Previously, on "The X-Files"...
Mulder and Scully are back to being FBI agents, and they didn't just spend years of their lives investigating aliens and conspiracies. A lot of times, they were trying to stop mutants and freaks. Some of those episodes, in the third season, were written by a guy named Darin Morgan, who was one of the very best. Darin Morgan is back to write and direct this week's new episode of "The X-Files." To quote Scully: "It has a monster in it."
This Week's Dossier
Mulder's a bit down in the dumps over how maybe he's wasted his life investigating weird stuff that was eventually revealed to not be so weird, which might be why Scully suggests they investigate a strange death that might have been caused by an animal attack... or might be the work of a lizard monster. Turns out, there is a man-sized lizard running around, but he's not the real monster. Instead, he's a humble fellow named Guy (Rhys Darby), a man-sized lizard who was attacked by the human behind these deaths, and — thanks to the bite he received — is now switching between human and lizard forms (and getting a crash course in the ennui many humans live with daily). Mulder listens to Guy's story, but it doesn't have any answers as to what's happening or any solutions to Mulder's ongoing existential crisis. Because for once, Mulder is reluctant to believe in the fantastic.
Later, though, after Scully apprehends the real murderer (an all-too-human psycho serial killer played by Kumail Nanjiani), Mulder catches Guy just as he decides to return to the woods and hibernate for 10,000 years. Guy transforms into his lizard form right in front of Mulder, and a little bit of Mulder's wonder at the universe is restored.
Wait, Explain It to Me Like I'm Five?
Mulder and Scully met a were-monster. Scully gets a dog. Oh, and being human kinda sucks.
It only took 22 years, but Scully finally got to have sex on camera on "The X-Files." (Your interpretation of the fourth season episode "Never Again" notwithstanding.) Hey, Scully got some! Unfortunately, the scene was a lie being told by Guy, Guy didn't seem totally clear on how human sex actually works and the other participant wasn't Mulder. But certainly many Gillian Anderson fans got a kick out of her turning porn star, and scenes like this prove to be very valuable in reminding us that Anderson has some incredible comedic chops.
Some Deep and Relevant Thoughts About Hair
Again, we have no idea when Mulder got his hair cut because these episodes are airing out of order. But I'm getting used to Scully's wig. It looks way better loose than in a ponytail, anyway.
Let's just let Scully speak for all of us here: "Yeah, this is how I like my Mulder." The quiet way in which Scully relished the weirdness of this case — and what it brought out in both her and Mulder — made it clear that we're not the only ones experiencing some hardcore reminiscing.
But It's Not 1993 Anymore
Mulder has a camera phone! Mulder... is not great at operating it, but his flailing with the settings was all too easy to identify with.
Also, an early witness to spot the were-monster is a transgender prostitute played by "RuPaul's Drag Race" favorite Shangela (a.k.a. D.J. Pierce). "The X-Files" has, at times, struggled with acknowledging LGBTQ issues properly and sensitively, but here Mulder goes out of his way to use the most appropriate and accurate terminology possible; something we might not have gotten during the original series, but here in 2016 feels downright essential. It'd be nice if Annabelle weren't a prostitute on drugs, but Shangela is always a delight.
Fun Ultra-Nerd Fact
Let's be clear: This episode was packed with in-jokes and callbacks to the classic series, especially episodes that were also written by Morgan. Two tombstones in the cemetery pay tribute to Kim Manners and Jack Hardy, a producer and an assistant director on the original series who have since passed away. The stoners at the beginning? They were played by Tyler Labine and Nicole Parker, who 20 years ago also played stoners in multiple third season episodes.
Scully's ill-fated dog Queequeg, introduced in "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," is not only remembered fondly but gets a successor in the form of Guy's abandoned pet dog who Scully adopts at the end of the episode. Her joke that "You forget that I'm immortal" is also a reference to "Clyde Bruckman" (as well as the later episode "Tithonus," which hints at the same notion).
Even Mulder's choice of night-time sleepwear hearkened back to one of the show's most iconic moments. (Fun fact: That was probably a replica because the original red speedo is now in the Smithsonian.)
"I'm not going to ask you if you just said what I think you just said because I know it's what you just said." (Most Awkward Quote)
"Why? There isn't an external logic to any of it."
- Mulder and Guy
That exchange goes on a little longer, but, in an episode full of stellar dialogue, this line stuck out as an attempt at hanging a lantern on some of the narrative's weaker points without actually addressing them. This episode, in many ways, was a delightful treat, especially after the two relatively solemn previous installments. But with the exception of the big twist about Guy's real nature, its charms were not found in its plotting.
"Dear Diary: Today my heart lept when Agent Scully suggested 'spontaneous human combustion.'" (Best Quote)
We'll have to wait for the complete transcript of Mulder's speech to Scully in the motel room, in which he speedily and steadily debunks all of his own theories, but it was a ramble on par with the best of the series and a joy to behold.
For a while, we've been predicting that "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-monster" would be the best episode of this short season, largely based on Darin Morgan's pedigree as a writer/director, as well as the show's decent legacy with comedy. While in some respects that is definitely the case, it isn't perfect. For the most part, Morgan keeps things moving light and quick, but there are still some pacing problems; most especially the sequence where Guy explains his life story to Mulder, which weighs things down just as they should be intensifying. And Mulder's depression over his life's work proves a little too talky and hard to track.
More importantly, the decision to air these episodes out of order is proving more than a little distracting. Take the first scene with Mulder and Scully in the old X-Files office, which is still clearly in the process of being set up — a far cry from last week's "Founder's Mutation" when they've clearly settled in. (There's also likely a story about how the "I Want to Believe" poster is Scully's, one we may end up hearing soon.)
All that said — what a delight. Killer banter, great jokes and such charming performances from Anderson (clearly having a great time) and Duchovny (working hard to give his more serious moments real weight). And the supporting work is great, too. Nanjiani is a bit underused but steals the scene whenever he gets a chance, and Darby's kooky edge makes the character of Guy feel more real than we could have expected. Whether or not it's the best episode of the season remains to be seen, but we're so glad to have seen this.