‘The X-Files’ Recap 10×04: Philadelphia Story

They've been frozen like that for two decades.

They’ve been frozen like that for two decades. Via Fox

The X-Files was a beloved cult show. For the new mini-season, we received so many requests from writers wanting to recap the iconic Fox series that we decided to hand off each episode to a different Lone Ranger/X-Files enthusiast.

Tonight, the amazingly talented Annie Stamell takes a stab at the Band-Aid Nose Man. Follow her @Stamos.

When The X-Files began Fox Mulder was the show’s driving force. It was Mulder’s quest to understand his sister’s abduction that inspired him to look for answers, while Dana Scully was sent to reel him in with her science and pragmatism. Yet as the show evolved over time and the relationship between Mulder and Scully itself became the show’s central component, Scully’s storyline, her emotional arc, and her evolution from skeptic to near-believer proved to be, in many ways, the more fulfilling character exploration. One of the many challenges facing the show’s 2016 revival has been in depicting these characters so many years since we first met them and spent time with them, and while it’s been an imperfect run, these episodes have so far adeptly tackled Mulder and Scully all grown up.

Where last week’s outstanding Darin Morgan episode, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-monster” was an exploration of Mulder’s character, this week’s outing, from Darin’s brother, another original X-Files writer who also Executive Produced all six of Season 10’s limited series run, Glen Morgan, was an exploration of Scully’s, and was just as poignant and beautiful as last week’s was contemplative and comedic. The episode’s title, “Home Again,” is a sly reference to an infamous Season 4 episode of the show, “Home,” also written by Morgan, and among being notorious for featuring more incest, rape and birth defects than a Lannister’s name day party (as well as being banned from television ever since its first, and only airdate), the episode featured a conversation between Mulder and Scully about parenthood, one that prompted Mulder to say “I never saw you as a mother before,” thus planting the seeds of Scully’s motherhood arc, which wouldn’t really kick into gear until Season 5, when she learned her abduction and cancer rendered her infertile, and then come full circle much later in Season 8, when after Mulder discovered her stolen ova and was able to get them back to her, her attempts at conceiving a child via in vitro fertilization failed (with Mulder as sperm donor), and she and Mulder ended up conceiving a baby the old fashioned way (a fact, by the way, that has never been outright confirmed by series creator Chris Carter, but has been so heavily insinuated by Mulder and Scully themselves and other characters, and especially during the revival, that for the sake of how complicated this all is already getting, we’re going to just go with. Also yes, I want to believe Mulder and Scully had sex, dammit). Of course, as the revival’s William-centric episodes have reminded us, first in “Founder’s Mutation,” and now with “Home Again,” Scully gave up her baby for adoption to protect him, and this has haunted her ever since.

Last week, Mulder contemplated death in the form of a monster, and this week Scully does the same, only her monster isn’t a beast or ghost or an alien, it’s the death of her mother, and the questions she is forced to ask herself. “Home Again” is a haunting meditation on taking responsibility for the mysteries we ourselves have created.

The episode begins with a classic, spooky X-Files teaser: A homeless community is told via firehose and an angry yelling man (Battlestar Galactica’s Alessandro Juliani) that they are to vacate their West Philly premises as part of a relocation project, but the man who issues the decree is killed by a tall, creepy figure who smells bad and travels via garbage truck, and who I was hoping would be Slender Man, but was, as we would later learn, Trash Man. I was also briefly confused I was watching Season 3 of Battlestar Galactica, and Felix Gaeta was getting his New Caprica comeuppance when Slender Trash Man literally twisted him into pieces.

After the main credits – which, at this point in my life, will never not make me sigh with wistful nostalgia (and/or check my phone, because like Mulder, the theme song is my current ringtone), we jump right in with Mulder and Scully at the crime scene. We are quickly reminded that Mulder hates Philadelphia and loves basketball, the latter a very Duchovny-esque character trait, the former most likely related to a few instances from the show’s original run (“Never Again” comes to mind – Mulder did not like it when Scully ran off without him and got a tattoo and a one night stand, and methinks that’s why he holds a grudge). Ah yes, the good old days – another of the revival series’ prominent themes, this time around hammered home by the local detective who asks our favorite FBI agents “didn’t you used to handle the spooky cases?” prompting a patented Mulder shrug.

Scully, whilst kneeling in front of Felix Gaeta’s halved corpse, gets a barrage of calls. It first appears that William is calling her, but Scully’s seeing things: it’s actually William Scully Jr, aka her brother, Bill. Scully’s mom had a heart attack, and Maggie’s condition is critical. A shell-shocked Scully departs for the hospital while Mulder sticks around long enough to get his first lead: a Banksy wannabe had graffitied a nearby building sometime in the night and might have a clue as to who or what killed Battlestar Galactica’s most hated Chief of Staff.

Mulder gets his first whiff of motive thanks to two bickering upper middle class white people, one representing the company redeveloping the area to make way for the great monster that is white gentrification, the other a member of the Bucks County school board, who is not okay with the homeless community flooding her neighborhood, and neither representing the actual people who are being asked to leave. That is, of course, until Mulder makes that very point, and a nearby, debatably crazy homeless dude (who would come across as extra campy on any other show, but this The X-Files, so it’s more like high camp) tells Mulder that “the bandaid nose main” speaks for them. Aka the other name for Slender Trash Man (and not to be mistaken with another X-Files villain representing twisted moral values, the Garbage Monster from Season 6’s “Arcadia,” where Mulder and Scully go undercover as the married “Rob and Laura Petrie” in a meditation on suburbia. Speaking of bickering non-couples…).

Back in DC, a nurse tells Scully that her mother has been asking for Charlie – Scully’s other brother, from whom Maggie had been estranged. With her mother in a coma attached to life support, Scully revisits her own experience at death’s door, in the specific form of a flashback to the Season 2 episode “One Breath,” when Mulder visited the comatose Scully after she was abducted, and we were reminded that not only does the show actually get to use its own really old footage for flashbacks, but that David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were so young when they first played Mulder and Scully. It was like looking into my own childhood. No really. This served as a reminder that not only are we seeing these characters again, which is something special in itself, but we are also seeing people who’ve experienced so much in their life together. (This goes for the actors almost as much as it does for the characters; it’s easy to wonder if shooting the revival made Duchovny and Anderson meditate on their life and past as much as their alter egos).

Scully’s night doesn’t get any better: as her mother’s condition worsens, she learns that her mother recently changed the advanced directive in her will – and she was basically DNR at this point. Scully again thinks she sees William calling her – but it’s Mulder, he’s there. Because of course he’s there. The two have a conversation on a bench (reminiscent of the aforementioned scene in “Home” but mostly only in its framing) where Mulder talks shop with an update on the case, but Scully, preoccupied by her mother’s impending death, wonders why her mother would have asked for Charlie, and why she found a seemingly insignificant coin necklace in her mother’s belongings. Scully tells Mulder, “I don’t care about the big questions right now, I just want the chance to ask my Mom a few more little ones.”

Back in Philly, the painting of Bandaid Nose Slender Trash Man has been stolen from the side of the building, because everyone knows street art is where its at these days, and while two art dealers discuss making money off the homeless thanks to Wannabe Banksy, Bandaid Nose Slender Trash Man comes to life to remind them that it is not okay to profit off other people’s misery in the form of murdering them and trashing their bodies, before climbing back into his garbage truck. Bandaid Nose Slender Trash Man is quite the busy monster, as he next kills the Bucks County school board lady at her home, in yet another instance of classic creepy X-Files horror hilariously set to the tune of Petula Clark’s “Downtown” with a pointed nod to the environmental dangers of Keurig machines. One takeaway from this episode: stop using k-cups or Bandaid Nose Slender Trash Man might dump you in a landfill.

In the hospital, as Scully sits vigil at her mother’s side, she asks Mulder if back in the day they’d ever encountered a case where someone could wish someone back into being. Mulder claims he invented the move when Scully was in her coma, to which she tells him he’s a “dark wizard” prompting him to brush off the remark with a self-deprecating “yeah, but you always knew that.” I can’t help but wonder what this line of conversation might have led to (a longer discussion of past cases? At last an explanation of Mulder’s depression, the thing that seemingly drove them apart sometime after the events of the second movie?) but it’s at this moment Charlie finally calls, and Scully holds the phone to her mom who finally opens her eyes upon hearing his voice. Only when she does, she sees Mulder and says, “my son is named William too” and then dies.

It is heartbreaking, and Gillian Anderson should maybe get another Emmy to bookend her win for Season 4’s “Momento Mori,” because she is truly outstanding, in the whole episode, but especially in this scene, especially when, after a touching moment with Mulder, she cries with anguish that her mom’s last words were about her grandchild, their son, who they gave away. Which then morphs into a grief-induced freak out, as Scully declares she wants to go back to Philly because she needs to do work RIGHT NOW and stalks off, leaving Mulder looking after her like the personification of the meh emoji, because this isn’t anything new. In the Season 1 episode “Beyond the Sea” Scully handled her father’s death similarly, throwing herself into the case at hand. In fact, both these characters have a history of turning to their work in times of personal questioning, and it was a small detail that reminded me of how far they’ve come, but also the many ways they haven’t changed at all. Mulder and Scully were the king and queen of compartmentalizing, of pouring themselves into their work as a means of both avoiding and understanding their emotions. Which is why Mulder barely protests. He’s been there too.

Still, it’s a little jarring going from the heaviness of having just lost her mom to seeing Scully crack some jokes with Mulder at a potential crime scene: “Mulder, back in the day I used to do stairs and in three inch heels.” We’re reminded of what exactly they’ve been through back in the day, thanks to more flashbacks during an interrogation scene of Wannabe Banksy himself, played by Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, who essentially thought Bandaid Nose Slender Trash Man into being, like a really disgusting Ruby Sparks. (Not dissimilar from the Season 6 episode “Milagro,” another prime example of the show devoting time to Scully’s characterization, when John Hawkes played a novelist who attempted to make Scully his Ruby Sparks.) Wannabe Banksy created Trash Man to remind people that by simply setting aside the trash for someone else to deal with, they are not taking care of the problem. People treat other people like trash. While Mulder and Wannabe Banksy go head-to-head on Tibetan myths of using sheer force of will and mind energy to think something into being, and Wannabe Banksy argues that even though he may have thought Bandaid Nose Slender Trash Man into being, he’s not responsible for the murders, Scully begins to put some pieces together, recalling how badly she wanted William, and how she then gave him up, finally prompting her to tell Wannabe Banksy (and in a way, herself), “You are responsible. If you made the problem, if it was your idea, then you are responsible. You put it out of sight so it wouldn’t be your problem, but you’re just as bad as the people that you hate.”

Bandaid Nose Slender Trash Man claims his final victim, but Mulder Scully and Wannabe Banksy arrive just a minute too late. Scully wonders how whoever did it could have left the room they’re now standing in. But there is no answer, just buzzing flies and a dirty, discarded bandaid. Wannabe Banksy packs up his studio, re-molds Trash Man’s head into a giant smiley face (um, possibly more terrifying?) and that’s it. Case closed-ish.

The thing is, we don’t need further explanation on the case, not really, because Scully gets the explanation she’d been searching for, and while The X-Files may be about understanding the unexplained, it’s when that applies to its main characters that it matters most. In the final scene, sitting with Mulder on a log aside a lake, with what appears to be an urn of her mother’s ashes, Scully reveals what she now understands: her mother wanted to talk to her estranged son because she made him, gave birth to him, and he was her responsibility. Much like William is theirs – and that is why Maggie mentioned William to them, to remind them of this. Scully’s heartbreak is crushing, because as she tells Mulder she believes he’ll someday find all the answers to his great mysteries, and that she’ll be there with him when he does (and oh how Mulder perks up ever so slightly at hearing this version of a long-term commitment from Scully), her mysteries will never be answered. Motherhood remains her greatest mystery, her long-unfulfilled quest, and the truth she relentlessly pursues that haunts her still, with no answers in sight.

“Home Again” was a heartbreakingly lovely episode, a showcase of Gillian Anderson’s acting as well as the many layers and complicated emotional journey of Dana Scully. I was reminded of so many of my favorite episodes that weren’t quite mythology centric, or cut and dry monster-of-the-week either, but the sort of episodes where an X-File was really about character, about the character of Mulder and Scully, and how their work reflected and informed their life, and vice versa. While “My Struggle” was a rough welcome back, and next week’s episode, “Babylon” is mostly terrible (saved only by some Mulder-Scully moments, including a lovely scene between the two in the field near Mulder’s remote and unremarkable little house — a house, by the way, which seems to have been destined from that same episode where Scully first entertained the idea of motherhood; in “Home” Mulder talks about how he’d eventually want to settle down in the middle of nowhere), the revival will have been worth it thanks to “Founder’s Mutation,” “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-monster” and “Home Again.” Interestingly enough, “Founder’s Mutation” was originally slotted to air as the fourth episode of the limited series, with “Home Again” as the second, but the changed episode order seems better suited to the sort of high-level character arc drama the episodes have explored, and “Home Again” serves as an especially nice companion to “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-monster.” It also serves as a reminder that Chris Carter is the George Lucas of The X-Files: he may have had the vision to create the show, but the best episodes are at the hands of other writers. As the finale, the Chris Carter written/directed “My Struggle II,” is rumored to end on a cliffhanger, here’s hoping this revival won’t be the last we see of Mulder and Scully.

At one point during tonight’s episode Mulder remarked that “back in the day is now” and I smirked. At first it was a nice light-hearted in-joke to the series revival, a reminder that Mulder and Scully are on TV again, at the FBI again, back doing what they do best. But on a deeper level, when viewed in the more serious contemplative light of the episode itself, the quip serves as a reminder that who we were in the past is always present in our lives, and in who we are now.

‘The X-Files’ Recap 10×04: Philadelphia Story