4×20: Small Potatoes

“I don’t imagine you need to be told this, Mulder, but you’re not a loser.” — Dana Scully
“Yeah, but I’m no Eddie Van Blundht either, am I?” — Fox Mulder

When our agents investigate the case of multiple babies born with tails, they find themselves encountering a slightly hard-to-pin-down baby daddy.

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Radhika: In a season chockfull of inbreeding families, Scully’s cancer and slightly awful one-off episodes, “Small Potatoes” is one of the most delightful, welcome episodes of The X-Files ever. It’s not the deepest Monster of the Week episode, and it’s not the most surreal of the series’ comedy episodes, but it remains a pleasure to watch to this day, maintaining its reputation as a fan favorite. Written by Vince Gilligan, while starring Darin Morgan, who himself wrote some of The X-Files’ best comedic episodes, and also featuring some fantastic performances from both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, you simply can’t go wrong watching this one.

Mulder and Scully go to a West Virginia town to investigate why five babies there were born with tails. The most recent new mother, Amanda Nelligan, claims Luke Skywalker fathered her child. A little further research indicates that all five babies had the same father and the parents blame the local fertility doctor, since he used insemination to impregnate all the mothers, but Amanda. Mulder spots a janitor nearby who displays signs that he used to have a tail. It turns out that the janitor, a certain Eddie Van Blundht, really is the father of all those babies, but the question is… how?

The answer: Eddie Van Blundht is a shapeshifter who can take on anyone’s appearance. While performing an autopsy on Van Blundht’s father’s body (found shriveled up in an attic, though purely for Eddie to milk his Social Security checks and not for any Psycho-like reasons), Scully finds an extra sheet of muscle under his skin. Mulder believes Eddie has inherited the same trait and that’s how he can change his appearance.

Eddie Van Blundht — taking on Mulder’s appearance — ends up going back to DC with Scully, with poor Mulder locked up and left behind. In a slightly hilarious series of scenes that culminates in faux-Mulder nearly succeeding at seducing Scully, the real Mulder bursts through the door and confronts his impersonator, who ends up behind bars. When Mulder visits the hapless perpetrator in prison, where we learn he’s been given a muscle relaxant to prevent the shapeshifting, our G-Man is told that he’s basically made a conscious choice to be a loser.

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

It is so fitting that Darin Morgan, who wrote numerous humorous lines at Mulder’s expense, ended up playing a guy who tries to benefit from Mulder’s good looks — and then ultimately tells him that he really isn’t doing much to take advantage of what he has on hand. One of the most memorable scenes of the episode, aside from the near-seduction of Scully, involves Van Blundht as Mulder (aka, Duchovny getting to have some fun) saying “FBI… FBI…” before launching into a Robert De Niro impression in front of a mirror.

But I actually get more of a kick out of the scenes where Van Blundht realizes that Scully’s idea of fun on a Friday night is doing more work and that Mulder has to rely on phone sex hotlines and talks to a bunch of nerds (The Lone Gunmen) about assassination footage in his downtime. While it’s been explored on a more serious level in episodes like “Never Again,” it’s almost a running joke at this point that Mulder and Scully have no lives. And Van Blundht, marveling at how a good looking man in what is arguably his prime can’t seem to get any actual joy out of his life, is almost a stand-in for the viewer, as much as we all love and sometimes relate to Mulder and Scully.

The episode is largely favorably reviewed, though a few in the minority have called out the rapey elements of having Van Blundht impersonate these women’s husbands and … well, Luke Skywalker, in order to have sex and ultimately plant his tailed seed everywhere. But while Van Blundht’s point of view can certainly be something we can all understand, I don’t think the lighthearted tone of the episode lets him off the hook too easily — he’s still certainly a guy who made some seriously questionable choices in life and he does end up in prison, still lame and pathetic.

At least the episode’s tone better suits his story than it does of Eugene Victor Tooms, Donnie Pfaster… or even the Flukeman.

Small Potatoes

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Max: For an episode that relies so much on the force-of-personality that is Eddie Van Blundht, it really becomes an interrogation on the personal lives of our lead characters, especially Mulder. It’s pretty hilarious to see Eddie-as-Mulder explore the basement office and apartment 42, snickering at this federal agent that he thought would have it all and living it up. Not to be too philosophical, but this is a pretty powerful statement on our inner and outer lives, and how our projections of others impinge on our own. After all, Mulder mused to Scully that it is “ultimately maybe it’s other people’s reactions to us that make us who we are.” It is pretty standard that events and people throughout one’s life shape who they are, but this idea goes a bit deeper. Eddie has a lot of issues, yet this doesn’t excuse his actions.

Overall, it is a solid episode with a welcome sprinkling of levity in this uniformly dark season. I got a kick out of Skinner incredulously questioning his charges about the sloppy case report, and Eddie-as-Mulder explaning away multiple spelling errors as typos. And while she wasn’t sharing them with the actual Mulder, it was welcoming to have Scully relate experiences from high school, with her rebellious actions back then giving her character some wonderful shading. All this leads to an attempt from Eddie-as-Mulder to kiss Scully, until Mulder barges in before Eddie is able to seal the deal.

There are a whole host of instances in this episode that are fodder for the shippers out there, including a moment in the beginning of the episode when one of the couples affected by a tailed baby believes that our heroes are yet another couple who are victim of medical malfeasance. In the first few seasons of the show Mulder and Scully go through together and apart several harrowing and emotional experiences. Starting this season though, we begin to see a ramping up of the possibilities of our leads acting on the bonds they have forged. This isn’t the first tease, and will certainly not be the last. In fact, it’ll become a running joke as the series goes on over how the writers can contrive a possible romantic situation only to pull the rug out at the last second.

We get a lot of mileage out of this simple conceit, and it works like gangbusters.

YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS

Christine Cavanaugh – Nineties kids probably recognize the voice of Amanda in this X-Files episode as that of beloved cartoon characters including Chuckie Finster of Rugrats, Gosalyn Mallard on Darkwing Duck and the original voice of Dexter on Dexter’s Laboratory. She was also the voice of the title pig in Babe, among many other projects, before retiring in 2001.

Darin Morgan – We’ve probably said enough about this guy at this point, so we’ll stop here.

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4 thoughts on “4×20: Small Potatoes

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  4. Pingback: Season 4, Episode 20 – Small Potatoes | The X-Files Truth Podcast

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