Mulder's having a bit of a mid-life crisis after his return to the X Files, finding many of his cases solved and decidedly on the normal side of para-. When Scully tells him of a new case in which several victims appear to have been killed by what looks like some kind of horned monster, Mulder begrudgingly goes along to investigate. Whilst there, he finds himself confronted with something that tests his faith in all its forms. Scully attempts to go about investigating the episode as normal as her partner chases lizard monsters into the night.
Darin Morgan's episodes, too few as they were, have always demonstrated a beautiful understanding of both what audiences loved about the show and the relationship between Mulder and Scully at its heart. The X-Files could be gloriously silly at times like the classic vampire episode, Bad Blood. There's a similar atmosphere going on here as perspectives shift and beliefs are challenged. Focusing this through the prism of Mulder's waning faith proves to be an inspired move. What happens when a man usually so quick to believe anything loses his desire to do so, but is then confronted with an actual kind of monster?
In short, hilarity. Morgan takes advantage of having an audience so well-versed in the usual codes and signifiers of the show to spin it about, turn it upside down and mess with it completely. And so we get a monster who lives on the edge of human society (not unlike a creature Morgan himself once played, Flukeman), but finds himself forced into becoming a human after he's bitten by one. Rhys Darby's genteel performance as Guy is a highlight of the episode, giving us a sympathetic creature who just wants to be left to his own devices (as long as they're not smartphones).
The episode becomes about Guy's ability to defy Mulder's expectations. Previous X Files cases have taught everyone's favourite conspiracy theorist that monsters will be monsters. They will kill or feed or violate because that's their nature. As Guy tells his story, Mulder's desperate to mould Guy to his expectations and have him be responsible for the murders because that's what Mulder understands. His shaky faith means he can't think outside the box, but it's Guy that proves his newfound cynicism wrong; monsters exist. They've always existed and Mulder finds his desire and his need to believe back again by the end of the episode.
It may be riotously funny all the way through, but the episode works so well precisely because it's using the comedy to do the character work at the same time. As well as renewing Mulder's faith in his life's work, it's also continuing with the focus on how Mulder and Scully are coping with their respective lives as they grow older. Even his inability to use his smartphone properly is used as another way of showing how at odds Mulder is with the world, as well as slaking his incurable thirst for the bizarre (and let's all take a moment to appreciate Mulder putting his head in a fox).
Scully is sidelined somewhat in this episode, but that feels fitting too; it's a running joke that Scully sees all of these amazing, paranormal/supernatural things and still remains cynical. To have her miss all the monstrous action and catch the human bad guy at the heart of it all feels so perfectly X-Files, precisely because it is. It also has to be her that gets Mulder back in the game, despite her own continuing cynicsm about the things in which he believes. She knows what's best for him, as she always has done.
Though it's playing a lot more humourously, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is operating on a similar level to last week's Founder's Mutation in its exploration of how they fit together. Their dynamic is messed with; Mulder begins the episode woefully cynical about his life's work with Scully encouraging him to take on the monster case. It's not long before they're back to normal though in a powerhouse of a comedic performance from Duchovny as he goes through the usual Mulder and Scully back-and-forth by himself whilst Anderson gets to pull all the reaction faces she can manage, landing the big one liner at the end: "No! I think you're bat-crap crazy."
The best X-Files episodes, whether they were mythology-based, freak of the week or a bit of both, always made use of the relationship at its heart, their differences and their strengths together. Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster might be silly, but it's also incredibly astute about why we're all tuning back in to see these characters once more, why the show still works and how these characters are affected not only by their own experiences, but also our experiences of them. Darin Morgan weaves it all together into what might be the most quintessentially X-Files episode of the revival so far. It's wonderful.
You can read Becky's review of previous episode, Founder's Mutation, here.
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