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A Crucible of Hate: The X-Files Season 11 “Familiar”

a ventriloquist dummy pops out from behind a tree

Yesterday’s episode of The X-Files was chock full of ammunition: gun violence, police violence, child death and molestation, zealotry, mob justice and good old fashioned witchery among the major themes, “Familiar” is a modern day Salem Witch trials, complete with the infamous spontaneous human combustion that Scully has always liked to so decry.

“Familiar” continues Season 11’s theme of sociopolitical relevance and while Mulder’s continuing assessment that the small town in question is but part of a larger problem that the United States faces is timely, it’s not perhaps the most important element of the show last night. On one end, this episode serves to further relate back to the overarching “William” plot that has been so promising so far. While there is only one direct mention of him (Mulder tells Mrs. Strong that he has a ‘grown son’), it is the two dead children which serve to support this plot the best. The first child, Andrew, is a parallel for Mulder and Scully at their own loss of a young son, not dead, but still gone at an even younger age. And only a few episodes ago it was indeed their child’s body which lay on a similar table in a similar state. The second child, Emily, has two such elements of import: a. She shares her name with that of Scully’s first (deceased) child, Emily Sim and b. Mulder had only just spent some time with her. This child’s death mirrors the losses both Mulder and Scully have endured in the past as well.

On the occasion of both deaths, Mulder and Scully each question the other as to the ‘personal’ nature of their reaction to the crimes. All of this is discounting the actual parents reactions, which range from violent to hysteric. If anything, this plot point’s inclusion is to play Mulder and Scully’s emotions up; we will be seeing William again soon and their desire to protect him might have unforeseen consequences.  

Another way in which this episode serves to underscore the Mulder/Scully dynamic is seeing them so blatantly on opposing sides of theory and rationality, without outright arguing, without dismissing each other’s beliefs, and ultimately continuing to work together until the case was closed, and then, willing to concede to each other the possibility that their respective theories might be true. After Season 9, I’ve always found it difficult to believe that Scully could remain such a skeptic, so it’s always nice to see episodes where it is less difficult on her part to side with Mulder’s often more fantastical sense of things. No matter who was ‘right’ (the implication is, of course, Mulder) that isn’t what matters, rather, it’s their willingness to support each other, despite not believing, that is a testament to the strength of their relationship. This could end up being very important in the long run. We’ll see where it goes.

Mulder and Scully find the body of a child in the woods

To move on, the direction of last night’s episode was absolutely chilling. Subject matter aside, the foggy, mysterious shots of the woods, the suspicious angles and the creepy costuming really served to heighten the thrills. Mr. Chuckle Teeth is sure to haunt my nightmares and the Teletubby rip offs looked positively…Grotesque… (I couldn’t help but make the reference) I can’t imagine being a parent and allowing my children to watch shows which feature such characters; sometimes the most sinister things are seemingly the happiest. Whoever worked on the show in terms of art direction and makeup was phenomenal this week. A true tour de force of mood and setting, effectively transitioning the Puritanesque story into the modern day without leaving it feeling kitschy or forced.

The most powerful moment of the episode comes when the African American police officer shields the sex offender from being further assaulted by the mob. Mulder is right on every count in the episode: we are primarily concerned with assigning guilt, not discovering innocence (see also the adultery subplot. Mrs. Strong first lays blame on her husband for having had the affair, though it was she who actually did the cursing), and even people who are not altogether ‘innocent’ deserve their fair trial and fair treatment, because habeas corpus is the right of all, no matter how depraved. Mulder latter asserts that Officer Edgar’s will get off easy for having killed the sex offender. He does. And, just as he claimed prior, Occam’s Razor is disproven and evidence shows that the man was not responsible for murdering the children. It doesn’t make him innocent, just innocent of murder. And he still didn’t deserve to die. It’s no light matter that The X-Files is treading on here, were so many, be they police or otherwise, shoot to kill for less than acceptable reasons. While the situation in this episode is a little different than most in the real world, the statement is still made unequivocally.

Justice is supposed to work a certain way and it can only do that when all parties involved allow it to proceed in the way it is supposed to. That, at least, is no new news. Such was the case during the Salem Witch Trials, and look how that turned out. Hallucinations from bad grain, mass hysteria and personal panic led to dead innocents and tattered reputations. Nothing’s really changed from then til now, only the victims and the phrasing surrounding it. Where it will go from here, I can’t say. It’s up to each person to ensure that they act rationally in a crowd, and support the system in place to serve everyone, no matter who they be.

Tune in every Thursday morning for an immediate analysis of each new X-Files episode as they air. 

Written by Eileen G. Mykkels

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