If there’s one thing that The X-Files is not particularly famous for, it’s humour, since the series tends to keep on the suspenseful, mysterious and dramatic side. So it’s easy to forget that there have been more than a dozen episodes with light-hearted stories that often branched into outright comedy – and with only six episodes in the new mini-series, there was no way that the humouristic angle of the show could be ignored. Luckily, Chris Carter thought so as well and enlisted the help of Darin Morgan, who had written some of the more funnier early episodes of the series and came up with the brilliant Mulder and Scully meet the Were-Monster. Yes, we are behind in Europe – while the final episode has already aired in the US, we are only on the third in England and Germany unless you want to pay for the streaming offers from Amazon or iTunes, which are in sync with the American broadcasts.
While the previous episode Founder’s Mutation was a pretty regular Monster-of-the-Week affair, Darin Morgan went all-out and made Mulder and Scully meet the Were-Monster a literal monster story. Based on an unused script he had originally written for X-Files producer Frank Spoonitz’ short-lived Kolchak: The Night Stalker remake, the story starts off with an disillusioned Mulder bemoaning that many of their old x-files turned out to have perfectly rational and sometimes embarrassing explanations. But even when Scully comes to the rescue with a new case that actually has a proper monster sighting, Mulder remains unenthusiastic – until they arrive in Oregon to investigate and discover something entirely unexpected.
Right from the beginning, Mulder and Scully meet the Were-Monster feels like an homage to the classic early X-Files episodes with a nostalgic setup in the familiar basement office. But for a change, it’s Fox Mulder getting doubtful about the x-files and not Dana Scully – a role reversal which has been done several times before, but seldom in such a funny and self-deprecating way. The whole episode is stuffed with references in an almost sentimental way that makes the story feel like a lovingly made gift to the long-time viewers. At the same time, it’s not constantly rip-roaring funny and instead opts more for a low-key satirical and sometimes almost cynical approach. There are a couple of very amusing one-liners (“Mulder, the internet isn’t good for you!” is destined to become a classic) and the dialogue is especially crisp and snappy in this very talkative episode.
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny have long since established that they can be wonderful comedians and in this third offering of the new series they seem to have a lot of fun, even though the shooting of the episode was reportedly very strenuous. Both are genuinely funny here without embarrassing themselves or abandoning their characters – shades of the more humorous Scully and Mulder have always been present even in the more serious episodes and here they are just more pronounced as usual. The only downside is that the script does not give them too many joint scenes and in half the episode they are actually appearing completely separately, which feels a little bit like a missed opportunity.
What makes this episode especially enjoyable are the great guest stars. Almost stealing the show is New Zealand comedian Rhys Darby, who plays the sad-sack Guy Mann, around who the whole episode revolves – which is all you can actually say without spoiling the plot. Darby’s standup roots are distinctly noticeable and his character appears to have been tailor-made for him with lots of dialogue, which actually transforms into a really enjoyable monologue at one point in the story. Without giving too much away it can be said that Darby’s performance makes his character instantly likeable even though he’s a real oddball.
Another standup comedian, the Pakistani-American actor Kumail Nanjiani was cast as the nervous animal control officer Gupta – which actually came about because the long-time fan of the show has been hosting an X-Files podcast since 2014 that had become famous for its in-depth episode discussions, sometimes even with writers and actors as guests. Nanjiani was actually an excellent choice for the second slightly strange character of the story who is not all that was he at first seems to be, displaying exactly the right amount of haplessness and a bit of humour. Alex Diakun, a veteran Canadian actor, who even had a small appearance in the 2008 X-Files movie, makes an equally funny appearance as the crusty, dishevelled motel manager who only reluctantly tells Mulder his story.
There’s also a wonderful brief bit with voice-over actor Richard Newman, another Vancouver local, as psychiatrist Dr. Rumanovitch – who I actually thought was played in a cameo by Tom Braidwood, better known as Frohike of the Lone Gunmen. The resemblance is certainly there and it would have been an amazing idea, but Richard Newman is equally amusing with his east-european accent and mysterious manner. While Assistant Director Skinner or the Cigarette Smoking Man do not show up here, two old friends from a long time ago open the episode: Tyler Labine and Nicole Parker-Smith make a comeback as the stoner couple who appeared in two earlier episodes penned by Darin Morgan in the 1990s.
One briefly appearing character, however, caused somewhat of a controversy – D.J. “Shangela” Pierce, an American drag queen comedian, was cast as a transsexual hooker, which may not be a problem in itself – but it raises the question why the only LGBT role in the story had to be a prostitute. It was actually a setup for an equally juvenile comment about gender reassignment surgery which seemed to come right out of the joke repertoire of an eleven-year-old kid – fortunately those two low points of the episode remained isolated by themselves, but they leave a bit of a bad aftertaste of an otherwise enjoyable story. Accusations that the whole episode or even the series are actually transphobic are somewhat exaggerated, though – it’s simply a poor choice to employ a sensitive theme like this in a mostly comedic setting as a throwaway gag.
The story was filmed in a surprisingly low-key way – there are absolutely no visual effects and everything is basically done the old-fashioned way in-camera and the all-important monster suit looks delightfully like something straight out of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, With lots of dialogue, this episode almost feels like it was written for the stage. It doesn’t get any more classic than that without actually shooting in black and white, but the usual moody and dark colour scheme of the series was not much changed here.
Fortunately, one slight misstep does not make Mulder and Scully meet the Were-Monster a terrible episode. This is a wonderful, old-fashioned and almost whimsical story that provides a welcome diversion to the usual serious and dramatic themes and also pays respect to many of the series’ earlier episodes. It’s simply an indispensable ingredient of the X-Files that makes the whole season 10 mini-series worthwhile.