Monday, June 20, 2016

Case 02, File 02: The Host

AKA: The Grossest Place to Die

Over the course of nine (now ten) seasons, The X-Files acquired a reputation for being weird, and that reputation began to really grow in the second season. Sure the first season had some weird monsters (the glowing bugs from Darkness Falls and Eugene Tooms were both pretty weird) but this is the season where we started getting the truly strange episodes. And The Host was strange enough to become iconic.
The episode opens on a Russian freighter, somewhere off the coast of New Jersey. One of the crew, investigating a block in the septic tank gets pulled in by a something. A few days later, he washes up in a sewer in Newark (not the worst part of Newark) and Mulder is pulled of surveillance to go investigate. But he's not happy being sent into the sewer and starts telling it to both Skinner and Scully.

But he keeps investigating with some prodding from a mysterious caller (dun dun dun?), especially after a sanitation worker is attacked by a mysterious thingamajig. Mulder finds a weird bite on the sanitation worker while Scully finds a weird flatworm in the body of the dead Russian. After some more digging around Mulder captures the culprit in the local sewage processing plant: A person with no genitals and the mouth of a fluke worm, hereinafter referred to as flukeman. Weird, weird, shit.

So our intrepid heroes spend some time kicking around trying to figure out what the hell to do with flukeman, while Scully gets some info on who the corpse is and figures out the creature is using its bites to reproduce. But, after the sanitation worker dies, the flukeman gets transported to a psychiatric hospital and escapes and winds up hiding in a porta potty until it gets back to the sewer. Mulder figures out where it wound up and tracks it down to a drainage area. There's a bit of a skirmish, flukeman winds up dead and Mulder tells Skinner he could have stopped it faster if he'd been on the X-Files.

"...I admit, I probably could have handled this better."
The flukeman is one of those X-Files monsters of the week that wound up being so unique and strange that it wound up iconic of the entire show. I've met people who've only watched a handful of X-Files episodes (cause really, everyone has seen at least a few episodes of The X-Files) who know the flukeman on sight. And it makes sense, since the flukeman is one of the best monsters they've ever created. Its a fantastic creation of makeup and effects, with one of the more subtly creepy designs in the series.It's an incredibly simple design, mostly just a gray, emaciated person with a flatworm mouth, but once you see it in action, you know why it's considered one of the best (and creepiest) monster designs in the series.

It also doesn't hurt that the episode surrounding it is pretty good as well. We're still early in the series, but already The X-Files is learning to subvert or play with its tropes and cliches. The most interesting part of the episode, to me, is when they capture the flukeman and suddenly have to figure out what to do with it. It's a nice subversion of the usual X-Files cliche, even if the monster does wind up getting away, since they don't need to prove it exists or that it's weird. It's sitting right there, being a strange monster. An entire episode about that, or at least a majority of it, would be a great concept. Alas, unless I'm forgetting one, it's not to be, but at least this chunk of the episode is pretty interesting.

"Okay, I got a one word premise for an episode: Cockroaches."
The script and plot surrounding it are pretty good too, with Mulder doing some good old fashioned deducting to figure out where the creature is, and Scully (still hidden from the chest down) is hanging around doing autopsies and getting clues from X (who we'll discuss at length in a couple episodes when he makes his first official appearance). It's all pretty standard stuff, but it's good old fashioned X-Files investigation, and it's enjoyable to watch Mulder be the one to get progressively more fed up with the situation (that's usually more Scully's area).

The only disappointing part comes right at the end. The bit where they've captured the monster is pretty great, but the episode kind of jumps sideways into getting the monster free so they can get to their climax. Sure it's an okay action beat, but it's a very short climax, and Mulder's participation seems kind of minimal. A monster this incredible deserves a much better final confrontation.

"We have to find this Batboy and bring him to justice!"
I'm also a little disappointed in the secondary characters. The best X-Files secondary characters can be almost as memorable as the monsters themselves, but here they just wind up hanging around doing nothing, which is a problem since one of them is the one in peril in the finale. I think they could have dropped some of the stuff with X giving Mulder advice to make room, since the show isn't interested in expanding on who he is yet. Also, as I'm sure I've mentioned before and I'm sure I'll mention again, the series is really missing having Scully as a major presence.

But those are minor issues, and the episode is coasting on a great monster and a solid script, which is more than a lot of episodes get. And while the script isn't one of the greatest (in fact, the man inside the flukeman will write some much better scripts later one) the monster certainly is. Nearly 22 years on from the release of this episode, the flukeman is still one of the indelible symbols of The X-Files. A disgusting, disgusting symbol.

Case Notes:
  • I try to note effective cold opens as they come, and this is definitely one of the better ones. It's pretty mysterious and engaging, which is what you want out of your cold opens.
  • Mulder is so pissed when he finds out his assignment involves trudging through the sewer. Enough so to yell at Skinner in front of some random conference.
  • On that note, the shot revealing the fact that Skinner is in a meeting when Mulder shows up is a good shot, and I appreciate it.
  • I know they're working with what they got, but in the scene where Skully and Mulder meet up at the beginning, it is SUPER obvious that Gillian Anderson is pregnant.
  • Shifting from the autopsy sequence to the guy getting attacked in the sewer is good pacing, and the tension up. The attack in the sewer is also pretty good, even if it is pretty simple, it's well executed.
  • The wound on the sanitation worker's back looks really horrifying.
  • The sanitation worker thinks he was attacked by a python. That's a dumb thought, but it does give me a good idea for a Snakes on a Plane sequel.
  • X's first phone call is such a non-moment, I don't know why they bothered to include it.
  • The implication of the sanitation worker putting so much toothpaste into his mouth is that he's trying to get the taste of the sewer out, which isn't quite as horrifying as his bite, but almost.
  • I'm not totally clear on why Scully keeps dropping exposition about fluke worms. It's not vital information or anything, so I gotta assume that the writer did a lot of research on them and just wanted to let us know how much work they did.
  • The best part of this episode is when they find the fluke worm/man and have to figure out what the hell to do with it. Mulder and Skinner even have a discussion about it, and they don't really come to a conclusion. I'm honestly surprised they didn't just kill it outright.
  • "I'd consider it more than a professional loss if you decided to leave," is Scully for "I'd miss you." D'aww.
  • Their method of transporting the flukeman was totally insecure. Come on, it's a flukeman, you can't spring for the fill Lecter getup?
  • The fact that the only way to close the gate in the sewage vault is to walk out over a tiny ledge with no railing cannot be OSHA compliant.
  • Wait, they just left the bottom half of the body in the sewers? Lazy!
Current Celebrity Watch:

Nothing this time.

Future Celebrity Watch:

I am stretching the definition of "Future Celebrity" to its limit, but the man inside the flukeman suit is Darin Morgan, who would go on to write some of the best episodes of The X-Files' second and third season. He'd also wind up as a producer on both Millennium and Fringe.

Slightly less stretched is the fact that the sanitation worker who dies is played by Matthew Bennett, who played Doral/Cylon Number 5 on Battlestar Galactica. Oh that's not a spoiler, he's revealed to be a Cylon in the series opening miniseries.

Audio Observations:

I've been playing far too much Bloodborne lately, cause the noise the flukeman makes when it dies is pretty similar to one of the monster's dying screams in that game.

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