The X-Files: Post-Modern Prometheus

Case: A woman has become pregnant in a similar peculiar fashion to the way she did eighteen years ago.

Destination: A small town in Indiana

In some ways, you could contain a review of ‘Post-Modern Prometheus’ in one sentence: "Somewhere in the land, a monster lurked –" and, at the end of said monster story, is the greatest single frame in all of the show’s history of Mulder and Scully, with which to remember this show by.

But in between the beginning and end of this episode are very special things, too. For one, there is a specific beyond charming quirk, to this homage to Frankenstein (or as time goes by, the lovable lowlife 90s), even for The X-Files. (Because Cher.) And secondly, the theme is just so endearing, wildly universal and utterly characteristic of this show: how will I make a mark on the world and, more importantly, will my contribution help me feel more connected to others? I think the latter part of the question is what makes the culmination of those final moments between Mulder and Scully so touching.

Leaving aside the more absurd plot elements, i.e. that some of the townspeople are essentially an amalgam of farm animal DNA, the concept that we take our external world, filter it through our internal experience then transfigure it into something (i.e. The Great Mutato both person and comic book) is a rarefied sophisticated lens from which to view filmmakers / TV creators. (Hey, Chris Carter has been called many things and solipsistic is not not one of them.) But it’s a good question for a series that elevated science to art and often deduced art as science (in the best way possible) to ask: what does it want its lasting imprint to be?

As the series hit its most interesting stride, to date, in the fifth season, it began to take more risks when it asked the audience, what kind of stories are we willing to take in? This episode paved the way for ‘Bad Blood’ and guest writers’ (Stephen King, William Gibson and Tom Maddox) ‘Chinga’ and ‘Kill Switch’ by retro fitting these characters into a very different storytelling device. And honestly, there are dozens of love letters in this episode, to filmmaking, character and universe builders and myths that that have come before. It is with this scant 45 minutes that Carter and crew have taken in that which influenced them, run it through their internal worldview and turned it into this never-to-be-forgotten episode.

So, at the episode’s end, after taking a post-modern detour away from convention, formula and expectation, as this show is wont to do, ‘Post-Modern Prometheus’ ends with a scene so sparkly, so electric, and so deeply felt that when we watch Mulder and Scully slow dance to the last few bars of “Walking in Memphis’, we know it is their relationship (which defies nature by its very existence) that is the legacy this show leaves behind.

Other Thoughts

* Mark Snow, I could make-out with you, this score is so good.

* So many instances of the ole’ ‘you think it’s one thing, but it’s really another’. That flavor adds a unique experience of this episode through the patented XF lens.

* The little touches always get me: peanut butter, clips from Mask, casting John O’Hurley as Dr. Pollidori.

* This needs its own ‘other thought’-- Seriously, is there anything visually more memorable weird cool different special than when Mulder and Scully run up on Pollidori’s house when it’s covered in the termite tent?

* Praise Vince Gilligan for knowing that the genius of those tents could be used again.
(Breaking Bad’s Hazard Pay.)

* Duchovny’s ‘straight man’ routine might not get any better than this episode. That’s true of Anderson’s earnest!Scully as well.


Mulder: “Scully, is it too early to get my own 1-900 number?”

(Tell me, does this the win The Award for the best 1990s dialogue so far?)

Scully: “Is there anything you don’t believe in, Mulder?”

Mulder: “The other victims had their frying pans... violated.”

Mulder: “That’s not a place you want to burn a guy.”

Mulder: “Where’s the writer? We need to speak to the writer.”

Final Analysis: What’s not to love?


Dr. Johnny Fever said...

I can appreciate this episode from a production point of view, but emotionally I've never liked it. The problem I seem to have with it is the ending... ultimately Mutato was a rapist, and his happy ending seems to come to soon. It would have worked better for me if the “Walking in Memphis" ending happened after the morality and justice of the situation was hashed-out more than it was.

Not saying that Mutato didn't deserve the ending... just structurally it seemed premature.

Juliette said...

Dr Johnny I agree. I love Mulder and Scully's dance at the end, but otherwise I'm afraid this episode leaves me cold, at least partly due to the same sense of humour failure where sexual violation is concerned that spoils Small Potatoes for me. I also find it a bit weird and confusing, if I'm honest. Love the black and white photography though! And great review Heather. I know we're in the minority on this one!

Heather said...

I hear you both but know that the Great Mutato isn't the rapist -- it's the farmer who is. And the women are being artificially inseminated. And though neither fact erases the violation , to me, it does feel slightly less offensive. It's also not explained explicitly in the story which is the fault (or choice) of the writer.

Juliette said...

That explains my confusion, thank you Heather! It's interesting, I can follow a really complex story quite happily if I'm invested in it, but if it loses me early on I tend to lose track of the plot as well. I'll have to re-watch and try to work out why it didn't connect with me (apart from the ending - I do like commentaries on story telling a lot!)

ChrisB said...

The dance Sigh. The dance. It's not the greatest moment in the series for me (that comes much later), but it ranks right up there.

I love this episode, not for the story which is derivative and silly, but for the characters and the production. There is so much to enjoy visually that the tale becomes secondary.

And again, I say with a sigh, the dance.

Heather said...

Dying to hear your favorite all-time moment, yet to be revealed! :)

drnanamom said...

Heather I always enjoy reading your reviews because you find a depth in them that I have difficulty accessing. I agree with some of the comments about the fluffing over of the violation of women in the town but you helped me see some of the other aspects of the episode that I wouldn't have noticed particularly in terms of film writ large. Thanks!