With only two episodes to go, "Familiar" is the eighth episode of the eleventh season of The X-Files.
Written by Benjamin Van Allen and directed by Holly Dale, this episode is a classic X-File all wrapped up in a delightfully creepy bow.
But we have much more to say about it. Click after the jump for our usual recap, our review, and a cool interview with the writer.
The misty surroundings of a park in Eastwood, Connecticut at 2:09 pm. A little boy - Andrew (Sebastian Billingsley - Rodriguez - The Magicians) sings a catchy kids song (and by “catchy” we mean - you’ll be singing this song for the rest of your life whether you like it or not- kind of song) - “Mr. Chuckleteeth, happy as can be… Mr. Chuckleteeth, won’t you play with me? When I’m afraid and lonely, lonely as can be… Oh, Mr. Chuckleteeth, won’t you play with me?” Normal creepy song, right? Also made worse by the fact that this kid is just sitting on the merry-go-round, holding the world’s creepiest clown doll. I mean, personally, I think all clowns are creepy. But this one takes the prize.
The kid is wearing a yellow raincoat, an homage to IT. His mother - Diane Eggers (Sharon Taylor - Stargate Atlantis, Riverdale) observes with a candid smile, as she pushes on the handles. She’s not alone in the park; another woman observes them, and a little girl plays on the swings. We’ll learn that they’re Anna Strong (Erin Chambers - Bones, Stargate Atlantis) mother and her daughter, Emily Strong (Emma Oliver).
Then, the first woman’s cell phone rings. She’s annoyed as she picks up, and tells the person on the other end that he can’t call her anymore. The boy continues on the merry-go-round, singing, as he spots a life-sized version of Mr. Chuckleteeth meandering in the forest around the park. He shouts for his mom to check out the clown hiding behind the trees, but the woman is just too engrossed in the argument with the caller, telling him to stop calling her. When she turns around, Andrew is gone. She screams his name. Emily watches concerned from the swings. Hysteria ensues.
Meanwhile, deep in the forest, Andrew is playfully calling out for Mr. Chuckleteeth. It is cute but also… so creepy. As the boy walks around trees, humming the song, we see that the clown is hiding behind the vegetation, observing him. Andrew calls for him again, and this time the clown lets the boy see him, luring him past falling logs and deeper into the grounds. The boy follows him, and the music rises, as an unseen danger approaches the now terrified boy at a crushing speed.
Cut to hours later. Night has fallen in the forest and we hear men calling for the boy.
Flashlights shine through the trees. The cops search and one of them happens to be Andrew’s father - Officer Rick Eggers (Jason Gray-Stanford - Supergirl, Bones). That’s when Officer Wentworth (Roger Cross - The Magicians, The X-Files) spots something on the ground, dreading what it could be as he approaches. He reaches for his whistle, letting the rest of the search party know that he’s found him. The chief meets him at the spot and Andrew’s father rushes to it, praying in between shouts for the boy. He struggles with the other two men that stop him from moving forward to the spot where his son lays dead on the ground, right next to the blood-stained doll of Mr. Chuckleteeth.
Cut to credits and the tagline: The Truth is Out There.
We dive straight into the case and Scully examining the casefile paperwork in the woods as Chief Strong (Alex Carter - Ransom, NCIS) gives her a briefing on their findings. The pictures show that the boy was viciously attacked. Mulder stands nearby, waiting for her reaction to the data, as Strong shows them the spot they found the body. Officer Wentworth and a second officer are standing nearby as well. Scully notes that the coroner found that Andrew had a crushed windpipe and vertebrae. The men’s expressions show that that’s a troublesome finding that’s dissonant with the theory of an animal attack but they stand their ground, even when she challenges the theory. The town has been shaken by what has happened. They excuse it on the fact that they get coyotes in the forest and in town, but Scully still doubts it. It is rare that one would attack a person. Strong argues that there’s a new predator; a hybrid between a coyote and a wolf called the coywolf. Mulder interjects to explain the nature of this hybrid. When Scully asks if this is the first attack by the supposed perpetrator, Strong confirms it, hoping it will be the last… but he also is worried and wondering why the FBI is interested in this case.
Mulder explains that the bureau has jurisdiction over the investigation of the murder of the immediate family of a law enforcement officer. Strong is taken aback and trades glances with Wentworth, shocked by the fact that the FBI thinks that this is a murder. Scully can’t rule it out, and explains to them that she’s sure that they don’t want to hear it - especially since this is a small town - but if a man killed Andrew, he would be emboldened by escaping detection and would likely kill again.
Wentworth claims that the evidence doesn’t support that theory, but the crushed neck does according to Scully; she thinks that the animal bites could be post-mortem predation.
Strong is ticked off by her proposal, questioning her agency. But Mulder steps in, explaining that these aren’t careless assumptions, as they’re backed up by their experience and Scully’s medical background. “She’s a medical doctor, and damn good at her job.”
You go, Mulder. Also - everyone takes a drink at that mention, right?
Anyway, Strong is leery at this intrusion.
Scully describes her profile of the subject: male, 19 to 42 years old, with a criminal record. He would live near the park and frequent it enough to know the boy’s play schedule. The goriest part is that these types of killers get aroused by the suffering of their victims. Scully delivers that statement with some hesitation of her own… because, ugh.
The officers trade glances, clearly also disgusted at this scenario. Mulder requests to see the body. Strong is... hesitant.
Scully and Mulder walk toward their car; she thanks him for backing her up when the cops objected to her theory. “Yeah, well you’re my homie…” Mulder responds. Clearly, this is X-Files in 2018.
Scully chastises him over his own theory - the coywolf - such a species hasn’t been seen in Connecticut in over 100 years. But Mulder claims there was a sighting last year. Logic doesn’t accompany his theory (or much of this show for that matter) as the boy was snatched from the playground. It is not something a wolf would do. Mulder doesn’t think it was a wolf either, but instead, a hellhound. Okay then. Scully is all of us; a bit perplexed, a bit rolling eyes at his crackpot suggestion. Even as he explains what a hellhound is - a dog that guards the gates of hell - he thinks that there are other strange things that have happened in this town. In 1658, witches were accused and one of them spontaneously combusted near this park. But Scully fights back on this - as they suggested before, people don’t spontaneously combust. She also debunks his theory by reminding him that the woman was the victim of religious persecution and mass hysteria and that anyone properly educated in the lore would know that.
Mulder thinks that even if they were to think that the charges against these witches in the past could have been bogus, their existence might not have been. And the fact remains that there may not be a coywolf, but there may be witchcraft practitioners still in the area.
Scully argues that they can practice all they want, that doesn’t mean it is real, but as Mulder reminds her… a boy is dead.
“Mulder… the only devil around here probably parked here, by the playground… stirring something other than his cauldron.” Okay then, Scully. Even Mulder is grossed out by the thought. She just wants to find the killer.
Cut to the autopsy bay where Andrew’s body rests on a gurney. Scully waxes on just how hard these cases are, no matter how many times they go through them. Mulder notes that it is hard to not take it personally when it comes to crimes with kids, a life cut short. There’s stuff unsaid… Scully snaps on the gloves and starts examining the body. The injuries match the finding of animal predation, but the state of the body prevents them from knowing when they happened. Scully observes that the neck injuries were most likely a product of being shaken to death. Mulder completes her approach by suggesting this has been done by a man. She didn’t want to approach this subject out on the field, but Mulder was on the Violent Crimes Unit once - he would know that the parents could be involved. The mother is out of the question, but the father isn’t. And he is a cop, that might be protected by fellow officers. That’s when Mulder notes something on Andrew’s ankle… it looks like sand or salt. But this isn’t noted in the report.
Another thing missing from the report: an eyewitness that wasn’t interviewed - Emily Strong, Chief Strong’s 5-year-old daughter. Her mother was right there with her. This seems odd to Mulder and he takes off to talk to them, even though Scully thinks he’s wasting his time.
Meanwhile, the whole town seems to have gathered at Andrew’s funeral. This is happening even when they cannot hold it around his casket. The pastor notes the grief of the town around the family. Diane is affected by the fact that they can’t even do this with Andrew’s body there. The pastor calls for communal solidarity while noting that Andrew is at peace now. But there’s something else underlying among the crowd, as Diane and Chief Strong trade glances, guilty glances.
Later, the Eggers talk to the pastor, and Rick walks away as the conversation finishes. Chief Strong takes advantage of this to approach Diane. She refuses to talk to him, visibly sad and near tears, but he just wants to give his condolences. She can’t take it and leaves in tears. Strong looks as if he’s chastising himself.
Rick walks up to Wentworth, who gives him his condolences as well. He wants to know why the FBI won’t release Andrew’s body. The man is on the verge. He pleads for the other officer to give him the scoop on what’s going on and Wentworth makes the mistake of informing him of Scully’s theory that there’s a man involved and what the profile describes, including that the man might live in Eastwood. This information shakes Rick.
Strong goes back to his wife, who is troubled that the FBI wants to talk to their daughter. He explains that he’s getting pressure from all sides and she fights back: Emily is just 5 years old. Strong won’t explain much, nor tell her that he will stop the interrogation, cutting her off and ordering her to just let the FBI talk to Emily.
Cut to the Strong household. Anna sits with Mulder and Emily as they try to get information from the kid. She is hypnotized by the kid’s show playing on TV. They ask if she saw who took Andrew or if she saw anyone at all, but she shakes her head - she doesn’t know. She only remembers seeing Andrew going into the forest. Anna lets her off easy and tells her to watch her show. Mulder jokes that he’s not as entertaining as “Bibbletiggles” the Teletubbies -like-show playing on the screen. Only that I’m positive that these globs of felt jumping on the screen are far more disturbing than their original inspiration. Mulder seems to not like them much as well, even when he’s just making small conversation with the mother about how obsessed Emily is with the jumping alien-like things.
Anna can’t stop thinking how it could have been them, instead of the Eggers, if she had looked away for one moment. She asks if he has kids, and he replies: “I have a son… he’s grown, though.”
Be still my heart.
She remembers when she was little it was hard to find them in the house, but now kids are glued to the screens. She has lived all her life in Eastwood, just like her husband - “Nutmeggers through and through…” They met when they were 5 years old, he’s very protective of the town to the point of obsession, very much like the nature of his daughter. And he’s under a lot of pressure since the kill happened on his watch.
The kid interjects to ask for juice, politely. Mulder takes this time to take a gander at the nicknacks around the house; family pictures and books… a lot about the local history, including the “Grimoire of the Eastwood Witch”. Anna notes his interest in it and explains that Chief Strong is a history nut too. She asks if she can help him with anything else, but he doesn’t think so. That’s when the TV starts blaring that song: the Mr. Chuckleteeth song. It turns out this is also a TV show. Emily turns around and tells them that he was in the forest. Cue a very interested Mulder.
Back at the police department, Rick Eggers is doing a search on the sex offender database, and finds Melvin Peter (Ken Godmere - Bates Motel) he fits the description that Scully gave of the offender profile, and you can see that Rick has already put all blame on this man.
Scully enters the Chief’s office. She’s done examining the body and he’s wondering if seeing it has made her change her mind. But no, Scully maintains her theory - the child was murdered. The thing is that she has a different take on it now, she thinks it is the father. Friends and family wouldn’t contemplate the possibility of this because these individuals carry out their fantasies in private. But Strong fights her on this - Eggers loves his son. Scully tells him that she would like to rule him out as a suspect but that she needs his help as these types have a tendency to become violent towards themselves. Strong says he would confront him himself but that he doesn’t have to; Eggers was on his shift at the time this all happened. But who’s witness to this? Strong suggests they talk to Eggers.
When they go look for him, they run into Wentworth, who says that he just saw Rick leave the station in a rush. When they go outside to try to get him, he zooms past them in a patrol car, refusing to obey the stop orders from the chief and almost clipping them with the vehicle.
Strong and Scully get in another patrol car and chase after Eggers while ordering him to pull over via the radio. They don’t know where he’s going as he drives recklessly through the town’s streets and opposite the direction of his home.
Eggers gains distance on them and gets to a house. He kicks in the door, blazing his gun, and calls for Melvin Peter. The lights are off in the semi-dark rooms as he walks inside. Strong and Scully arrive and she gets ready by pulling her own gun. He on the other hand thinks is not needed and wants her to put it away.
Strong calls for Eggers as they come in. The power has been turned off and the house is unkept. When they finally catch up with Eggers, he’s frustrated and angry and starts kicking and turning over the furniture. Peter is not there, but he still has his gun out. Scully points at the man, protectively, as Strong tries and manages to dissuade him to put the gun down. He explains that he’s there because he claims he found the perp that Scully described. She’s at a loss at how he would know this, but this is when Mulder calls her on her phone. He’s in the forest, back at the murder scene. Scully tells him that there’s been a development, that Eggers has had a breakdown. Mulder - on the other hand - spots a black wolf looking at him. He doesn’t let her in on this and asks where she’s at. He hangs up… did he just see what he thinks he saw?
Mulder arrives at the scene; the townsfolk have shown up and the police have been keeping them away from the Peters house. They’re waiting for a search warrant. Peter - a registered sex offender - failed to check in with local police when he moved into town. He lives two blocks away from the park where Andrew disappeared. Scully tells him that it was Officer Eggers who figured it out, but Mulder isn’t convinced. Strong shows up with the warrant and they move into the home.
Inside, Scully spots numerous pictures of the man dressed in clown getup at children’s parties. Mulder steps into a room, and it has balloons and stuffed animals, it could be a stage for an abductor… or just leftover toys from a party? Not quite definable in the dark. But he hears a noise, coming from a closet. Mulder opens the door carefully to find a monkey rattling inside a small cage. He jumps away from it startled, but the closet reveals much more: outfits and clown shoes… and a mask of Mr. Chuckleteeth.
Mulder waits outside as they wrap up, seeing the residents more hyped up than before. Scully comes to tell him that they’ve put out an APB for Peter, but Mulder thinks that this whole situation is too perfect. “Sometimes the simplest of competing theories is actually the right one,” Scully says. And Mulder agrees that most people would agree with her. They’ve been living next to a convicted pedophile and they didn’t know it. Mulder is lamenting that this guy has no chance of having a fair hearing or even trying to clear him if he’s not responsible, as the people have already made up their minds. He wonders what has happened to a fair trial, which is the root of American democratic law. And Scully agrees, but Peter is a convicted felon and they have to start somewhere. The problem as Mulder points out is that they’re not “starting from somewhere,” they’ve already sentenced him for the sins of his past.
Meanwhile, at the Strong residence, Emily sits on the couch watching the Teletubbies from Mars… I mean, the Bibbletiggles, as Anna gets her lunch ready. Emily then hears a different laugh than the one repetitively playing on her TV set. This one is coming from right outside the french doors in her living room… where a purple - and terrifying - Bibbletiggle is just standing there, looking at her. The kid smiles. Anna calls for her again to turn off the TV and that’s when she figures out that Emily has gone out the doors and into the woods.
Cut to hours later, Mulder and Scully pull the jacket away from a body. It’s Emily’s - she’s been attacked in a similar manner to Andrew. Mulder is affected; he had just spoken to her this morning. Scully claims that this place is a killing field, just as they hear the mother calling out for Emily as she runs towards the crime scene. Chief Strong - her husband and father of the kid - stops her. She’s obviously bawling and desperate, not believing that it has happened to them. Strong tells her that she can’t approach the scene and she just bursts, accusing him, telling him that this is his fault. How now? The chief asks Wentworth to take her away. That’s when Mulder discovers something on the ground, a white sand, just under the bed of wet leaves.
Scully asks what it is, and of course in true Mulder fashion, he tastes it. It’s salt. But Mulder, what if it had been guano? Or coke? Or you name it? Come on, man… you’re not a 30-something anymore. Then again this might be the secret to why Mulder is almost 60 and looking definitely not that age. Scully notices it too, there’s more hidden around the place, a circle on the ground and Emily’s body is just outside of it. Scully fears that Mulder is disturbing evidence but he’s too preoccupied ranting about the lore of witchcraft that tells of such rituals that would employ this method. Witches would conjure the spirits of “Familiars” that would take the shape of animals but also humans on occasion. It would always be an entity that would manipulate a person, whether it be a beautiful woman… or in this case, a TV character.
The deputies spot them moving around the crime scene and rush over to object.
“What do you mean a TV character?” Scully asks, but Mulder uncovers the last of his realizations. They’re standing on Puritan grounds, where spirits have been unleashed. Scully is already cringing, as the deputies are listening to Mulder’s unplugged theories. “Someone is not telling us everything they know,” Mulder claims as he walks away.
Meanwhile, by the park, Peter has returned to the neighborhood and is somewhat surprised by the police activity and the people all around the area as he drives by. That’s when his car gets hit from behind… by a patrol car. It’s Officer Eggers.
The cop climbs out of the car and rushes toward Peter and pulls the confused man out of the car, accusing him of killing Andrew.
In the woods, Mulder walks up to Strong, throwing his own accusations. He thinks that he closed the case to hide that he knew someone was practicing witchcraft and that it was associated with Andrew’s murder. Strong concedes, to the protest of the officers around him, that want him to at least not give up so easily into the accusations. Scully asks him if he was the one to kill the children - he would also fit the pattern of course - but no. Strong claims that indeed he has let the devil into his soul, but in the shape of adultery, as he was sleeping with Diane… and was the person that called her when Andrew disappeared. Diane wanted to end the relationship but he didn’t want to let her. He’s being punished for opening the gates of hell. The officers ask to give him some room, and Scully asks Mulder how he knew that there was something off about Strong. But Mulder didn’t think this was the secret that the chief was keeping. He thought that he had something to do with it because of the books that he saw at his home.
Scully claims that a lot of people in the town will have those books, but Mulder thinks that the nature and content are too coincidental. She wonders if he thinks that Strong has unleashed something that’s perpetrating these crimes, but Mulder thinks that what’s happened is that someone has put a curse in this town and has unwittingly opened the gates of hell.
The deputies nearby get a call about a situation at the park and they rush out of the woods - it’s Officer Eggers - Mulder and Scully follow them.
At the park, a crowd has gathered around Eggers who’s savagely beating Peter to the ground. The man is not even putting up a fight. No one is stopping the cop from doing this until Wentworth shows up and gets Eggers to stop. He keeps shouting that Peter is the one that killed his son, but the man defends himself, claiming that he has never killed anyone. There’s no argument that’s valid for the cop though, he thinks that as a convicted predator he’s responsible for it. But the truth is that the offense that Peter has is of statutory rape, not of actual harm like this.
Wentworth tells Eggers to stop, but he’s pissed off and the people around him are goading him to keep beating the man. Rick keeps pushing but so does Wentworth, telling him that he’s protecting him from himself and orders everyone to back off. But people are too fired up; someone throws a stone at Peter’s head and the others follow to kick and punch the man on the ground until Wentworth throws himself on top of him to protect him. The other officers finally arrive and try to disperse the crowd but it is still too much of a mess until Mulder fires his gun into the air. Scully warns them that any further violence will be taken as attempted murder. She comes closer to the men on the ground, as Peter pleads again that he never hurt anyone, and Scully urges the others to call an ambulance. Mulder puts his gun away. Eggers reaches for his radio to call for a bus, but in the blink of an eye - and to everyone’s shock - he pulls his service weapon instead and shoots Peter in the head.
Cut to the bail hearing for Eggers, probably a day later. The judge comes into the room and calls for sobriety as he’s aware that emotions are running high in the room. Mulder is already foreseeing that they will be unjust, releasing Eggers and not finding justice for Peter. Small town justice. Scully thinks that indeed it was mass hysteria but that she’s not sure Peter was altogether innocent. Mulder thinks the person responsible for the deaths is sitting in the courtroom, as he looks toward Chief Strong. Scully asks what happened to his Hellhound theory… and he quips that he actually saw one. She’s mildly amused, but it still doesn’t explain how a wolf would take the children away. His new theory is that the wolf is only guarding the entrance to hell. It doesn’t answer her question. At any rate, the decision from the bail judge is in. They decide that because of Eggers reputation and the testimonies, they give him a low bail of $5000 with a court date pending in 30 days. Some people look relieved, others quizzical. Diane looks emotional.
As Mulder and Scully exit the court, they spot Officer Wentworth, signaling them from the building across the street.
He’s feeling guilty about how things have turned out, as this is not why he became a cop, and he did a little investigation of his own. He found out that Peter had been at a children’s birthday party 40 miles away from the scene, right at the time Andrew disappeared. He told the chief but he asked him “to let the sleeping dogs lie.” Wentworth thinks that Strong is not quite there since his own daughter died. Mulder commends him for doing the right thing and coming to them, but Wentworth is afraid that the town won’t see it that way. Scully gives solace saying that time will prove him right and provide justice. Wentworth wants to find the killer, and Mulder promises they’ll talk to Strong.
At the Eggers’ home, Diane pours herself a glass of alcohol as Rick comes back to the house. He confronts her right away, he knew about the affair. She claims that the affair is over and that she called it off, asking for his forgiveness and that she just made a mistake, and she’s sorry. But what is she sorry for? Andrew’s death or for sleeping with Strong? He won’t forgive her. Diane asks if he plans to kill her too, as he manhandles her. He claims he’s leaving her, that she’s a witch, but she one-ups him, saying that she’s the one that will leave. She warns Rick to stay away from her and takes off. Rick stays behind, goes to the closet, takes a gun out of his belt and heads out too.
Diane drives fast, emotional and affected, she’s not paying attention when she suddenly spots Andrew standing in the middle of the road. She tries to swerve away from him, but the car tips and rolls, crashing to the side of the road. Moments later a hound can be seen near the wreckage.
Meanwhile, Rick drove to Strong’s home. He kicks in the door, calling out for the chief and shouting to Anna to stay put that this is only between him and her cheating husband. But the home is dark and no one seems to be around. He then hears Andrew’s voice, singing Mr. Chuckleteeth’s song… in the eeriest of ways. He moves to the living room, looking for the source of the voice, but instead spots a tall figure in the dark. It’s the frigging clown again. He points the gun at him, goes after him, but the clown disappears. Then into another room, he follows, shoots, but nothing.
Back in the living room, the TV turns on. It seems like another episode of Mr. Chuckleteeth only that this time the song features a much more evil ending and flames instead of playful smiles. Rick backs away but bumps into Mr. Chuckleteeth standing right behind him, his expression the creepiest. He trips and the clown runs away. Eggers chases after him toward the entrance of the house, to find Strong pointing the gun at him. The screen goes to black and then a shot rings out.
When we come back from commercials, Mulder and Scully have arrived at the Strong household. As they walk toward the door Mulder spots a body on the ground and warns Scully of it. They draw their guns - it’s Officer Eggers. He’s dead. Scully calls it in and that’s when she notices that there’s salt on the ground.
Mulder goes inside the home, calling for Strong, but all there is is an episode of Mr.Chuckleteeth playing on the TV… and the book he noticed earlier - the grimoire - is missing.
He comes out and Scully informs him that the coroner is on his way. Mulder confirms that there’s no one inside and explains about the missing book, but Scully argues back that the man shot is not about magic, but the quarrel between the two men. “It was probably a crime of passion,” she assures.
“Passion, yeah. To the gates of hell,” Mulder clarifies. They’re heading back to the scene of the crime in the woods.
Meanwhile, Strong drives his patrol car, calling Diane on the phone when he spots her car on the side of the road. He stops and rushes to it but she’s not inside. He gets up and looks into the woods and spots her shape deep in the vegetation. He calls for her but she won’t come and walks away from him.
Mulder and Scully arrive at the park and head into the woods with their flashlights. Strong gets deeper among the trees looking for the woman. He can see her walking away, but it's not her but instead a spectre. In reality, Diane’s body lies nearby. That’s when he spots the light of a nearby fire - Anna is in the middle of a circle made out of candles, conjuring a spell. He wants to stop her but that’s when she reveals that she’s the one behind all of this… and she has to end what she started.
Mulder and Scully rush through the woods, and a hellhound follows them near.
Strong asks Anna, what it is that she’s started? She meant to only curse Diane and him, to punish them for what they were doing behind her back, but it backfired. He can’t believe it; she has also killed their daughter in the process. But she claims she can end it… only then, the wolf attacks Strong, throwing him onto the ground and biting off his throat and face. Anna screams in terror but remains inside the circle.
Mulder and Scully rush to the screams, but it is too late. Strong is dead. They ask for her to put the book down, but she claims she can end it. Mulder speaks over her, explaining that she may not have any control over it at all, and as the hound closes in on them and Anna finishes the enchantment, she bursts into flames right in front of them.
Mulder pulls Scully away from the heat as they see the woman burn before them… but the book remains intact.
Hours later, the cops gather once more around the park, to process the events around the deaths of Anna and Strong. Scully hands the book to Wentworth, explaining that somehow it didn’t burn. Mulder asks her what did she provide as an explanation but she only claims that she pointed out it was evidence.
But evidence of what? Mulder asks.
“Of a town on the brink of madness,” Scully elaborates flustered. “Of the most human faults and frailty?”
“Or in the grip of a curse unleashed by a modern-day witch,” Mulder counters, but Scully thinks that’s tourist literature. She only hopes that it is over and so does he.
“That woman went up in flames,” Scully notes and Mulder smiles, humoring her, giving her an excuse that she would have given. Maybe it was the candles. “Maybe it was the gates of hell,” she counters back.
She wants to get out of the town, but Mulder claims that there’s no getting out of the town these days. As we see them drive away, we can spot the merry-go-round where Andrew last played, spinning slowly on its own.
“Familiar” is the eight episode of the eleventh season… but as many of you know, it was shot and previously scheduled to be the ninth, right before the finale. This meant a whole lot of pressure for Benjamin Van Allen, being that this was his first X-Files episode as a sole writer.
But Ben is not a stranger to the show. He has been an assistant to Chris Carter and a staff writer since the comeback of the show. As he shared with us, he was only six years old when the show was on the air, and it always scared him. So writing for a show that was important for him growing up, was indeed a big deal. He’s honored and grateful for the opportunity that Chris Carter gave him, allowing him to learn elements of various skill sets, not only as a writer but as a producer and a showrunner.
But what’s the score for this episode? We have a funny story about expectations with this one.
Back in December, we had the opportunity to visit the set for the finale. At the time, part of the team was doing additional filming to complete “Familiar.” When they shared that the material included dancing Teletubbies, it was hard for me - this person that’s known for not being able to control a judgmental eyebrow - to keep a straight face and not cringe about one of my least favorite fads of children’s programming.
Still, as I’ve done with many of the episodes of the revival, I vowed to go in without a set of expectations. But… Teletubbies… Dancing Teletubbies at that, it haunted me. I’m happy that at the end of the day, they actually turned out to be exactly that: criticism on just how disturbing they can be.
“I wanted to bring back that classic X-Files feeling of a small town - something supernatural happening to a small town - kind of tucked away somewhere in America,” Van Allen explains. “I wanted to touch upon on something old and ancient, and Mulder and Scully.”
He explains that he wanted an episode that focused on them. No X-Files office, no Skinner - as much as he loves the character too - Just.Mulder.And.Scully.
I think that a lot of people can agree on that one sometimes. And in all honesty, it just didn’t need more. Well… maybe Monica Reyes could have lent a hand in investigating ritualistic crimes… but let’s not go down this road again. It’s too painful.
I’m happy to say that this episode creeped me out in more ways than one. There are many things that I loved in particular; like the moody feel that reminded me of seasons 3 and 4 - thanks to Director Holly Dale and DP Craig Wrobleski and inspired also by the washed-out palette of the movie “The Witch” that Van Allen wanted to reference. There’s also the strong yet simple and true, actual monster in the monster-of-the-week episode. And these were two of the wishlist items for Van Allen.
“I wanted to make a classic X-Files episode - that completely stand-alone episode - the monster-of-the-week episode with an actual monster in it,” He tells us. “Because there are other monster-of-the-week episodes that don’t actually have one, with an instantly recognizable character-- I think we really achieved that with Mr. Chuckleteeth.”
Ben and I happen to have the same pet peeve about whatever it is that we’re putting before youngster’s eyes. “I’ve always thought that children’s television shows are really weird and creepy,” He comments. “If you watch them, they’re kind of &*^% Up. Like, what are my children watching!?” He tells us that they took inspiration from the Teletubbies and Boohbah to come up with the Bibbletiggles, the dancing blobs that Emily is so fond of. “And then, of course, there’s Stephen King’s IT. I still haven’t watched the new one, but that really creeped me out as a kid and you can tell that that inspired me. I was very adamant during production that we put little Andrew in a yellow raincoat.”
And it is clear how the influences play in more ways than just the obvious. Yes, there’s the yellow rain jacket, but there’s also the tension built in this episode that made me think that, if it had been part of the original seasons, it would have stood right up there with “All Souls” and “Chinga.” It’s one that maintains the flow and tension, with many strengths.
The episode also happens to not stray away from those things that shake us to our core. “Familiar” also happens to be graphic to a degree that makes many uncomfortable, but when it isn’t carried through images, it is carried through the social criticism of our times. In an episode that unearths regrettable facts of American history, it is a bit haunting that our current society hasn’t progressed and walked too far away from the behavior that we see in this episode. And not just in America. Mass hysteria and skewed justice is still an issue everywhere.
Van Allen also tells us of the amazing opportunity to collaborate during the production of the episode. Different to his routine as a staff writer of the show, as a writer/producer he had the chance to participate in every part of the pre-production, production, and post-production. This meant coordinating with famous director Holly Dale about the tone and rhythm of the episode, being heavily involved in casting, location scouting, and all creative choices on set.
Ben also notes that he was in awe of Gillian and David for their preparedness and skill to deliver the story with such ease - “of course, I don’t know how much they’d like to shoot exteriors in the rain, in the woods, in Vancouver in December.” He chuckles a bit. It was also just a matter of collaboration with the actors as well, as Ben mentions. It is his opinion how much much better the episodes get thanks to adjustments they bring, like the mention of “Spontaneous Human Combustion.” For as much as Gillian Anderson admits that she doesn’t have the best memory, it was she who recalled that they had visited this plot point once, and with a slight correction of the dialogue, she put her personal touch on a line that added another layer to the Easter eggs and nostalgia of their road.
The supporting cast for this episode was particularly strong. Not only is every character embodied by actors that have a great range, but also their performances don’t feel uneven when in the same room with the Duchovny/Anderson powerhouse. And that is one of my continuous quality checks. My favorite among them is Roger Cross, followed closely by Alex Carter, both delivering quite strong performances.
Working with kids is also quite a challenge. Their work hours are reduced and definitely, you have to make a set friendly for the young actors. Sebastian Billingsley-Rodriguez - the actor playing Andrew Eggers - is only four years old. And so there are many things about this fact that you have to be careful of, like the notion of death. Van Allen tells us that during the shoot in the autopsy bay, they had to instruct the crew to never mention nor reference his state as him being dead. Instead, they adopted the concept of a “sleeping zombie” which became a game between the actors. Duchovny was able to create a rapport with the kid so that he would stay still during the takes and be able to circumvent explaining why.
The “who-done-it” part of the episode was pleasant as well, with a chain of events that showed every suspect with their own set of valid motives to be the killer. Some with supernatural motives, some grounded in very stark reality, and that allowed for Mulder and Scully to go on their own tangents and pull from each of their natural wheelhouses.
While they’re briefly separated, these moments allow them to expose their different strengths. As much as they’re strong when together and as much as they back each other up when together, including the quite charming moment when Scully recognizes that Mulder stands up for her - no sweat, she’s his homie, as he claims - we also get the opportunity to see Scully stand her ground on her own. There’s no need to be mansplained or defended if there was ever that interpretation. On the same vein, Mulder gets the opportunity to pursue his outrageous theories, and try to prove it, while at the same time allow the character to make concessions such as owning up to the statement that he actually does have a son.
“In reality, as they presented their theories, you run into the situation that sometimes Mulder and Scully make things worse. Sometimes they don’t solve anything - they’re terrible FBI agents!” Benjamin jokes. And that is actually very true. Had Scully not shared her theory with Wentworth, and had he not shared it with Eggers… Peter would be alive.
The biggest crime of this episode though, it’s the fact that we will all be humming this song for the rest of our days.
Next for Van Allen is an ambitious Comic Book project in the works, which is a new style for him, and we hope to hear more of it soon.
Tune in next week for “Nothing Lasts Forever” by Karen Nielsen. There are only two episodes left for this show.