“Woman, get back in here and make me a sandwich!” – Fox Mulder
Mulder and Scully in Suburbia, or: Just What is it That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?
Max: If I were a psychiatrist, I would diagnose this season with a serious case of bipolar disorder. That’s not to say that the season is bad, or filled with bad episodes, it just has had a hell of a time deciding what it wants to be. A good portion of it is because with the wrap up of the Syndicate storyline and a shift to a post-FTF world, the writers were themselves deciding what the future of the show looks like.
This transition opened the season up to all sorts of experimentation, but also to the very real possibility that they would lose the thread of what made The X-Files such a compelling show to begin with. At least with “Arcadia,” we have a modestly successful episode, even though one can suffer whiplash from the tonal shifts from episode-to-episode this season.
Here, our heroes go undercover for their first official case after being reassigned to the X-Files, looking into the case of a couple that went missing from their gated community under suspicious circumstances. Moving into the prestigious Falls of Arcadia, Mulder and Scully begin to pick up on the fact that not all is right almost from the get-go. The neighbors are perhaps a little too neighborly, and good golly there are a lot of rules! Naturally, our agents begin to poke around, and what they find is the dark underbelly of the American Dream.
Big Mike, one of the homeowners pleads with Gene Gogolak, the president of the homeowners’ association to let the “Petries” (Rob and Laura, our heroes aliases) in on what happens when you break the rules, but Gogolak’s iron fist refuses. In the end, we learn that Gogolak conjured an ancient Tibetan thoughtform called a Tulpa to act as his monstrous enforcer of his will, demanding compliance through fear of retribution and death. This leads to mortal doom for everyone who doesn’t conform or questions the status quo, including the Klines and Big Mike. Luckily, Mulder and Scully escape the wrath of the Tulpa, and Gogolak meets a grisly fate at the hands of the creature.
I’m not going to get into a political discussion on the pitfalls and problems surrounding HOAs/gated communities and the people who reside in and run them. Still, the writers took the opportunity to take potshots at that then growing trend in housing, something that has only metastasized in recent years. The episode also gave Mulder and Scully the opportunity to play house, and give shippers the opportunity to see them through the lens of a bizarro world. Thankfully, these scenes are brief, because while amusing, the shtick can get old pretty fast.
There is enough humor and scares to please fans of either mode of the show, but again, there is a bit of a disconnect. I’m not one to be stubbornly stuck in the past, bemoaning the loss of X-Files days gone by, but there is something to be said for giving a season of a show some thematic unity and resonance. Season six is home to some of the best episodes of the series, and we’ve already sung the praises of several of them, so it is a bummer to not have the chance to enjoy the consistent highs we once had (even though the classic seasons had their fair share of clunkers). Like we mentioned, Chris Carter envisioned the show to run for five seasons, unprepared for the show blowing up like it did, and then having to feed the beast once Fox commissioned a sixth season. The growing pains show.
Radhika: Does “Arcadia” make me laugh? Absolutely. Watching Mulder jump at Scully’s nightly beauty regime and hearing Scully call him names like “poopiehead” (mostly out of irritation in this situation) can be fun, no matter what your opinion of the Mulder/Scully romance potential is. Watching beloved characters carry out some out-of-character, silly stuff can be pretty delightful on a show that’s gone through a few seasons. So, for that reason, I do like the episode. It’s fun, the actors look like they’re having a good time and it’s harmless enough.
But I can also see why this episode could be well loved and be considered one of the show’s worst outings. It doesn’t fall into the category of “worst” that episodes like “Space” or “El Mundo Gira” do. It has far too many redeeming qualities for that. But the tonal shift and generally terrible Monster of the Week here aren’t exactly examples of the show at its very best. It’s not an episode I would use to introduce newbies to the series — it’s really something of a 45-minute inside joke, but also not one clever enough to fall into the category of episodes like “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” which managed to poke fun at the show and at Philes while also being weirdly subversive. “Arcadia” is a little too normal for that, which I suppose ties into its commentary about planned communities and their quests for perfection.
I would say “Arcadia” ultimately works out all right, because we’re at a point where our heroes are familiar enough with each other for the premise of going undercover and acting like buffoons to work. (Mulder’s insistence on pronouncing “Petrie” a specific way and his clear enjoyment at pretending to be married are fantastic touches, while Scully’s exasperated, long-suffering wife routine doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.) And it is true that this was the right time in history to pass some judgment on planned communities. Even if the monster (made of garbage) and the ending feel a bit cobbled together, I ultimately give kudos to the writers for taking what is very much a bad fanfiction premise… and making it a perfectly acceptable hour of TV.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Abraham Benrubi – Big Mike himself has been a presence of screens big and small, in everything from the films Twister, The Shadow, and Wristcutters: A Love Story to the shows Blossom, Roseanne, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and The Bridge. He’s most well known for his stint on ER.
Peter White – The evil Gene Gogolak had recurring roles on both Sisters and Dallas, and credits on Hill Street Blues, LA Law, The West Wing, and Mad About You. He was also in the film Thirteen Days.
Tim Bagley – The actor who played Gordy has extensive credits, including parts in the movies The Mask and The Day After Tomorrow. On television, he recurred on Will & Grace as well as guesting on Shameless, Pushing Daisies, 3rd Rock From the Sun, and Monk.
Tom Virtue – Playing the doomed Dave Kline, Tom has guest starred on Murphy Brown, Lois & Clark, Freaks & Geeks, Six Feet Under, Everwood, and 21 Jump Street. He also had a role on the HBO show The Comeback and played Reverend Stone on The Secret Life of the American Teenager.