“Him? That thing in my spine is a him?” — Dana Scully
Agent Scully has a pretty terrifying encounter with a slug that’s being worshipped as the second coming of Jesus. Yup.
Radhika: The premise of “Roadrunners” is pretty absurd on the surface, but it actually does a nice job instilling fear in the heart of viewers. It relies a bit on some familiar formulas: An isolated group in the middle of nowhere, a parasitic creature, and one of our heroes in peril, but it still manages to feel like it can stand on its own two legs.
Scully goes to investigate the murder of a hitchhiker found stoned to death, who displays signs of body decay typically affiliated with old age. She asks Doggett, back in D.C., to consult the X-Files for her and then she winds up following a bus to a gas station in the middle of the desert. She gets gas for her car, but the attendant there actually gives her diluted gas when he learns she’s a medical doctor. Scully therefore gets stranded because the group of people the attendant hangs around with wants her to help the hitchhiker we all assumed was dead. Upon further examination, Scully realizes the man is hosting a parasitic worm/slug-like creature that was put inside him.
The townspeople seem to revere the worm, so once they realize the hitchhiker is dying, they decide it’s time to put the worm inside Scully. And of course, our poor heroine ends up tied to a bed with a worm inserted inside her back. But somehow, Doggett — who realizes something is fishy when he realizes Scully hasn’t made contact with local law enforcement — manages to make his way out to Utah just in time to rescue Scully and shoot the creature dead.
This is honestly a pretty grotesque episode in parts: The visual of the wounds on the hitchhiker and Scully’s backs is pretty gross, and so is the moment where Scully tries to get the creature out of the hitchhiker. The effect of a worm-like creature moving underneath the skin is something of a throwback to “Ice” but I felt even more uncomfortable watching the imagery in this episode. I suppose this is all reminiscent of what put the show on the map, but it’s also the start of what I feel is a more gory season than others.
I don’t really like what happens to Scully here either. Granted, most shows of this nature will put their leads (male and female) in danger, but there have been times where it feels like Scully ends up in danger a little too often. Plus there’s something specifically very violence-against-women-like about the parasite being forced into her, while she’s also being tied down, begging for the townspeople to spare the life of her unborn child. It’s really hard to watch, but Gillian Anderson does a great job selling the scene — she is indignant, she is cautious when she is first brought to the house, and she is also downright angry. Scully’s screams are deep and full of a rage that we’ve rarely heard even in past horrifying situations. I suppose we can chalk some of this up to her frustration of losing her partner while she’s pregnant, but I still feel shaken rewatching some of those scenes.
Scully makes some seriously dumb decisions here — not telling her partner about the case she is investigating and going off without him, while pregnant. I know she’s not ready to tell Doggett about her condition and I certainly don’t mean to imply that a woman can’t hack it on her own, but especially considering the nature of the X-Files, it’s important to have backup. Thankfully, Scully seems to learn her lesson here and Doggett doesn’t shy away from agreeing that what she did was dumb, so it seems we’ve made some progress in that slow-building trust I mentioned in our last review.
Max: I completely forgot about the second coming of Jesus Christ aspect to the episode, which makes it even a more bizarre entry into The X-Files canon. Regardless, this is a very brutal episode, especially when Scully is concerned. I think that is part of the reason why Radhika and myself have such a strong reaction to it. Scully has been held captive and in peril before, but there is something so completely visceral and out of character for the show to have scenes of this nature. It is definitely unsettling. My partner was unnerved by her screams and I can’t blame her.
And like Radhika alluded to, the gore factor seems to be stepping itself up this season from this point forward, which ties back into the thematic threads it is weaving. This may be a totally off base theory, but with Mulder’s absence, the escalating violence is an allegory for the turbulence in Scully’s life at the moment. She’s suddenly pregnant, she’s lost her partner and closest friend, and nothing is the same. It is telling to me that Scully dealing with Mulder’s abduction is much more affecting than when the roles were reversed in season two. It may be because at this stage of the game there is more of a history between not only the characters but us the audience as well. But that aspect could also lend credence to Radhika’s concerns about the way Scully was treated in this episode.
I was impressed though at how, for lack of a better pun, dogged Doggett was in helping Scully and then spearheading her rescue. He certainly has the investigative skills, as evidenced by him coming up with additional cases where the cult practiced their rituals in the American southwest. His concern is genuine, which would be surprising for someone coming at the character from just watching his seemingly antagonistic demeanor in the season premiere.
Getting back to the cult, I liked how it echoed something like the Shirley Jackson short story “The Lottery.” Aside from the Jesus Christ explanation, very little about this group is known, and I like the esotericism. Yeah the premise can be silly if you were to relay it to a friend, but it is just the right amount of demented — with gore that we haven’t seen since “Sanguinarium” — that it plays right into the brave new world we find ourselves in. Treatment of Scully aside, I really like the episode.
YES, IT’S THAT GUY
Lawrence Pressman – Playing the apparent cult leader Mr. Milsap, Pressman is best known for a supporting role on Doogie Howser, M.D.. He has guest starred on Boston Legal, Gilmore Girls, Law & Order, and The Profiler. Most recently, he has had a role on the Amazon show Transparent.