The Great X-Files Rewatch: Season Two, Part Two
Noticeably, the second season of The X-Files was a gross season. The very second episode, “The Host,” is about a human-sized parasite swimming around the New Jerseyan sewers. But the second half of the season is a veritable wretch-fest. “Dod Kalm” takes Mulder and Scully to Scandinavia to investigate a military ship whose crew has all aged mysteriously. Once on board, Mulder and Scully…begin to age mysteriously. The old-person makeup globbed onto the lovely Anderson and the still-dashing Duchovny is bad enough, but the resolution to the problem involves drinking water out of a toilet. So, ew. “Our Town” is about strange disappearances in a town whose major industry is chicken. Imagine a blood-soaked river and a giant oozy vat of liquefied chicken parts, and then it gets worse.
But by FAR the grossest episode of the second season is “F. Emasculata,” a textbook example of the classic X-Files trope of “supernatural phenomenon turns out to actually be shady government experimentation and cover-up.” The experimentation in this case involves a virus that causes the victim to break out in throbbing postules which eventually burst and spread the virus to anyone unlucky enough to be in the spray zone. Watched a lot of this episode from behind my fingers, I did. I have restrained myself from posting any pictures from this particular episode, mostly because I just really don’t want to have to watch it again to get the screenshots.
One great feature of “F. Emasculata,” is the appearance of Dean Norris, an actor of not much consequence at the time and not much name recognition even now, but who I now know as Hank, the DEA agent and jovial badass on Breaking Bad. He spent the first half of this season fighting some raging PTSD from a cartel hit that he witnessed in the previous season, then in episode 7 or thereabouts fought and dispatched of two hit men, even after being shot himself multiple times. Norris’s performance in The X-Files was not QUITE as dynamic, but then the role is not a terribly large one either. He’s just a federal marshal, somewhat younger and thinner than today.
In other “hey, I know you!” news, the episode “Soft Light” features Tony Shaloub (who will later win multiple Emmys on Monk) as a physicist whose shadow kills people.
I already mentioned “Irresistible” in Season Two Part One, but I want to talk more about it, because I watched it again and appreciated its complexity more the second time around. It’s like this—I’ve always thought that was a great, suspenseful, scary, satisfying episode, but with one flaw: it’s kind of sexist. Throughout the first half of the episode, Mulder and Scully are investigating these gruesome murders and Scully keeps getting disturbed and panicked and upset and just being in general not the usual kick-ass investigator and medical doctor that she is. (How could someone who regularly opens the chests of corpses with the classic Y-incision be so disturbed by a killer who collects his victims’ fingernails?) And then Scully goes to see her shrink, a character that I remember hating because she’s incredibly bland-voiced and boring.
So, the episode has always felt to me like a cheat—Mulder’s the big strong man with the big strong stomach for murders, and Scully’s this little shrinking violet who just can’t handle it, and that is not in keeping with their characters as the show usually played it. But I don’t think I had ever watched this episode in the context of the second season before, and the fact is, it comes at just the moment when Scully needs to be having blowback from her abduction experience. Two or three episodes have gone by since she’s been recovered, without more than passing mention of it. Suddenly this murder investigation crops up, involving a killer who desecrates his victims’ bodies, forcing Scully to face up to the bodily trauma she endured (the likes of which the show is just beginning to reveal). Nicely played, X-Files writers. All charges of sexism are dropped.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the second season features the first unabashedly whimsical episode of the series, “Humbug.” At some point, the show’s writers decided to occasionally channel their wit into episodes that were more lighthearted than usual, taking full advantage of Anderson and Duchovny’s respective crack comic stylings. These comical episodes tend to be high points in any season in which they appear—“Small Potatoes,” from the fourth season is maybe my favorite episode of the show ever—and “Humbug” is an awesome start. Mulder and Scully head to rural Florida to investigate the killing of a sideshow performer and find themselves embedded in a community of bizarre beings. Mulder keeps unintentionally insulting people, Scully’s getting hit on, the sheriff was a Dog Boy, Scully eats a cricket, and finally a guy named Dr. Blockhead scoffs at Mulder’s conventional good looks, while in the background Mulder does this.
Looking Long Term
The myth-arc episodes are beginning to get less supernatural and more conspiratorial. In the sweeps season two-parter “Colony” / “End Game,” Mulder thinks he’s found his lost sister Samantha, but discovers that the woman who claims to be her is actually a clone, whom the government created and with whom the government is doing sinister things. The clone thing was never my favorite plot development, but I do like how the major conspiracy arc is made up of equal parts science and paranormal activity. It does seem logical that the federal government—which has access to the most brilliant scientists—would use science and technology as their tools of oppression, especially because they can hide it in plain sight. “We want to experiment on people. Let’s make it look like we’re abducting them, because even when we return them and they tell their story, everyone will think they’re just nuts.”
Also brilliant how this set up makes the team of Mulder and Scully a double-threat, because Mulder never throws away an alien abduction report, and Scully can interpret the science. Isn’t it strange that I spent years watching this show, knowing that I loved it, but that only now am I really seeing how well-crafted it is. So far. Ahem.
To come in season three: more classics than you can shake a stick at! Plus, Peter Boyle, Jack Black, Lucy Liu, cockroaches, psychics, feral cats, and the one where Mulder and Scully discuss Moby Dick.