The X-Files: Grotesque

Case: A man accused of several gruesome murders, claims he was possessed by a demon. His assertion grabs the attention of Mulder and Scully because even after he has been incarcerated, the body count grows.

Destination: Washington, D.C.

There’s a lot of blue lighting in ‘Grotesque’. Lots and lots of blue lighting. And a story reminiscent of ‘Irresistible’ in that it poses a similar question: Can evil be utterly human?

The episode finds itself pondering mortal v. demonic in a meditation about the darkness of humanity, albeit a pretty self-important and inflated one. Mulder and Scully are called upon (as it turns out by the same man who has turned into a killer himself along the way of his criminal investigation he heads up) to probe the nature of killer John Mostow's claim that he was made to murder because of the urgings of a dark force. I've never thought that the episode structure, plot and some of the tangential character beats come together but what is effective here is watching Mulder do all the things he does best.

'Grotesque' is a story that belongs to Mulder in every way. For one, it dives into his past again (see also 'Young at Heart'). There's a bit of intrigue and, naturally, because it's Mulder, loads of charm. But you know what it does really well? It confirms what we already hoped was true: Mulder has consistently been a revolutionary subversive who's never given a shite about what anyone thinks and thus was stalked by many an egomaniacal professor/superior agent because he challenged them like no one else. This is someone who's never conformed to the countless concepts he's been a disciple of nor to the people from whom he's learned them. And even though his father issues cause his self-esteem to waiver from time to time, he always bounces back from 'swimming upstream,' more savvy and better for it. And in the case of a senior agent and mentor, Bill Patterson, who's story is juxtaposed here with Mulder's, we see how the Behavioral Science Unit had its hand in shaping Mulder, too. (Funny enough, it took Mulder until the end of the fifth season to properly bitchslap someone with the best line in the whole series regarding this subject. "You're insulting me when you should be taking notes.")

'Grotesque' is a great example of the genius of Mulder taking things at face value. What makes him so successful and so often (and often maddeningly!) right is that he rarely judges peoples' experience. Here, he doesn't take for granted the killer's uncanny excessive and obsessive perception of what is happening to him. He never dismisses him as crazy thus valuing Mostow's version of things and inevitably uncovering Patterson as the copycat. There's an incredible world view wrapped into that: it takes equal parts empathy and courage in this approach to understanding the world. In other words, the truth is out there, you just to have to know where to look.

Finally,'Grotesque' shows this quality of Mulder's where he, very smartly, doesn't ever take peoples' negative opinions, criticism or meanness personally. It's kind of one of his most brilliant attributes, and we see it here in all its glory. He's one of those rare beings who is truly facile with the interplay of the impersonal/personal. Even though there's a moment where Mulder reveals a deeper vulnerability to Patterson's approval of him, he honestly cannot be bothered with any one peer's opinion of him or his methods. (This occasionally applies to Scully which is one of the show's great tensions!)

This one's considered a fan favorite for various reasons, but I suspect that its depiction of Mulder's greatness is at the top of that list.

Other Thoughts

*I toyed with writing this review, instead, dissecting each and every of the 10 million tropes present but decided that Mulder was more important.

*I love how Scully is getting a mouth on her.

*Many who worked on this series say that this episode was the antecedent for Chris Carter's Millennium.

*This is my first review of a Kim Manners episode. Please forgive me if I gush, but Manners understood the visual tone of the series perhaps better than anyone else who sat in the director's chair. He directed more episodes of the series than anyone else. Lucky for us, his legacy lives on through a very memorable character in 'Jose Chung's From Outer Space'. (He passed away from lung cancer in 2009.) Also his directorial debut was an episode of Charlie's Angels. Need I say more.

*Kurtwood Smith as Agent Patterson!

Other Thoughts: The Howard Gordon Addition

*Alex Gansa—former writing partner of Howard Gordon—is now, sadly, out of the picture.

*There are script problems that can only have come from the mind of Howard Gordon. I don't say that flippantly. I have followed his writing for years and as a writer, he falls into story traps in a very specific way. (See above comment about tropes!)

*There’s a hint of ‘the little lady’ thing happening with Patterson and Scully. I mean, if it’s an homage to SoTL, then bless. If not, I blame Howard Gordon.

*Sadly, the show resorts to a trite V.O. at the end. I blame Howard Gordon.


Patterson: “So what is it Mulder? Little green men? Evil spirits? The hounds of hell?”

Scully: “You’re not going to tell me when your love affair with Patterson ended?”
(Ah, Scully + sarcasm = bliss)

Mulder: “Yeah, Patterson had this thing about wanting to track a killer, to know an artist, you have to look at his art. It really meant, if you want to catch a monster, you have to become one yourself.”

Mulder: “I wouldn’t want to disappoint you by not disappointing you.”
(Simply one of Mulder’s best lines ever.)

Scully: “Look, when I couldn’t reach you, I went to your apartment. I saw your new wallpaper….”

Patterson: “My advice to you, Scully… Let Mulder do what he needs on this case. Don’t get in his way and don’t try to hold him back, because you won’t be able to.”

Patterson: “Are you out of your mind?”
Mulder: “Not me. Not now.”

Final Analysis: There's no doubt that the character of Fox Mulder rules in every way but for a more well-rounded episode that does much of what's here even better... rewatch 'Irresistible'!


ChrisB said...

This episode has always been tough for me to watch as it bothers me to see Mulder so alone. Much more, I suspect, than it bothers him.

The scene between Skinner and Scully is brilliant for just this reason. They are willing to let Mulder be Mulder, but they have his back.

I never thought about Mulder's ability to shrug off other people's opinions, but you're so right. It is one of his endearing character traits.

drnanamom said...

Heather - great review and lovely analysis of Mulder. I so enjoy the different ways we review this show and how much all of you know about the show, the writers, everything. This is not one of my favourite episodes and I think it is because it is so Mulder focused with him very vulnerable. And I'm not such a fan of the blue.