Spoiler alert: This recap contains plot details for the fourth episode of “The X-Files,” titled “Home Again.”
A curious blend of gore and melodrama, Monday’s fourth installment of “The X-Files” reboot is a welcome return to straight horror, and should please viewers who found last week’s (superb) comedy episode a bit too lacking in scares.
Titled “Home Again,” the episode begins on Philadelphia’s skid row, where Joseph Cutler, a U.S. Department of Housing employee, and Daryl Landry, a cold-hearted real estate developer, are busy drenching the neighborhood’s homeless population with firehoses. It’s all part of a “relocation plan” to make way for a new high-rise.
Unfortunately for Cutler, vengeance arrives in the form of a ghostly garbage truck and its fly-ridden passenger. Known as “Band-Aid Nose Man,” this barefooted terror joins creatures like Leonard Betts, Eugene Tooms and the Flukeman as one of series’ greatest gross-outs.
Before Cutler can call for help, Band-Aid Nose Man rips him apart in a shower of blood. Echoing images from classic John Carpenter films like “Halloween” and “Prince of Darkness,” this opening sequence is one of the series’ most strikingly cinematic. Bravo to the sound designers for giving Band-Aid Nose Man’s thudding footsteps a menacing quality all their own.
The next day, Mulder and Scully arrive to investigate. If you’re wondering why they’re introduced with a lingering shot of their outstretched FBI badges, it’s because this was originally filmed to be Episode 2, and would have picked up with their reinstatement into the bureau following the events of the premiere. At Chris Carter’s suggestion, the order of episodes was shuffled to help clarify a subplot about their son’s adoption.
Though the floor of the crime scene is covered with bloody bare footprints, the forensic tech can’t lift a print because they “lack ridges.” This instantly leads Mulder to determine that “this person was born without footprints.” Seems like a bit of a leap, but okay.
While examining the victim’s torso, Scully gets a call from William. The look of shock on her face is equal to our own. Could this be her son calling?
Turns out it’s only her imagination. The call is actually from William Scully Jr., her brother, who’s calling to let her know that their mother suffered a massive heart attack and is in a Washington D.C. hospital.
At this point, the episode splits into two distinct storylines, with Scully sitting by her mother’s bedside while Mulder hunts the supernatural trash heap. Unfortunately, these two separate plots work against each other at times. Despite Gillian Anderson’s excellent performance, Scully’s somewhat routine medical drama repeatedly interrupts the momentum of Mulder’s case, and vice versa.
Perhaps if more actually happened at the hospital this wouldn’t be an issue. But aside from learning that her mother had a DNR order, asked to speak with her estranged son and owned an unfamiliar pendant, it plays out like a fairly standard soap opera storyline.
Meanwhile, Mulder investigates an eerie piece of graffiti seen on a building across the street from the crime scene. But first he steps in something squishy on his way out the door.
Now, “The X-Files” has always excelled at grotesque imagery. From a fat-sucking mutant who vomits snot into women’s mouths in the episode “2Shy,” to a parasitic slug crawling around inside Scully’s body in “Roadrunners,” we’ve been treated to some wonderfully disgusting moments over the past 10 seasons. But there’s something about the sight of Mulder slowly peeling away a nasty used band-aid stuck to the bottom of his shoe that’s especially hard to stomach.
At the crime lab, a baffled FBI technician finds “no presence of any pathogenic agents” on the filthy band-aid. Even stranger, there’s nothing inorganic on it either, despite the fact that it’s covered with hair and pus. So that stuff is… what? Ghost slime?
We never quite learn the answer.
While Mulder is testing gooey medical adhesives and Scully is fielding phone calls from her brother, Band-Aid Nose Man is busy ripping the heads off a couple of art thieves who thought they could make a quick buck by auctioning his stolen portrait at Sotheby’s. Horror fans may notice a slight similarity here to the 1992 film “Candyman,” where a mythic urban legend came to life in a crime-stricken Chicago housing development and slaughtered anyone unlucky enough to meet him.
Later in the episode, a heartless city administrator winds up dismembered and stuffed in her own trash compactor after she threatens to have the police arrest any homeless people who relocate to her district. Whoever’s idea it was to score this horrific murder with Petula Clark’s “Downtown” deserves special recognition.
At the hospital, Mulder tries bringing Scully up to speed on the case, but she’s too distraught to care much about 7-foot tall garbage monsters. Instead, she asks Mulder if they ever came across an X-file in the past where someone wished a person back to life.
“I invented it when you were in the hospital,” he says, referring to her brief coma in the 1994 episode “One Breath.”
“You’re a dark wizard, Mulder,” she responds, in a line that’s sure to set ‘shippers buzzing. For those unfamiliar with the term, ‘shippers are a sub-set of X-fans who obsessively focus on the romantic relationship (‘ship, get it?) between the two heroes.
Within moments, however, Margaret Scully dies, but not before taking Mulder’s hand and whispering “My son is named William, too.”
This is too much for Scully to bear. “Her last words were about our child, her grandchild, that we gave away,” she says, breaking down in tears. “Why did she say that?!”
Hoping to lose herself in work, Scully insists on joining Mulder in his pursuit of the paranormal landfill. Since the FBI’s crime lab has identified a specific brand of spray paint from the murder scene, the two agents stake out a Philadelphia hardware store in the hopes of finding the killer.
Eventually this leads them to an abandoned building, where they make their way down into the subterranean basement.
And here’s where the episode stumbles once again.
After glimpsing two frightening creatures that appear to be made of living papier-mâché, Mulder and Scully confront Trashman, an underground artist whose studio is littered with strange sculptures and bizarre paintings. According to the heavily tattooed Trashman, he’s giving the homeless a voice the only way he knows how, “through art, not violence.”
Yet that isn’t entirely true. Somehow, he’s managed to create a Tibetan Tulpa, a vengeful effigy made of clay, garbage and a familiar-looking band-aid, to carry out his darkest bidding. How Trashman did this is never explained, other than some meaningless mumbo-jumbo about putting “energy” into his art. While “The X-Files” often stretched plausibility to the breaking point in its original run, the series usually managed to at least offer some type of modest explanation for the otherworldly phenomena it depicted. Not here, unfortunately.
The result is somewhat of a letdown.
Guessing that the creature will go for Landry next, Mulder, Scully and Trashman rush to stop it, but arrive too late. A trail of maggots lead to them to Landry’s body, which has been torn limb from limb and stacked like a cord of wood in the shower. Amid the gore, they find the killer’s calling card: a bloody band-aid.
The episode ends at the shoreline, with Mulder, Scully and an urn filled with ashes. It’s a somber moment, made more so by the feelings of guilt they both share at having given their son up for adoption.
“The X-Files” airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on Fox.