The X-Files Season 10, Episode 4
Posted by Sage
With apologies to the Peacock family and Johnny Mathis, the fourth episode of The X-Files revival is not a sequel to “Home,” the season 4 episode that shortened the lifespan of 9 of 10 Fox censors. At least not in the traditional sense. “Home Again” does happen to be set in Pennsylvania like the inbred horror show it shares half its name with, but far from the rural tranquility that murder spree interrupted. This episode brings Special Agents Mulder and Scully to West Philadelphia – thanks to Will Smith, known to all the world as an urban area with a high crime rate and a low average income. The disenfranchised are right there on every corner instead of tucked away in a crumbling farm house, out of sight and mind. The villains in this episode are the opportunists who make use of their plight, even if they’re not aware they’re doing it.
“Home Again” is a Glen Morgan story, and he directed it too. He’s another familiar name for fans, and comes to the revival with a heavy-hitting list of original series credits: “Never Again,” “Squeeze”/”Tooms,” “The Field Where I Died,” and yes, “Home” are among his greatest hits. His episodes run the gamut from tense, locked door thrillers (“Ice”) to some of the show’s most emotional hours so far (“One Breath.”) He does duty in a couple of genres in “Home Again”: A killer is targeting the scumbags behind a controversial homeless relocation program, and that has to be dealt with. Margaret Scully is also dying, and that has to be accepted.
This is one of those episodes where you can’t tell the bad guys apart without a program. Sinclair is a soulless vampire and probably an avid Trump supporter. (Prove me wrong.) When he cowers in fear to see the looming shadow outside of his dark office, he’s earned it. When the gargantuan killer rips him in half with his bare hands, it’s almost satisfying. Without knowing who the killer is or where he comes from, we know that this is not a random attack but some kind of vigilante justice. Mulder and Scully aren’t welcomed by the local police with open arms (“Wouldn’t be Philadelphia without a certain degree of confrontation.”), but it’s lucky for them that Fox Mulder sees the clues that no one else would notice. He takes note of the ominous mural of a tall, bald man on the building opposite Sinclair’s window. A review of the building’s security tapes shows that it wasn’t there before Cutler was killed. Are we in the middle of an X-Files/Don’t Eat The Pictures crossover? Because sign me the fuck up.
While Mulder is waiting for the local police to get him access to the roof of the mural building, he walks into an argument that seems ever so slightly inappropriate considering the head in the trashcan upstairs. Two suited individuals, a man and a woman, are tossing barbs at each other, both with the conviction of the righteous. “Whoa, you two married?” the agent asks. (Mulder, STOP.) This is Daryl Landry, one of Cutler’s colleagues and thus another businessman who wants the homeless hauled off and tucked away so the rest of the city can go on pretending they don’t exist. And this is Nancy Huff, school board president and, in her mind, comparatively Mother Theresa, since she puts a hairnet over her $200 haircut once a year to serve the homeless Thanksgiving dinner. (Mulder: “Oh! Buuuuutttt….” GOD LOVE HIM.) Mulder doesn’t have any friends besides Scully because the Lone Gunmen are dead (or are they?) and because he has a talent for cutting through people’s bullshit and confronting them with the exact thing they don’t want to hear. “I hear you speaking for them, but really speaking for yourself. And I hear you speaking for them, but really speaking for yourself. What I don’t hear is who speaks for them.” Truth bomb dropped, Mulder turns his attention to a cryptic fellow leaning against a dumpster opposite them. The Band-Aid Nose Man speaks for them, the fellow says. Mulder thinks of the band-aid he found on the sole on his shoe outside Cutler’s office. And the hangman mural is gone.
Meanwhile, saint, queen, angel-among-us Dana Scully is alone at her mother’s bedside in DC. A nurse tells her that Maggie became cognizant for a few moments; all she asked for was Charlie, her estranged son. (The why and the since when, we don’t find out. Charlie was never much of a presence on the show, nor was a rift presented in the first nine seasons.) Scully is baffled. Like I mentioned above, Glen Morgan also penned “One Breath” – the conclusion of the
Gillian Anderson maternity leave Dana Scully abduction arc. Maggie and Dana’s roles are reversed now. It’s Dana who holds her mother’s hand and speaks to her, with the benefit of knowing firsthand that her words can reach the plane where Maggie now resides.”I’m here. I’ve been where you are. I know Ahab is there. And Melissa. And Mom, I’m here. Bill Jr.’s here, and William. William’s here. And Charlie is here. Please Mom, don’t go home yet. I need you.” The “William is here” killed me, because it shows that Scully has never and will never give up hope of finding her son. And the sheer possibility of that should beckon Maggie back too.
As if the parallels weren’t already raw enough for Philes like me, Glen actually gives us a “One Breath” flashback. Scully remembers how Mulder chose to be with her over possibly taking down the men who put her in that condition in the first place. (And who most certainly could have led him to more of the answers he was looking for.) It’s a huge relationship moment for them, and she remembers it as the first proof that she means more to Mulder than unraveling any conspiracy. “I feel, Scully, that you believe you’re not ready to go,” he’d said. “And you’ve always had the strength of your beliefs.” Scully is confident that she knows what her mother is feeling as well. Maggie had told Dana after her abduction that she did not want to be taken off life support should she end up in a similar state. But her faith starts to crack when she finds an unfamiliar quarter on a chain among her mother’s things. What meaning does it hold? Why hasn’t Scully seen it before? She watches the patient in the next bed code, die, and be bagged by orderlies. The nurse returns to tell Scully that her mother signed a Do-Not-Resuscitate order the previous year, and the document was witnessed by two former naval officers. Everything Scully knows about her mother tells her that this can’t be right, but yet it is. What happened? What changed her mother’s heart so completely? The idea that Scully will never know – that Maggie didn’t choose to share this with her – scares her to death.
Mulder has one urgent task to take care of before he can go emotionally support his wife. The lab tech who tests the band-aid from Mulder’s shoe is perplexed by the results. There’s no inorganic or organic material on it, even though it looks like it’s been used, and heavily. Meanwhile, the mural didn’t disappear into thin air as we supposed. It was stolen by two street art thieves, who think they’re sooooo tricky. The men hijack art that’s meant for public consumption, turning it over to an establishment that upholds the elitism of the industry. “We should go to Sotheby’s on this,” one says to the other. When he returns from listing the piece, he finds a blank wall (well, almost blank – there’s the blood) and his colleague in the same condition as Sinclair. He meets his fate too. This time, the artist (or art itself) signs the piece before dragging his trophies out to his waiting garbage truck: “Trash Man.”
There’s no where else Mulder would be when Maggie Scully is removed from life support than with her daughter. I love how Mulder stands behind her when it happens, literally ready to catch her if she can’t stand anymore. “I don’t care about the big questions right now, Mulder. I just want one more chance to ask my mom a few little ones,” she says. He doesn’t have an answer that can comfort her. Later, they sit opposite each other near Maggie’s bedside waiting for either a miracle or the inevitable to occur. This scene will go down in MSR history. You know me, I never exaggerate.
When word came out that Mulder and Scully would be “broken up” in the revival, I think I laughed. It’s ludicrous for several reasons, chief among them that “break-up” is too pedestrian a concept for Team “My Constant, My Touchstone.” How can you be “broken up” with the person you always want next to you when you’re about to fall apart? How can you be “broken up” with someone when you can’t even tell anymore where their family starts and yours begins? How can you be “broken up” with the only voice you heard calling you back from the light? Mulder and Scully are beyond the first world, human concept of a couple. They are soulmates in every way, and this “separation” just went and proved it again. Great job, Chris Carter.
It’s frightening to see Scully lose her composure so completely, but at the same time, isn’t she owed the freedom to do it? With Mulder there, she can let go. Almost feral, she screams when the organ harvesting receptacle is wheeled in. You can’t tell me that Mulder isn’t also dying inside, because Margaret Scully was the mother his own could never be. But he has a duty to Scully that involves putting that pain away for later and being there exclusively for her. “Her last words were about our child…her grandchild…that we gave away,” she says, pressed into Mulder’s chest. “Why did she say that? Why did she have to say that?” Again, there are no answers. But there’s work. Always work. Scully demands to go to Philadelphia immediately, because chasing a mutant killer is preferable to dealing with these emotions. It’s how she dealt with her father’s death too, and may I remind you that that did not – strictly speaking – go well.
The same lab tech who analyzed the band-aid finds some useful information in the Trash Man’s tag. Only one store in the area carries that type of high-end spray paint. Mulder and Scully stake it out, and wouldn’t you know, someone comes along to replenish his stock. Mulder follows the man on foot; Scully eventually snaps out of her sorrowful reverie and follows in their car. The man leads them to an abandoned building where Scully disarms him like a total boss. (She really needed to kick something.) Especially after that display, her response to Mulder’s whining about physical activity is justified. And once again, Mulder confirms that he is well aware that Scully is out of his league. Also, flashlight flirting.
Mulder: “Come on, I wasn’t going to shoot the kid. And I don’t do stairs anymore.”
Scully: “Mulder, back in the day I used to do stairs and in 3-inch heels.”
Mulder: “Back in the day…Scully, back in the day is now.”
The Band-Aid Nose Man himself seems to lead them the rest of the way to a basement art studio where a human man is hiding. He instructs Mulder and Scully to put their guns away. They’re useless. “If they don’t see me, and I don’t see them, they can’t hurt me,” the artist who goes by the tag Trash Man says of his own creations. It all started well good intentions, he insists – he was tired of watching people being treated like they were disposable. “I did my part,” he says. “I was just trying to give those people a voice, the only way I know how: through art.” The art began to come to life, and then to take it. Most pieces would lose the ability to become corporeal as the paint itself faded, but not the Band-Aid Nose Man. The model for the creature – complete with the bandage on his nose to keep the clay from falling off – hangs misleadingly lifeless in the studio. Mulder and the artist discuss the Band-Aid Nose Man in terms of the Buddhist concept of tulpas, which Wikipedia says are “magic formations generated by a powerful concentration of thought.” The Trash Man didn’t intend to unleash this violence; it was only a fleeting thought, taking revenge. Scully listens silently until she’s had enough of the man’s excuses. “You’re responsible. If you made the problem and it’s your idea, you’re responsible. You’re just as bad as the people that you hate.” She doesn’t even sound like herself.
The last obvious target of the Band-Aid Nose Man is Daryl Landry, who’s carrying out the final steps of the relocation he and Cutler masterminded. Scully, Mulder, and the artist race to the formerly empty hospital where the poor are being bused. They’re too late. After being stalked through the halls by the creature, Landry is rent apart like the others who used the homeless to gain money, influence, do-gooder bragging rights or even artistic inspiration. The tulpa’s work is done; his expression in the studio converted (hilariously) to a smiley face.
Mulder and Scully sit by the water under a cloudy sky, an black urn at Scully’s feet. She’s made herself as small as possible, pressing her legs together and folding her hands in her lap. Scully talks, Mulder listens. “I know now why Mom asked for Charlie,” she says, decidedly. “She wanted to know before she left that he’d be okay…She gave birth to him. She made him. He was her responsibility. And that’s why she said what she said to us.” If she had been doubting before, now Scully is sure. The next truth they need to chase down is the whereabouts of their son. “I can’t help but think of him, Fox.” (Have first names ever had so much significance since The X-Files has been gone? Scully hasn’t called Mulder “Fox” since she brought him a sandwich and a root beer to his unauthorized stakeout of Eugene Victor Tooms.) “I believe that you will find all of your answers. You will find the answers to the biggest mysteries, and I will be there when you do.” (He look right in her eyes at that moment; he wasn’t sure she would stay.) “But my mysteries, I’ll never have answered.” Maggie looked at Mulder when she talked about William because she did not want her daughter to feel accused. Maggie knows the guilt that Dana feels. She felt it every day about Charlie, even though their situations were fundamentally different. It’s not about what should have been done – that’s not the kind of person Maggie was; she was giving them advice from someone whose time was up, not to waste another moment of theirs. Scully can put herself in Maggie’s shoes, as a mother who lost a child; and in William’s too, as a child whose parent is a mystery that hangs over his life. “Who speaks for them?” Mulder asked Nancy and Daryl earlier about the homeless. And who can possibly speak for William? When Scully gave him up, she cut off the ability to hear him. What does he need? What does he need to know? Best case scenario, she gave him safety. But Scully knows from her relationship with Maggie – as deep and complex and present as anything – that a mother’s duty doesn’t end there. “I want to believe,” she says, and if that isn’t the saddest one of those I’ve ever heard. “I need to believe that we didn’t treat him like trash.”
Watching as a teenager, I didn’t think much about the behind-the-scenes make up of my favorite shows. The X-Files has always had a male-dominated writing staff, and that’s something that I hope will change if these ratings justify a season 11. There are a million different reasons why hiring with an eye for diversity should be a priority, but the quality of Dana Scully’s characterization so far is not one of them. (Well, except when Chris writes her.) Glen told EW that “Home Again” was intended to round out “Home” and “Never Again” as the “third in a trilogy of exploring Scully as mother.” There’s an audacity in the way that The X-Files has never leaned on the tough-girl stock character when it comes to Dana. They (rightly) trusted the audience to accept that a woman who could incapacitate a healthy 19-year-old boy with 4 inches of height on her could also struggle with her own concept of womanhood when her fertility is compromised. She could sit and talk to her partner about her desire to have a child without him suddenly questioning her ability to work in the field. She could get fed up with not having a desk and go out looking for some strange. “Look at this ~strong female character~!” some shows scream. “She has no weaknesses, maternal desires, or ability to be vulnerable! Just like you asked.” (No one asked.) But The X-Files can explore these concepts with integrity because they have always let character – not message – guide them.
- The Cup o’ Soup was a terrific detail. Well done, props.
- “He’s there, and his head is in the trash can here.” “Not even in the proper recycling bin.”
- “About Tim Duncan height.” Everyone hates Fox Mulder.
- “Are you threatening me?” “I’ve been threatening you for six months.” “Well, STOP.”
- That “Downtown” scene was old-school Files to the MAX.
- This should go without saying, but ALL THE AWARDS FOR GILLIAN ANDERSON.
- Sounds like there’s another dog waiting in a shelter for Dana Scully.
We’re more than halfway through this “event” series, friends. How are you feeling about the X-Files revival so far? Kim will be back next week to walk you through “Babylon,” which is (gulp) another Chris Carter original. Godspeed to us all.