Monday, February 22, 2016

The X-Files - S10:E6 "My Struggle II"

[ S10:E5 "Babylon" <<< Season 10 >>>  ?????? ]

Last week I said this season could live or die by its finale, but the truth is, it was already dead in my heart. It probably died six weeks ago, when the premiere failed to live up to my expectations. I don't want to see Mulder and Scully looking and sounding so old. I don't want another excuse for why the Smoking Man has escaped death and found another way to play the megalomaniac yet again, and I don't want to watch The X-Files in hi-def, with super-slick CGI. What I wanted was a revival of the good old days, and that's most decidedly not what this is. This isn't The X-Files seasons 2-5 revisited, this is The X-Files season 10, the one that comes after 9 (except that everybody's fifteen years older). The only bit of it that's worth watching, honestly, is Darin Morgan's episode - Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster. Treat it like a one-off canonical modern spoof of The X-Files featuring the original actors, and forget that it's part of a dubious "revival".

Spoiler Warning: Yeah, the rest of this review is going to contain spoilers.

I suppose I should talk about the finale. To start with, it feels a little weird that all this stuff happened in the premiere, and then Skinner's like "do something about it", and reopens the X-Files (like, what kinda difference is that supposed to make?), and then they detour for four weeks, after which all of a sudden, pow! - time to wrap up those story threads! It's like they took a classic two-parter, but instead of sticking them together, they wedged a few episodes in the middle.

Tad O'Malley is back, but he exists literally to do nothing more than spout exposition on his little webshow. Sadly, Sveta did not survive that car crash like I hoped she would. Agents Miller and Einstein are back, too. I neither loved them nor hated them in Babylon, but they feel kinda like set dressing here, in spite of driving major plot points (because Scully could have done that science herself, and Mulder could have saved himself from the Smoking Man if the writers had so willed it). Weirdly, there's a non-cameo by a nameless thug who could well have been Alex Krycek's stand-in - to hell with plot consistency, they should have just brought him back! Oh, and Agent Reyes turns up. It's nice to see her again, actually (though it's a pity Robert Patrick wasn't available), but she doesn't do much of consequence either, except try to make excuses - both for being absent for the past decade, as well as why she made a deal with the devil (the way a certain Agent Fowley did once before her).

On the plus side (I guess), there are a lot of explanations in this episode, and we do finally get that global invasion (of sorts), that's been a long time coming (but don't expect to see any aliens on this show). We get to see how the Smoking Man was pieced back together after being incinerated (no matter how final that death seemed to be). And we learn a little more about the alien's plans. Or the conspirators' plans. Whichever. The aliens are indeed working in a The Day The Earth Stood Still capacity, intent on wiping out mankind before it becomes a danger to the rest of life in the universe. The Smoking Man, having made a deal with those aliens, holds the trigger to the device that will wipe humanity out. It's moderately clever - involving a global contagion in the form of not a disease, but actually a genetic invader (finally giving a purpose to all those hints about smallpox vaccinations in the original series) that deactivates a person's immune system, effectively making them susceptible to just about any disease on the face of the planet. They call it "the Spartan virus".

Scully and Einstein share a scene that's weirdly homoerotic.

Anyway, there's a lot of time spent in the hospital, as the world falls apart in a very Outbreak-like scenario (that we've all seen a million times before). Mulder has a confrontation with the Smoking Man (like we've all seen a million times before), that ends with neither one of them dead or in any different a position regarding their feelings for each other than they were before (other than the absence of any pretext obscuring the fact that the Smoking Man is indeed Mulder's father). And the episode closes on a dubious ending in which Scully runs through the streets to save Mulder's life by injecting him with the alien DNA inside of her (courtesy of her abduction experiments) that renders her immune to the Spartan virus. She babbles something about him needing stem cells (all of a sudden), that can only come from their absent son, William. Does this mean Mulder's doomed? Cue the deus ex machina, in the form of a UFO hovering above them, inside which I'll be damned if William isn't waiting.

Except, that's the end of the episode. Just like that. It's not even really a cliffhanger - you can't put "to be continued" if there's no guarantee that there will ever be any more episodes. (The tagline that replaces "The Truth Is Out There" at the beginning of this episode ominously - but probably insincerely - reads "This Is The End"). Except that Chris Carter had dispensed with using "to be continued" for his season finales going all the way back to Requiem in season 7 (season 5's The End, if you count tie-ins to movies - hint, hint). Frankly, I think he's gotten too comfortable with the uncertainty of knowing whether the series will continue or not. At least back then, his finales had a sense of closure, even as they left certain questions unanswered. Here, it's like a foregone conclusion that the story will continue - and that may well be the case, but it's still a pretty dickish way to end the episode and the season.

(On second thought, the last time a UFO appeared out of nowhere, it was to kill somebody else with alien DNA. What an ending that would have been if Mulder and Scully had been obliterated by the aliens as the human population teetered on the brink of extinction. As depressing as that would have been, it would have been a much better ending than simply cutting off right there, leaving us all guessing. Hmm, I smell headcanon).

Honestly, though - by this point, I'm just not that invested. I'll definitely watch if there are more episodes coming in the future (frankly I think doing one last big movie to end the series once and for all would be the best move). Maybe I'll even start to like it better now that I no longer have any expectations to be dashed against the rocks. In any case, this has been one hell of a long ride, starting back in June of last year, when I embarked on my series-long marathon. I'm damn exhausted, man, and let me tell you, I'm pretty much sick of reviewing X-Files episodes right now. It's time I had a vacation.

Did I mention that Scully's an alieum?

Memorable quotes:

Tad O'Malley: What may seem like science-fiction, but is science fact - the legitimate and verifiable discovery of alien DNA that's in virtually every American citizen.

(See, this is one of the things that really bugs me about this series. Misdirection is fine, and it's entirely understandable that characters will acquire faulty information and then spread it around like the truth - sometimes deliberately, in the case of the villains. But it gets to a point after a while, that this device has been used so much, it becomes frustrating. I know one of the major, underlying themes of this series is "trust no one", and that you often can't take people at their word. But given that so much of the show's mythology has been actually explained in dialogues that felt disingenuous (like the Well-Manicured Man telling Mulder just "what he wanted to hear" in Paper Clip - despite it also being the absolute truth), it makes an already muddled mythology that much harder to piece together. Come to think of it, the villains are more consistently trustworthy than the good guys - Mulder's informants included. In this case, you're clearly supposed to be strung along by this idea that every American citizen possesses alien DNA - which also dovetails with the whole "alien astronauts"/"more human than human"/"everybody has inactive DNA inside of them that comes from aliens" plot that we've encountered before. And yet, later in the episode, we learn the critical fact that not everyone has alien DNA - only a select few (like Scully, and Sveta) - and that having that DNA isn't what's causing the coming plague, it's actually the cure for it! In other words, Tad O'Malley's "legitimate and verifiable" discovery is complete baloney. Well, that just pisses me off).

(Also, later, they test Scully's DNA, and the alien DNA isn't there. But then they re-test it once more, and boom! - there it is. This could be a lesson on double-checking your work, but it really just feels like unnecessary padding).

Scully: While we share a faith in science, I have come to the understanding that the science that we were taught takes us but a distance towards the truth.

(I like Scully better as a skeptic than a believer, but it's a wonder she hasn't taken this perspective from the start. One of her greatest moments as a scientist was in End Game, where even if she didn't understand the alien toxin that was killing Mulder, she used science to save his life. Scientists aren't usually so hubristic as to assume that science has explained everything. A scientist might claim that science can eventually - or theoretically - explain everything. But just because a scientist encounters something that science hasn't explained, doesn't mean that the scientist will dismiss its existence out of hand - unless it's a well-established hoax, as most paranormal activity is in the real world (but not, as we've seen, in the world of the X-Files). No, in the face of apparent evidence suggesting the existence of "extreme possibilities", a scientist wouldn't stubbornly shut her eyes, she would get out her lab equipment and study it, in the hope of logging documented evidence of the phenomenon, and maybe extend science's reach a little in the process - just the sort of thing that might win a scientist academic esteem - especially if said scientist had previously tarnished her reputation by joining a paranormal investigative division. It would be the proof to redeem her decision in the eyes of her superiors who look down on her).

(Also, I know Scully is Catholic - to her detriment - but I don't like the phrase "faith in science". Faith is something you have in the absence of evidence. The whole point of science is that it backs itself up. You don't need to trust it, because whether it's right or wrong, it'll let you know either way. So rather than faith, one should have confidence in science - not as the truth, but the most reliable method that will lead to the truth).

Smoking Man: You see a man lying here - a seemingly weak man. But I am the most powerful man in the world.

Smoking Man: The world will go on - just in my image, instead of God's.
Reyes: You think you can play God?
Smoking Man: No, not God, certainly.

Smoking Man: Every man has his weakness. Mine was always just...cigarettes.

Smoking Man: Neither you nor I could save mankind from self-extermination.
Mulder: So you plotted your end game?
Smoking Man: I just changed the time table. Everyone still dies in the end.

Smoking Man: The ultimate irony: the defeat of the big-brained beasts by the tiniest, unthinking microbes.

(War of the Worlds much?)

Tad O'Malley: It would now appear...we go out...with a whimper...a frightful, deafening silence.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Witch (2015)

I went to see this movie last night, and then sat up most of the night thinking about it. I just couldn't get it off my mind, so I went to see it again today. That's twice in twenty-four hours, which is very rare for me. I didn't even know this movie existed a week ago, until I read a little snippet about it in Entertainment Weekly. And I'm at a point right now (actually I've been at this point for a while), where a movie really has to get me excited for me to bother going out to see it in the theater.

The tradeoff of seeing a movie on the big screen (other than getting your ass off the couch and shelling out ten bucks for a ticket) is that too many movies these days are two and a half hours long or longer, with a full half hour of commercials and trailers beforehand, and I just don't enjoy dealing with the anxiety of worrying about whether I'll make it to the end before I have to use the (public) restroom, leading to an agonizing decision between missing some of the movie, and denying the ministrations of my bladder. It has the potential to considerably dampen the excitement of the experience.

But after I read that snippet in EW, I knew I had to see this movie. I've been looking for a good, classic witch movie for a long time (and I've sifted through some bad ones). I watched Salem's Lot only to learn to my disappointment that it was not about witches, but vampires. The Crucible was really good, but it was more of a realistic documentary about that historical period in which superstition fed into mass hysteria leading to the Salem Witch Trials, than any kind of a fantasy horror about actual witches. But this movie - this is like the telling of the folk tale that inspired the legend of the Blair Witch, but with actual witches!

It's also one of the best period movies I've ever seen. The colonial dialect is a bit off-putting at first, because it's frequently hard to understand what the characters are saying. But in the end, I grew to like it. It gives the movie a distinct flavor, and adds to the authenticity of the piece (in a more fluid way than, say, M. Night Shyamalan's The Village). And this movie is just swimming in atmosphere. The atmosphere is so thick, you could cut it with an athame. As a horror, it succeeds admirably, relying on mystery and an unsettling feeling of dread, while mostly eschewing the tacky jump scares and high-pitched musical cues that (sadly) plague modern horror.

At the risk of sensationalizing a small and selective trend, between this movie and last year's It Follows - which I loved - I'm tempted to say that we are witnessing the birth of a new golden age of horror. Though one great movie a year may not sound spectacular for a whole genre, by nature, the impact of the extraordinary relies on the existence of an ordinary average. And as much as I hate to say this as a fan, a lot of mediocre or just plain bad horror gets put out. Not all modern horror is bad (I'm not one of those fans), but even the "good" movies - like, say, The Conjuring, or Insidious - while not bad, aren't the kind of great movies that a cinephile lives to experience.

But this is one of those movies.

The Witch is a New England folktale about a Puritan family (that's Puritan with a capital 'P') in a largely unsettled, colonial America. Possibly facing religious discrimination for their excessive piety (the movie's not super clear on this point, but it really doesn't have to be), they are exiled from their plantation and driven out into the untamed wilderness, to try and set up a farm on the outskirts of what may be a haunted forest. Whatever your opinion of their religious beliefs (it would have been easy to draw these characters as unlikable caricatures, but to its credit, the movie genuinely tries to sympathize with them, even as it reveals the futility of their spiritual struggle), these are basically good people, just trying to survive in a cruel world, in a way that might please their strict but (arguably) loving God.

On the surface, this movie could be a representation of the age-old struggle of man vs. nature - as well as his own nature - that explores the way in which man attempts to ascribe supernatural meaning to things he doesn't understand, and the dichotomous extent to which these superstitions can either aid or obstruct his attempts not just to survive, but to make sense of things, and acquire success and happiness in life. That would be true even if the witch in this story had been nothing more than superstition - but I'm glad that she's not.

Because instead we get a deadly serious take on classical witchcraft - complete with midnight rendezvous by firelight, the devil in the guise of a horny goat, and an old hag cooking up mischief (including, but not limited to: blood sacrifice, levitating brooms, and a deceptively seductive glamour), not to mention creepy animal familiars. The glimpses we see of wickedness in this movie are brief (sometimes mercifully so, other times maybe not so much) - keeping the focus on the family's gradual disintegration as the tragedy slowly unfolds - but terribly effective. An early scene involving an infant toys devilishly with the audience's expectations of good taste - as the most memorably unsettling horror movies do - setting the stage for the unrelenting weight of the story that's begun to unfold, and the breathless climax it ultimately builds up to.

I think part of this movie's greatness is that the plot is simple, smartly focused on the human drama, but while simultaneously hinting at some pretty heavy themes - in a way that doesn't bang you over the head (as a "message" movie would), but leaves you instead with lots of food for thought. The very premise is inspired, pitting the strains of a Puritan lifestyle against its ideological opposite - a naturalistic hedonism unrestrained by man-made laws. And, as is all too infrequently the case in movies like this, the lure of the dark side is adequately represented in the near-perfect (apart from an odd choice of body double - or, really, the need to use a body double at all) conclusion - evil wouldn't be so problematic if it weren't so damn tempting, now would it? - even without watering down its more gruesome aspects. Which is quite remarkable. This is a movie that ably demonstrates God's failure in remaining silent while the devil mounts an aggressive advertising campaign.

I'd just like to say that, while dancing naked in the woods does indeed feel amazing, you don't need to make a pact with the devil, or sacrifice a newborn infant, in order to experience it. That's a Puritan fantasy, born out of opposition to an extremist view of anhedonic purity. When even the merest thought of pleasure is a sin, to indulge in it is akin to the wildest reveries of the Bacchanalia. It's no wonder, then - human nature being what it is - that the Puritans are so susceptible to temptation, in spite of (or rather, exacerbated by) their constant denials. What's not to love about the idea of giving in to one's nagging, unavoidable desires, when your whole life is spent struggling futilely against them? A better approach is to accept and acknowledge human nature, and learn how to indulge in it without succumbing to excess.

But in the meantime, kindly restrain from accusing those of us who do enjoy the good things in life from being in league with the devil. Okay? Thanks.

"Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?"

(On second thought, the black mass has never looked so appealing).

Monday, February 15, 2016

The X-Files - S10:E5 "Babylon"

[ S10:E4 "Home Again" <<< Season 10 >>>  S10:E6 "My Struggle II" ]

For better or worse (and I'm leaning toward better), this episode seems to split the difference between being one of Chris Carter's musical comedies, and a serious freak-of-the-week about a Muslim terrorist cell (how's that for some bread-and-butter FBI work?) that manages to intrigue even as it skirts dangerously close to the border of racial insensitivity (Scully's one-off remark about how not all Muslims are terrorists barely qualifies as lip service). You know, I never used to think of this show as being conservative, but lately...

And on that note, can I say that I liked Chris Carter's writing better before he found God, and his pretentious monologues were about things like environmentalism, the progress of man's evolution, and intelligent life in the universe? Because he uses this episode's subject of killing in the name of God to posit more religious questions (as opposed to those conspiracy questions), about man's capacity for love and hate. Please, when he settled on the concept of a mother's love as man's saving grace, I think I vomited in my mouth a little bit.

Speaking of which, shall we talk about Mulder's mushroom trip? Actually, it wasn't too bad, in the grand scheme of things. Certainly better than him dancing in front of the mirror in Dreamland. I was a little disappointed by The Lone Gunmen's cameo (you can barely call it that), however. I remember when I thought this revival was going to shake things up, and discard the junk in the original series' trunk, in order to revive the spirit and flavor of the earlier episodes. But no, no retconning here. Just a lot of wallowing in inescapable plot points that dragged the end of the original series down.

(This episode isn't actually about William, but half of this season's episodes have been, and I just want to point out the irony of the writers throwing William away in the ninth season because they didn't want to be burdened with him going forward, only to find themselves dealing with the aftermath of it now, after all. If William had stuck around, it wouldn't have been so bad - he could have been some cool alien hybrid or something. And if he never showed up in the first place, or if the writers chose to simply ignore the fact that he ever existed, I'd be fine with that, too. But I'm sick of all this wallowing. I hope it ends, one way or another).

So, in what I think is supposed to be the funny category for this episode, we are introduced to two young FBI agents who seek Mulder and Scully's help on the terrorism case, who could well be their doppelgangers. It's not the first time Chris Carter has played around with this idea (although the last time occurred in an episode not worth mentioning). I'm probably in the minority of longtime X-Files fans, but I think I would actually be more interested in seeing a reboot of the series with new actors in the iconic roles, than continuing to watch David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in The Middle-Age Files. Sacrilege, I know. DD and GA are The X-Files. But if anything, this new series has proved that you can never step in the same river twice. And now you might call me a conservative, but it wasn't a continuation of The X-Files that got me excited for this revival, it was the idea that they were going to revive what made it good in the first place.

Now I feel like a grumpy, old man who's just complaining about how much better things were in "the good, old days". Honestly, hindsight is 20/20 and all that, but I wonder if I wouldn't have enjoyed this revival more if I hadn't just spent seven months watching the original series start to finish, and went in instead only going off of nostalgia and fond, faded memories. Because, to me, it hasn't been...what, eight years since Mulder and Scully were together working a case? 14 years since the series went off the air? And a good 18 years or more since the series was in its heyday? I just watched all of that stuff inside of the last year. So maybe some of the distance of age and time that informs these episodes, and the actors' portrayal of the characters, is lost on me. Because when Scully apes Mulder's first line to her in the pilot when inviting the two young agents into the basement office in this episode, I think it's cute, but I'm not melting.

Anyway, next week is the finale. In my mind, this series could very well live or die by it. Although I'm not expecting anything radically different from what we've gotten in the past five episodes.

Memorable quotes:

Agent Miller: Hello, anybody down here?
Scully: Nobody but the FBI's most unwanted. (I've been waiting 23 years to say that).

Mulder: It's a legitimate question.
Agent Einstein: There's a legitimate answer - no.

Agent Miller: I believe so many answers lie beyond the pale of the normal world in realms of extreme possibility.
Scully: I believe that you believe.

Mulder: I saw things, though, Scully - powerful things. I saw deep and unconditional love.
Scully: I saw things, too. I witnessed unqualified hate, that appears to have no end.
Mulder: How to reconcile the two?

Monday, February 8, 2016

The X-Files - S10:E4 "Home Again"

[ S10:E3 "M&S Meet the Were-Monster" <<< Season 10 >>>  S10:E4 "Babylon" ]

Spoiler Warning: This is actually another half-mythology episode. Not full-mythology, but half-mythology. Mostly William-related stuff. There will be some spoilers.

Well, as I suspected, this episode did lean more toward the horror, but aside from that, it was less a straight-up monster-of-the-week than a counterpart to James Wong's episode, Founder's Mutation, in that it was really a half-mythology episode, with the mythology elements once again relating to an absentee William, and the psychological after-effects of his adoption on Mulder and Scully (especially Scully), just further reinforcing my opinion that they should have dropped the whole William thing and pretended it never happened, instead of dragging it up in order to respond to fans' criticism that Mulder and Scully haven't expressed an appropriate quantity of grief for losing the miracle son they made together. (It's like the writers are engaging in penitent self-flagellation for their handling of the William story thread, when they just need to get over it already).

If there's one thing I can say about this new season so far, it's that it's very consistent. Unfortunately, it's not consistently good, just consistently mediocre. I guess that's better than being consistently bad, but it's still less than I had gotten myself excited for. In spite of the title, this episode is less an homage to one of Morgan & Wong's greatest monster-of-the-week episodes ever - Home (a murder scene set to the cheery song "Downtown" comes closest, but actually feels more like the disjointed tone of The Post-Modern Prometheus, when the Great Mutato dances up the stairs to a Cher soundtrack) - and more of a hodgepodge of themes that run the gamut from such questionable episodes as The Jersey Devil, Kaddish, and Arcadia. The monster du jour - dubbed the Trashman, and obviously taking cues from Clive Barker's Candyman - is some kind of disgusting golem willed to life by a graffiti artist, who kinda reminds me of the killer in Surekill, but tromps around like the one in Salvage, ripping people apart limb from limb.

That this mediocre "spooky" case is buttressed by a parallel story line in which Scully administers to her mother following a heart attack (in what shall presumably be Sheila Larken's last appearance on the series - though it's a wonder she'd survived this long) should be its saving grace, except for the fact that that other story thread isn't all that interesting - or as emotionally devastating as it should be. References to another one of Morgan & Wong's greatest episodes - this time of the mythology variety, One Breath - only reinforces how much better that episode was (as well as how much younger the actors were back in 1994).

The subject of William (also the name of Scully's brother, who plays an absentee role via the phone without actually being there - much like Mulder did in the ninth season of the original series) is ham-fisted in, prompting another flashback to Scully's birthing scene in Existence. There is also a final scene on the beach that reminded me of Doggett's moment in Release, and while that was one of the better episodes of the previously final season, it begins to show how much these new episodes are burdened with the weight of the latter part of the original series, instead of bypassing all that baggage in order to resurrect what the show was at its prime (which is what I thought and hoped this revival was going to do).

I also felt that the theme of people treating other people like trash was a little heavy-handed, and the fact that Scully's desire to will something into being was then turned into a central theme re: breathing life into a golem, and bringing William into existence, was a bit overbearing. There were some creepy bits to the episode, but nothing that's going to make it stand out in the annals of time. Only two episodes remain in the season, and both of them were written by Chris Carter. Only the finale has been officially designated a mythology episode, so I'm just hoping next week's episode isn't one of Carter's directorial experiments (à la The Post-Modern Prometheus, or Triangle, neither of which I liked all that much), or one of his notoriously fumbling approaches to comedy. Time will tell.

Is that...Lake Okobogee?

Memorable quotes:

Scully: Where was the victim found?
Detective Dross: Still here. He's there, and uh, his in the trash can here.
Mulder: Not even in the proper recycling bin.

Scully: I don't care about the big questions right now, Mulder. I just want one more chance to ask my mom a few little ones.

Scully: You're a dark wizard, Mulder.
Mulder: What else is new?

Mulder: Federal agents! Open up! If you're in danger, we're here to help.
Voice: I am in danger! Now go away.

Scully: I believe that you will find all of your answers. You will find the answers to the biggest mysteries, and I will be there when you do. But my mysteries, I'll never have answered.

(What, are you fishing for sympathy here, Scully? "My grief is bigger than yours!" Even with the blind adoption, I have a hard time believing that knowing whether William's okay is a more unanswerable mystery than all the crap Mulder's been chasing for most of his life, especially after all of the non-answers, misinformation, and retroactive continuity they've been exposed to).

(And another thing, this exchange smells faintly of sexism. Men want to unlock the secrets of the universe, but women only care about how their kids are doing? It reminds me of a scene from Scrubs: "Most women end up in OB-GYN, Family Practice, or Pediatrics. It's like a rip-tide, sweetheart - pulling and pulling, and you can swim against the current all you want; but when Mr. Stork comes a-calling, you're not gonna be thinking, 'I'm Internal Medicine' - nope. It's gonna be, 'Ohhhh, look at the baby!'")

(By the way, does William even still need protecting, now that the Super Soldiers have been erased from canon and the alien agenda totally scrapped and re-written? (Apparently, when "the date [was] set" for the invasion, it was only penciled in). Or am I asking questions I'm not supposed to be asking?)

Monday, February 1, 2016

The X-Files - S10:E3 "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster"

[ S10:E2 "Founder's Mutation" <<< Season 10 >>>  S10:E4 "Home Again" ]

This episode marks Darin Morgan's triumphant return to The X-Files (I could just imagine the thunderous sound of applause echoing from people's homes the nation over when his name appeared on screen). And while I would rate it more on the level of a War of the Coprophages, with the goofy humor of Humbug, than a masterpiece like Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space' or Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose, I don't doubt that it will receive plenty of (mostly well-earned) accolades from critics and viewers (if the side-splitting laughter of the person I watched it with is any indication).

This is classic Darin Morgan, mixing self-referential humor and parody with depressive misanthropy (less deconstructing the series than life itself), taking clever advantage of a novel twist on the concept of the "were-monster" in order to make more than a few well-placed jabs at the inherent absurdity (and disappointing nature) of the human condition. Exploiting the opportunity to poke fun at the underlying premise of the show, Darin depicts a disillusioned Mulder almost bored of chasing phantoms that rarely hold up under scientific scrutiny (increasingly so as time and technology march forward), while Scully is finally warming up to the work and almost relishes the giddy promise of going monster-hunting.

And to all the fans who have ever complained about Mulder not just whipping out a phone and taking photographic evidence of all the paranormal phenomena he encounters (although this issue was already somewhat addressed in Quagmire), this episode sees Mulder more than wizened up, chasing after the monster with a phone camera instead of a gun (or flashlight), to humorous - but otherwise ultimately unproductive, you'll note - effect.

In-jokes abound in this episode, from a tribute to one of the series' mainstay directors (the late Kim Manners, whose "colorful phraseology" infamously inspired the character of Detective Manners in Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'), to Mulder once again appearing in a red Speedo (more than twenty years later). The two unforgettable stoners from War of the Coprophages and Quagmire ("dude, you made me drop my toad") return for another appearance, clearly demonstrating that they've been doing little else besides whittling away their entire lives getting high. And, yes, there is even a mention of Queequeg!

In one scene, Mulder carries on an entire conversation without letting Scully get a word in edgewise - because he anticipates every one of her responses. But it actually feels funny, and reverential, unlike Chris Carter's self-conscious attempt to mix up the proceedings in season 7's Fight Club, which just felt tired and uninspired. Though I still haven't gotten used to seeing David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson looking (and at times sounding) so old, their chemistry in this episode is at a seasonal high-point (even if we're only three episodes in - yet this is the halfway point). It's a shame that had to be true for the comedy episode, but the actors always did seem to enjoy themselves and let loose more than usual in those.

I'm not really one of those fans that likes the funny episodes, generally. But I freely concede that Darin Morgan is a smart guy, and I appreciate his cynical perspective on life. So with any Darin Morgan episode, for me, it's all in the balance of the wit - between the humor and the wisdom. And this episode, though brilliant, leans a little too heavily toward the goofy. In contrast, it looks like next week's episode is going to be straight-up scary (finally!), so I'm looking forward to that. Leave it to Glen Morgan to truly take us "Home Again".

Memorable quotes:

Mulder: You see one serial killer, you've seen 'em all.

Psychiatrist: It's easier to believe in monsters out there in the world, than to accept that the real monsters dwell within us.

Guy Mann: I now possess the one Darwinian advantage that humans have over other animals - the ability to BS my way through anything. I mean, it's better than camouflage!

Guy Mann: Life's hopeless. A few fleeting moments of happiness, surrounded by crushing loss and grief. Why bother?

Guy Mann: I don't know how it works; I'm not a scientist.
Mulder: I'm just looking for some kind of internal logic.
Guy Mann: Why? There isn't an external logic to any of it.

Mulder: So, Hamlet is not just calling Horatio an ignorant idiot, he's calling us all ignorant idiots?
Guy Mann: It's a comforting thought, isn't it? Because if there's nothing more to life than what we already know, then there's nothing but...worries, self-doubt, regret, and loneliness. Fox, man, you've gotta put me out of my misery. I don't wanna wake up tomorrow and have to go to work!

Mulder: I got a little taste of my old monster-huntin' ways, and then I downed the whole bottle.
Scully: I take it you found your were-lizard.
Mulder: Yeah, it turns out it wasn't a man who turns into a lizard, it was a lizard who turns into a man.
Scully: I don't see the difference.

Guy Mann: Woah, I'm not a reptile - that's racist!