7×16: Chimera

“I gotta hand it to you, Sheriff. You put the service back in ‘Protect and Serve.’” — Fox Mulder

Mulder goes to investigate when a woman goes missing in a small Vermont town, while Scully tries to tolerate an awkward stakeout.

Chimera

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Radhika: I have to admit that before I settled down to watch this episode, I could barely remember what it was about. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover a reasonable Monster of the Week episode with some genuinely enjoyable dialogue. Yes, “Chimera” still has a touch of “X-Files Lite,” as I’ve said about much of this season, but while it may not stick with you for long after watching it, there are a number of redeemable elements that make it an enjoyable enough hour of television.

Mulder and Scully are investigating a case involving a woman who might be killing prostitutes, but Mulder gets called off to go investigate the disappearance of a woman in Vermont instead. The woman, Martha Crittendon, is the daughter of a federal judge. Mulder ends up staying in the house of the local sheriff and his homemaker wife Ellen. Martha eventually turns up dead and after some time, Jenny Uphouse — a woman from the “wrong side of the tracks” — does too.

Mulder eventually puts two and two together — Martha, who was apparently on birth control despite her husband’s vasectomy, was four weeks pregnant when she died. It turns out that the sheriff had been having affairs with both Martha and Jenny, and it turns out Ellen — who appears to transform into a monstrous entity without any proper memories of it — was behind the attacks. After Ellen attacks Mulder, only stopping when she finally notices her monstrous reflection in a tub of water, she ends up hospitalized with a personality disorder.

And on a happier note, Scully discovers that the woman behind the prostitute killings is actually a man in disguise who has been sneaking in to teach the ladies about Jesus Christ.

Chimera

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

The episode draws on past installments like “Arcadia,” exploring the deep dark secrets beneath a happy, picturesque façade. We get to see Mulder being taken care of in a conventional sense — and Ellen quickly deduces it’s not something he’s used to. This leads to a pretty great exchange where she asks if he has a significant other and he responds by saying, “not in the widely understood definition of the term.” It appears that this was another nice little hint that something is afoot with Mulder and Scully, and we’re just not privy to it yet.

A thing I appreciate about this episode is that everyone involved commits monstrous acts, but no one is really evil. The sheriff is pretty terrible, I admit, and having two affairs is a little much, but we also learn that his wife had resisted his attempts to get a divorce a couple of years earlier, eventually getting pregnant with his daughter. But while there could be implications of the evil, conniving woman “trapping” her man, Ellen is actually a fairly likeable character — and ultimately just someone you feel sorry for. She’s so caught up in the notion of a perfect life and a perfect marriage, she simply can’t seem to grasp the idea of dissolving her marriage — and she tries her best to shower everyone with love and attention that seems to come from a sincere place.

Chimera

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

I do wish that the explanation behind her monstrous state was a little stronger than “she just wanted a perfect life,” which is part of why I can’t call this episode particularly outstanding, even though I had more fun watching it than I thought I would. But the episode makes a sincere effort at trying to tell a decent story. And I can’t help giving points to any episode that features simultaneously humorous and pathetic dialogue from Scully that reminds me of The X-Files of yore: “Mulder, when you find me dead, my desiccated corpse propped up staring lifelessly through the telescope at drunken frat boys peeing and vomiting into the gutter, just know my last thoughts were of you and how I’d like to kill you.”

We’ve all been there, girl.

Max: Yeah, I have to agree, this one really snuck up on me. There have been episodes this season where watching an episode was more of chore than anything else, slogging through forty interminable minutes out of pure obligation to this project of ours. Even in the desert it rains, and so with “Chimera,” there are some rather entertaining moments of television.

I’m pretty sure that there are works in this medium and others within horror/paranormal that use their tropes as an allegory for adultery, but I appreciate the novelty here of ravens and mirrors as heralds of demonic devastation. It works as an X-File, but it can just as easily be effective stripped away of these trappings. We’ve had episodes where the paranormal was limited or even non-existent, and all of the events here can be explained as the result of Ellen’s psychological issues. As Radhika pointed out, none of these characters are necessarily evil in the context of society and of the show, which complicates the worldview of the episode. As Mulder pointed out to Scully, the seedy underbelly could just as easily (if not moreso) exist in picturesque suburbia as on a street corner where prostitutes ply their trade.

Chimera

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

The chief issue I have with the script is that it absolutely should have developed Ellen’s character more. Radhika mentioned her distaste for the rationale behind Ellen’s psychological break, but I think it goes beyond that. The episode would be much more fascinating had the writers focused on making Ellen a more three-dimensional character. There is a lot of stuff packed just under the surface of this outing, and dealing with two affairs and the usual red herrings of a MOTW episode (let alone our check-ins with Scully and the stakeout), so perhaps shortcuts were made in order to have the episode fit within its allotted running time. Honestly, a pretty damn good movie could be made of the bones of this story (think Repulsion or Possession, but more grounded). “Chimera” suffers because I think they couldn’t execute their ideas properly.

That being said, I pretty much enjoyed the time I spent with the episode and got a few choice chuckles in, even though the pace seemed a little like I was watching at half-speed. And while it does trod over ground previously covered in the series, it puts the pieces together in a way that keeps your interest and doesn’t cause you to roll your eyes like Scully has done way too many times at her partner. At this point in the season, nearing the final stretch and coming up on some truly terrible episodes, I welcome this nice little oasis. Lord knows we need it!

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