The X-Files #14: Gender Bender

"The Addams Family finds religion."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: Mulder and Scully track a sex-changing killer who used to be a member of the mysterious, Amish-like Kindred.

REVIEW: What a terrible title. I'm rather glad they don't put those up at the start of the episodes. But that's perhaps the least of Gender Bender's problems. Primarily, it just puts too many ingredients in the blender. We have an Amish-like community that renounces the deadly sins in the extreme, and who are also able to put people in their thrall by pheromonal touch (that's not how pheromones work, guys), and can also change their gender at will (more on this in a minute), and having sex with them will kill you, and may be long-lived or immortal, and may be able to resurrect themselves thanks to a big organic alien cave, and disappear at the end of the episode leaving a big crop circle. Uhm...

And much of it is objectionable as well. Fans looking at strict logic will finds the central premise hard to believe because the Kindred don't just change genders, they have two separate bodies with different-length hair and clothes that shrink or stretch to fit either body. Patently ridiculous and ill thought-out. The show got a lot of complaints at the time for its take on what is essentially Witness, equating a religious denomination with aliens, killers and/or rapists. Not to mention what the LGBT community might think of this one in today's sociopolitical climate. This is also the episode where Scully almost gets raped by a walking roofie. We squirm, sure, but putting your heroine in sexual danger is an irritating trope that goes against Scully's place as a feminist icon, and promotes the idea of women as victims.

And for all that, Gender Bender still benefits from excellent direction. Rob Bowman, one of the show's producers and directions (he now works on Castle), uses British Columbia's wetness to full advantage, the black garb of the Kindred stark against a white Canadian sky (prevalent even on this end of the country), for example, and lots of shadows and wet streets and things half-seen. This is one of The X-Files' visually darker episodes, embracing that atmosphere in a way few TV shows have. And there are also interesting directorial touches even in the light, like the smoking oil lamps behind the angry Kindred during the dinner scene. Bowman didn't draw the best script from the pile, but he certainly elevated the material.

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: On the one hand, they evidently take off in a saucer and have that weird organic pod cave. On the other, the pheromones found in the victims' blood was human and their religion is definitely old school Christianity. So... Alien or human? My take is that aliens have been experimenting on humans for a while now, which explains a number of mutations we see on the show. The Kindred might be one such experiment that, once released, turned into an isolationist cult that cut itself away from "our" world to protect it from what they'd become. The experiment is either ongoing (still access to the cave, overseers come at take them back when they're exposed), or they somehow liberated the cave and a ship FROM their overseers. They are naturally never seen again.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - An out-of-focus story that borders on the offensive, but the direction is top-notch and raises the episode's score considerably.


Anonymous said...

For some reason, whenever I'd try to watch "The X-Files", this is the episode that was always on. This one, or the one with Larry Liverfluke (my pet name for the liverfluke man).

"I'm not sure how to end this episode."

"How about ... a crop circle?"


Siskoid said...

It's a little ridiculous, because all they really needed to do was have a hole where the organic cave was.

Anonymous said...

Or, they could have zoomed out further so we could see that the crop circle was just the second "O" in "BOOBS".


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