“Well, Odin and the rest of them are a bunch of vegetarians. They drove the ranch right into the ground, turned 500 head of beef cattle into pets. Calls it a monument to barbarism.” – Sheriff Mazeroski
“Probably went over big with the local ranchers.” – Fox Mulder
“Well, you gotta admit, it takes some big ones to set down in the middle of cow country and start a church like his.” – Sheriff Mazeroski
Our heroes are called in to cattle country Wisconsin to investigate a string of cases involving suspected possession of local teenagers. What this leads them to turns out to surprise both them and the audience alike…
Max: I spoke of in the review of “Sleepless” how it was basically a hybrid episode, combining elements of mythology and MOTW episodes to make an episode that had the strengths of both. “Red Museum,” on the other hand, is a different beast entirely, one that (correct me if my recall is wrong) is totally unique in the history of the show. That is, this is an episode that begins as your prototypical MOTW episode, along with all the usual iconography (possible possession, weird local religious sect, clashes between social groups). However, midway through the episode, something clicks, a piece of information is revealed, and we see the episode for what it really is, a piece of the mythology all along.
The inciting incident, several teenagers in small-town Wisconsin turn up hours after going missing, with no recollection of events, and with HE (or SHE) IS ONE scrawled on their backs as a result of some kind of demonic rite. In the vicinity of the events in question, a religious group called The Church Of The Red Museum, whose leader Richard Odin extols the primary virtue of not eating from the slaughter of animals. In a town where beef is its primary economic resource, it is obvious that frictions would arise, and the Church would be a natural scapegoat to these events that Mulder and Scully are called in to investigate.
However, as our heroes would later uncover, a local doctor has been using teenaged patients as guinea pigs, injecting them with the compound called Purity Control that was last seen in last season’s finale “The Erlenmeyer Flask.” By adulterating the beef that they would eat with a serum that would react to Purity Control, the doctor would test their reactions. The Crew Cut Man, last seen shooting down Deep Throat during the alien fetus exchange, has been dispatched to terminate the tests and clean up any loose ends (including the doctor and several cattle ranchers). It is an interesting bend on the kinds of unsanctioned para-governmental operations we’ve seen and will see on the show. The Church Of The Red Museum, sworn vegetarians, made the perfect control group.
There is a lot going on in this episode, from the abductions/”possessions” to the Church to the townsfolk to a perverted Peeping Tom; it all seems a little too much on this episode’s plate. That is perhaps because of the production history of the episode. This was to be part of an inter-network crossover event with CBS’ Picket Fences, a show also set in small-town Wisconsin, and like The X-Files, has an eerie and paranormal bent of its own (in the Lynchian Blue Velvet vein). However, plans fell through and the crew of The X-Files decided to salvage as much as they can from the episode they were working on, and “Red Museum” was born.
Still, we did get some choice character moments, like the cute way Mulder helped Scully out by wiping the barbecue sauce from the corner of her mouth while they were eating at the restaurant (and boy did those ribs look good!). That was one of the moments that contributed to the nascent movement of “shippers” that loved and fell in love with the chemistry between Mulder and Scully. And with all they they have been through in a mere season-and-a-half, this kind of reprieve from danger and paranoia is charming.
Radhika: I actually wasn’t aware of the production history of this episode, so thank you to Max for pointing that out! That does explain why this episode feels like a bit of an odd mish-mosh. But that said, I don’t actually hate the mixed bag we have here, because I wound up enjoying some of the creepier elements. There are a few things that are confusing, but “Red Museum” just has that tone I grew to love in regards to this show.
As Max says, this episode manages to go from a basic Monster of the Week type of story to one that incorporates the mythology. And the one moment that caught my attention was the allusion to “walk-ins.” Mulder mentions these “walk-ins” while talking to Scully about members of the Red Museum, explaining that such people have had their souls taken over by someone else.
Without going into too much of it here, because that’ll be for the time we finally get to season seven, the “walk-ins” thing will ultimately play a key role in the Samantha Mulder story. (The satisfaction of fans regarding that storyline is another issue.) This is all kind of an interesting coincidence, considering the show’s mythology definitely got messy toward the end of its run. But the mention of walk-ins in this episode almost seems to suggest that the show runners knew exactly what they were doing all along, which is a pleasant — if slightly naïve — thought.
“Red Museum” isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty passable. Though maybe now that we’ve entered a more stellar season than the show’s first, maybe “passable” just isn’t good enough at this point in the series. That said, we won’t really be able to determine what that means until we continue rewatching even more episodes…