Friday, August 14, 2015

Case 01, File 05: The Jersey Devil

AKA: Eat Me Tonight in Atlantic City

Over the course of the next 9 seasons, The X-Files will draw inspiration for its monsters from dozens of different sources, from folklore, to urban legends to their own bizarre imaginations. The problem with drawing on existing folklore and legends, even recent ones, is that the time and budget constraints of TV can mean there isn't enough time to properly research the legend in question and you can wind up screwing it up. When the episode is good, people will brush it off, but if it isn't, well screwing up the source can become the main point of discussion.

Ignoring the weird opening scene where a father in the 60s is attacked while changing a tire (roll with it) the plot kicks off when a homeless man is discovered in the woods outside Atlantic City with his arm chewed off, by what appears to be a person. Mulder thinks it might be the work of the Jersey Devil, which he frames as a kind of East Coast Bigfoot (it's not, but we'll go into that later) and heads out to investigate.

He discovers two few things quickly; First that ACPD is really not cooperative (he eventually theorizes that they're trying to protect the tourism), and second a naked long haired woman wandering the streets looking for food. After some hijinks involving a park ranger and a biologist, plus a weird subplot involving Scully going on a date, Mulder tracks down the woman but the ACPD shoots her. And, in what would become a habit of The X-Files hinting that its monsters are still out there, we get a brief glimpse of the woman's kid still out in the Pine Barrens before credits.

I don't have much of a funny caption here, I just like this shot.

Alright, so let's get the obvious out the way; Yes the Jersey Devil presented in this episode has basically nothing to do with the actual Jersey Devil. As a teenager, I was interested in Cryptids, and as I was living in the East Coast (still am), the Jersey Devil was one of my favorites. The actual Jersey Devil is a kind of weird horse/bat hybrid, with its own folklore background, not a Bigfoot analogue.

But, once you strip that away and actually focus on the story the episode is trying to tell, a much bigger issue reveals itself; There's not much to this episode. As a counter example, a season 4 episode opens by promising us a Chupacabra, but ends in the kind of insanity that only season 4 can provide. This episode just sort of hangs there, with barely anything in the way of a plot. The Jersey Devil doesn't even appear on screen into well into the third act, and as a result, the plot doesn't have any real momentum until the last few scenes during the chase for the Devil.

Mulder, I hate to tell you this, but info from homeless people is unreliable.

It's not a complete wash however. Mulder and Scully bonding scenes are always nice, even if Scully's subplot needed more than two and a half scenes to have any real impact. And while it's instrumental in keeping the plot slow, I do like the musings on the nature of humanity in the third act. They haven't quite mastered the art of sticking theme and metaphor in smoothly (don't worry, they'll get it by the end of the season) but it's nice to see them trying.

Okay so even aside from the failing to get the Jersey Devil right, this episode isn't very good. It's not bad (we will be getting into some actively bad episodes soon) but it just doesn't have too much going on. The plot fails to stick in the mind, so all you're left with is a couple of solid scenes. It winds up in this weird middle ground where it's not good enough to be memorable and not bad enough to be interesting to talk about. So I guess this episode's review is gonna be a little on the short side.

Case Notes:
  • The opening scene, with the family driving down the road while singing, honest to god Bingo, is unspeakably hilarious to me for reasons I don't feel like exploring.
  • Hey, first appearance of Mulder's porn obsession running gag. I think it was an attempt to humanize him.
  • The subplot about Scully wanting a man/kids rubs me the wrong way. It's kind of passively sexist in the way TV can be sometime, and definitely doesn't gel with her later characterization. Sidebar, in an earlier draft of the first few episodes, Scully had a boyfriend but he got more or less completely cut and they never really felt like dragging one in.
  • On that note, I don't know if that was the way it was intended in the script, but Gillian Anderson is playing Scully on the date like she's politely humoring the guy. Maybe I'm just getting that impression because Scully is throwing around all the best sarcasm in this episode.
  • The Jersey Devil woman is WAY too well groomed (especially shaved) to be a woman who lived in the woods her entire life.
  • The last scene of Mulder and Scully snarking at each other in a good natured fashion is actually really cute.
Current Celebrity Watch:

This episode is pretty bare when it comes to celebrities. The actress who plays the Jersey Devil, Claire Stansfield, apparently had a minor role on Xena (Alti? No, I don't remember her either). More importantly, she also played Sid on Twin Peaks (if there's one show that could compete with The X-Files for my Favorite TV Show, it would be Twin Peaks). The X-Files will borrow something like half a dozen actors from Twin Peaks over the course of its run.

Future Celebrity Watch:

Basically nothing, although the actor who plays the Park Ranger also had a minor role in Battlefield Earth, which amuses me to no end.

Audio Observations:

The theme they use for the Jersey Devil definitely shows up a bunch of times throughout the series. I'm not sure how to describe it. I guess tribal-esque is my best estimation, even if that's not quite it. It's good mood setting music though, and I can see why they keep using it.

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