“…Ricardo, you are your own man and you control everything that you do.” – Rob Roberts
An Orange County fast food worker tries to go about his daily routine, until Mulder and Scully enter into his life.
Max: Necessity, as it is oft said, is the mother of invention. Shortly before production on this season was to commence, both Duchovny and Anderson were still shooting motion pictures, so an episode light on our heroes was needed. Luckily, Vince Gilligan wrote a script that was a perfect fit for these constraints. Told from the point of view of the MOTW, “Hungry” is a solid episode that plays around with what we’ve come to expect from years of encountering freaks and things that go bump in the night. Centered through a compelling performance by Chad Donella, this outing shows that The X-Files can still put on a delightful surprise.
Rob Roberts is your typical employee of Lucky Boy, a venerable fast food establishment, flipping burgers and taking orders from famished patrons. Problem is, he’s a genetic anomaly, who tries desperately to hide his shark-like features and an insatiable appetite for human brains. This puts Rob in a difficult situation when he eats the grey matter of a drive-thru customer and the incident catches the attention of two intrepid agents of the FBI’s X-Files division. After an initial interview of all the Lucky Boy employees, Mulder and Scully (well, mostly Scully) believe the culprit to be Derwood Spinks, a line cook with a rap sheet. Ordinarily, Rob would think he’s in the clear, until Spinks approaches him with evidence that would implicate Rob in the crime and blackmailing him.
Rob now has to contend with this threat, as well as placating a social worker hired by the restaurant to counsel employees traumatized by the murder. Dr. Mindy Rinehart senses that something is not right with Rob, and pushes him to open up to her about what is troubling him. She recommends that he attend an Overeaters Anonymous meeting after he lets on that he has issues with “food.” As much as he wants to live a normal life, he racks up quite the body count in the episode, consuming the brains of Spinks, an out of place private investigator, and his landlady. The good doctor goes to Rob’s apartment, concerned about his well-being, which results in a tense standoff when Mulder and Scully come barging in, confident they have their man. Dr. Rinehart implores him to do the right thing, but he charges at Mulder, who then puts two bullets in Rob’s chest.
I have to say, I was really impressed with this episode on rewatch. It’s always been a solid entry for The X-Files, but it gains a lot of power for rising above the majority of MOTW episodes of the seventh season. Donella’s performance as Rob is fantastic, and the weight of the episode is on his shoulders since Mulder and Scully are on the periphery. It is easy to care about him because he so desperately wants to fit in and be normal. As well as taking diet medications, he frequently watches self-help videos (The Secret before The Secret) to try to actualize a psychology of control. Kudos also must go to Judith Hoag, who imbues Dr. Rinehart with genuine empathy, especially when Rob reveals his true nature to her in his apartment. It is a touching scene, when everything is crashing around him.
I’ll hand things off to Radhika now, but count me as a fan of the episode, and I’m thankful that there are still good episodes to write about.
Radhika: This is a pretty good episode, though I wonder how much of that has to do with the fact that it echoes the familiar themes of a classic era. Yes, the conceit of telling the story from the monster’s point of view was something different for the show (and for most shows at the time, honestly), but a lot about it fits into what we’ve seen in episodes past. Rob Roberts certainly isn’t the first villain to enjoy the taste of human organs (Eugene Victor Tooms, anyone?). And the way the teaser was shot felt more like the darker Vancouver years — almost like the atmosphere established in season three’s “D.P.O.” I would even argue that this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Mulder behave like an antagonist: He’s definitely a pain in the butt in last season’s “Terms of Endearment.” So there’s a lot of familiar territory overlapping with the “unique” point of view we see here — weirdly comforting in the midst of a show that has its original qualities fading away.
But I do enjoy that our monster is fairly sympathetic. Though he does eventually spiral out of control with his cravings, resulting in the proclamation, “I can’t be something I’m not,” Rob doesn’t really want to be a bad guy. It’s kind of refreshing compared to the unabashed viciousness of Tooms or even the likes of Donnie Pfaster; Rob can sense there’s something wrong with him and he’d really like that wrongness to go away. But unfortunately, he can’t make it go away and I do find myself feeling sorry for him even as I watch him do horrible things. It’s quite a case of the old “nature vs. nurture” debate. I also appreciate that the psychiatrist, who could have been a hokey, annoying character, has a lot of heart.
This episode does feel a little weird though — I know it’s purposely Mulder and Scully light due to Duchovny and Anderson having other projects they were working on (and it was also shot out of order, which explains why Scully has longer hair instead of the short hair we see her with at the end of “Amor Fati“). But there are times where that sense of tiredness that plagues season seven creeps in — Duchovny’s delivery of the Burger King-esque “We’ll have it our way” is genuinely flat, not just a case of the mythical monotone. Thanks to some good writing and direction, this episode remains a solid enough Monster of the Week, but I fear this is where our actors’ fatigue begins to show.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Chad Donella – When he is not playing conflicted noggin noshers, Chad is guest starring on Lost, Smallville, The Practice, and Castle. He also can be seen in the films Disturbing Behavior, Shattered Glass, and The Long Kiss Goodnight.
Judith Hoag – If you are in the same age group as Radhika and I, you of course know Judith from the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, where she played April O’Neil. More recently, she was in the films Hitchcock and Bad Words. On television, she is currently starring in Nashville and had a recurring role on Big Love. She guested on Weeds, Carnivale, Six Feet Under, Mad About You, and Quantum Leap.
Mark Pellegrino – Playing Derwood Spinks, Mark is well-known for his roles in Lost, The Tomorrow People, and Supernatural. He’s guested on Dexter, Burn Notice, NYPD Blue, and Northern Exposure. On the big screen, he can be seen in The Big Lebowski, Mulholland Drive, Capote, and the Hulk Hogan vehicle No Holds Barred.