“They told me that even though my deodorant is made for a woman, it’s strong enough for a man.” — Fox Mulder
Our agents are called in on a case about a shooting on a farm close to a Native American reservation, and soon discover that they’re dealing with an old-school spooky creature: the werewolf.
Radhika: “Shapes” is a bit of a middle-of-the-road X-File. On one hand, I appreciate that it’s a callback to a more traditional type of monster (with a Native American element), but on the other hand… I’m always a little underwhelmed when I watch it.
“Shapes” has the trappings of your traditional X-File — the shadows, the trench coats, the general dark atmosphere. But I personally feel the story moves too slowly, and I’m not sure the Native American characterizations are my favorite. But I’m also not going to profess to be an expert on the subject, and at least we’re not seeing some Lone Ranger-esque stereotypes here. (Of course, we know there will be more Native American elements to come on The X-Files, specifically in the form of Navajo references.)
The story is very basic. Mulder and Scully are called to Montana when a rancher, Jim Parker, has killed a Native American man, Jim Goodensnake, after claiming that he had actually fired upon a beast of some sort. Parker’s son Lyle has a few scars that support the story, and we later learn that Goodensnake had some elongated canines as well as similar scars. By the end of the episode, we learn Lyle — who is ultimately killed — has also experienced some type of transformation into a beast-like creature.
One of the reservation elders tells Mulder this can be attributed to the legend of the Manitou; a being that can possess and transform a man. So there’s that mix of Native American legend with your classic werewolf story.
I think ultimately the problem is that there’s nothing particularly inspiring about the series of events, because it could have otherwise been a cool X-File. But we do at least get to hear the fact that the very first X-File — opened by J. Edgar Hoover himself — was one very similar to this case. It’s a little cheesy, but kind of a fun detail.
Max: The X-Files likes to pull out an episode like this every now and then, focusing on some marginalized group or subculture and explore their situation through spooky happenings. We had shades of this in “GenderBender,” with an Amish-like group, and now we shine our flashlights on a Native American tribe. The resulting episodes are always a mixed bag, but at the very least “Shapes” isn’t a dud.
Like Radhika said, this is a pretty average X-File, but still, there are some choice moments of local color amongst the shoehorned politics.
This episode was written primarily at the behest of Fox to incorporate more traditional monsters into the show itself, and werewolves are classic well-trod territory. Again, the intermingling of horror tropes and Native American tales is novel.
One thing I did like the is the way Mulder related to Ish, the tribal elder who told him the stories of what happened in the 1940s that caught the attention of J. Edgar. It is Mulder’s open-mindedness that endeared him to Ish, and it is this kind of fealty and respect for these traditions that will be of use when Mulder interacts with the Navajo later in the series.
Oh and, Scully wanted to do an autopsy on the Native American who got shot that brought them out there to begin with, but was rebuffed by the reservation sheriff, citing tribal rituals that the body must not be desecrated. Don’t worry Scully, you will have plenty of opportunity to use those scalpels…
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Michael Horse – Playing the role of Sheriff Charles Tskany, Horse may seem a bit familiar to fans of Twin Peaks, where he played Deputy Tommy Hill.
Donnelly Rhodes – Like Horse, Donnelly Rhodes is also known for a role on a show with a devoted following: Battlestar Galactica. Rhodes played the gruff Dr. Cottle on that show, but he also had a role on the 1970s soap opera parody Soap, in addition to a number of guest-starring roles on a variety of programs.