“I been through hurricanes, Mulder, been through the alphabet. But I just got a distress call from my neighbor down the road to set my teeth on edge. You don’t have much time to get to the airport but if you’re the X-Files man you say you are you better get your butt in gear.” – Arthur Dales
Mulder and Scully answer the call (literally) of Arthur Dales, who beckons Mulder to Florida to hunt down a beast of serpentine proportions.
Max: After the tumult of the last batch of episodes, and the everything-including-the-kitchen sink experimentation of prior entries, “Agua Mala” returns us back to basic MOTW mode with an outing (if not a standout) that remains solid, a throwback to Vancouver-era atmospherics. Originally conceived much differently than what resulted, the episode’s torrents of rain and stormy weather probably make this the wettest episode of the series.
Former FBI agent Arthur Dales (who we met last season when Mulder asked him about an X-File he investigated in the 1950s) phones his successor and goads him to look into what happened to a neighbor’s husband after the husband was attacked by a tentacled creature in his bathroom. Normally Mulder would be flashlights blazing ready to discover a new species or some cryptozoologic enigma, but Dales is in Florida during hurricane season, not ideal weather conditions to conduct an investigation. Predictably, Mulder drags his partner to the Sunshine State anyway, which I’m sure went over well.
Running into the local deputy while investigating at the condo complex, the trio have several close encounters with the creature, including a time when the deputy gets attacked by it and suffers several deep red welts for his troubles. They also run into Dougie (a local petty thief), a couple pregnant with child, and a pro-gun nut, which all make for terrific company during a massive hurricane. After Scully does one of her patented medical examinations, Mulder theorizes that this creature was stirred by the hurricane after laying dormant at the bottom of the sea. Moreover, it can only survive in saltwater, which works to our heroes benefit as the ultimate weapon against this slippery foe.
Radhika and I may not live in prime hurricane country, but after what happened with Sandy back in 2012, we can both appreciate the terror or tangling with Mother Nature. At the time, power in my house was knocked out for hours shy of a full week, and while my situation was better than those who lost their homes, it definitely was a trying time, and there are only so many times one can LARP being Mulder in your house before you lose your mind like Bill Patterson. “Agua Mala” also reminded me of the awesome power of Hurricane Andrew from back in 1992, which for a seven-year-old me was quite something, watching the devastation unfold on television.
The episode makes excellent use of the mise en scene of catastrophe, as setting it during a hurricane was a real stroke of brilliance. Mulder and Scully didn’t have the usual resources at their disposal, so they had to improvise, harkening back to classic episodes set in remote or cut-off locations, like “Ice” and “Død Kalm.” And crotchety old Arthur Dales makes for some nice levity, his salt-of-the-earth matter of factness a good counterpoint. I wouldn’t rank this in a list of best episodes of the season, as my interest definitely dipped in places, but we’re back in the midst of the macabre, and that is a good thing.
Radhika: Yes, on some levels, “Agua Mala” is a return to the macabre. But while I could tolerate it a little better this time around (with my interest still wearing out in parts), I’m going to be honest: I don’t really care for this episode. I remember it being somewhat poorly received back in the day, and I still feel it’s among one of the worst outings of season six. Because despite some fun elements — the shot of a tentacle, some Mulder and Scully bickering, and the rainy flashlight-filled atmosphere — this episode is frankly a bit crappy.
My biggest critique is the characters. Even though the season has pulled away with the pure comedy of some of its earlier episodes, the characters here appear mostly as comic relief, which would be fine, if they weren’t such stereotypes. The biggest stereotype here? The Latino couple expecting a child because naturally the woman has a “spitfire” personality fueled by pregnancy-related aggravation. And poor Arthur Dales — while it’s fun to see him back, I wish he had better things to do than poke fun at Scully and talk about the weird things out there. He almost feels like an afterthought at times in the episode.
The overall pacing and logic of the episode also falls flat for me. Aside from the science and such, it seems to take forever to put Mulder and Scully in the condominium complex. Then Mulder actually gets attacked by the monster and Scully doesn’t seem to be particularly in a hurry to get to him (though of course, there’s the whole issue of having to deliver a baby after its mother conveniently goes into labor).
“Agua Mala” has potential. It has the right atmosphere. But overall, the episode seems a bit meandering to me — and more like actual wasted potential than anything else. There have been and there will be better episodes of The X-Files… and this one just doesn’t do it for me.
YES IT’S THOSE GUYS
Silas Weir Mitchell – Playing Dougie the looter, Silas has been all over television, guest starring in Burn Notice, 24, Prison Break, and Six Feet Under. He can currently be seen in the NBC show Grimm.
Joel McKinnon Miller – A quintessential That Guy, the man who played the deputy has been on everything from Murphy Brown to Deadwood, Six Feet Under, and Boston Legal. He had a significant role in the show Big Love, and is currently in the cast of Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine.