How Well Do You Remember ‘The X-Files’ Episode: ‘Humbug?’

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The Enigma as The Conundrum in The X-Files. (photo: FOX)

Leading up to The X-Files reboot/premiere (or a “re-miere,” for superfans of terrible portmanteaus) on January 24th, tvDownload’s Drew Grant and Vinnie Mancuso have challenged themselves to recap episodes of the original series from memory. (That’s right: no Googling! Because Google didn’t exist in the early 90’s! [Neither did Vinnie, but that’s beside the point.]) Then the other half of this paranormal investigation unit is charged with tracking down the episode and fact-checking our hazy fever dreams to the plot of the actual episode.

Previous episodes can be found here.

Today, Drew remembers the time a sentient tumor taught us the dangers of unpaid internships. 

Drew’s X-Filed Memory

Predicting American Horror Story: Freak Show was this episode of The X-Files where they go investigate…a freak show. Is that what we call them now? I doubt that this was the acceptable term in the PC 90’s, so maybe they go visit a “side show” or “a circus that capitalizes on human oddities.”

Or maybe it’s just a freak show.

This was in the first season, because the first season is where they put all the REALLY scary episodes that became so much gristle for the nightmare factory of your brain. It definitely had a “Freaks” vibe, but not so much in the “one of us! One of us! Gobble gooble!” sense but more in the “carnies are people too, man!” vein.

Of course, one of the carnival/sideshow attractions is not a person, but a monster that is eating people. The carnie community is pissed off that they are being targeted for harboring the murderer, when clearly it could just be a normal person going out at night and attacking people. That would have actually been a pretty cool reversal, you know? Like it turns out the townspeople were framing the carnies because they were bigots? That’s some subversive storytelling right there!

But no: the murderer is definitely part of the freak show. Or more specifically, it’s a tumor of human hair and teeth; a vanished twin that guest star Vincent Schiavelli did a piss-poor job reabsorbing in the womb. Unlike most balls of human hair and teeth, which are harmless, removable and make for a good “something interesting about me” story during your first day at a new summer internship, Schiavelli’s tumor is evil, detachable and refuses to work a full-time job solely for college credit.

What else, what else? I’m sure there is a bunch of freaky shit….like maybe there is a chase through a dimly-lit big top tent? Sculls and Mulder probably learn a lesson about humanity, because Schiavelli is really sad about the fact that his “brother”–who he’s been hiding under a coat, because he’s not even part of the freak show, but travels around with them, so maybe he’s like the carnival barker? The muscle? Maybe he’s just “the tall man”–is killing people because he (the ball of hair and teeth) can’t help it. And they are sometimes conjoined twins! (The monster un-conjoins when he needs to murder.)

The ball of hair and teeth then proceeds to kill his host, because, you know, he can’t help it. Then it either slithers away or it’s killed. The carnival moves on, sans its one mildly famous character actor and his living tumor.

Everyone is humbled by the experience and goes home with a better understanding of how much worse office culture would be if it was the reabsorbed tumor who applied for a summer internship.

Vinnie’s Fact-Checking 

So let’s talk about the time Drew conjured up dark, deep-seeded memories from my childhood. As I’ve said, my memories of watching The X-Files are blurry at best. One of the sharpest memories I have, however, is the image of some guy with a horrific skin condition getting ripped apart in a swimming pool, and the fact that it scared the everloving shit out of me when I was younger. (I’ve even mentioned it before!)

Well, whoopee, because that’s this episode, titled “Humbug,” the 20th episode of The X-Files’ second season. What’s even better is going back and watching “Humbug” now, and realizing it is the first X-Files episode specifically designed to be self-deprecating and comical. So not only did this drudge up abstract memories of terror, but also the fact that I was an easily startled little child. Thanks, Drew. This has all been very fun.

Yeah, so “Humbug.” We start out with two little boys playing in a pool at night, until a horrific scale-beast bursts out of the water and attacks them.

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But it’s a fakeout. We may call him “horrific scale-beast,” but these kids call him “dad.” Which is a nice sentiment, but I remember one time I came home from school and my dad had shaved his beard, and I grabbed a cutting knife from the kitchen because the unfamiliarity scared me so much. So sorry dad, but if you look like Killer Croc I am establishing a FIRM “no jumping out of  water unexpectedly” rule until I’m–at the very least–25 years old. But anyway this dude, who works professionally under the name Jerald Glazebrook the Alligator Man, puts the kids to bed and enjoys a nice, solitary float. That is, until yet another abomination jumps out of the water and tears him apart, which is pretty much the textbook definition of irony. Like, imagine if The Shit Monster got crushed to death by a giant roll of toilet paper. This…this is like that.

But yes, Drew, this entire investigation takes place at a “Freak Show,” which is only surprising if you assumed Jerald Glazebrook the Alligator Man worked at Home Depot or something. One of the most memorable aspects of “Humbug” is the casting of several real-life circus performers, which results in the greatest “Actor Name” to “On-Screen Credit” match-up in TV history.

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Mulder and Scully ingratiate themselves with the freak show community by attending the funeral for Glazebrook. The proceeding are presided over by a priest with no arms who turns the pages of the Bible with his feet, which only raises the hilarious question of how he administers Holy Communion.

Once on-site, Mulder and Scully run into a number of other performers. There’s The Conundrum, whose main talents are 1) being covered in tattoos 2) eating weird shit, and 3) sharing a resume of skills with the uncle my parents don’t invite to holidays. There’s escape-artist/dude who drives nails into face Dr. Blockhead, who tells Mulder “Dr Blockhead does not perform tricks!” for obvious reasons.

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And then there’s Lanny, the alcoholic luggage-carrier with the underdeveloped conjoined twin named Leonard that is, DING DING DING, actually detaching itself and committing the murders plaguing the freak show. But Mulder and Scully don’t jump straight to that conclusion, because that would be ridiculous. No, suspect numero uno is a mermaid. Well, not an actual mermaid, it’s more like a monkey-fish hybrid kind of thing. I think it’s based on Disney’s first draft of The Little Mermaid. On The X-Files, it’s based on a side-show attraction advertised by P.T. Barnum, a hoax–also known as a humbug dun dun dunnnnn–in which he sowed the head of a monkey onto the tail of a fish and called it the Fiji Mermaid.

But just to recap, it is NOT the Fiji Mermaid. It is the walking tumor monster. Do keep up.

Mulder and Scully’s investigation causes them to cross paths with the local landlord (played by Twin Peaks’ resident nightmare fuel Michael J. Anderson), and the town sheriff who–as coincidence would have it–also used to be a sideshow performer. Although I honestly couldn’t tell if he used to be a dog-faced boy, or he played Lumpy in the Star Wars Holiday Special.

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The truth is out there.

In the end, Mulder and Scully deduce the truth about Leonard, who leads them on a chase that’s less “through a dimly-lit big top tent” as it is ” preposterous that neither of these adults can catch the legless mass of flesh.” Actually, they never do catch it. Leonard runs across The Conundrum, who…eats Leonard. And that’s it. He swallows the whole conjoined twin, which is just an encyclopedia-length list of health concerns alone, and that is the end of this particular x-file.

Does anyone learn any valuable lessons. Well…kiiiiiiinda? There’s no real “you laugh at me because I’m a walking tumor, I laugh at you because you’re all the same” moment, but Dr. Blockhead does neatly sum up the entire thesis of The X-Files in the end: “Maybe some mysteries were never meant to be solved.” With that, the freak show moves on to another town, Mulder and Scully transfer to the next case, and Leonard the conjoined twin eventually escapes The Conundrum’s stomach to star in American Horror Story: Freak Show as Ma Petite.

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Things you got right: The Sideshow, the guy from Ghost, the man-eating skin condition that someone should’ve devoured in the womb.

Things You Missed: Gator-Dad, The Man From Another Place, Fiji Mermaid

(Read our interview with The X-Files‘ casting director Rick Millikan for stories about casting “Humbug,” and more) 

How Well Do You Remember ‘The X-Files’ Episode: ‘Humbug?’