Rating: * (out of four)
Written & directed by Darin Morgan
As advertised, this was the designated creature-feature ep of this six part mini-season, and I suppose it did fit that bill. And while there was at least one aspect of the plot that was clever and a couple of nice "Easter eggs," and I have no problem with "lighter" stories, this one went completely overboard with the comedy to the point of making the entire episode and all its characters a parody of it, almost as if Morgan was ridiculing this particular X-Files sub-genre.
The opening setup scene is pretty standard. A stoner couple are snorting spray paint in the woods when they hear a sudden blood-curdling scream nearby. Peering through the nearest bushes, they see a man struggling with what looks like a man-sized version of what Yosemite Sam used to call a "great horny toad". The GHT looks at them, screams, and charges them. They scream. But the GHT doesn't attack them but charges right past them deeper into the woods. Once the stoners calm down a bit, the notice a third person lying facedown on the ground. They roll him over to find that he's had his throat ripped out - by, they assume, the GHT.
Incidentally, this story takes place in "Shawan", Oregon. I'll leave it to y'all to figure out how close that is to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, but I'm guessing it's west of the Cascades. Besides, busting self-styled constitutionalist revolutionaries (or combing through "home-brew" email servers) isn't Mulder's and Scully's job description. But then, I'm not sure what their job description has ever really been, given the zaniness that ensues in this frustratingly head-scratching hour.
Act II is pretty standard as well. The (empty) X-cave. Mulder is throwing pencils at a new "I Want To Believe" poster that Scully evidently purchased for nostalgic reason to replace the one that Mulder ripped up two episodes ago in his pissing match with Skinner. He's bummed because all his monster-mashes, none of which he ever managed to crack, have been solved by others, and they all turned out to have boring, humdrum, non-paranormal explanations - hoaxes, frauds, man-caused or natural sources, etc. He, as a self-admitted "middle-aged man," wonders if he's squandered his career on this foolishness, on wishcasting the incredible and fantastic that was never actually there. Something to which I can somewhat relate given the downward turn my professional life has taken the past couple of years and change. Of course, if I could just go back to my former career any time I wanted like Mulder and Scully have like putting on a jacket, it wouldn't be much of an existential crisis, now would it?
But I digress.
Then Scully walks in and takes a big, fat dump on Mulder's lamentation by snarkily asking him if he's "taken his meds". Which manages to both denigrate his feelings and remind us that Mulder is, apparently, legitimately suffering from clinical depression, which raises the question of his fitness to even be back on the job to begin with. But then if he wasn't, there'd be no mini-season, which in turn raises the question of writing into it that he's got clinical depression. Isn't it enough that Mulder is just weird? Always was on the original series.
She doesn't ameliorate her snark by telling him that they have a case, and "it has a monster in it". It's almost as if Scully is mocking him, like Morgan is mocking the audience.
Maybe the idea is that Scully is using this as psychological therapy for Mulder. Or maybe she's just trying to cheer him up. If so, it takes a few scenes to finally kick in.
They travel to (western) Oregon and the crime scene, and Mulder does a rousing Scully impression, ticking off all the likely, boring, humdrum explanations for the victim's death. He clearly does not want to be there. But Scully gently reminds him of the need to get to the bottom of what happened, whatever that turns out to have been.
Later that same evening, the GHT reportedly attacks a[n already] sexually mutilated prostitute at a truck stop. Or, rather, tries to, as he whacks it right between the eyes with a loaded purse. Mulder questions a local animal control officer (Kurmail Nanjiani) - the same man the stoners saw in Act I - when they're both attacked from behind by the GHT. Mulder, who spends the entire scene preoccupied with trying to get the camera on his new smart phone to work, screams but gets off multiple pictures of what turns out to be his own screaming face because he had his smart phone facing in the wrong direction. Scully finds him face-up on the ground, but perfectly unharmed (naturally). They set off in pursuit of the GHT, finding another corpse with the throat ripped out, and appear to corner it in a honey bucket. Throwing open the door, they find....what appears to be an unassuming Englishman (Rhys Darby) whose name turns out to be (and I'm not making this up), "Guy Mann". Cue the rimshot, I guess. While Mulder and Scully apologize and continue their search. "Mann" emerges from the porta-potty and....morphs into the GHT.
Thus the standard Big Reveal has been done....at the twelve-minute mark of the episode. That is not, nor has it ever been, the standard time of the "Big Reveal," which was always in Act III at the earliest, and usually in the last fifteen minutes. That's how you build up the "who dunnit?/what izzit?" suspense. But this was a "Mulder and Scully badly impersonate the Scooby-Doo Gang" farce, so what the hell, right?
Scully autopsies one of the victims while Mulder waxes skeptically about how there can't possibly be any weird, paranormal, monster-mash explanation. (SCULLY: "[The GHT] shot blood out of its eyes! No animal does that!" MULDER: "Short-horned lizards do! I just looked up! See?!" SCULLY: "The internet is not good for you, Mulder".) Then she adds, "The teeth marks in this man's throat are human". Which is supposed to make Mulder - and us - believe it's the GHT, even though that isn't what she said. When did Scully become such a cruel tease? I'd have appreciated Mulder quoting Sheldon Cooper's line about, "If I want to see Mean Girls I'll stream it on Netflix".
The less said about the peeping tom/"Mulder in a speedo" scene, the better. Suffice it to say that (1) Mulder and Scully couldn't find a Holiday Inn Express or (2) the FBI's travel budget has been cut a lot more than I've ever read or seen, or (3) the FBI isn't wasting their travel budget on the X-Files unit. But we do learn that the motel desk clerk (1) snorts rubbing alcohol (Morgan sure knows his Oregonians, doesn't he?) and (2) witnessed "Guy Mann" morph into the GHT. Examining his room, Mulder finds a bottle of anti-psychosis meds, which, amazingly, he doesn't start popping like Pez. But the desk clerk does. Looks like Morgan chickened out on that gag.
Illustrating the "You can't wrestle with pigs without getting mud on you" axiom, Mulder finally breaks down in Scully's room in what can only be called a parody of a psychotic episode (which he wouldn't have had if he'd popped some of those anti-psychosis pills) in which he carries on both sides of the usual Mulder-Scully monster-mash episode dialogue, concluding with, "“I don’t know what this is or how it came to be, but it’s a monster!” Scully's amused reply? "“Yeah, this is how I like my Mulder: batcrap crazy". Would somebody please tell me how she wasn't actively mocking him? Making fun of a mentally-ill person? To say nothing of the father of her child? Am I the only one who took it that way? Judging by the other reviews of this ep I've read already, it appears that I am.
The following scene where Mulder interviews the psychiatrist who wrote the anti-psychosis prescription comes across as additional, if more symbolic, mockery of his clinical depression. He even writes Mulder his own prescription. Man, everybody in this episode was laughing at this guy in Nelson Muntz fashion.
I don't think I've ever seen an edition of the X-Files that was this mean-spirited. It made it profoundly difficult for me to like any aspect of it.
Next come the obligatory misdirection scenes where one main character calls the other, and something happens to the one, but the scene shifts back to the other so the viewer doesn't know what's happened to the one either.
Scully calls Mulder and says she's found "Guy Mann"/GHT working at a local cellular phone store. Mulder, for whatever reason, hangs up before she can tell him the blood test results from the earlier autopsy. When he arrives at the cellular phone store, the place is trashed and Scully is alone there. She says "Mann" went berserk when she started questioning him and fled. Mulder charges after him to - where else? - the local cemetery (where the shrink told him he told "Mann" to go to "clear his head"), again without hearing Scully's autopsy blood test results.
Mulder finds "Mann" in the local cemetery, where the headstones in the immediate background are the aforementioned "Easter eggs," most prominently that of the late Kim Manners, a writer and producer on the original series. That was a very nice touch.
What follows is what the late Paul Harvey used to call, "the rest of the story". And this swerve is what earns this ep its only star.
"Mann" asks Mulder to kill him. Mulder, wanting to find answers to this mystery for his own mental health and morale, refuses. So "Mann," not very menacingly, threatens to kill Mulder with the broken booze bottle out of which he'd been drinking heavily (It did explain his rambling incoherence). He makes a lazy, clumsy lunge, which Mulder easily parries while reaching for his sidearm and simultaneously realizing that "Mann" is doing - goading Mulder into killing him. Mulder agrees to do so but only after "Mann" answers his questions. So "Mann" complies with a sigh and out comes a torrent of gibberish that eventually takes the form of "Mann" being the result of his being bitten by a human.
It seems that the Great Horny Toad is the real him, and he was minding his own business in the deep Oregon woods when he, like the stoner couple, heard screaming nearby. And like the stoner couple, he went to investigate and found one man gnawing on the ganglia of another man. The former noticed GHT and then attacked him. That's when the stoner couple showed up and drew, of course, the wrong conclusion. The "human bite" somehow infected him with homo sapiens DNA or something that overwrote his own (Yep, the return of "Fun with DNA"), morphing him into a man. Who, you know, just happened to resemble an unassuming, bumbling Englishman. But the transformation is unstable and uncontrollable, spontaneously switching him back and forth from human to GHT. Admittedly an acute inconvenience that helps explain why the GHT that charged the "trannie" hooker was wearing "tightie-whities". This is why "Mann" wants Mulder to kill him. In his natural form he can live comfortably in the wild; in his human form, he's got to wear clothes, can't eat bugs, needs shelter, and for all of these things, he needs money, which means he needs a job, and that's where I really became a fan of the one character in this episode to which (aside from the bug-eating) I could actually relate. Well, other than that he found a job immediately and discovered that he could pretty much BS his way to anything he wanted. I'm still working on that part.
Was anybody else rolling their eyes and a little offended at Morgan throwing in the cutaway of Scully slutting up "Mann" in the back of the cellular phone store, complete with cleavage-flashing and simulated coital grinding? Or did he throw that in as her version of the earlier "peeping Mulder in a speedo" image? And were either of them really necessary? At least Mulder, no matter how much he "wants to believe," wasn't buying that one.
I suppose this cemetery scene was also meant as some sort of "outsider" greenstremist/humanophobic commentary on the "evils" of modern society ("killing a cow" = getting a burger and fries for dinner, the "sudden compulsion" to "get a mortgage", etc., all of them depicted like animalistic "instincts") and how humans are the REAL "animals" and nature is pristinely superior and such. If so, such tiresome leftwingnut preaching was a poor fit in such a slapstick disaster vehicle.
Anyway, "Mann" discovers that Mulder is an FBI agent and storms off before Mulder can grant him Mauk-to'Vor, calling him a "monster". Which Morgan meant as irony, I guess. So, having nothing else to do (aside from fantasizing about Scully doing it with a lizard-man) Mulder gets hammered on the rest of "Mann's" hootch and passes out, only to be awakened by his (seriously) X-Files ringtone. It's Scully (beats me what she was doing for all this time) finally telling him about the anomalous autopsy blood test results and that she's at the animal shelter to question the animal control officer, who timely sneaks up behind her to (and you saw this coming several scenes back) tear out her throat and munch on her ganglia in the other obligatory misdirection scene. Mulder, alarmed, calls for backup and charges to the animal control facility only to find she had the whole situation effortlessly under control, which eviscerates the "ending monster-mash main character in danger" scene template. Not that I have any problem with Scully being a badass instead of a damsel in distress, but it'd have been nice to have seen her in that sort of action instead of the one in "Guy Mann's" porn-addled imagination.
So the "monster" was not the Great Horny Toad, it was the man. Subtle as a rubber mallet, Morgan. But it was a swerve, at least.
So is the Great Horny Toad an animal, or a second intelligent "species" on this planet? And is any serious analysis worth wasting any time contemplating in such an obnoxious, unserious snarkfest? To say nothing of the reveal, in the final scene depicted in the pic above, that GHTs hibernate for ten thousand years at a time, which is the final insult to the viewer's intelligence. I guess Morgan was mocking "Guy Mann" as much as he was Mulder.
Come to think of it, I'm taking the additional half-star I just added back, just for that.
Next: The token horror episode.