“These kids take enormous pride in being sub-mental.” — John Doggett
“That’s why they call it ‘Dumbass.'” — Monica Reyes
In which killer flies perplex our agents and hey — that’s Jesse Pinkman, bitch.
Radhika: After a fairly bleak season eight and some not particularly cheerful episodes to kick off season nine, we have something of a return to a more humorous X-File. Except it’s also a mishmash of gross effects and a topic The X-Files has delved into before: Teen angst. In the past couple of seasons, we’ve spent a good amount of time talking about episodes feeling stale because they’ve been done before — and I guess that’s something of a complaint I have with “Lord of the Flies,” where I can see elements of episodes past that don’t quite live up to the originals. Plus, the story does fall apart a bit. So even though “Lord of the Flies” is one of the few season nine episodes I remember distinctly and did at least allow me to snicker a couple of times, I continue to be fairly unimpressed.
We are introduced to a group of teens, including Winky (played by Aaron Paul of eventual Breaking Bad fame), filming a bunch of stunts for a show called Dumbass (this was the era of MTV’s idiot-based reality show Jackass). But one stunt goes horribly wrong with one guy ending up dead with part of his skull collapsed. This becomes a case for Doggett and Reyes… and then Scully, when flies erupt from the unfortunate teen’s eye sockets during the autopsy.
The agents eventually connect the dots to a teen named Dylan who also has a crush on a girl named Natalie, a friend of his who was dating the unfortunate fly-infested dead guy. Some other weird buggy events take place: Flies attack Winky and bite “Dumbass” into his flesh. Dylan is randomly covered with flies when the agents try to talk to him. And our agents realize that Dylan is full of insect pheromones.
It turns out that Dylan isn’t like other kids — his buglike tendencies (which include the ability to spew webbing from his mouth) are inherited from his mother who tells him he’ll never be like everyone else. And so Dylan and mom hit the road, with our agents finding a number of bodies in their house, including that of Dylan’s father who allegedly left years ago. But Dylan, despite his buggy qualities, still has a soft side as we see when Natalie is visited by a group of fireflies outside her window flashing the letters, “I love you.”
The youth angst stuff is a little stale at this point, as we’ve seen it in episodes like “Schizogeny” and “D.P.O.” And I appreciate that the episode wants to tread into lighter territory (the music and some of the lines being more reminiscent of the fluffier season six). But the execution feels clunky. For one thing, Doggett and Reyes are kind of terrible at being comedic, lacking the spark that Mulder and Scully normally do when they exchange a few zingers. There’s something subdued and almost lifeless about their lines, and frankly, Doggett just sounds like he’s telling all the idiot kids he meets to get off his lawn. (Though I don’t blame him, I want them to get off my lawn too.) It’s almost as if the writers don’t know how to write humor for these particular characters, so they’re given a few Mulder-and-Scully-lite lines that don’t quite work.
And then there’s the character of Rocky Bronzino, an entomologist based at yours truly’s undergraduate alma mater, Rutgers University — who is instantly smitten with Scully. I’m not going to lie: I did laugh a few times at him, especially his pheromone speech to Scully where he brazenly hits on her in the nerdiest ways. Scully, eyebrows arched, lets him know that she’s a mother and his only reaction is to tell her that “Mothers are women too.” This Zapp Brannigan-esque Casanova is a little reminiscent of characters that could be in a Darin Morgan episode (“Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” perhaps?), but just like everything else here — there’s something a little off about him too. He’s funny, but not quite funny enough and the writing for him feels a bit forced at times. Though I suppose I should be grateful that Scully gets to regain her cool, slightly snarky demeanor instead of howling about her child and Mulder…
Max: Oh Dr. Bronzino, how I have been patiently awaiting your appearance during our rewatch. Indeed, he, Radhika, and I have Rutgers University in common, and I take a perverse sort of joy in his slightly dim hijinks and romantic pursuits. Yes, I’m sure I would prefer that there was a more memorable character associated with my alma mater, but at this stage in the game I’ll take what I can get. I’m not quite sure if the writer of this episode was calling back to the likes of “Jose Chung,” but it is instructive how far we’ve come — in both the series and the rewatch — that those halcyon days seem like a fond distant memory. And while the recent ending of Mad Men has made my mood of late quite nostalgic, not even the potency of that emotion can elevate this episode.
What I do like about this episode is Dylan’s affinity with the musician Syd Barrett, a founding member and original mastermind of rock and roll monolith Pink Floyd who left the band due to a combination of drug addiction and emerging mental illness. Barrett’s short but brightly burning presence in the spotlight cast a long shadow on the band (whose later album Wish You Were Here was conceived as a kind of tribute to him) and his self-confessed status as an outsider caused Dylan to relate to him. Insect imagery was also featured on the art of some of Barrett’s solo work, so the allegory is quite nice, and the parallels are novel here because Barrett wasn’t exactly a household name — and to this day is an undersung figure in popular music.
As much as it is a relief to have some comedic stylings back on the show, I think it is a mistake here and really undercuts what could’ve been a nice Barrett-infused tragic faerie tale. And while the show in the past had plenty of eye-rolling 1990s moments that became dated almost instantly, the Jackass reference is even more embarrassing and stands out like a sore thumb — and this is in a show that has insect people!
“Lord of the Flies,” in the final analysis, is hobbled by a show that has seen better days. And it kills me to say that, because our beloved program deserves the best, and this season will give a lot of ammunition to the idea that the show should’ve ended after seven seasons.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Aaron Paul – Appearing here as Winky, a “Dumbass,” if you will, Paul is best known for his award-winning role as Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad. He has also been in films such as A Long Way Down and Exodus: Gods and Kings. He has executive produced the Netflix animated series BoJack Horseman, where he also voices Todd Chavez.
Erick Avari – Seen here as Dr. Fountain, Avari is a TV, film and theater actor who has been in a number of sci-fi productions, including Stargate SG1, Babylon 5, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Enterprise, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Heroes and more.
Jane Lynch – Before she was Glee‘s Sue Sylvester, Lynch appeared in this episode as Dylan’s mother Anne Lokensgard. Lynch has appeared in numerous Christopher Guest projects including Best in Show, and has also been in movies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Role Models, Wreck-It Ralph and more.
Samaire Armstrong – Playing Natalie in this episode, Armstrong may be better known to some as Anna from The O.C. While Armstrong has a few film credits to her name, the bulk of her roles were on TV as seen on shows like Dirty Sexy Money and Resurrection.