Case: A teenager dies in mysterious circumstances, with indications of occult practices at the scene.
Destination: Milford Haven, New Hampshire
This was one of the episodes I had somehow managed to miss and never seen before a few weeks ago, so I had few memories or expectations of it. It’s a strange sort of episode even by X-Files standards that doesn’t seem quite sure what it wants to be, but there’s some interesting stuff in here trying to get out.
As the episode opens, it’s unclear whether it’s going to be creepy or slightly goofy. This early in the show, The X-Files didn’t tend to do ‘comedy’ episodes in the way it did in later years, so the tone here veers a little between creepy and slightly silly. There’s a nice mis-direct in the cold open as we see a group of school governors complain that Jesus Christ Superstar isn’t appropriate for their school, only to reveal that they’re not Christian fundamentalists, but devil-worshippers. More bizarrely, shortly after Mulder and Scully’s arrival it actually rains toads on them, and suddenly I feel like I’m watching an episode of Red Dwarf.
About two thirds of the way through, though, the episode takes a sudden turn into the serious. The scene in which Shannon tells Mulder and Scully that she was abused by her stepfather is treated very seriously (due to the subject matter) but doesn’t really fit with the tone of the rest of the episode. I wonder if a subject as serious and depressing as child abuse is really appropriate to be used as a semi-misdirect in a fairly quirky story. I think if you’re going to put a scene as serious and disturbing as this in an episode, the subject really needs to be the focus of the episode. (The young actress is very good though).
Still, although this episode isn’t as serious or grounded as that (unlike, for example, season 3’s ‘Oubliette’ or season 4’s ‘Paper Hearts’), it is intensely creepy. Despite the silliness it’s unsettling in a spooky, horror movie sort of way, which suits the subject matter. Scully seems pretty unconcerned about homicides involving victim desecration this week (see Jess' review of 'Irresistible'), and aside from their concern for Shannon neither lead seems especially invested in finding out what’s going on, but the story overall has a sinister vibe that more or less works.
Of course, what we all really remember this episode for is Bulldog from Frasier getting eaten by a giant snake (surely even a Satanist school wouldn’t keep a large python in a Biology lab?). I like Bulldog’s genuine love and regret for his step-daughter shortly before his inevitable demise, though their story is rather half-heartedly wrapped up. He says he never abused her sexually or physically, but they included the children in some unspecified way in their Satanic rituals, and the repressed memories were supposed to come out when they were 18, all of which is rather moot by the time they’ve both been bumped off.
This is an episode with strangely little resolution. X-Files villains often get away, but Mulder and Scully usually save someone, or discover something. At the very least, one or both of them are endangered and get out of it. Here, Mrs Paddock the evil substitute teacher just sort of… goes away. I suppose our heroes do get attacked by the Satanist fundamentalists, but not by Mrs Paddock, the bigger villain. In fact, she saves them (if I were Mulder or Scully I might worry about that). She leaves them a message saying, “Goodbye it’s been nice working with you,” so I guess she didn’t like the slightly half-hearted devil worshippers either.
This is an interesting but not overly engaging episode. The idea of inverting the tick-box religious group to be Satanists and having them confronted by the being they supposedly worship is a nice one, but it doesn’t really come across all that clearly, all mixed up in child abuse allegations, snakes and Mulder explaining Wicca (which has nothing much to do with anything). Honestly, if I’m going to watch high schoolers messing around with dark powers on The X-Files, I’ll watch season 3’s ‘Syzygy’. I love that episode.
- Crowley High School. Nice touch.
- Mulder says incense is used in black magic and suspects Mrs Paddock on the basis of smelling it in her office. Good thing no strange crimes have been committed around my desk, he’d have me locked away in an instant.
- Why do the Satanists speak German? They speak Latin too, which makes rather more sense as the phrases ‘dominus inferus vobiscum’ and ‘et cum tuo’ have been adapted from the Catholic mass. The Catholic phrase is ‘dominus vobiscum’, which means ‘the Lord be with you,’ and ‘et cum tuo’ is the response, ‘and with you’. Here it’s been changed to ‘the lord of below be with you.’ That’s all fine, but why the German at the beginning and in the title? German is not inherently evil, no matter how awful World War Two was.
- ‘Die Hand die verletzt’ means ‘the hand that wounds’, by the way.
Teenage boy: We were just trying to get some.
Teenage girl (to her friend): I told you!
Scully: Look at this. I found this on the internet. And she shows him a green and black screen. Oh, the early 90s.
Mulder: Did you really think you could call up the devil and ask him to behave?
Final Analysis: Interesting but underwhelming. Two out of four snakes eating Bulldog.
Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.