The X-Files #63: Grotesque

"If you wanted to know an artist, you had to look at his art. What he really meant was if you wanted to catch a monster, you had to become one yourself."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: Mulder becomes obsessed with a man obsessed with gargoyles.

REVIEW: Mulder's past as a lead profiler comes back to haunt him when his would-be mentor Bill Patterson, played by - woo! - Kurtwood Smith calls on him to get into the head of a particularly disturbed serial killer who claims he was possessed. It's an interesting take on the "former colleague" element, because the relationship is antagonistic. And as with the best daddy issues-type stories, Mulder and Patterson seem to be in denial about how closely they resemble each other. Both are obsessive to the point of self-destruction, and as profilers, they tend to use empathy as a way to lose themselves into someone else's psychology. So Mulder becomes his old teacher/boss, then might be the copycat killer, but since Patterson is revealed to be that killer, Mulder really WAS just going to deep into his teacher's head after all. It's a neat play on identity, when you think about it.

So it's really too bad the episode doesn't quite work. A large part of it is the direction, which is perhaps too concerned with hiding the story's twists. Where I would normally applaud dark, moody lighting, in this case, the actions scenes just look murky and confusing. In the opener, we see a murder, then the killer getting caught, then are told a murder occurred five days after the capture, but no, not that murder, another murder. On first viewing, you'd be forgiven for wondering if scenes were in the right order. Happy to see Skinner get a scene - it's been a while - but though I appreciate his off-the-record concern for Mulder, it doesn't really lead to anything. In fact, Mulder's madness escalates rather quickly, and the audience loses track of time. Throwing demonic possession, the dark tea time of the soul (via Mulder's pretentious monologues) and gargoyles that either ward off demons, or really, hide mutilated corpses (monsters inside people, people inside monsters), doesn't do justice to any of these ideas.

But they did have an interesting serial murder case there - the gargoyled victims are pretty freaky - and something to say about the psychology of such individuals and those who track them. It'll lead to Chris Carter's second series, Millennium, which we'll get to in due course. As an X-File, it has the required ambiguity - is it profiling gone wrong or actual demonic possession? - but is frankly, a little muddled. I can't live on visceral shots of people cutting themselves on Exacto knives alone.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Thematically worthy, it fails in the editing and wannabe noir cinematography, I think.



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