THE X-FILES Recap: Scully and Trashman Are Tearing Us Apart

the x-files

Glen Morgan’s “Home” is a classic episode of THE X-FILES. It paired grotesque killings, worthy of the first viewer discretion warning in series history, with the upbeat “Wonderful, Wonderful!” by Johnny Mathis while somehow managing to feature a meaningful look at Dana Scully’s desire for eventual motherhood. Nearly twenty years later, Morgan’s “Home Again” has revisited that idea of Scully as a mother against a background of a pretty nasty string of murders in which victims were quite literally torn apart to the sounds of Petula Clark’s cheerful “Downtown,” with a twist of the extra pain (this is The Pain Files, after all) of the loss of Scully’s own mother. Although the similarities are striking between “Home” and “Home Again,” one thing’s for certain: When it comes to THE X-FILES, nothing is ever quite the same. The darkness simply builds and builds.

People treat other people like trash — some more than others. The latest episode of THE X-FILES began with the abuse of less fortunate people in Philadelphia by one Joseph Cutler, who was part of a plan to relocate the homeless to an abandoned hospital. Cutler’s fatal flaw? He was far too gleeful regarding the attacking of the local homeless with high-powered hoses. As painful as that may have been for those unfortunate souls, Cutler was soon visited by who we later learned was the Trashman, who came to Cutler’s office in the middle of the night and proceeded to rip him apart.

Enter Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, who have had plenty of experience with these spooky cases, which the man formerly bullied with the nickname Spooky Mulder didn’t seem impressed to be asked about.

No footprints were left by the killer, which Mulder found interesting enough to make a light quip about how it would obviously be impossible for a man to be born without prints, but before he could really get down and dirty with investigating the case with his partner, she was called away on family business by her brother Bill.

William Scully, Jr., why does your sister have your full name as your caller id instead of simply “Bill?” Things that make you go hmm.

As Mulder stayed behind to work the case on his own, he found himself breaking up a fight between Nancy Huff and Daryl Landry, who were on opposite sides of the relocation issue. They were each speaking on behalf of those whom they represented, but Mulder wanted to know who spoke for the homeless. Almost out of thin air, a man appeared to say that the man with the Band-Aid on his nose was the guy to look for, but as Mulder was busy trying to figure out what that meant, the seemingly homeless man vanished.

Vanishment and appearances out of thin air would be the name of the game as the Trashman would arrive, rip victims apart, and toss them in the garbage disposal before returning to his truck. In the particularly horror movie-esque killing of Ms. Huff, Trashman somehow teleported himself from the street outside Nancy’s apartment to the top of her stairs before destroying her amidst the backdrop lightning and the soundtrack of “Downtown.”

It wasn’t until after Mulder and Scully were working together again that any resolution was found. After some brief joking in a dark, dank entryway over Scully’s ability to run in three-inch heels back in the day, followed by some waving of flashlight beams in one another’s faces that I can only describe as the classically inappropriately-timed Mulder and Scully flirting, they came upon the man who believed himself responsible for bringing Trashman to life.

Perhaps it was because I’d suffered through nearly an entire episode of Scully being upset (just like back in the day!) or perhaps this was the true intention, but most of what came out of the basement dweller’s mouth made zero sense until he made the very poignant comment about how we treat one another like trash. From there, he described how he’d envisioned the Trashman and wished for him so badly that Trashman had become a living entity — with a mind of his own. Mulder did his Mulder-speak thing where he drew on his vast knowledge of what Scully would have called “pure science fiction” had she not been too busy thinking about William, and came to the idea of a manifestation body. Mulder was convinced such things would never become the brutal murderers that Trashman was, but in the end, that was the best explanation we were going to get.

Trashman went after Landry as his final victim, but Mulder and Scully were too late. Scully had no idea how Trashman had vanished into thin air because her mind was clearly elsewhere, causing her to temporarily forget how these cases go, I’m guessing. Meanwhile, I was left wondering what what kind of sick mind has Trashman’s face turn into a gray version of one of those Wal-Mart smiley faces after completing his last mutilation.

Another not-quite-closed case for the X-files.

Dana Scully cries. We all cry. Case? What case? From the moment Scully received that phone call from Bill Junior about Maggie Scully’s heart attack, it was obvious the real focus of “Home Again” was going to be on watching the inhumanly talented Gillian Anderson prove she’s still got it. Actually, let’s all agree that Anderson’s better than ever. Forget the cancer arc, forget Mulder’s abduction and subsequent near-death, forget giving up William: This is everything.

Fourteen minutes into an episode, and I’ve never been so wrecked in all my life. While the Trashman was ripping his victims apart from the outside, Dana Scully and her latest personal tragedy were destroying viewers from the inside.

Following Scully’s initial reaction of shock to her brother’s phone call, it was Mulder’s hesitance to reach out and comfort his partner, friend, and former lover before squeezing her elbow and telling her to go to her mother that drove the existence of their strange estrangement home again. After that brief bought of awkwardness, though, Fox Mulder was Dana Scully’s rock and only comfort as she watched Maggie die, then suffered through the lasting old wounds that losing her mother caused. It, at least for this viewer, once again raised the question of why and how these two needed a wedge driven between them in the first place. Aside from that initial hesitance, which could easily have been written off as shock or not wanting to mix personal emotions with on-the-job behavior, the dynamic between Mulder and Scully was nothing more or less than that of two people who cared deeply for one another and had a long, long history of comforting one another at the worst of times.

As Scully spent quite a lot of her time suffering at her mother’s side, with neither of her brothers present to share the burden as Bill was in Germany and Charlie and Maggie were estranged, her medical training barely made an appearance. At one point, she asked a nurse why a particular medication was being used, only to learn that her mother had changed her advance directive without telling her. Otherwise, Scully was the grief-stricken daughter, begging her mother to wake up, bargaining with her for more time, and wanting more time to ask her mother the simple questions. She refused to let Bill know whether she expected Maggie to live long enough for him to get there because she was a daughter first, and as she held her dying mother’s hand or kissed her on the forehead with an ever-deepening mask of grief on her face, it was clear that Dana Scully simply didn’t have the capacity to consider the medical odds because the answers would break her. Gone was the Dana Scully of old who stoically stood by and said she was “fine” when her world was obviously crumbling, and in its place was a woman who had suffered far too much and was forced to do so yet again.

Mulder arrived just in time for Maggie’s extubation, and he sat not by Scully’s side but across the room, where they had some sort of silent conversation that ended only when Scully asked whether they’d ever managed to find a way to wish someone back to life. Mulder answered that he’d invented it when Scully herself was in a hospital — just like this. Viewers had received the treat of watching a flashback to that particular past trauma earlier in the episode as Scully remembered the first of her own many near-deaths. For continuity’s sake, I’m going to guess she and Mulder had that conversation at some point…

Just before Maggie’s death, Scully was finally able to reach Charlie so he could say goodbye to his mother and tell her he was there, despite whatever had caused their estrangement. Following this, Maggie woke up long enough to clutch Mulder’s hand and say that she, too, had a son named William before flatlining. Of note, Scully’s own mother didn’t acknowledge her before dying. So, once again, Dana Scully can’t have any happiness whatsoever.

After Maggie’s death, when the gurney was brought in to take her for organ harvesting, Scully had a meltdown, demanding that the gurney be taken away. But it was Mulder who stepped in, took her into his arms, and held her as she cried and asked why her mother made that comment about their son. (Thanks for the nearly identical pose to the hug in “Memento Mori,” you soul-slicing show, you). Finally breaking the hug, Scully demanded to get back to work while Mulder tried to talk her out of it, only to be left in the hallway, staring after her like a lost puppy as she stormed off to get back to business. Perhaps this was the reappearance of “I’m fine” Scully in its own way.

During the Trashman’s creator’s discussion of wanting something so badly that it becomes a real entity and has a life of its own, Scully thought about how she could have maybe wished William into existence, only for him to become something far different than she would have ever expected. As Mulder argued with the man about the possibilities, Scully remembered watching William make his mobile move, introducing William to his father for the first time (kill me), and telling Mulder she’d given their son away, all while toying with the mysterious quarter necklace she’d found amongst her mother’s possessions.

Coming out of her memory-driven trance, Scully drew a parallel between how the Trashman had become this monster without his creator’s intention and how she had given up her son when he didn’t turn out to be what she’d imagined: “You’re responsible. If you made the problem, if it was your idea, then you’re responsible. You put it out of sight so it wouldn’t be your problem, but you’re just as bad as the people that you hate.”

Because the heartbreak of losing one’s mother isn’t enough, Dana Scully must also have this mixed up with the heartbreak of having given up her own son. Can Scully not beat herself up over this, please? No? Ok, carrying on.

After the case was as closed as the ones on THE X-FILES ever get, Dana and Fox — because she used his first name here and it’s very telling that this was a personal moment, completely removed from their working relationship — had a conversation on a log with Maggie’s ashes at their feet. Scully said she finally understood why Maggie had asked for Charlie and no one else: She wanted to make sure that he was okay before she went away. She also understood why Maggie had brought up William: She wanted them to know to take responsibility and know that William was okay, even if they were unable to see him. Scully admitted that, while she knew the decision she and Mulder had made to give William up for adoption was best for him, she couldn’t help but think of him, citing all sorts of questions that a mother who’s given up her child may have.

The conversation, as well as the episode, ended with Scully telling Mulder she needed William to know that they didn’t treat him like trash by giving him away, as Mulder wrapped an arm around her shoulders, pulling her in to rest her head against his shoulder.

Final thoughts.

  • That’s two out of four episodes so far where the memory of William has played a major role, and the wounds run about as deeply as ever. Kudos to the team at THE X-FILES for not sweeping this under the rug, as they so easily could have with only an intended six-episode revival and a representative smattering of episode types.
  • How Glen Morgan managed to cram such a personal, relatable story for Maggie Scully’s death and your trademark bizarre case into an hour of broadcast television (so probably more like forty-three minutes), I have no idea. But, much like “Home,” I have a feeling “Home Again” is one that will be talked about for many years to come.
  • Maybe it was the realness of Scully’s latest loss that made it so much harder to watch. Gone were the alien conspiracies and miracle babies, and left in their place was only the human suffering that we all face.
  • I’ve praised her plenty above, but this is seriously Gillian Anderson’s episode. I can’t say that enough. When you’re this good, you’re simply this good.

There are only two episodes left of THE X-FILES season 10. Tune in for the next one on February 15 at 8/7c on Fox.

 

 

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