The X-Files Season 11, Episode 8
Posted by Sage
Call me crazy, but I’m a little sensitive about the phrase “witch hunt” being thrown around these days. Even — as is the case with this X-Files episode — when there are actual witches.
I wanted so much to like this one. The creature design is truly chilling. The New England forest setting is vintage and evocative. And stories about witchcraft are often dripping with feminist anger and violence. But a perplexing script that gives Mulder an indefensible position points “Familiar” far right from the very clear bullseye that it could have very easily hit. He made for a great promo, but we can’t expect Mr. Chuckleteeth to carry an entire episode.
In the next-to-the-next-to-the last X-Files episode ever (if Chris Carter knows what’s good for him), Mulder and Scully find themselves in a northeastern town called Eastwood, investigating the death of a police officer’s five-year-old son. Earlier, the audience sees him lured from the most depressing, Jack-the-Ripper-looking playground in existence into the trees by the full-size avatar of the beloved doll he’s holding. His mother and her best friend miss it, but the best friend’s similarly aged daughter sees. The boy — Andrew — is dressed in a bright yellow Georgie rain slicker for a Stephen King nod that leads nowhere.
Local law enforcement — all men — want to believe that Andrew’s death is the result of a savage animal attack, but Scully would like to rule out all humans before blame is placed on the coy-wolf. She’s been around enough violent crimes to know that people are capable of the kind of carnage Andrew’s killer left for the cops to find. And I think she finds small towns a little spooky as well. Either way, her theories — first that it could have been Andrew’s father and second that it was a sexual predator of some kind — are not very popular, and Mulder has to do some white knighting.
He’s not much of a help beyond that, however. Mulder is intrigued by the occult history of the place, especially the witch trials. Scully read beyond the tourist literature; i.e. she considers those trials an example of mass hysteria, scapegoating, and sexism, because that’s Sociology 101 and 7th grade Social Studies all wrapped into one. But Mulder is all like, “But what if just the ONE witch was real?” And his partner humors him about a hell hounds for a bit.
The X-Files is dealing with some dead-serious elements in this episode, starting with the child murders. But they’re dealt with in a scattershot way that left me scratching my head about what the moral was. Don’t cheat on your wife? Don’t let your kids watch TV all day? Don’t worry about it if you learn that an registered sex offender who works as a party clown for children is living two cartwheels from the local playground? My submission? Watch The Witch before you even attempt to write another piece of pop culture about Puritan prejudices.
The episode seems to believe that somebody is being persecuted, but whom? When Mulder gets all severe about Melvin (our sex offender), I wrote in my notes, “Is this REALLY the hill you want to die on?” Melvin’s pathetic “But it was statutory!” plea doesn’t have a prayer of selling this position. And if your point is that it’s wrong to even profile a molester, then why undercut that with the suggestion of innocence? Anyway, a group of angry parents in a town where the wound of a lost child is fresh and oozing aren’t your best candidates for a McCarthyism comparison. And Mulder’s comments about the shortcomings of our “great American experience” come dangerously close to alt-right rhetoric about the “witch hunt” for white males. I feel like Mulder loses sight of the original, innocent victims in this sad, bloody soap opera — and it wouldn’t be the first time. He started looking for new ones almost immediately. Perhaps his hurry to move on has to do with the absence of William, but despite the “he’s grown though” line, I won’t give this episode the credit of making that connection. (More meaningful than that even — the way he gently placed his hand on the police jacket covering Emily’s body. It’s been a long life, marked by too much death.)
Also, should we really be blaming mob mentality for Melvin’s death? Or Chief Strong for not taking the grieving father of a potential murder victim off of active duty? It’s a cautionary tale about the need for bureaucracy more than anything else.
Scully’s usual voice of reason beat is even more thankless than usual here, as it’s up to her firstly, to lay suspicion on a supposedly grieving parent and next, to try in vain to remind Mulder that convicted sex offenders aren’t deserving of the benefit of as much doubt as non-sex offenders — which is the ENTIRE POINT of the registration process. She allows herself one melancholy moment before she examines Andrew’s body, but otherwise she bangs on, getting everything just the slightest bit wrong. And sometimes I’m okay with that — it’s kind of the show — but I don’t know, this week it just seems cruel.
But, credit where credit is due. I love the concept of “familiars” as the driving force behind an X-Files, especially since we never see our actual witch. (Somewhere in this insufficiently considered teleplay is an allegory about an unscrupulous, supernatural champion of feminine rage that exploits the scorned women who conjure it in order to feed its own bloodlust. I wish I could see it.) I will remain haunted by Mr. Chuckleteeth and the Bibbletiggles until I die, and, yeah, let’s all take that moment to recognize that we’d rather not meet most children’s characters in a dark alley in the middle of the night. Those child actors were spookily adorable and I hope neither of them knows that “happened” to them until they’re much, much older. And I like the way Duchovny says “grimoire.” I think that about covers it.
In the end, the would-be witch burned. And as one of the many guilty parties, her punishment is at least defensible. But with the conjurer went any opportunity for this episode to really have some fun with the rich history of its subject matter. Honestly, Hocus Pocus was more nuanced than this.
- Why. Was. The. Girl. Named. EMILY.
- Stop putting crime scene stuff in your mouth, Mulder.
- I hope someone adopted that innocent monkey. He never hurt anybody.
- “Who let the dogs out?” Mulder, a child is dead.
- Were the Mr. Chuckleteeth shoes at Melvin’s house an attempt to mislead fans? Because we’ve been watching this show for 26 years and we’re not easily fooled.
- “I didn’t become a cop to watch men get gun downed without due process.” – Uhhhh, you’re really going to have the black cop say this?? Is that what you’re gonna do?
- Turning on every light ever would have helped a lot on this case, and many others.
TWO LEFT. I want to know if I’m being too hard on “Familiar,” so please leave your reviews in the comments below.