When The X-Files finally returned with its first new episodes in 13 years, fans found themselves faced with a barely recognizable version of Fox Mulder, their onetime hero in the search for the truth about the paranormal.
“Spooky” Mulder had become Midlife Crisis Mulder—alone, depressed, and long separated from his FBI partner and philosophical other half, Dana Scully. Fearing that his life’s work hunting down aliens and monsters (many which have been exposed as hoaxes in the years since 2002), Mulder not only struggles to believe now—he struggles even to want.
In “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” the third episode of Fox’s five-week-long “event series,” Mulder is only too happy to announce his newfound savviness by out-Scullying the OG skeptic herself and swearing off the notion of monsters altogether. While hunting down a throat-slashing suspect in the woods, a gloating Mulder obstinately rejects all supernatural possibilities. Mountain lions, gray wolves, lizards who shoot blood out of their eyes—all are more plausible to the Mulder of 2016 than yet another monster of the week.
Then Mulder meets the monster.
Played with wide-eyed, impish charisma by Flight of the Conchords’ Rhys Darby (one of two of this episode’s stellar guest turns, along with Silicon Valley star Kumail Nanjiani), the “were-lizard” becomes something of a first in the X-Files universe. He’s a monster trapped in the body of a man (named Guy Mann!) who just wants to shed the inane trappings of modern human life and scamper off back in his own scales to the wilderness.
Over the course of one joyously funny hour that visibly revitalizes leads David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” makes a point familiar to X-Files lore yet refreshing to see again through a new, humorous lens: Sometimes it’s people—with our silly self-consciousness, slavish commitment to routine, and endless capacity for brutality—who are the real monsters.
The episode will be recognizable to longtime X-Files fans as a classic Darin Morgan work. The Emmy-winning writer behind four of the original X-Files run’s most legendary episodes, including “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” and “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” both wrote and directed “Were-Monster,” bringing to it his uniquely devastating sense of humor. Morgan was the first to write a comedy episode for the show (“Humbug” in 1995) and became one of its most frequently imitated writers, even long after he left at the end of its third season.
Despite his lauded tenure on the show, Morgan (the brother of another returning X-Files writer, Glen Morgan) returned only once, to guest-star as a shape-shifting villain in the Vince Gilligan-penned “Small Potatoes.” (Morgan’s first job on the show was also an acting gig, as the iconic Flukeman from the series’ third episode.) The notion of returning almost 20 years later to write another episode still seems to cause him anxiety, as if this may be the script that finally brands his life’s work a failure. In that sense, Morgan and Mulder have a few existential neuroses in common.
“I gave a lot of my doubts about what I was doing to Mulder,” Morgan says, phoning from Los Angeles. “I was somewhat reluctant [to write another episode] for several reasons…It’s like, OK, I’ve done it before—what’s the point of doing it again?”
While Scully cracks a smile midway through “Were-Monster” and remarks, “I forgot how much fun these cases can be,” Morgan (and Mulder in the moment) disagrees. Morgan cites his “very real fear” of angering fans who would rather watch a mythology episode, or one that dwells more on the intricacies of Mulder and Scully’s relationship. “Dealing with that kind of wears you down, and you don’t know if you even really wanna do it,” he says. “You go into it knowing that a portion of your audience is not going to like your episode regardless of what it is.”
Asked why he did agree to come back, the ex-Fringe producer laughs and says, “I was out of work, so sure, why not?”
But not all midlife crises have unhappy endings—just ask Mulder who, in the final moments of Morgan’s episode, witnesses a true miracle: He comes face-to-face with Guy Mann, who transforms into the were-lizard before his very eyes. Mann’s fantastical tale of waking up from a 10,000-year-long hibernation inexplicably stuck inside the body of a human suddenly proves true. And Mulder, rooted to the spot in disbelief, can’t help but allow himself a small smile. Spooky Mulder is back and, once again, he wants to believe.
“The realization Mulder comes to at the end of the episode is kind of the same one I had about doing these types of stories again,” Morgan says. “Everybody, regardless of their profession, unfortunately reaches a point in their lives where they question if how they spent that life was the right way to do it. Is what you do worthwhile? I feel like it’s no different to give Mulder that same questioning. I’ve done it myself with my writing and everything, and I think everyone who watches the show will be able to relate.”
“Unfortunately, not all of us get to meet were-lizards who renew our faith in what we’re doing,” he adds, laughing. “But if Mulder can find it anew, we can all find it somehow in our own way.”
“Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” contains more than meditations on what it means to be human. There are callbacks throughout to old X-Files episodes, including Scully adopting another puppy at episode's end, like she did in “Clyde Bruckman.” A gravestone Mulder slumps under is marked for Kim Manners, the late director and producer who was a stalwart of the old X-Files crew. And Morgan’s love of poking fun at his leading man manifests itself again and again, most hilariously in a scene where Mulder (the world's worst at using camera phone apps) is caught snoring in a bright red pair of crotch-hugging briefs--just like the ones he wore in the Season Two episode “Duane Barry.”
Morgan also resurrects a fan-favorite theory alleging Scully is actually immortal, spawned from a line in “Clyde Bruckman” in which the titular psychic, who can foresee the deaths of everyone he meets, tells Scully she will never die. (“You don’t,” he tells her when she asks how she dies.) It’s a “sweet” moment between the FBI agent and her dying friend. But fan theories have a way of taking on lives of their own.
In “Were-Lizard” then, when Scully tells Mulder that she’s safe from harm because “don’t forget, I’m immortal,” X-Philes seized the moment as yet another acknowledgement of their decades-long dedication to the show. But is there another layer of hidden meaning to the line, hinting at a supernatural explanation for Gillian Anderson’s ageless appeal? Is Scully actually immortal?
No, says Morgan. There’s definitely not.
“Maybe I put [the line] in there just to say that the people who want to think that was true—um yeah, you’ll see how ridiculous this is,” he says, laughing. “I’m a bit of a jerk that way.”
Mulder, now a reaffirmed believer, might be the type to buy into the idea. You know what he’d probably say: The truth is out there.