TV Review: The X-Files (Season 11, Episode 8)
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Set in another small American town plagued with a dark past, Mulder and Scully investigate the tragic death of a young boy, Andrew (Sebastian Billingsley-Rodriguez), who when lured into the forest by a life-size version of his toy ‘Mr. Chuckleteeth’ is found mangled and nearly dismembered on the ground by an unknown assailant.
Once Mulder and Scully arrive at the scene, three investigative strands become clear. The police believe Andrew was subject to an animal attack, most probably by a coyote or coywolf hybrid as they have begun to be more commonly seen in the area. Scully debunks this, as coyote do not attack humans.
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Instead, she hypothesizes that Andrew may have been murdered by someone in the community, as it is a small town and his injuries coincide with being violently shaken and strangled. Chief Strong (Alex Carter) finds this assumption offensive and continues to disagree with Scully until issues begin to arise further in the episode.
Mulder, on the other hand, believes that some strange paranormal beast is a foot in Eastwood, and it could even be a hellhound due to Eastwood’s location and connection with the black arts.
The further the duo investigate, the more it seems that Eastwood could mistakenly be known as the town of Eastwick, as a lot of its history is intertwined with the practice of witchcraft. This is further established when a second young child – Emily (Emma Oliver) – is found murdered in the same woods, after following what she believes to be a character of the children’s show she is watching, staring ominously through the patio doors.
In both cases, these kids are following demented reimagining’s of familiar characters that kids brought up in the 90s (myself included) were no doubt raised around. Mr. Chuckleteeth sits relatively comfortably within the uncanny valley; a humanoid figure dressed in a demented Pee-Wee Herman get-up with a ventriloquist dummy-like mask that you can barely look at for more than five seconds without feeling severely unnerved.
Then there’s the ‘Bibble-Tiggles’, an abomination that combines Teletubbies and Boobahs into alien-esque nightmare fuel set to a weirdly trippy backdrop. Writer Benjamin Van Allen purposefully depicts these children’s television show characters in this way, as they too creeped him out when they were airing. As a kid you are blind to it, but once you look back on it as an adult, you wonder why and how your parents let you watch such non-sensical and creepy programming.
It makes you wonder if subliminal messages lay beneath all the primary colors and the ‘catchy’ theme songs, which is slightly touched upon here in the form of witches conjuring spirits called familiars that can lure you to your death by taking the form of your hearts desires. In Andrew and Emma’s case, it was the characters they adored from the television screen they were fixated by.
Children’s television, witchcraft, and spontaneous human combustion aren’t your typical signifiers of a melodrama, but Van Allen and director Holly Dale make it so with an ominous tone cut with sincerity for innocent lives lost in a seemingly trivial martial affair. An affair that both symbolically and quite literally opens the gates of hell and becomes harder to contain. This is The X-Files at its best. As Van Allen has said in an interview with SyFy, he wanted to fully encapsulate the beauty in the series famed standalone episodes by, well, letting it standalone.
“I wanted to start an episode in the town with Mulder and Scully and end the episode in the town with Mulder and Scully. As much as I love all the X-Files lore, I didn’t want to see the X-Files office, I didn’t want to put Skinner in this episode,” Van Allen says. “I just wanted it to be a very classic, standalone monster-of-the-week episode.”
And it certainly is. Compared to the four episodes of this season that are mainly standalone, this is by far the closest the revival has gotten to a classic, paranormal procedural that made the show what it was in its heyday. A juxtaposing combination of witchcraft and childhood innocence, a melodrama with deadly connotations and a case study on modern American hysteria? Sign me up.
As is with many of the goings on in X-Files small-town America, Mulder and Scully are in it for the ride. Rarely do they ever solve the deep mysteries rooted in these locations. If they did, they’d probably end up stuck in an alternate dimension of some kind like Coop in Twin Peaks.
They strive to come to some sort of conclusion, but once in a while Mulder, Scully or both just want to get out of dodge while they still can.
You can catch-up with the eleventh season of The X-Files on My5.