The X-Files: War of the Coprophages

Case: Cockroaches are taking over while Mulder and Scully try to get to the heart of what is happening.

Destination: Miller’s Grove, Massachusetts

By the time this episode aired, roughly halfway through the third season, The X-Files had developed a fan base that was one of the first ones to use the Internet to discuss each episode of the show as it aired. Chris Carter, the creator of the show, has since admitted that he stalked the sites and read much of what was posted.

This episode is not so much about the monster of the week as it is a meta version of itself. As I was watching it again, I realized that much of what happens appears to be a sly dig at giving the audience what they thought they wanted and doing it with a great deal of humor. Think Mulder without a shirt and killing a bug with an X-File.

Many of the monsters, both human and otherwise, portrayed in this show were truly terrifying. Cockroaches are not terrifying; they are just gross. I imagine that many of us cringe through a lot of this show not because we are afraid, but because these bugs make our skin crawl.

It was also firmly established by this time what Mulder and Scully’s roles were in this universe. Mulder is willing to believe; Scully is the scientist. Throughout the beginning of this episode, Mulder calls Scully because something is off; Scully has the scientific explanation. Additionally, Mulder’s beliefs are challenged by people he meets. Bambi thinks U.F.O.s are insect swarms. Dr. Ivanov thinks visitors from other planets will be robots, not life forms.

Then, the tables are turned. Mulder comes to believe that all the explanations can be found in science; Scully is less convinced and goes running north. Or, are the changes in their attitudes due to something (someone) else?

On everyone’s wish list at the time was the Mulder and Scully would get over it and realize that they are perfect for each other. This episode is filled with romantic comedy moments, including the late night phone calls, the banter, and Scully’s running up to Massachusetts only after Mulder meets Dr. Berenbaum.

We like to think of our heroes as suave, sophisticated, seductive. Mulder is none of those things; in fact, he is a bit of a dweeb when it comes to women. His opening line to Bambi, “What’s a woman like you doing in a place like this?” is positively sophomoric. When he tells Bambi that her scientific detachment is “refreshing,” we all roll our eyes. This is a man who spends a great deal of his life with a detached scientist. The end result is that he ends up in bed, alone, talking to Scully on the phone and confessing his fear of bugs to her. And, at the end, Bambi walks off with Dr. Ivanov while Mulder and Scully share an umbrella.

This episode is fun and it makes me laugh. Something, however, is lacking. There is no real story here, no real character development, nothing that makes this episode all that special. Doing a show that pokes fun at itself is fine, but it would have been better with some kind of overarching theme. Something other than aren't we clever and self-aware.

Other Thoughts:

The writer of this episode, Darin Morgan, wrote several of the humorous episodes, including "Humbug" and "Clyde Bruckman." His ability to find the humor in the gross is exceptional. Scully’s eating the piece of candy that everyone believed was a cockroach is a direct callback to "Humbug," in which Anderson ate a cockroach.

According to Wikipedia, “[i]n order to achieve the effect of a cockroach infestation, the show used around three hundred cockroaches for the episode in addition to extremely detailed rubber cockroach props and ‘piles and piles’ of faux-dung.” 300 cockroaches? I freak out if I see one.

The title is a reference to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. This episode takes place in Miller’s Grove, a direct homage to the Grover’s Mill of Orson Wells’ radio play.

Dr. Berenbaum is named for May Berenbaum.

Coprophage = any living organism that feeds of feces or fecal matter.

I found a random fan review of the episode that pointed out that Scully’s reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s was an in-joke. After a massive search, I found it. On November 6, 1995, Duchovny appeared on an episode of Jeopardy! and was far ahead of both the other contestants. The final answer was “On March 24, 1994, this store held a breakfast to announce the new Truman Capote Literary Trust.” Too easy, right? Well, our hero’s question was “What is Rizzoli’s?” Bummer. He was beaten by Stephen King, who knew the answer.

One of the stoners is A.J. Buckley, an alumnus of Supernatural and most recently seen in this season’s Justified.

Mulder has gone to Massachusetts for the weekend as his apartment is being fumigated (of course).

The shot of the bug appearing to crawl across the television screen made me jump the first time I watched this episode.

The car crashing into the other one at the market was an accident, literally. Anderson’s reaction as she jumps and turns around was not scripted. I also love the fact that the sailor is buying chocolate bars and stockings.

Quotes:

Mulder: “Scully, what are you wearing?”

Alternative Fuel Researcher: “The images of the cockroaches has been permanently imprinted onto my brain. I see them every time I close my eyes.”
Sheriff: “Try not to close your eyes.”

Scully: “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.”

Bambi: “I don’t know if you know anything about U.F.O.s…”

Scully: “Her name is Bambi?”
Mulder: “Yeah. Both her parents were naturalists. Her theory is that U.F.O.s are actually nocturnal insect swarms passing through electrical air fields.”
Scully: “Her name is Bambi?”

Mulder: “And, as a result, I screamed. No, not a girlie scream, but the scream of someone being confronted some before unknown monster that had no right existing on the same planet I inhabited…”
Scully: “Mulder, are you sure it wasn’t a girlie scream?”

Sheriff: “You two should go home and get some rest. You looked pooped.”
Seriously?

Scully: “Smart is sexy.”

Final Analysis: A fun and funny episode that played with the tropes for which this show was already known, but failed to form a cohesive whole.

ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.

5 comments:

Dr. Johhny Fever said...

"The shot of the bug appearing to crawl across the television screen made me jump the first time I watched this episode."

My first viewing of this back in the day was on a VHS recording because I had to work when it aired "live". After the bug crawled across the screen, I hit 'pause' and searched everywhere for that bug! Without success, I finally rewound the tape and realized it was on the film.

To this day, I've yet to see a camera trick impact me more than that :)

Billie Doux said...

Yes, me too. I hate bug episodes, but this one was so clever that it's the exception to my rule. Terrific review, Chris.

Juliette said...

This is one of those episodes that I've never really got. Thing is, and I know this goes against canon law of the X-Files, I don't get why Darin Morgan is considered the best thing since ever by so many fans. Clyde Bruckman is an undisputed masterpiece and Jose Chung is fun, but I don't really like either this one or Humbug. Just my taste being out of whack with everyone else's again I guess!

Baz said...

For some reason this is one of those episodes that stuck with me - I seem to remember watching this one when it first came out in the UK & it's always been one I look forward to on any re-watch.

For some reason it sticks with me more than most of the arc episodes which are usually my favourites :)

Heather said...

I LOVE THIS EPISODE.

Awesome review, Chris.