“They grow their own food, they raise their own pigs, they breed their own cows… raise and breed their own stock, if you get my meaning.” — Sheriff Andy Taylor
Mulder and Scully travel to Home, Pennsylvania, to investigate the death of an infant with severe birth defects. What they uncover is a horrifying tale of incest.
Radhika: Long before we entered an era of grotesque serial killer and crime dramas on television, The X-Files brought us “Home,” an episode so grotesquely impactful that Fox wouldn’t air it on network TV again. One can argue that most of The X-Files is pretty tame in an era of artful crime scenes, horror and deranged killers as seen on Hannibal, American Horror Story and True Detective. But “Home” remains pretty horrifying (and at times, still feels like “turn away from the TV” programming) nearly two decades after it first aired.
The episode opens with a spooky scene of childbirth on a dark and stormy night — there’s screaming, the characters are in a ramshackle house and you can just barely tell that there isn’t something quite right about these folks. The scene ends with them burying the newborn child, as one shadowy figure cries during the act.
The next scene is the polar opposite, with an all-American game of baseball being played by a group of boys, though it does end in the grotesque discovery of the deceased child. Mulder and Scully arrive in town (Home, Pennsylvania) and talk to the sheriff, Andy Taylor, about the events that have taken place. They learn about the Peacock family, who live in the house closest to the crime scene, and the sheriff informs them the family has been there since the Civil War and lacks running water and electricity. He also strongly implies that the Peacocks are into inbreeding. The parents were said to have died in a car wreck, while three grown-up sons live there.
As the episode goes on, we learn the baby had a few too many genetic abnormalities (though it was suffocating on dirt that killed it), and Mulder wonders if the baby could potentially have three fathers (the Peacock brothers) — but Scully points out that it could only happen with a weakened ovum, and the Peacocks don’t have any female family members left. Nonetheless, suspecting the men have kidnapped and raped a woman, the agents search the house and find blood, scissors and a shovel — thus, an arrest warrant is issued.
In retaliation, the Peacocks kill the sheriff and his wife after breaking into their house. And so Mulder and Scully return to the Peacock property with the deputy, who gets decapitated by a booby trap before the agents go inside. But what they eventually find is even darker than they imagined — a quadruple amputee, revealed to be the mother, Mrs. Peacock, is found under a bed. More horrifyingly, she’s been willingly breeding with her sons. By the episode’s end, two of the brothers are dead after trying to attack Mulder and Scully, and Mrs. Peacock and her eldest son have escaped, planning to start a new family… a new home, if you will.
With “Home,” The X-Files went to levels that were even darker than usual for the show, and considering some of these themes have re-emerged on television again today, you could argue that it was a fairly forward-thinking episode about a fairly backwards situation. I don’t make a regular practice of rewatching “Home,” but I will say that it’s almost delightfully creepy at times, especially with its integration of the tune “Wonderful, Wonderful” (a cover since Johnny Mathis wasn’t really digging the episode’s content), tied into the murder of the sheriff and his wife, as well as the creepy ending with the Peacocks planning to start fresh.
And in addition to pointing out all the problems with inbreeding itself, the episode does a nice job subverting our notions of nostalgia, while also allowing for some interesting discussions about motherhood. In one slightly humorous exchange, Mulder points out that if he were to settle down somewhere, he’d settle down someplace like Home. But in a later, slightly more heartfelt discussion, Scully points out all the hopes and dreams a woman feels for her children, while nature is just cruel. She admits to projecting a bit — and turns out, she’s the agent more interested in pursuing the case than Mulder, who initially thinks it should just be left to the town.
The conversation ends with Mulder eventually saying he’d never seen Scully as a mother before — a loaded statement, given what’s to come on the series, and we get that little moment of character development in an episode that could have otherwise just been all about shock value instead. It’s a difficult episode to stomach, but it isn’t a throwaway one either, which is what I appreciate most about “Home.”
Max: Viewer discretion is advised. One of the most well-worn statements in television history is a bellwether for the events about to unfold on your screen. The dark step-sibling of the Very Special Episode. As Radhika mentioned above, “Home” is notorious in the history of the show for being the one episode of The X-Files to never be rerun by Fox. Indeed, it has also been left off of syndication packages of the show as well, making it a kind of “lost episode” in the days before DVD box sets and Netflix.
Again, it says something about the quality and intensity of the grotesqueness of the episode to have it stand out amongst the Flukemen and parasites and circus freaks that we’ve grown accustomed to over the many seasons of MOTWs. I’ve seen my fair share of horror films and shocking videos on the internet, but even I am continually taken aback by “Home,” which continues to elicit many turns of my stomach. I think this has more to do with the nature of what we are seeing on the screen. While a Flukeman strains credibility as an actual scientific possibility, the horrors of the Peacock family are just barely removed enough from reality to make the whole scenario unsettlingly uncanny. If Donnie Pfaster’s demonic id was made flesh in “Irresistible,” then the warped family dynamics in this episode are visible in the genetic deformities of the Peacocks.
The plot of the episode is pretty straightforward, and it is pretty much a vehicle for us to get closer and closer to the Peacock residence, and then get inside of it and explore the many layers of the macabre. An interesting thematic point to make is that there was mention in the episode that the house dates back to the American Civil War. Infamously, that conflict was said to (quite literally sometimes) pit “brother against brother,” in a war that threatened to tear apart the country. The insular family politics of the inbreeding Peacocks is almost a rejoinder to that period in American history. A good portion of the work of David Lynch is an exploration of the dark underbelly of American life, and the episode’s use of that Johnny Mathis song is perhaps homage to this, inasmuch as Lynch also has a predilection for using classic songs of the 1950s and 1960s and recontextualizing them against bizarre scenes and images, which goes back to the subversion of nostalgia that makes the episode so potent.
I actually forgot that amongst all the grotesque and unsettling imagery that there were moments that Scully opined about the nature of motherhood and the ways these ideas clash against the cold hard facts of reality. While not giving too much away for those who are following along with the series for the first time, these conversations do foreshadow Scully’s own maternal desires and her eventual struggles with cold hard facts of reality. Intentional or not, it is nice to see the seeds for major plot points in the series to be planted this far ahead, which gives “Home” resonances outside the usual confines of a MOTW.
This being said, I did enjoy my visit back “Home,” as it allowed me to think more on an episode that could be just as easily dismissed as an episode designed purely to shock. It may not be an episode that I would turn on again if I wanted a quick fix of Mulder and Scully, but the fact that it exists and that the writers thought to explore such unabashed darkness is a real testament to the strength of the storytelling engine that powers The X-Files.