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The X-Files Recap: Familiar

There comes a time in every season of nearly every show I watch and recap where I just…don’t feel like writing the recap because the episode just wasn’t that fabulous. Don’t get me wrong – “Familiar” was very high in the creep factor and had all the hallmarks of a classic X-Files episode. We were in the forest. There was both a creepy doll AND a creepy mask that will haunt my dreams for weeks to come. There was witchcraft. But the plot was just…hollow at the end. You’ll see where I’m coming from in a minute.

First, the creepy cold open was the stuff of nightmares. A mom, distracted by someone calling her, is pushing her son on a merry-go-round in a small suburban Connecticut playground. He has a creepy doll with a distorted, exaggerated clown-like/Joker-like mask, and it is only later that I can understand what he’s singing in his little-boy voice. “Mister ChuckleTeeth” (shudder) is suddenly not just a doll, but a person in a mask jauntily dancing at the end of the forest near the playground. The boy follows him into the woods, his mother can’t find him, and you can all imagine what happens next. There is a tiny victim in a yellow raincoat lying dead on the forest floor.

Mulder and Scully are on the scene with the local PD, who do almost nothing in this episode except obstruct them from investigating. Shocking and different (not). The boy’s father is a police officer and the chief of police is real rude to Scully when she suggests that it isn’t a wolf (or coyote/wolf mix) attack, but perhaps a real live human being who enjoys murdering little kids. Mulder tells the police chief to back it up, because Scully is “damn good at her job” – as they walk away, Scully thanks Mulder for having her back and he says “Of course, you’re my homie!” Then they discuss the man versus forest predator situation, and Mulder of course brings up hellhounds guarding a portal to hell.

I hope you enjoyed that bit of dialogue and Mulder/Scully interaction, but it was the only good exchange they had the entire episode. Everything else was really staid and dull after that, and they did not participate in the investigation so much as observe, going from the precinct to the victims’ houses to the woods and back again.

Mulder interviews the police chief’s wife, Anna, and their little girl, whose name is Emily. I thought I was hearing things, and rewound the scene. Yep, Emily. As if we already didn’t have a little blonde girl named Emily about that age in Scully and Mulder’s past. You know, the one conceived with Scully’s ova???? Someone asked the writer of this episode, Benjamin Van Allen, on his twitter if he was aware of Emily’s existence. He was not. 

Mr. Van Allen has never written for TV before, either. He was Chris Carter’s production assistant in season 10. I’ll leave that info here and let you make of it what you will. However, it is Carter’s responsibility to remember insanely major plot points from his own show, especially since we’re revisiting all that alien/human hybrid stuff with William’s DNA, and maybe Scully’s DNA too. 

Anyway. Emily is watching super scary teletubbies with empty black eyes, and Mister Chuckleteeth pops in as well. Anna asks if Mulder has kids – he says he has a son, who is grown. (We all cry.) Mulder also notices that the police chief has a bookshelf of texts on witchcraft, as well as a Grimoire of the Eastwood Witch, this being Eastwood, Connecticut. Anna says her husband is a local history buff. We shall see.

Mulder and Scully go to the morgue to see the little boy’s body, and he has what looks like salt on his bare feet. One of the other officers, who you maybe recognize as Curtis from 24 but also his FIVE other appearances on The X-Files (the first being in “Pusher” as a SWAT team officer) had told the boy’s father Scully’s theory about a non-animal killer lurking right in town, indulging in his pedophile murder tendencies. The boy’s father, Officer Eggers, looks up registered sex offenders in the town’s database and finds one (just the one!), so he tears out of the station, hops in a squad car, and flies over to his house. Scully and the police chief follow him, with Scully telling Mulder (who went looking for hellhounds in the woods – he actually sees one) over the phone to meet them at the sex offender’s house. Mulder doesn’t chase the hellhound at least, which I think shows personal growth. The sex offender’s name is Melvin Peter, and I groan because Melvin is Frohike’s first name and we’ve definitely run out of names in the Chris Carter name generator. 

Melvin seems to be a right pervert, with his profession performing in animal and clown costumes at kids’ birthday parties and many, many photos of himself with small children sitting on his coffee table. He isn’t home, but his monkey is trapped in the closet and almost scares the poop out of Mulder. Meanwhile, Emily sees one of the creepy AF teletubbies outside the back door, follows it to the woods, and ALSO WINDS UP DEAD. What! Two dead kids?? Scully actually asks Mulder if HE is ok, like she hasn’t had this very personal experience with a dead little blonde girl named Emily, and I shake my head. 

Mulder’s taste in ties seems to have improved, yes?

Mulder finds a ring of salt around the crime scene and discovers that it’s a witch burial ground. He also tastes the salt, putting evidence in his mouth yet again – he did that a bit too often in early X-Files seasons! The chief admits to “letting the devil in his heart” or some such, and we’re supposed to think maybe he is the one summoning hellhounds and dudes in masks out there in the woods.

Near the second crime scene, Melvin pulls up and Eggers drags him out his car and starts beating him. A crowd gathers as Melvin protests that his crime was “just statutory” (like THAT helps??) and that he didn’t kill anyone. The mob descends, however, and he is getting beaten to a pulp (someone actually throws a stone at his head…symbolism, we get it) as Curtis from 24 tries to protect him. Imagine that – a black cop protecting a white male sex offender! Mulder and Scully approach, and Mulder fires his gun in the air, scattering the crowd. Eggers is undeterred, pulls out his gun and shoots Melvin in the head. Great.

At the trial for Eggers’ actions toward Melvin, Mulder yammers on about the mob mentality, small town prejudices (they already had their scapegoat in Melvin, even though he didn’t do it), and modern day witch hunts. I am mostly distracted by Scully’s outfit, as she is wearing a “Diane-Keaton-level turtleneck” under her suit – perfect description courtesy of my friend Karen. Eggers goes free, and goes home to his wife, Diana (yes, that is her name…I’m sure Diana Fowley slipped CC’s mind too?) to tell her “I’m leaving you, witch!” She replies “you can’t, because I’m leaving you.” That’s some Emmy-winning dialogue right there. See, Diana was cheating on Eggers with the police chief. She gets in her car, drunk, and leaves. She sees her little boy in the road and flips the car over, so that’s no good. She’s dead, obviously.

If you thought I was going to burn your eye sockets with demon masks, you were mistaken. Let’s gaze at this fine pair instead.

Eggers went to the chief’s house to shoot him too, I guess, and chases Mister Chuckleteeth around in his gross mask. The chief comes home and they both fire – Eggers winds up dead. The chief finds Diana’s car on the side of the road and goes into the woods where both children died…where his wife Anna stands, holding the Grimoire of the Eastwood Witch. Turns out she only wanted to curse Diana, the woman her husband was sleeping with, and the chief points out that she’s dealing with forces she can’t control. Then the hellhound comes up and rips his throat out – no really. Mulder and Scully arrive on the scene, and Anna bursts into flame for no obvious reason – no really. The hellhound disappears.

Can we just pause for me to roll my eyes repeatedly at how this could have been interesting, where the police chief was actually in league with the devil, but it was just his scorned wife? Who was so inept at the witchcraft that 7 people died? (Body count: the little boy, his parents Eggers & Diana, Emily, Melvin, the chief, and Anna herself.) Talk about a cliche! It felt lazy. And there was no real investigation on Mulder and Scully’s part, either. Mulder just tasted some salt on the ground and then they ran from one crime scene to the other.

Scully gives Officer Curtis from 24 the Grimoire, which of course didn’t burn, and she and Mulder hop in their SUV and peace out. We end on the carousel creaking in the misty night.

I wanted to like this, because it started out so good, but it was all downhill from the first 10 minutes. Usually, Mulder and Scully get involved in the case whether individually or separately, and they get into a dangerous situation or chase with the perp. Not this time. It felt very detached from the hands-on way that they usually deal with cases.

Also, making your point about the mob mentality regarding someone who was a sex offender and had a house full of kiddie photos was just plain wrong. Scully made that point very briefly, but Mulder wasn’t really listening. He was right about Eggers getting off scot free so that was what mattered. I’m not calling Mulder out…but his dialogue with Scully in the courthouse was so weird and off. I doubt that Mulder, having experienced cases like those in “Young At Heart” and “Sein Un Zeit”/”Closure” involving so many dead little girls and such intense personal emotions, as well as what may or may not happened to his sister, would defend a statutory rapist. Benjamin Van Allen – do your homework. I don’t mind giving new writers a shot, but this was sloppy and cliched.

Not to mention the names – Emily, Melvin, and Diana. I can’t decide if Van Allen and Carter are just screwing with us at this point because the fandom has repeatedly rolled their eyes over FOUR characters named William, or what. But this isn’t some second-rate science fiction show. This is the big time, these episodes matter. The X-Files was groundbreaking once upon a time. What Van Allen tried to play for creepy nostalgia only went so far. He was so into the imagery of scary masks and demonic teletubbies that the plot and dialogue got real boring, real fast.

“Familiar” – a play on a witch’s familiar and the creepy deaths in the woods as familiar X-Files territory – was so familiar that the ending was incredibly lame, not to mention falling straight into the “scorned woman” trope. I wanted to love the vibe, but I’ve already loved that vibe with much better, more original story telling and far snappier dialogue better our two agents. This is clearly what happens when you turn the writing over to a PA with no credits and don’t give him a show bible…because no show bible exists.

Next week’s “Nothing Lasts Forever” has an ominous title but what looks like a great plot and great Mulder/Scully moments. The Conversation in the Church is coming, and I am here for it. Are you ready, g-men and g-women?

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Amy Imhoff

Amy Imhoff is a writer and editor who blogs at Shoes and Starships, a geek lifestyle blog that specializes in genre fandom, pop culture, travel, fashion, and feminism. She is a featured convention panelist, podcast contributor, and interviewer. Amy has her masters in literature, enjoys a slightly unhealthy obsession with all things British, and likes to sniff old books. Amy is based outside NYC, where she lives with her husband and two silly cats. Find her freaking out about X-Files and Star Trek @lightstar1013

1 CommentLeave a comment

  • Your recaps are the best recaps. This summed up exactly how I felt about “Familiar.” I’ve loved most of this season, but I thought the writing in this episode was painfully bad. I know the show isn’t the cultural juggernaut it once was, but can it really be this hard up for writers?

    Yeah, Mulder’s leap to defend Melvin Peter seemed very strange to me. Peter hasn’t even been arrested yet when Mulder starts monologuing about witch hunts and McCarthy, and given the amount of circumstantial evidence they found in his house, they’ve got to at least bring him in for questioning. I mean, I get Mulder’s concern about the growing mob, but why is he yelling at Scully for wanting to arrest the pedophile with the Mr. Chuckleteeth costume? Especially when Mulder is normally the last person to give a pedophile the benefit of the doubt. It’s like the episode was written by someone who’d had the show described to him – She’s a skeptic! He’s a believer! They go to small towns and weird things happen in the woods and everyone gets killed! – but had never actually watched it.

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