“Mulder, it’s the dim hope of finding that proof that’s kept us in this car or one very much like it for more nights than I care to remember. Driving hundreds, if not thousands of miles, through neighborhoods and cities and towns, where people are raising families and buying homes and playing with their kids and dogs and in short, living their lives. While we… we just keep driving.” — Dana Scully
“What is your point?” — Fox Mulder
“Don’t you ever want to stop? Get out of the damn car and live something approaching a normal life?” — Dana Scully
“This is a normal life.” — Fox Mulder
It’s a case of Freaky Friday when Mulder finds himself swapping bodies with a Man in Black after a trip to Area 51.
Radhika: So it’s our first two-parter of the season, and it isn’t even actually a mythology episode. This is season six’s official declaration that we’re basically in the middle of the comedy season. “Dreamland” is nowhere near the classic comedy of episodes such as “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” or “Bad Blood,” but it manages to be entertaining enough.
As if going to the Bermuda Triangle out of desperation in the last episode wasn’t bad enough, Mulder decides to drag Scully along to Area 51 because of a source. They end up encountering a group of Men in Black and before they can leave (as a flying saucer of some type flies over them), Mulder ends up swapping bodies with one of them, a certain Morris Fletcher. Hijinx ensue: Mulder ends up going home to a disgruntled wife and angst-ridden adolescent children, including a teenage daughter who wishes he were dead. And Morris? Well, Morris is delighted to find himself in a younger, in slightly better shape single body, so he basically acts like a cad, sleeping with Kersh’s secretary and annoying the crap out of Scully.
Mulder and Morris’s swap isn’t the only one to have taken place — for example, a pilot has swapped bodies with an elderly Indian woman, while another pilot’s body has merged into a rock. Meanwhile, the real Mulder is trying very hard to convince Scully of what has happened. (“Your brother’s name is Bill Jr…. he hates me,” he says, before going on to talk about a yogurt trend she’s participating in. And when Scully remains ever the skeptic, he can only respond as the audience is thinking: “That is so you. That is so Scully. Well, it’s good to know you haven’t changed.”) The episode ends with Mulder being dragged away by military police after Fletcher reveals him to the “source” that led Mulder and Scully to Area 51 to begin with, and as Mulder yells at Scully to think about whether he would give up a source in this manner, we see Scully beginning to realize that Mulder could be right.
The comedy is fun enough in this episode, though at time, it feels a bit obvious — there’s the Duck Soup homage with Mulder dancing like a nut in front of the mirror to confirm that he is in fact in Morris’s body. While it’s fun and the effort that goes into that kind of routine is commendable, it also makes you wonder if everything this season will involve a cinematic homage of some sort. While Mulder’s conversations with Morris’s family are kind of funny, they are also predictable. So it’s actually the few serious moments that felt more striking to me upon rewatch, such as the callous murder of a gas station attendant by Morris’s buddies, while Mulder — trapped in his body — points out that the man needs a doctor. In fact, this is what makes me feel like something substantial could have been done with Mulder finding himself on the other side of the fence. But instead, we got what we got.
Max: There is a bit of a debate amongst X-Philes whether this two-parter should be classified as a MOTW or included as part of the overarching mythology of the program. Radhika and I were discussing this, as we come from differing viewpoints on the matter, so in the interest of fairness we are splitting the difference and considering it both, which given the quantum mechanics involved in getting the Groom Lake aircraft to fly, makes sense in a Schrodinger’s Cat kind of way. at least for me, these episodes have as much impact on the mythology as the “Tempus Fugit” two-parter back in season four, and they are definitely mythology episodes. Also, it’s kinda cool to have comedic mythology episodes, another sign of the writers increasing wont for envelope pushing this season.
Again, these episodes might not measure up to the brilliance of the comedies from the third season (but then, who can really top Darin Morgan?), but there are plenty of laughs to be had in this episode. For all the talking Scully did about living normal lives in the beginning of this episode, it is abundantly clear at least for Mulder that he would be terrible at it. Putting aside his lack of knowledge of the Fletcher household, seeing him fumble through interactions with the wife and kids puts a smile to the face. This isn’t the cringe comedy of The Office, but it comes close, and the exaggerated nature of it all actually enhances instead of distracts from the proceedings. Special note must be paid to Nora Dunn who plays the put-upon wife. I’ve always been a fan of hers, one of the unsung talents of Saturday Night Live, and her performance keeps her character from being a caricature.
While it isn’t the most original idea, turning the Men in Black (at least these Men in Black) into beleaguered time-clock punchers with families deflates the air out of those tires. Darin Morgan in the episodes he penned loved to undercut our expectations at every turn, and in this respect I think “Dreamland” does him one better. The Men in Black are not the opaque buffoons of “Jose Chung” but rather regular Joes, only with a slightly higher security clearance.
I’m surprised though that it takes Scully nearly the entire episode to begin to suspect that things aren’t as they seem. I hate to go down the skeptic well again, but Scully darling, you should’ve known something was up as soon as he called you Dana. But that doesn’t distract from the fun of seeing Scully react to “Mulder” profusely apologizing to Kersh and later suggesting that they report their Area 51 source to him for investigation.
At the very least, “Dreamland” is having a lot of fun taking the piss out of the whole mythos surrounding Area 51 that has built up over the years, suggesting that indeed this emperor has no clothes. And maybe that is another reason why I believe these episodes belong in the mythology. They add a much needed dose of levity to the machinations of The Syndicate, complicating and making light out of abductions, UFOs, and little green men.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Michael McKean – Appearing here as Morris Fletcher, McKean has had some key roles on TV and film, including those of Lenny on Laverne and Shirley and David St. Hubbins in This Is Spinal Tap. McKean was also on Saturday Night Live for a while. He is set to appear on Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul.
Nora Dunn – Appearing here as Morris’s disgruntled wife, Dunn also spent some time on Saturday Night Live from 1985 to 1990. She’s been acting in a variety of TV and movies as well, appearing on everything from The Nanny to Entourage.