9×14: Scary Monsters

“I apologize. I let my imagination run wild and I ruined both your evenings. Thank you in advance for not yelling at me.” — Leyla Harrison
“Something’s going on here.” — John Doggett
“Wait … there is?” — Leyla Harrison

When Leyla Harrison asks Scully to look into a case, they — along with Doggett and Reyes — have to deal with a lot of scary monsters (and super creeps) in rural Pennsylvania.

Scary Monsters

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Max: With “Scary Monsters,” we get the return of Leyla Harrison, our favorite Mulder-and-Scully loving agent from the accounting department. A kind of extension/sequel to last season’s “Alone,” the episode is yet another instance of Harrison’s surprising knack for landing herself in the midst of an X-File, this time helping a family friend who is concerned when her grandson is moved by his father to a remote cabin in Pennsylvania after the gruesome stabbing death of her daughter. Mixing dread and humor in equal measure, I would say this is a somewhat successful outing, given its competition this season.

Almost immediately, things begin to go awry for our heroes, as Harrison goes behind Scully’s back and ropes Doggett and Reyes into the case. After briefly talking to the father, they are about to pack it in — but their car won’t start and instead sprays blood through the vents. Stuck at the residence during a particularly nasty snowstorm, the trio takes it upon itself to talk to little Tommy about the monsters he claims to be terrified of. Meanwhile, Scully gets a late night visit from a paramour Harrison promised to go out with if Scully autopsies the Conlon family cat.

Scary Monsters

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Scully’s impromptu exam in her morgue (read: kitchen) leads her to believe Harrison’s fears are credible, and she heads north with Harrison’s boy toy to talk to the sheriff about getting to the house. Reinforcements cannot come any sooner, as the intrepid trio has to contend with enormous insects, creatures gestating in stomachs, and bleeding eyes. The agents realize Tommy’s fears are turning into reality, and that these gruesome happenings are fed by the fear of their victims. Doggett subdues Tommy by turning his fears against him, lighting a false fire and knocking the boy unconscious. By the end of the episode, everyone is safe, and Tommy is institutionalized, his imagination kept at bay — over stimulated by a bank of televisions.

At this late date, the pair of Leyla Harrison episodes act as kind of a metafiction of the show itself, which makes sense since Harrison was named after an X-Files fanfiction writer. Here, perhaps more than before, she is used to comment on the state of the program and of things that came earlier. She notes the lack of Mulder, and forces Doggett and Reyes to think like him, and complains when they don’t work as fast as he did. There are of course references to past cases. There is even a nice little wink to the “Ten Thirteen Productions” vanity card that ends every airing — “I made this!”

Scary Monsters

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Inauspiciously, it was during the filming of this episode that Chris Carter informed the cast and crew that Fox had canceled The X-Files, and by this point you could see the writing on the wall. The season lost the modicum of creative resurgence that was fueled by Mulder and Scully’s twin dilemmas and the introduction of John Doggett. All the wheel spinning, trying to keep the X-Files engine going, was at that point truly done for. I mean, for all the positives that you can say about something like “Scary Monsters,” it’s by most accounts a mediocre episode — and in this case begging the comparisons with the glory days does the episode no favors. If you’re going to reference “Field Trip,” maybe it is better to just watch that episode instead.

Radhika: I don’t mind “Scary Monsters” as much as I mind a good chunk of season nine and I suppose that’s a somewhat good thing. But Max is also right to point out that this is generally a mediocre episode — and while it was somewhat clever to have the little boy who’s afraid of everything be the villain of the piece, it’s not like it isn’t a fairly predictable move either. There isn’t much about the episode that feels particularly fresh and I think that some of the self-referential moments certainly do more harm than good.

Scary Monsters

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

While I did smile at the “I made this” uttered by Tommy in his little-boy menacing manner, the mentions of old X-Files cases lack so much subtlety, that they become a little too much after a while. Though many of Leyla Harrison’s remarks reflect how many fans felt (and hey, still do while rewatching these episodes) by this point in the show, there is also an element of meanness from the writers as reflected in Doggett’s own statement that Mulder and Scully aren’t the ones dealing with the case, but Doggett and Reyes are. While I in no way believe that TV show runners need to cater to fans’ every whim and am more than happy to let them carry out their own visions, I do think the way The X-Files crew was handling the situation at this point wasn’t very good. And yes, the show may have been about Doggett and Reyes now, but the writers were doing very little to actually let go of Mulder and Scully’s involvement in the show, even with Mulder no longer on it — so I think they were backfiring at relaying their own message at times.

But somewhat mediocre and mean-spirited as the episode is, it did manage to hold my attention while rewatching it, whatever that may mean.  There were thankfully at least a few elements of a solid story here and at least some appropriately sprinkled humorous moments here and there, which indicate that “Scary Monsters” had a fairly balanced script. And I guess that’s somewhat commendable at this stage in the game.

YES, IT’S THAT GUY

Steve Ryan – Playing the sheriff, Steve Ryan is perhaps best known to today’s generation as J. Walter Weatherman, the guy hired to teach lessons to the Bluth kids on Arrested Development. Aside from that, he had recurring roles on The West Wing, American Dreams, Crime Story, and Oz. He guested on Law & Order, Boston Legal, and Six Feet Under.

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