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The X-Files: “Humbug” Celebrates the Weird

Mulder and Scully look at each other incredulously

Editor’s Note: This piece on The X-Files episode “Humbug” was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.

While he’s credited with the story for the earlier Season 2 episode “Blood,” Darin Morgan’s first official writer credit on The X-Files comes with S2E20, “Humbug.” At this point, it’s hard to imagine the show without his influence, though it was a bit of a turn at the time. There is a humor to “Humbug” without precedent in the show, and I think it would be fair to say that—beyond the further episodes he would go on to write for the series—this opened the door for The X-Files to become something a bit different from what it might have been otherwise. It opened the door to approaching the weird with levity.

The case of the week kicks off with the death of Jerald Glazebrook (John Payne), an expert escape artist whose ichthyosis kept him on the freakshow circuit. Immediately, “Humbug” plays with our visceral sentiments pertaining to physiognomy, as Jerald moves to surprise his boys as they play in the family pool, but the framing of his skin condition makes us think he’s some kind of monster.

Jerald dead in a photo

That tension breaks as his sons greet him lovingly, and it’s the first of many instances where “Humbug” asks us to question the judgments we’re prone to jump to simply on the basis of how someone looks.

That could be a trite thesis for an episode of TV in the 1990s, but Morgan’s script, along with the direction of the inimitable Kim Manners, keeps things from ever feeling so simple. “Humbug” proceeds with an awareness of itself that we might call meta, even if I’m fairly certain no one used that term that way yet in 1995.

Mr. Nutt talking

The hotel manager, Mr. Nutt (Michael J. Anderson), takes Mulder (David Duchovny) to task for jumping to conclusions about his career path based on how he looks, and throws back how his kneejerk judgment of Mulder would be that he’s FBI. But, of course, Mulder is FBI.

Lanny (Vincent Schiavelli) tells Mulder and Scully (Gillian Anderson) that Mr. Nutt convinced him that making a living by displaying his deformity lacked dignity. So now he carries other people’s luggage.

In an early scene, when Lanny comes to alert Scully that there’s been another murder, she stares at his deformity, but he’s staring at her breasts. Later, after Mulder and Scully learn that Sheriff Hamilton (Wayne Grace) used to be Jim-Jim the Dog Boy and spy him burying something in his yard, they agree that rushing to judgment about his character based on his (previously) hairy appearance is analogous to racism, but that doesn’t stop them from continuing to dig up what he’d buried.

When Mr. Nutt scolds Mulder for thinking that he’s been spying on Scully when he was just fixing some plumbing, he says you might be surprised how many women find his stature alluring. Mulder replies that he might be surprised how many men do too (because Mulder is bi).

Hepcat working on a piece with Mulder, Scully and the Sheriff standing behind him

All of these moments compel us to play in a space of ambiguity that parallels what Hepcat Helm (Gordon Tipple) says early on about P.T. Barnum and how hard it is to determine what’s humbug and what isn’t. But that pertains to our social mores more than anything. Throughout, the episode suggests that we ought not rush to judgment based on how these people look, or even on the basis of their bizarre life choices.

If you want to stick yourself with fishhooks like Dr. Blockhead (Jim Rose), or eat bugs like The Conundrum (The Enigma), more power to you. And what’s refreshing is the extent to which our heroes Mulder and Scully take precisely this approach to the people of Gibsonton. The only problem is that someone is killing people.

Mulder and Scully look on in The X-Files, "Humbug"

With “Humbug,” The X-Files gives us the space to celebrate the weird instead of merely fearing it. Towards the beginning, when Mulder shows Scully pictures of Jerald, she says, “imagine going through your whole life looking like that,” and it probably lands for us as viewers. But as the episode ends, Dr. Blockhead says the same thing about Mulder as he laments potential genetic engineering in the 21st century. He wants to celebrate difference and the way nature can’t help but present mutations.

And I agree. Good on you, Dr. Blockhead.


Gibsonton, Florida is a real place, by the way, though “Humbug” was filmed in Vancouver and doesn’t feature any of its actual residents. The Fiji mermaid is also a real thing; or, at least, as real of a thing as is presented in the episode. And some people really do think you can get rid of warts by rubbing a potato on them and then burying the potato in your yard. No idea why you have to bury it.

Ichthyosis is a real condition, as is, of course, that of being conjoined twins. The idea that Lanny’s brother Lenny could detach from his body in order to go kill people, however, lacks a basis in science.

Lanny lies on his bed in a jail cell in The X-Files "Humbug"

Yet, there is a poetry to it, as Lanny’s suggestion that Lenny is just seeking another brother seems to pan out. The injuries each victim has died from resemble Lanny’s wound when his brother has left him, in both style and location. The key difference, of course, is that Lanny’s wound doesn’t really hurt him. He dies of cirrhosis of the liver.

We last see Lenny, he is attacking The Conundrum, and it is strongly implied that the latter eats him. We see his belly engorged, but all Mulder and Scully have to go on is his single line of the episode, which comes as it closes: “Probably something I ate.”

The Conundrum and Dr. Blockhead in a car as the latter turns the key

“Humbug” leaves our FBI agents in a space of ambiguity. They’ve figured out what probably happened, but don’t know for sure. And while Scully is convinced that it was indeed Lanny’s little brother who detached from him and killed a bunch of people, there’s no basis for this in known science, and she’s left without the evidence to prove it.

But more than anything, “Humbug” asks us to celebrate, well… humbug, or at least to acknowledge something about it that isn’t reducible. As Harry Frankfurt might say, it’s neither true nor false; the humbugger isn’t concerned with truth or falsity. And while in a lot of domains that’s a problem, it’s also a fascinating dimension of experience to explore.

As Dr. Blockhead says, nature loves mutation. Things don’t reduce to simple binaries, and we make a mistake if we think they do. We repress difference, and the manifold beauty of life itself, if we try to so reduce them.

At least, I think that’s the lesson to take from “Humbug.”

I’ll be back next week looking at “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” as we spend the month celebrating The X-Files in light of its 30th anniversary. I hope you’ll join me.

See you next week.

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

Caesar non est supra grammaticos


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  1. I Absolutely Love the X-Files!!! Are they on Roku TV? I recently moved, owned almost all of the seasons, but throughout move have lost misplaced many. and gave my 0layet to my son. also are there ever going to be new seasons,?

    • The show is currently on Hulu in the US. It looks like it is also available through Freevee (presumably with ads). I think you could add that through your Roku but I don’t currently have a Roku so not positive. I don’t think they are going to bring it back again, but there have been some murmurs and rumors over the years so I suppose we can’t rule it out

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