The X-Files: Agua Mala

Case: Arthur Dales, the former agent who first investigated the X-Files, calls in Mulder and Scully to find out what happened to a missing family in the middle of a hurricane.

Destination: Goodland, Florida

"I don't hear a story about a sea monster and assume it's the Lord's gospel truth."

This... is an episode that happened.

It's hard to know what to say about this oddball of an episode. The score suggests perhaps it's supposed to be a Funny One, but it's not particularly funny. It starts out with Something in the Plumbing, perhaps echoing earlier stories like the infamous Fluke-Man Incident, throws in some bad weather trapping Mulder and Scully in a small town, then sort of morphs into a cross between a disaster movie and a hostage situation before finishing with a version of the day-saving solution from Signs (which to be fair, postdates the episode).

I'm usually very fond of disaster-movie type stories and of hostage situation stories, but not both at once, and not with a sea monster in the plumbing thrown in for good measure. This story seems to hit all the most cliched beats of such plots - like a heavily pregnant woman going into labour in the middle of everything - without doing anything really interesting with any of them, probably because it's too busy moving on to the next thing.

The episode's primary attempt at character work and original drama is probably Dales' attitude to Scully. It's hard to tell whether his initial abrasiveness is sexism, irritation at her scepticism, or both, but by the end he's been suitably impressed by her ability to deliver a baby and hold off a sea monster while being held at gunpoint and wishes he'd had a Scully of his own. Thing is, not only does that statement sum up the ridiculous level of overkill in this episode, but we, the audience, already know all that about Scully, so the only person who's learned anything about anyone is the fictional character of Arthur Dales, which just isn't that satisfying as a story.

Other Thoughts

 - When I reviewed 'The Rain King' a few weeks ago, I noticed that the Mayor in that episode was played by Dirk Blocker, who plays Hitchcock, the partner-sometimes-mistaken-for-lover of Scully, in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. And lo and behold, who should turn up in this episode but Joel McKinnon Miller, who plays Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Scully, and playing a useless cop to boot. Someone needs to write fan fiction about how Deputy Greer unexpectedly survived his encounter with a sea monster in this episode and moved to Brooklyn, reinventing himself in honour of the woman who saved the others and joining forces with the former Mayor of Kroner.

 - 'Agua mala' is Spanish for 'bad water'. This seemed like a way to hide a daft title to me, but according to Imdb and The X-Files wiki, it is also slang for 'Portuguese man-o-war' in some countries, which makes a lot more sense.

 - British people problems: I'm always intrigued by all those American stories you get in urban legends, films and shows like The X-Files, Fringe and Supernatural, in which people get trapped in a small town because there's only one road out of it. Do such places really exist? I can't think of anywhere like that over here. My parents live in rural North Wales, and though you can be diverted by an hour or so if a road is blocked off or flooded (which does happen), there are at least three major routes out of their smallish town. Even the tiniest places generally have a road going through them, so if you couldn't go one way, you could go the other.


Greer (to Mulder and Scully): For all I know, you could be part of the Manson family.

Too much going on, none of it really developed. Two out of four sea monsters.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.


ChrisB said...

Great review of a so-so episode. My biggest gripe is the pregnant woman. Her constant sniping at her partner gets very old very fast. I agree that we don't need to be told how wonderful Scully is. If we haven't figured it out by now, we're watching the wrong show.

As for roads and small towns. I live in a very small town that has one road through it. When the roads around here flood (about once a year), it is possible to get stuck in town. Either that, or you put on your wellies and walk.

Juliette said...

Thanks Chris! :)

I'll have to see if there are any small villages near Mum and Dad that qualify. We must have some somewhere! But I think everything is just so much closer together over here, nowhere is quite as isolated as some parts of the US.

Heather said...

Love the review. I agree that it's not a real gem though I did grow to appreciate aspects of it in later watchings. There are some quirks that I can now smile at, with age etc. And I love an Arthur Dales appearance at any age. :)