6×07: Terms of Endearment

“‘Protuberances?’ You mean, like horns?” – Fox Mulder

 Our heroes take on one hell of a case when a disinterested Agent Spender tosses it in the trash.

Terms of Endearment

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Max: Last episode we had two titans of television guest star as malevolent troublemaking spirits. In “Terms of Endearment,” B-movie legend and cult idol Bruce Campbell makes a winning turn as a demon who is keeping his true nature very much in-the-closet. The appearance of name actors, even someone like Campbell who was still then stalking the edges of mainstream notoriety, is yet another signal that The X-Files has grown out of an unwritten mandate to cast only actors who wouldn’t distract from a more grounded take on paranormal phenomenon. This bit of stunt casting is also a nod to the early days of the show, as Campbell starred in The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., a sci-fi send up of westerns that debuted the same year and night as The X-Files, only to be cancelled while our show began its ascendant cult following.

A more twisted take on Rosemary’s Baby, “Terms of Endearment,” has Mulder curious as to the case of Wayne and Laura Weinsider, a seemingly happy married couple who suffer an apparent miscarriage. Laura reports though that she experienced visions of a demonic figure that snatched the baby from her womb on the night in question, and her brother (the local deputy sheriff) asks for help from the X-Files unit. Luckily for Mulder, Spender can’t bother himself with such an inane tale, disdainfully high-tailing it back to Washington.

Terms of Endearment

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Mulder, dragging Scully yet again into a case that would have AD Kersh fuming, looks into these claims and finds merit in the story, especially when Scully notes of several demonic-like birth defects on an ultrasound. What unfurls is a he said/she said battle of the wills, especially when we find out that Wayne is simultaneously married to another woman, Betsy Monroe. After a couple of his patented deductive leaps, Mulder reasons that Wayne has been aborting Laura’s babies in an attempt to sire a non-demonic child, an unnerving discovery that results in the deputy sheriff killing his brother-in-law. Meanwhile, we discover that Betsy is a demon herself, so desperate to have a demonic offspring that she prevented Wayne from taking hers, riding off with her new “little bundle of joy” at the conclusion of the episode.

All in all, this is just the sort of genre savvy light-hearted horror romp that Bruce Campbell loves to sink his teeth into. It doesn’t say anything particularly new or interesting about the trope of demonic pregnancies, despite its inversion of the classic tales of the same type. Again, Mulder and Scully’s official distance from the X-Files forces the writers to be a bit creative as to how our agents get involved in the kinds of cases they handled for five seasons. In this manner, we see just how little Spender, the man now in charge of Mulder’s pet project, cares about anything that doesn’t involve covering up extraterrestrial activity at the behest of his father. We of course aren’t privy to Spender’s day-to-day, but I’d bet you a stack of Adult Video News back issues that he has a pile of unread cases, and banging his head against the wall daily for being roped into Mulder’s ridiculous indulgences. Good for him!

Terms of Endearment

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

I love me some Bruce Campbell, so it is nice to see him chew the scenery in an episode that would largely be forgotten without his patented smarm and wit. The man is an unassailable beast in the industry, and I thank him for bringing some punch to a somewhat rote and humdrum outing.

Radhika: Bruce Campbell is indeed the highlight of an episode that could otherwise be deemed “mostly harmless.” And we see some really decent acting from him here beyond the bits of scenery chewing alluded to above. Devilish as Wayne may be, balancing two marriages and trying to convince Laura that she had harmed their child, Campbell plays the part with a touch of pathos that ultimately makes the character fairly sympathetic. “You don’t know how lucky you are. Two cells, with all that can go wrong, and there they are… perfect,” he tells one woman regarding her kids. And later on, of course we hear his lament to Mulder and Scully: “A normal life, a family. It’s all I ever wanted.”

Wayne certainly does some shady things in an attempt to achieve this normalcy he’s always craved, but his desires are essentially human. He has all the hopes and fears the average person does when expecting a child. And I think I found myself responding to this a lot more now (even though I’m nowhere close to having kids) than I did when I was just a teen.

Terms of Endearment

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Another thing I admire in retrospect is the decision to make the second wife, Betsy, demonic with even more dark desires than Wayne’s. I felt sorry for Laura, a mostly mousy woman (who becomes brave to her detriment when she confronts Wayne), unwittingly drawn in and victimized by the man she married. But Betsy subverts the idea of the damsel in distress and takes the baby she wants away. Of course, the unpleasant side effect is that she’s buried any potentially “normal” children she was going to have with previous partners, just like Wayne discarded his devil children. This is most definitely a character flaw that doesn’t sit well with me in the grand scheme of things, but I can appreciate the need to change it up. (Though I guess this is a more extreme version of Rosemary’s Baby, clearly an influence on the episode.)

Terms of Endearment

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

The Rosemary’s Baby similarities, along with the B-movie quality brought about by the dearth of over-the-top CGI for the devil/fire sequences provide this episode with a lot of horror elements. But while I find myself enjoying and analyzing the episode more now than I did when it first aired, it suffers from an uneven tone. The overall plot pertaining to Wayne and his wives is pretty serious, aside from the silly sequence of Wayne driving a red convertible while blasting Garbage’s “Only Happy When It Rains.” But we also have some humorous moments with Mulder and Scully (as well as an odd remark by Mulder about not being a psychologist, when the character is an Oxford-educated… psychologist), which outweigh the usual level of humor and banter found in typical monster of the week episodes. Yes, season six is the more “comedic” season, but consistent writing and pacing are still important for achieving the right balance, which doesn’t seem to happen here. B for effort though.

YES IT’S THAT GUY

Bruce Campbell – If we were to list all the credits the man who played Wayne Weinsider, we’d be here all day. He got his big break in the Evil Dead series of horror films, and used that as a springboard to be in everything from Fargo and The Hudsucker Proxy to Bubba Ho-tep. On television, he is perhaps most well known today for his role on the USA program Burn Notice as retired Navy SEAL Sam Axe.

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