he tells her he's in the drunk tank in Atlantic City.
Of course she goes down to bail him out, because Scully's a nice person like that and doesn't hold the whole "you ditched me to hunt bigfoot, while I drove 3 hours alone in traffic to get home" thing against him. But she does rib him a little bit.
SCULLY: Well it's not hard to see why they mistook you for a vagrant.
MULDER: You gonna rag on me or you gonna take me to get something to eat?
SCULLY: Am I buying or did you manage to panhandle some spare change while you were at it?
SCULLY: Am I buying or did you manage to panhandle some spare change while you were at it?
They go to a restaurant, where Mulder wolfs down his food while Scully demurely sips her coffee. He describes the figure he saw - quick and graceful, sniffing the air like it was searching for food. It didn't come after him, so he thinks it's not really a man-eater but instead felt threatened in some way. He's still got a hotel room he's paying for, but Scully tells him she's got to get back to DC by 7:30. Mulder asks her if it's another bithday party, but she tells him (with no small bit of pride) that she has a date.
There's this weird moment where Mulder looks kind of shocked:
And Scully's pride gives way to self-consciousness, as if she's asking for approval or permission.
It's the little things like this, Chris Carter, that leave Shippers fully unconvinced that you didn't plan this sexual tension element to keep us glued to our screens. #4
Mulder asks Scully if she can cancel, and she's all, "Unlike you, Mulder, I would like to have a life." He protests that he has a life, and she giggle snorts. I love the Scully giggle snort.
She changes the subject, saying she has someone she'd like him to meet on their way home.
University of Maryland
In an office not unlike Mulder's own (cluttered, with weird photos on the wall and specimens everywhere) a professor is telling Moose and Squirrel about the man-like primate legends of other cultures - yeti, sasquatch, almas, dsonoqua. He says the wildman myth is a symbol of our dual natures as humans, as creators and destroyers of life. Mulder asks him about a chart on his wall, and the doctor explains that it shows the historic entry of man onto each continent and the disastrous effects it's had on other animal species - because of our destructive hereditary traits, tribal and aggressive territoriality, and selfish reproductive drives.
Mulder asks what would happen if something entered the food chain above us, but the doctor tells him that human intelligence ensures that won't happen, "barring the introduction of some alien life-form" Somehow Mulder doesn't seize on this opening, but instead theorizes that a human who reverted to it's most animal instincts could occupy a space above us on the food chain. He talks about feral humans, raised in the wilderness by animals who have no language and hunt like predators. The doctor says that it's happened, but that cannibalism is rare among them, and that it's highly unlikely that such a person could have survived so near civilization on the woods of New Jersey. Highly unlikely, but not outside the realm of extreme possibility.
With the doctor agreeing with him, Mulder looks back at Scully. She doesn't say anything, but turns away. So much for trying to convince Mulder of your side of things. He's like some crazy charismatic cult leader, convincing otherwise rational people to believe in his wild ideas and even justify them. Your logic doesn't stand a chance here, Scully.
Back at the X-files office, Mulder is looking through photos of foot impressions and drawings of the Jersey Devil, sinking deeper into his obsession. He lingers on one that looks like bigfoot with boobs, which I really really hope was meant to be a callback to the porn mag at the beginning of the episode.
Meanwhile, Scully's on a date with Rob. And she's wearing this:
Wow. Um. I don't know what to say here. That updo is pretty impressive, but I have no words for that lace shirt. It's long-sleeved and yet shows way more skin that I'd have expected from her on a first date. At least it doesn't have shoulderpads.
He's talking about how hard it was when he ex-wife remarried, and how having kids changes everything, and how Scully will experience that when she has kids. He says they should take the boys (presumably his son and Scully's godson) to the beach one weekend. She does not seem enthused.
Rob asks her about her current case, but she doesn't think it's something they should discuss over dinner. He says she probably doesn't want to hear state planning and taxation, either.
Oh yeah, this is going real well.
Back at the office, Mulder gets a call from the park ranger saying he's found a body out in the woods - a long-haired male, dead 6-8 months, and missing the same tooth he'd found in that rabbit. He's turned the body over to the coroner's office.
At the restaurant, Scully's beeper (oh sweet baby jeebus, a beeper) goes off, and she calls him from the phone at the hostess station. He apologizes for interrupting her date, but she seems pretty okay with it
|"Mulder, you can rescue me from boring dates any time."|
and asks him what's up. He says he doesn't think it's a beastman they're looking for after all, and the camera zooms in on the boobie bigfoot drawing again.
Cut to the Atlantic City morgue, where the same coroner from before is looking through her files, but can't find a record of the body being brought in. Mulder gets all pissy and tells Scully (who is standing there with the UofM doctor and the park ranger), that "they" are trying to sweep this whole thing under the carpet to protect the tourist industry. He says that since the body was a male, there's a good chance there was a mate, and the doctor asks what the chances are of catching it alive.
Cut to an alleyway where Mulder, Scully, the doctor, and the ranger are searching for the creature. The park ranger has a tranquilizer rifle, which you know he'll never get to use. They enter the same building Mulder saw the creature run into earlier.
|The Dream Team: two feds, a ranger with a tranq gun, and an unarmed college professor. Also, for crying out loud, Scully. Why? The high waist, the brass buttons, the shoulderpads and EGADS, that color. I weep for you. Those wardrobe guys should be beaten with all the terrible suits they made you wear.|
Outside, a couple of patrol cops notice the park ranger's truck (real subtle there, buddy) and call it in.
Inside the building, the doctor has found some blood; he theorizes that the creature could be bring her kills here, or is injured.
Outside again, and some freaking SWAT team guys have shown up. This seems like the opposite of keeping things quiet to me, since someone is going to notice the goddamn SWAT team prowling around. Also they got there super fast, because the Dream Team has only gone up a couple floors. As they poke around, M&S wonder how different the beast woman is from themselves:
MULDER: What if it is a female Scully? How close is she to you or me? Does she feel emotion? Or are her days just spent looking for food?
SCULLY: Maybe, she spends her day shopping.
MULDER: Eight million years out of Africa, I don't think we're all that different.
SCULLY: Mulder, we've put men into space, we've built computers that work faster than the human mind.
MULDER: While we over-populate the world and create new technologies to kill each other with. Maybe we're just beasts with big brains. (Scully is standing, not moving, a still face gazing into nothingness) What?
SCULLY: No, I was just thinking about my godson's birthday party, eight little six year old boys running around, talk about primitive behavior.
|I love it when they stand around and trade exposition. That wasn't sarcastic. I really do love it.|
They hear Detective Thompson's voice and peer over a railing to find him demanding answers from the UofM doctor and calling for a search of the building. Moose and Squirrel head deeper into the building, moving up the floors. Mulder hears a noise, sees a figure, and goes running after it, with Scully as always just a little bit behind. He looks out a window and sees the beast woman on an adjacent roof. In an impressively spry display, he jumps to the other roof, does a tuck-and-roll, and comes up running. With the SWAT team hot on her heels, Scully follows (executing her own very impressive jump-roll-and-run move).
|That is not a stunt person. They didn't have the budget for stunts then. GA is shockingly athletic.|
I want to add here that this whole time, some vaguely ethnic spooky music has been playing, complete with drum beats and some wordless remixed vocals. This is the same music they will use whenever anything kind of primitive, savage, or non-Western is happening - from cannibal chicken farmers to voodoo to African melanin-sucking monsters.
Mulder spends some more time chasing the beast-woman across the rooftop before running into another dark building. He pokes around a little until suddenly the beast-woman tackles him, leaving him sprawled on his back as she sits on his legs. She backs off for a moment and Mulder tries to sit up, but she swipes at him, tearing a hole in his chest and and knocking him down again.
Scully makes her way into the building, calling Mulder's name, which makes the beast woman scamper off. She finds Mulder on the floor and starts to tend to his wounds.
Back outside, some EMTs are wrapping Mulder's wounds as he sits in the back of the ambulance and tries to tell Scully that the beast woman could have killed him but didn't. Scully, however, is on her cell phone (plot convenience!) trying to get federal jurisdiction for the case. Mulder tells her to tell them they've got a real live neanderthal on the loose.
The ranger comes running up to the ambulance and tells them that the SWAT team has cornered the beast woman, and they go running off to find her.
Detective Thompson tells his men to hold M&S back, as the SWAT team stalks the beast woman. We hear breaking glass and a SWAT team officer tells Thompson they've got a man down, and a naked woman just jumped from a second story window, headed south towards the woods.
Cut to the woods, where Thompsons' men are combing the forest with search dogs. The Dream Team arrives in the ranger's truck and starts their own search.
Shots of the Dream Team are interspersed with those of the Evil Cops as both groups search for the beast woman. Unfortunately, the bad guys find her first and gun her down. Mulder runs to the scene and sees the cops huddled around her body. He crouches down beside her and gently closes her eyes.
He asks Detective Thompson why they had to kill her, and the detective replies, "Same reason you kill a rapid animal."
Mulder stares at him in disgust until Scully gently touches his arm and leads him away.
One week later
Back at the X-files office, Mulder is looking at photos of the dead beast woman, which he puts into the Jersey Devil file. Scully comes in and... oh jesus, Scully, WHAT are you wearing???
|You guys, I can't even.|
Uh, yeah, she hands him the autopsy report, which showed fragments of human bones still in the woman's digestive tract and estimates her age between 25 and 30. The UofM doctor was allowed to do the medical exam but found nothing prehistoric in her bone structure (#3), so they've listed her as a Jane Doe and are searching records at state psych hospitals for her. She says they've also released the medical exam on the male body, who was estimated to be about 40. Mulder suggests there would have been offspring, and Scully confirms that the autopsy showed the woman may have given birth.
Mulder starts to theorize that the beast woman was just protecting her children, coming out of the woods to search for food after the death of her mate.
Scully stops him and tells him that he seriously needs to take some time off, but he's got an appointment with an ethno-biologist at the Smithsonian to discuss this case.
The phone rings, and it's Rob calling for Scully - he's got tickets for Cirque de Soleil and wants Scully to bring her godson so they can all have a seriously awkward playdate.
|This is not the face of a woman totally stoked to go on a second date with you. Though if she showed up in that jacket, he might want to bail, too.|
Upstairs, Mulder is filing a requisition for car when Scully comes up to him. They talk about the guy on the phone, and Scully says she doesn't have an interest in him "at this time," and she's coming along to the Smithsonian.
MULDER: Don't you have a life Scully?
SCULLY: Keep that up Mulder and I'll hurt you like that beast-woman.
She stops at a door, her hand on the handle.
MULDER: Eight million years out of Africa.
She opens it, holding the door open for Mulder.
SCULLY: Look who's holding the door.
In the New Jersey woods, a boy and his dad are hiking. The boy asks if his dad saw something down there, but the dad says it was nothing. He asks his son if he's ever heard the story of the Jersey Devil. As they walk away, dialogue fading, the camera pans down to the ground, where a young girl peers out of a hollow. The offspring of the beast-woman and her mate.
I feel like this is one of those episodes that could have been handled a little better if they'd had more time or a bigger budget or a less grand plan. They tried to fit in a lot of small, subtle messages about gender roles, mating habits, and the savage present in modern man but each element felt rushed and easy to miss. I wish they'd played up the "savage in modern man" bit more, through Mulder's interaction with the angry local detective, fiercely protecting his territory and tribe from an invader who sought to destroy it. Scully's date subplot felt like it was shoehorned in, playing equal parts character development and time-filler. We got the message pretty strongly in Squeeze that her assignment on the X-files is screwing up her professional life, so I guess the writers wanted to show her personal life spiraling down the drain, too. And of course it does go poorly, and I wonder if it's because she found him boring or unattractive... or boring and unattractive COMPARED TO Mulder and the wild ride that is her new life (#4).
I also really wish this episode had received some sort of follow-up or callback relating to the beast girl seen at the end. What a fantastic opportunity they would have had in say season 6 or 7, when the girl would have been a teenager, to reopen the case and summon up feelings of nostalgia in the viewing audience. I read a fanfic once (okay, like a few weeks ago) that was a series of vignettes, one of which was Moose and Squirrel looking in on the young beast girl, now all grown up, being examined by doctors. I'd link it to you if I could find it, but it's no longer in my browser history. The larger fic was something about a mummy. If you know what I'm talking about, please leave it in the comments!
Firsts: Mulder's porn collection, Scully talks about motherhood, Scully tries to have a normal social life, vaguely ethnic spooky music.