Spoiler alert: This recap contains plot details for the third episode of “The X-Files” revival, titled “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Beast.”
Building on the momentum of the second episode, Monday’s third installment of “The X-Files” reboot is one of the funniest, sweetest, most character-driven entries in the series to date. Joining classics like “José Chung’s From Outer Space” and “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” in terms of humor and imagination, this memorable hour of television is a gift to fans who’ve waited years to add a new favorite to their lists.
Charmingly titled “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Beast,” the show opens on a (purposefully) stereotypical moonlit night deep in the Oregon woods. A blood-curdling scream interrupts a couple of stoners who are busy huffing paint fumes. In the first of several in-jokes, fans might recognize these two burnouts from their appearances in the similarly themed 1996 episodes “Quagmire” and “War of the Coprophages.”
Within seconds, the pair comes face-to-face with a man-size lizard monster who appears to have killed a victim and injured an Animal Control Officer.
Back at the FBI, Mulder is struggling with a crisis of faith, or as Scully delicately refers to it later in the episode “a questioning phase of some sort.” Either way, he’s feeling disillusioned and a bit embarrassed at his life’s quest. Seems one can only hunt jackalopes and Sasquatches for so long before it’s time to grow up.
“Since we’ve been away, much of the unexplained has been explained,” he moans sadly.
Luckily, Scully offers him a fresh case. “It has a monster in it,” she teases.
At the woodsy crime scene, Mulder and Scully search the area for evidence. Or rather, Scully searches while Mulder complains. This reversal in character forms the crux of the episode. Watching Scully lure Mulder out of his morose funk by pointing out the strange inconsistencies of the case is a wonderful inversion of their classic dynamic. There’s a generosity and warmth to Scully’s attempts at waking him out of his stupor that hints at the deep personal bond they share.
Later that night at a local truck stop, Mulder and Scully interview a transgender prostitute who claims that the lizard monster tried to attack her. According to the witness, it was dressed in tighty-whitey underwear. “Same kind I used to wear,” she adds helpfully.
They also speak with the Animal Control Officer who survived the attack in the woods. But a sudden reappearance of the monster interrupts their conversation, leading to the discovery of another victim, and kicking off a wild foot chase with Mulder desperately trying to capture an image of the creature on video. Thinking they have it trapped in a porta-potty, Mulder and Scully throw open the door to reveal… a pudgy Australian cellphone salesman?
“A bit of privacy please!” he shouts, as Mulder snaps a quick photo of him on the bowl.
Three interesting things about this guy: First, his name is Guy Mann. Second, he’s dressed almost identically to Carl Kolchak from the classic ‘70s horror series “The Night Stalker.” Third, there appears to be a set of horns protruding discreetly from the back of his head.
At the very least, he’s a suspect.
In the morgue, Scully examines the latest corpse while Mulder tries unsuccessfully to convince her that his blurry photos depict an actual monster. Happy to have her old friend back once again, Scully admits “I forgot how much fun these cases can be.” We couldn’t agree more, Scully.
Woken in the night by the sound of a scream, Mulder learns that the motel he and Scully are staying at is a bit kinkier than expected. A secret passage allows the sleazy manager to spy on his guests, Norman Bates-style. Pressed for info, the manager confesses that he saw Guy Mann turn into a lizard monster and destroy his room. A quick flashback reveals the truth, along with a brief glimpse of Mulder sleeping in a pair of red bikini briefs.
This all leads to an amazing scene where Mulder brings Scully up to speed on his recent discoveries. Anticipating each of her comebacks, he argues the merits of the case for both of them. It’s a bravura piece of comedy acting from Duchovny, who runs through a litany of potential scenarios, all based on episodes from the past. Yet its Scully’s bemused facial reactions that truly sell the joke. With nothing more than a slyly raised eyebrow, Gillian Anderson speaks volumes.
The case eventually leads Mulder to Mann’s oddball psychiatrist, then to a lonely cemetery where he comes face to face with the seemingly harmless suspect.
Before continuing any further, we need to address the tombstone prominently bearing the name “Kim Manners.” Fans who’ve been watching the show from the very beginning should recognize Manners as the four-time Emmy nominated producer of “The X-Files.” Having worked on 132 episodes, and directed dozens of classics like “Die Hand die verletzt,” “Humbug” and the unforgettable “Home,” Manners’ importance to the series is immeasurable. For those who are curious, the dates on the stone reflect Manners’ actual birth and death, and the inscription, which reads “Let’s Kick It In The Ass,” was his trademark phrase before shooting a scene.
Also of interest is another nearby stone which bears the name of the late Jack Hardy, First Assistant Director on the 2008 feature “The X-Files: I Want to Believe.”
At this point, the episode switches gears and becomes something much richer than a cleverly comedic monster-of-the-week romp. The conversation that follows between Mulder and Mann blossoms into a lengthy flashback that does more than just explain how a peaceful, insect-eating monster transformed into a pot-bellied salesman. Instead, it illustrates the often confusing nature of the human condition by poking gentle fun at our collective fears, worries and self-doubt.
That’s a surprisingly existential theme for a story about a lizard-man who sprays blood from his eyes, but leave it to “The X-Files” to pull it off with style!
New Zealand-born actor/comedian Rhys Darby deserves special mention here for his brilliant portrayal of Mann, whose misadventures in human form bring to mind the work of Peter Sellers.
Highlights from this sequence include Mann waking up naked in the woods “overcome by some irrational need to cover up,” then adopting a puppy and naming it Dagoo. Proving to be an unreliable narrator, he even tosses in a gratuitous sex scene between himself and Scully.
“That did not happen,” says Mulder, clearly unamused.
“Ever since I became human I can’t help but lie about my sex life,” Mann apologizes.
Meanwhile, Scully discovers that the real killer is actually the Animal Control Officer, played in a bit of dream casting by comedian Kumail Nanjiani, who moonlights as a real-life X-Files podcaster when not co-starring in HBO’s “Silicon Valley.”
After catching the murderer, Scully rewards herself by stealing Mann’s adorable dog Dagoo, who reminds her of her old Pomeranian Queequeg, who was eaten by an alligator in the 1996 episode “Quagmire.”
The show ends with Mulder allowing Mann to escape back into the woods from whence he came. Or did he? Our FBI hero still isn’t entirely convinced. He’s been burned too many times in the past by false leads, misdirection and a desperate desire to believe in the impossible. Is Mann really an otherworldly creature, or merely a depressed salesman with a bad mustache who happens to like getting naked in front of strangers?
The final reveal, and the smile on Mulder’s face, answers the question beautifully.
“The X-Files” airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on Fox.