Rating: **1/2 (out of four)
Written & directed by Glen Morgan
Especially in light of some of the other pannings of this episode that I've seen already - which I find just as inexplicable as how popular last week's fratricidal farce was outside these hallowed environs - I will admit right here at the top of this review that it will be difficult for me to evaluate this episode objectively, because one of the story tracks hit me very close to home. It's most of why I could recommend this ep....if not for its other story track.
One of Philadelphia's "skid rows". Early this morning (according to the notice attached to the front of a building). Joseph Cutler, a HUD employee (played by Alessandro Juliani, who was "Felix Gaeta" on Battlestar Galactica) is trying to rouse the homeless people out of their makeshift tents and off the sidewalks. They ignore him. So he has fire hoses open up on them, which drives them away.
This is taking place at the behest of a "heartless" real estate developer, Daryl Landry (Daryl Shuttleworth) who, yes, wants to put up a shiny new apartment building where this particular "Skid Row" is, but isn't just getting rid of the homeless squatting there, but wishes to give them shelter in a nearby abandoned hospital that he has renovated for that purpose. Which to me made him, if not a or the hero of the story, certainly took him off of the villain list.
That description was a much better fit for his sparring partner and opponent in this endeavor, Nancy Huff (Peggy Jo Jacobs), the epitome of the big city bleeding heart lib do-gooder (she's head of the nearest school board) with the standard big city bleeding heart lib do-gooder's payload of NIMBYism, Using the contrived excuse of "standing up for the right of the homeless to be homeless," or something like that, she's trying to thwart Landry's initiative because the abandoned hospital in question happens to be in her school board district and she doesn't want all those bums and drug addicts and crazy people squatting in her neighborhood. A not unreasonable motivation, but which reeks with such hypocrisy that when she is eventually messily dismembered, the viewer cannot help but get a little smirk on his/her face.
That brings us to the messy dismemberment of Mr. Cutler, who is the first victim simply because of physical proximity. He's in his office when the lights go out - well, every light except the one outside his glassed office door, which backlights his killer. Suddenly the door explodes inward, and two seconds later Mr. Cutler's head and all of his limbs have been torn off. Then the killer disappears. Not leaves, but literally and instantly vanishes....back out to the street, where he climbs into a garbage truck that drives away.
Which explains why Mulder and Scully show up later that day. Because, as the assigned local police detective puts it, they have experience with "spooky" cases. To which you can visibly see Mulder struggling mightily not to snicker.
Now THAT's good comedy on this series. Ditto his crack about Mr. Culter's head "not being put in the proper recycling bin".
Oddly, no footprints are found at the crime scene, which is remarkable given the ocean of blood covering the floor. But Mulder does find - by stepping on it - a discarded band aid, which, upon forensic analysis, is determined to have no organic material on it, and no inorganic material on it either. It's apparently....immaculate. Or came from a ghost....
Sorry, I couldn't resist.
The other thing Mulder notices - and, naturally, only Mulder would make this connection - was graffiti of a tall, creepy looking homeless man on a building across the street. He asks for access to that building to take a closer look, but when he gets there, the graffiti has....disappeared.
There's not much else to this story track. The killer, who we eventually learn is called "Trashman" by the homeless people, messily dismembers two art thieves who were in the process of stealing another creepy homeless guy mural, Nancy Huff, and Daryl Landry, always disembarking from and reembarking onto a garbage truck. There's no real way to "catch" Trashman, and Mulder and Scully never do. But they do find another homeless person who, as it happens, is an artist who uses his talent to try to "raise public consciousness" on the homeless issue. Upon questioning him, he exposits a stream-of-consciousness gibberish (the enunciation of which I could barely make out, which I'm assuming was "in character" but was no less annoying) about "discarding people" and "treating the homeless like trash" and all of us "being surrounded by disembodied spirits," one of which he believes picked up on his anger, possessed one of his homeless person sculptures - on which he used - tada! - a band aid to hold on the nose - and is going around messily dismembering anybody he believes is "hostile to the homeless". Which Mr. Landry really wasn't, but never mind.
I'd have thought that Mulder and Scully would have taken this guy into custody anyway, if only to prevent him from painting more creepy murals and making more murderous sculptures, but then Trashman would probably have come after them, and Scully had enough on her mind as it was.
At the initial crime scene, she receives a call from one of her brothers, informing her that their mother, Margaret Scully (Sheila Larken), has had a massive heart attack and is in a coma. Gillian Anderson didn't depict the aggrieved shock quite as well as Patrick Stewart did in Star Trek VII: Generations when Captain Picard learns that his brother and nephew have been immolated, but the stunned sadness was conveyed adequately enough, at least to me.
My own reaction when I learned that my mother had died wasn't so much emotional as dysfunctional. I was speechless. My mouth opened and closed several times without a sound coming out of it. It was overwhelming. Epochal. Mom is....dead? That's impossible. How can that be? It felt unreal. The woman gave birth to me. She was always there for me. She still was there for me. She can't just be....not there. Can she?
But indeed she was not. Oh, I'll see her again at the Rapture, but only God The Father knows when that will be, and in the meantime, my mother was and is....not here.
The thing is, I never got a chance to say goodbye. I was at my computer, working from home (way back when I had a job - boy, wouldn't Mom be proud?), when I got the call from my aunt: cerebral hemorrhage. She was dead before she hit the pavement in her front yard (where she had been working in her flower beds). Which was a blessing for her in a way, as she always said that when it was her time to go, she wanted to go out like a pinched candlewick. And so she did.
I'm not going to try to answer the question of whether there's a good, or better, way to die from the loved ones' perspective. Is the quick break easier to adjust to in the long run? Or is it better to be able to say goodbye, even if she can't hear what you're saying and wouldn't be "all there" if she could?
Dana Scully gets that chance. Which doesn't make it any easier when her mother eventually expires, but does seem to give her some measure of closure.
Or would have if it hadn't segued to her ongoing anguish about her and Mulder's son.
Mulder, not being able to do much else on the Trashman case, joins Scully at her mother's bedside to lend her moral support, much like he was at Scully's bedside after her alien (?) abduction when she was in a coma ("Did you ever come across an X-File where somebody was wished back to life?" “I invented it when you were in the hospital.” “You’re a dark wizard, Mulder."). Scully's cell phone rings; it's her younger brother, Charlie, who has been estranged from his and Scully's mother for years, and for whom she called out before slipping into her coma. Scully puts her phone on speaker, and Charlie speaks to their mom. Moments later, her eyelids flutter open, she looks at Mulder, smiles, and says, "William looks just like you". Then she dies.
If Scully hadn't been too understandably distraught, she would have been really creeped out at that.
She immediately leaves (not wanting to see her mother's corpse harvested for the organs she was donating), insisting she wants to bury herself in her work. But that only lasts until the interrogation of Trashman's creator, when she almost compulsively parallels the "discarding" of homeless people to the "discarding" of her and Mulder's son when she gave him up for adoption fourteen years ago.
And thus we learned that the whole Trashman story track was for no other purpose than to generate that metaphor inextricably linked to the miniseries mytharc reboot. So Culter, Landry, and Huff never mattered and were expendable. Just like the homeless people on that Philadelphia "Skid Row," other than being (1) still alive and (2) much better housed in that abandoned hospital than they were on the street. And Trashman? He's still got all five hundred and thirty-five Members of Congress to dismember his way through, so he'll be kept plenty busy.
In an X -Files season this short, there's simply no getting away from the mytharc, no matter how hard the writers try. Which pretty much builds in a handicap to each and every episode.
If Glen Morgan had had balls the size of cantaloupes, he would have had Trashman dismember the now-teenaged William Mulder II. just as Mulder and Scully burst upon the scene. Instead we get Scully seeing things (Seeing "William" on her caller ID screen when Mulder calls).
On the other hand, that probably means that, with only two episodes left, their little bouncing baby bundle of joy is already on his way.
Next: New Mulder and Scully meet Classic Mulder and Scully.