Recap: While huffing spray paint in the woods, a couple come across two people – one dead, one knocked out. An anthropomorphic lizard man appears and runs away from them. Mulder and Scully get the case, but Mulder is feeling downtrodden. Many of the X-Files that once excited him have since been debunked as pranks or marketing stunts, and he’s starting to wonder if he’s dedicated his life to a fruitless pursuit. He adopts Scully’s skeptical point of view as they examine the crime scene and find more dead bodies, speculating on all the natural elements that could have caused the murders.

Soon after, the two interview a prostitute who saw the same lizard man and hit it with her purse. After she corroborates the initial description, Mulder and Scully hear screaming and find another body, this one freshly killed. Mulder struggles to work the camera app on his phone, and he runs into the animal control officer (Kumail Nanjiani) who survived the first attack. The two are attacked by the lizard man, but Mulder is unable to get a clear shot of it. It sprays blood in Mulder’s face from its eyes and runs away. Later, Scully does an autopsy on the most recent victim, and Mulder notes that there is a species of lizard known to shoot blood from its eyes. Scully admits that she’s enjoying this case. They’re both back in the swing of things.

That night, while staying at a motel, Mulder hears someone screaming about a monster. This turns out to be the motel owner, who nervously denies having seen anything. Mulder sees that one of the nearby rooms has been trashed, including the removal of a mounted animal head which concealed a spy hole. The owner has a secret tunnel behind the walls which he uses to spy on his guests. Mulder uses this to force the owner to admit what he saw. The owner says that he watched as one of his guests had some sort of panicked fit and transformed into the lizard man. As it happens, this man matches a picture taken of someone in the parking lot where Mulder encountered the lizard man.

Mulder takes a bottle of pills from the motel room and finds the man’s psychiatrist. This man (who went by the name Guy Mann) claimed to be a were-lizard, which recalls an ancient myth. The psychiatrist advised the man to take a stroll through a cemetery whenever he was feeling anxious. Using another clue from the motel room, Scully tracks this man to the cellphone shop where he works, but by the time Mulder gets there, Guy (Rhys Darby) has trashed the place and fled. Mulder runs to the nearest cemetery and finds Guy. With some encouragement, Guy tells Mulder his story.

As it turns out, Guy isn’t a were-lizard, but a were-human. He started life as a lizard man, but was bitten by a human (the animal control officer, who was behind all of the murders) and turned into a human being. He describes being struck by human instincts, like the desire for a job, for meat, for a pet, for drinking coffee in the morning. Horrified by this monstrous transformation, he asks Mulder to put him out of his misery. But when Mulder reveals that he’s an FBI agent, Guy feels taken advantage of and flees. Mulder starts to drink, unsure of what to believe.

Mulder passes out in the cemetery, and Scully calls from the animal shelter. The animal control officer attacks her, and Mulder rushes over. When he gets there, Scully is putting him in handcuffs, and he confesses to the murders. Mulder realizes that this means Guy was telling the truth, and he tracks him to the woods that night. Guy explains that he plans to go into hibernation. Mulder tells Guy that while he isn’t sure whether he believes him or not, he wants to believe. Guy thanks Mulder for trying to help, and promptly turns back into a lizard man and skips away into dark.

Reaction: “This is how I like my Mulder.” Here here, Scully, and I’ll addend that this is how I like my X-Files. Writer/director Darin Morgan is responsible for some of the best episodes of the series’ original run (“Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”) and his return to the series with “Mulder & Scully Meet The Were-Monster” single-handedly justified the resurrection of this show. It blunders in certain moments of attempted modernism, and we’ll get to those, but all in all this episode gave good X-Files.

As I discussed last week, the prevailing theme of this miniseries seems to be an interrogation of this show’s relevance in 2016, particularly through Mulder’s character. This episode built on that right off the bat, with Mulder complaining to Scully that many of their old unsolved cases have since turned out to have decidedly non-paranormal causes. It’s an odd shift for Mulder to make, considering that he has on many, many occasions seen things which defy a common understanding of nature. At first I thought it was Duchovny’s performance, and that Mulder was playing up his disillusionment to poke at Scully. But near the end of the episode, when Scully isn’t around, Mulder returns to the question of whether or not his life’s work is worth believing in at all. I think the rest of the miniseries will address this question in a more serious manner, but it was hard to buy in such a comedic tone.

In any case, part of Mulder’s misery is the fact that so many X-Files appear to be quite easy to fabricate. This is only amplified by 2016 technology, which simultaneously makes it simpler to fake things and harder to believe in the fakes. After all, if that paint-huffing couple really did see a lizard man, why didn’t they take a picture of it? After all, as Mulder notes, everyone has a good-quality camera in their pocket at all times nowadays. It used to be that such a hole in the evidence was indicative of some mystery to be uncovered. Now, because fabrication is so easy, all it indicates is that it’s something that couldn’t be convincingly faked. “The internet is not good for you,” Scully tells Mulder, and it’s true in more ways than one. Though given how much Mulder struggles to use the camera app on his phone, maybe none of this is the case after all.

This is very much an episode about the show’s jump from the early 2000s to 2016, and it stumbles as much as it succeeds. The brief exchange between Mulder and Guy about transgender people tries for a progressive “this is okay now!” tone, but its language is taken straight from the 90s. “She used to be a man, it’s very common now, you actually don’t even need the surgery,” Mulder explains to the bewildered Guy. They’re trying, and maybe it’s too much to expect a sensitive treatment of trans issues in a scene where Mulder talks to a lizard man, but they were better off not going for it at all.

The bulk of the episode is taken up by Guy’s explanation of his predicament. A lightly satirical breakdown of the human condition is where Morgan tends to shine, and this is no exception. The narration recalls “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” particularly when Guy starts to tell an outlandish lie about having sex with Scully. “Ever since I became human, I can’t help but lie about my sex life,” he says. Morgan reframes humanity as a tortuous series of inexplicable drives, things that would seem utterly incomprehensible from an outside perspective. Guy talks about wanting to quit his job, but deciding to stay because he feels an innate need to save for retirement. Many of us imagine that the monotony of life is just a mask we wear to hide our animal instincts, but Guy sees that monotony as essential to the human experience.

It’s a bleak view of our species, and one that only The X-Files could present with such good humor. The original series always had a grim view of the future, one plagued by some sort of impending apocalypse. But now we’re living in the future, and “Mulder & Scully Meet The Were-Monster” finds The X-Files once again grappling with the idea that Earth is already a nightmarish hellscape. Hell is other people, after all. Were-people notwithstanding.

Etc.:

  • Mulder ripped up his “I Want To Believe” poster in the first episode of this miniseries, but Scully got a new one. It foreshadows their role-reversal in the first half of the episode, but it’s also just a sweet detail.
  • Kumail Nanjiani is here! I never caught up with his podcast The X-Files Files, but I know it’s quite popular, and I am a big fan of his stand-up. He gets a few of the episode’s funnier moments, like when he tries to help Mulder fix his camera app.
  • Mulder and Guy talk next to the gravestone of Kim Manners, one of the show’s original executive producers and the director of many episodes, who passed away in 2009.
  • Scully references her old dog Queequeg, who first appeared in the Darin Morgan-penned episode “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.”
  • Is Mulder’s ringtone the show’s opening theme, or is the show’s opening theme Mulder’s ringtone? The mysteries never cease.

 

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