If you clicked "play" above you're now listening to the first movement from Bach's fourth Brandenburg concerto, a piece of music so transcendent that even aliens need to hear it. (I can't blame them.) It's one of several bits of culture converted into data and reprocessed by Kevin, a kid who, like Mulder, saw his sister apparently abducted by aliens. He's been drawing "1's" and "0's" made up of random bits of information but seemingly no overriding pattern until Scully finds an analog solution to his digital mystery.
That's a great "a-ha" moment in a strong episode that lays further groundwork for what's to come. We get another look at the hurt beneath Mulder's wisecracking exterior and another suggestion that Scully's being drawn into his quest, even if she's keeping a tight grip on her skepticism. It all may work a little better conceptually than as a grippingly plotted hour, but the work done here will pay off well later.
Carrie Snodgress guest stars. Certainly the biggest name the show had lured up to that point, Snodgress was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in the 1970 film Diary Of A Mad Housewife. (Around the same time she was in a relationship with Neil Young.) There had been a lot of drift and offscreen drama in the years between, but she's quite good here, emphasizing the emotional elements of a story that could have seemed too cerebral, at least until the final scene in which Mulder and Scully, without realizing it, realize how deeply invested they are in figuring out the big mystery behind the show.
- Snodgress isn't the only icon in this episode. Did anyone else notice that the bartender is Don Gibb, a.k.a. "Ogre" from Revenge Of The Nerds. (Chicagoans also know him as the face of Trader Todd's.)
"The Jersey Devil"
Last week a few of you took issue when I suggested that most people use the phrase "monster of the week" in a pejorative sense when applying it to this show. Fair enough. But if anyone does use it in a pejorative sense, they're probably thinking of episodes like this. An undistinguished journey to the fringes of Atlantic City, "The Jersey Devil" rides a decent idea to a dead end, using the sighting of a Sasquatch-like creature as a monstrous embodiment of the awkwardness that happens when urban areas impinge on the nature around them. I live in a city that saw a freak cougar attack a couple of months ago. This is essentially the same story, only with East Coast cave people.
It's not badly done. Mulder's time with Atlantic City's homeless population makes a connection between creatures that live on the fringes of nature and people who live on the fringes of society without putting too fine a point on it. And the scenes of Scully going on a date further underscore how much she's giving up as he gets drawn into her partner's obsession. But the final confrontation with the New Jersey Devil (Claire Stansfield, the first of several Twin Peaks actors to appear in these early seasons), is pretty silly and goes on far too long. Worse episodes are ahead, but this is the series' first semi-dud.
- Don't remember Stansfield from Peaks? I didn't either. She was the traveling judge's statuesque assistant. Her other notable acting credit was a guest stint on Xena but she's done quite well for herself as one of the "C"s behind the t-shirt company C & C California.
- The show took plenty of liberties with the legend of the New Jersey Devil, which is usually described as having wings. Maybe they didn't have the budget.
- My other problem with this episode came from not being able to think of the Fred Schneider song "Boonga (The New Jersey Caveman." Now it's your problem too.
Here's another, better-but-still-draggy monster of the week episode from the team of Glenn Morgan and James Wong. The central monster is probably less original than that of the Jersey Devil; we've essentially got a ghost story on our hands here. But it's a ghost story cleverly incorporated into a mystery involving corporate espionage that would probably work as a procedural even without the supernatural elements.
Trouble is, the supernatural elements seem a little corny. The floating objects, for instance, could have come from a William Castle movie. One thing I like about the show is the way–especially in these early, modestly budgeted episodes–the creators maximize scares out of minimal material. I'm a firm believer in the school of thought that holds the monster you don't see is scarier that the monster you do. I'm also a fan of the low-budget uncanny, the way an imperfect-looking monster or a less-than-slick special effect can be more unsettling than something fully accomplished. Which is scarier: Christopher Lee's Dracula baring his pointy false teeth in Hammer's Horror Of Dracula or something like Dracula 2000? I know what I'm going with. The X-Files team shares this taste. That said, they don't really pull it off here.
It's got its moments, however, especially Scully pretending to buy into the ghost theory in order to crack the case. Lest we forget, they've got a job to do and, for all the supernatural distractions, they have to stay good at it to keep their jobs.
A side note: Does three episodes feel about right to you for each post? I can do more, more or less at this length. Or I can do less and go into more depth with each episode, which I already plan to do with the episodes that feel major to me anyway, like next week's "Ice."