“Through some blood curse, this man undergoes some kind of nocturnal transformation. He becomes the same shape-shifting trickster as that mythical dog.” — Fox Mulder
“So what is he going to do? Walk in here, skitter across the linoleum and pee in the corners?” — Dana Scully
Mulder and Scully investigate a number of killings blamed on a dog that is believed to be extinct.
Radhika: Every once in a while, an X-Files episode will annoy me, not just because it’s outright bad, but because it’s boring — the worst sin the show can commit. “Alpha” fulfills the role of the boring episode in season six, and my mind was wandering throughout this rewatch just as much as it did the first time I watched it more than a decade ago.
Mulder receives word of an animal attack on a ship from Karin Berquist, a canine expert, which of course means that he and Scully end up on the case. The dog’s owner Dr. Ian Detweiler says the dog is a Wanshang Dhole, an Asian species believed to be extinct. More attacks occur and Mulder comes to believe the dog has near-human intelligence. As time goes on, we come to realize the dog is capable of mimicking any shape and Mulder eventually believes Detweiler is the animal, tranquilizing himself to stop attacks. It all comes to an end when Detweiler, who indeed does transform into the dhole, ends up in a confrontation with Berquist and both die in a fall out of a window.
I really can’t say a whole lot about this episode except that it feels pretty lifeless. Both Duchovny and Anderson seem to be going through the motions of reading their lines — with Mulder making a series of terrible dog jokes that lack his usual unrepentant sparkle. Scully seems weirdly jealous and worried about Berquist’s intentions for summoning Mulder. We’re supposed to get the sense that Berquist and Mulder, both outsiders in their own right, have a special connection — but there really isn’t enough setup or background for any of this to feel believable, aside from a throwaway line about meeting on the Internet. There’s something of a variation on the werewolf story here, I guess, but it has little to no impact. I don’t even really know what the point of the story really was.
For me, the only saving grace of the episode is that Mulder eventually receives Berquist’s copy of the “I Want to Believe” poster we saw in his basement office for so many years before it was destroyed by the fire in the previous season’s finale, “The End.” I remember feeling some legitimate sadness seeing the destroyed remains of that poster back in season five, and seeing something that is so intrinsically a part of The X-Files return to the show is a really great feeling — even though it happens in an episode that foreshadows the painful qualities of the seasons ahead.
Max: It is telling that for me “Alpha” sticks in my mind as the episode where Mulder gets his poster (another copy anyway) back, and all the canine shenanigans take a backseat in my recollections. At least the feline “Teso Dos Bichos” was flagrant with how utterly bad the episode as a whole was. Here, the episode just exists, everyone just phoning it in for a paycheck.
Rewatching The X-Files for this blog, I much rather have a bad episode than a boring one. With a bad episode, at least I can derive some sort of snarky entertainment out of it from which I could use as fodder for these write-ups. But “Alpha” does me no favors in this department. Writer Jeffrey Bell conceived of the episode based off a single notecard he wrote: “Scary dogs in the City.” Some shows get a lot of incredible mileage off of simple, unique concepts (Miami Vice infamously was developed from a note NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff jotted down, “MTV cops”), but the creative process for this episode seems to begun and stopped with that notecard.
I really wish I had more to say about this episode, anything of value or even slightly illuminating, you can’t get blood from a stone. Duds are duds, and precious little can assuage my fears that the road is only going to get much bumpier from here on out. The season will rally as it closes itself out, but nothing hurts more than seeing The X-Files reduced to outings like this.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Andrew Robinson – Seen here as Dr. Detweiler, Robinson is probably best known for his role as the serial killer Scorpio in Dirty Harry, as well as roles in Hellraiser and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Melinda Culea – Playing Karin Berquist, most of Culea’s filmography dates back to the 1980s and 1990s, Culea was on The A-Team for a season and a half. She was also on Knots Landing and made guest appearances in a variety of other shows.