Monday, November 21, 2016

Case 02, File 14: Die Hand Die Verletz

AKA: The Devils of New Hampshire

So, some of you may not be aware of this, but back in the 80s, there was this thing called the Satanic Panic, where a bunch of people actually started believing there was a massive Satanic conspiracy in the USA. There were a lot of moving parts involved, but the actual accusations got really weird and really bizarre (look up the McMartin Preschool Trial for further reading, some of that shit was weird). While the whole thing was patently absurd, it inspired a lot of people's imaginations. And if any show could spin the lunacy of that particular moment in history into a good episode, it would be The X-Files.

Our story kicks off in Milford Haven (a fake town which sounds like a combination of two towns near me, Milford and New Haven), a small town in New Hampshire which, for some reason, has a PTA that's run by a Satanic cult. Fun. As our actual plot starts, a set of teenagers head out to a stump they believe was used for witchcraft, in order to scare the female half of their group into...something? I'm not sure what their game plan was, but like a good group of slasher flick canon fodder, the end goal was sex. Anyway, they accidentally do a real ritual, and a demon shows up, killing one of them and tearing out his eyes and heart.

This strikes the local PD as weird, so they call in everyone's favorite FBI Agents, who initially seem dismissive until frogs literally rain from the sky. Mulder and Scully discover a piece of evidence that leads them to one of the surviving teens, who bolts but is immediately caught and tells them that he's afraid they conjured a devil. Meanwhile, the high school's biology teacher comes ill with something, and is replaced by Mrs. Paddock, who quickly reveals herself to the audience to be the demon.

During the next biology class, while dissecting a pig fetus, one of the girls has a vision of the fetus coming back to life and naturally freaks the f**k out. She reveals some repressed memories to Mulder and Scully about being sexually abused by a local Satanic cult led by her stepfather. Mulder and Scully go to investigate, which doesn't super endear them to her parents. Meanwhile, the girl makes the decision to try and finish her dissection, and while she's doing that, Mrs. Paddock uses magic to make her kill herself.

Yeah, that looks like a person who is concerned that one of her students started screaming randomly in the middle of class.
The Satanic PTA is still worried about this, but decides to blame all the murders on her. While Scully investigates Mrs. Paddock, Mulder goes and talks to her dad, who reveals that they're all a part of the cult, but that his daughter was never hurt. Mulder heads off to arrest the PTA, while the dad is devoured by an anaconda. But when he and Scully try to confront the PTA, they get the drop on them and tie them up, intending to sacrifice them to Satan to save their lives. Mrs. Paddock however is having none of it and forces them to kill themselves, and the episode ends with her leaving a cryptic message on the blackboard.

Die Hand Die Verletz is one of those episodes that sneaks up on you in how clever and engaging it is. There's a lot bubbling underneath the surface in terms of theme, and the story is uniquely crafted mystery, keeping both Mulder and Scully, and the Satanic PTA helpless in the dark for the majority of its runtime. It's not an episode that stands out in the way that One Breath or Irresistible does, but it's still a damn, damn, damn fine episode.

The big standout element, the one that does the most to elevate the episode is, like last week, the villain's performance. Susan Blommaert is fantastic as Mrs. Paddock, effortlessly selling both her fake confusion and sincerity at the horrible events, and her sadistic amusement when we get to see her causing them. Everything about her just works, especially her "So innocent it's suspicious" costuming. She's such a great villain that she'd probably elevate a much worse episode, and I'm convinced that the only reason she isn't a more iconic villain is because she has to be compared to Donny Pfaster from one episode earlier.

"Wait, I don't want to die like this! There are no good snake movies to"
Fortunately the episode is pretty damned good outside of Mrs. Paddock. The central mystery isn't much of a mystery for the audience, since we know from the outset that Mrs. Paddock is at the center (I think the reveal that she's a demon is supposed to be a surprise, but I always assumed it from the outset) but it is a mystery for the characters, all of them. Mulder and Scully are working from one end, the Satanic PTA from the other and they wind up sort of meeting in the middle. Kind of unfortunately for Mulder and Scully, since they get completely taken in by Mrs. Paddock and nearly get killed, but still, it's a unique set up for the mystery.

The rest of the episode has some solid stuff too, with the engaging subtext about how a lot of religious people only pay lip service to their beliefs or only engage with their religion when it's convenient, which is good stuff and added extra weight by the fact that the religion is literal Satanism. The regular nods to how silly and over the top a lot of the Satanic Panic stuff was, is also an amusing element, which is only undercut slightly by the fact that there is, in fact, a literal demon hanging around the town.

"See Scully, now you know how I felt at the end of Blood with that fucking text message."
Add in some solid scares (the pig fetus scene still gets me) and good direction, and we've got a pretty damn good episode. It has some minor issues, (mostly a start and stop pace) but they're just that, minor. The episode is an overall joy to watch, from the great performance from Mrs. Haddock to the amusing sequences of the PTA acting all Satanic. It's not an episode for the ages, but it's a good reminder of why I love this show so damned much.

Case Notes:
  • I'm not gonna lie, the Satanic PTA has always struck me as a great cold open. It plays just coy enough with the Satanic part that it surprises you, and it's a great bait and switch.
  • "Those mittens are giving me a Gingrich" is an actual line of dialogue spoken by one of the teens in the opening, in reference to a girl being hot. I refuse to believe "a Gingrich" was real slang, and if I'm wrong, please don't correct me.
  • Once Mulder and Scully are rushed onto the scene, the cop barrels through the Satanic panic cliches. A cult controlling everything, heavy metal, "Everyone knows about it." 
  • Mulder's sarcasm in the opening is on point.
  • The cop in the opening is opening is handling evidence with his bare hands. Do not do that.
  • I know what they're both referencing, but a rain of frogs is inextricably tied to the ending of Magnolia in my mind.
  • I love how the kid Mulder and Scully come to talk just immediately books it and heads for the window. It's kind of dramatic, but also kind of funny.
  • It's interesting how the episode clues us in to the fact that there is a Satanic cult in the town, but also lets us know that they're as in the dark as Mulder and Scully. It adds a real unique spin to the mystery.
  • I also love how the cult starts pushing the cult theory to misdirect. It's small, but it fleshes out the cult.
  • The woman they got to play Mrs. Paddock is fantastic, and I love the costuming on her to death, especially those huge eyeglasses.
  • Scully bringing up the fact that a lot of Satanic panic stuff was also used against Jewish people in the 1930s, followed by Mulder defending both Wicca and the Church of Satan, reads a little like an ass covering move, but it's a good scene and I like the point behind it, so I'm gonna give it a thumbs up.
  • I never had to dissect a pig embryo in High School, but then I've skinned, gutted and jointed a deer before, so I'm sure I could handle it.
  • The pig embryo coming to life is a great scene that goes by so fast. Mrs. Paddock sells her lack of concern so hard.
  • I love that Mulder gets drawn so fast into the whole repressed memory thing. Confirmation bias at work?
  • The American Stonehenge that the girl mentions is a real place in Salem. No addition to that, I just thought I'd mention it.
  • The girl's fake repressed memories are pretty grim and gets a ton of time devoted to it for what amounts to a plot misdirect that it almost borders on filler.
  • Mulder is super adversarial with Mr. Ausbury, which I guess is appropriate given what he's accused of.
  • You know, if the pig fetus I was supposed to dissect came alive, I might take the zero and do some summer school.
  • Also a great scene? The scene where Mrs. Paddock makes Shannon kill herself. Seriously, Mrs. Paddock is great.
  • They skip over it pretty fast, but it turns out Mrs. Paddock gave the teacher she had to replace Flesh Eating Bacteria. Hardcore Mrs. Paddock.
  • Mr. Ausbury arrives with an exposition drop about what's going on, but it's mostly about cluing Mulder in, since most of that is stuff we already knew, or inferred.
  • "Did you really think you could call up the Devil and ask him to behave?" is the Line of the episode, A+.
  • I'm not sure how the snake eats Mr. Ausbury, given that he's handcuffed to a pole and thus can't be swallowed whole, but maybe I shouldn't be questioning a magic snake that somehow managed to get a locked door open.
  • If the above line is the line of the episode, the Shot of the episode is Mrs. Paddock with the snake eyes.
  • Mulder and Scully kinda screwed the pooch on this one huh? They only get out of it because Paddock was controlling the guy with the shotgun.
  • The final message on the chalkboard is a solid note to end the episode on.
Current Celebrity Watch:

Nothing this week, but a couple solid hits in our next segment.

Future Celebrity Watch:

Dan Butler, who played Mr. Ausbury, would go on to play Bulldog in Frasier, which isn't a huge role, but still, solid stuff. Similarly, Laura Harris who played Andrea (Shannon's friend) would go on to play Daisy in Dead Like Me.

Audio Observations:

I like the ominous chanting that they use a lot in this episode. Ominous chanting may be a cliche, but it's a cliche for a reason; It works.

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