“I’m not convinced.” — Fox Mulder
“You sure about that Mulder.” — Dana Scully
“I’m not sure about anything.” — Fox Mulder
After the son of a police officer dies, Mulder and Scully are called to a small town to investigate his death, all while uncovering things long buried.
Max: With only three episodes left of the season, Radhika and I expressed our interest in wanting to see one really good, creepy Monster of the Week episode before the show signs off — possibly for good. Well, be careful what you wish for, because “Familiar” gave us that and amped the deranged quotient to eleven, giving us a tableaux of violent and eldritch horrors that hearkened back to the days when the strangeness and novelty of The X-Files was still fresh in the minds and imaginations of viewers.
Everything begins so innocently, two moms taking their children to the local playground to burn off energy, when one of the children, Andrew, sees in the forest one of his favorite television show characters, a rather creepy individual known as Mr. Chuckleteeth. When no one is looking, Andrew follows him into the woods and as a result is found dead hours later when a search party locates his mauled corpse. Enter our heroes, as they immediately set up shop and declare that this is a murder despite the fact that the police are ready to call it a wildlife attack. Naturally, as with all things X-Files, cases aren’t so easily closed.
There is so much packed into this episode that to give it any kind of play-by-play would eat up the word count on this post, so needless to say, things get way more complicated from here. In a way, the episode takes inventory of The X-Files‘ greatest hits: red herrings, creepy kids, out there theories, townsfolk going mad, chases in the woods — and violence, lots and lots of bloody violence. Turns out, the police chief was having an affair with his co-worker’s wife (whose son is Andrew), something he felt unleashed a new wave of demonry in a town known for its own witchcraft hysteria back in colonial times. This time, it is the chief’s wife who is responsible, when hexes she put on her husband and his mistress get out of control, resulting in the deaths of most everyone involved — including two children with a predilection for the creepiest children’s programming ever.
Saying I had a lot of fun watching this episode may be a bizarre thing to hear, but “Familiar” definitely put me back in the classic MotW mindset, walking the well trod story beats that were made fresh by contemporary storytelling, including the brutal beat of the sex offender scapegoat being shot point blank in the head, something I’m not sure we would’ve seen back in the ’90s. The witchcraft angle reminded me a bit of the stellar “Die Hand Die Verletzt”, which similarly explored the concept of suburbanites meddling with magic they did not fully understand or control. And hey, we even get a part for perennial Vancouver-era guest star Roger Cross!
In the end, what “Familiar” stakes out is the common refrain that we revisit our own basest emotions and fears on ourselves, and that once set loose in the world, humans stand powerless once things reach a critical mass. The familiar serves to power this dark energy and collect its prey, a harbinger that something is not quite right in the world. It was great seeing Mulder and Scully take this one on, further proof of the wonderfully surprising quality of this season.
Radhika: I can relate to Max’s feeling of having fun watching this episode, and I’ll even one-up that — I felt strangely relaxed and at home. When you’ve loved The X-Files for two decades, an episode that feels familiar (yes, I went there), while also being interesting, can have that effect on you. And mind you, I felt “at home” despite the fact that I gasped watching the sex offender get shot point blank. For all the paranormal, creepy imagery on this show, that was the most surprising thing I could have seen tonight, even though there were a remarkable number of violent deaths throughout the episode. But there were even moments where I laughed, such as Mulder’s “I … did not see that coming” in response to the police chief’s dramatic admission of having an affair. And when that kind of material exists alongside a creepy atmosphere, I tend to be the happiest of X-Philes.
This episode hit the Monster of the Week sweet spot for me. I can’t say it’s up there with the classics from the show’s original run, but I was engrossed in the story. Aspects of it even reminded me a little bit of “The Calusari,” with the teaser involving a small child wandering off, and I also couldn’t help thinking of Stephen King’s It thanks to that yellow raincoat. I half-expected little Andrew’s mother to start calling out for “Georgie.”
I also appreciated seeing Mulder and Scully’s humanity shine through here — Scully’s admission that examining the bodies of children is still hard (with Mulder agreeing and pointing out that it’s hard not to take a life cut short personally) is not necessarily a new line for a character in her profession to utter on TV. But it does show that despite all the crazy things these two have seen, they haven’t become too jaded.
Even though nothing about this felt particularly innovative, it managed not to feel tired like some of the Monster of the Weeks started to do sometime around season 7 or so. This, like a number of episodes we’ve had during this season, felt like a good reason for having a revival of the show to begin with — to revisit some of our favorite characters doing what we loved about them back in the day without making them shadows of their old selves. While I am still nervous about the direction the actual finale will go in, I am looking forward to seeing what we get next week and am generally feeling a lot more positive about The X-Files this time around.
YES, IT’S THAT GUY
Jason Gray-Stanford — Playing the distraught Officer Eggers, Gray-Stanford is known to most as the hapless Lt. Disher on Monk. Other television credits include Supergirl, Justified, Stargate SG-1, Sliders, Millennium, and voice talent on many children’s cartoon programs.
ROGER CROSS WATCH
Guesting in four episodes of the original run, this episode features his most substantial role in the series, as a grounded police officer who helps Mulder and Scully cut through the hysteria that the murders foment in the town. You may know him from 24, Continuum, Orphan Black, or Dark Matter.