The X-Files #177: Agua Mala

"All the nuts roll down to Florida."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: A sea monster backwashes into the plumbing during a hurricane in Florida.

REVIEW: A good old-fashioned monster story, Agua Mala nevertheless suffers from out of focus story telling. It's got a fantastic idea for a setting - Mulder and Scully in the middle of a hurricane (the actors probably thought they left wetness behind when they moved from Vancouver) - and seems to set itself up as much as a disaster movie as an "Alien"-type monster story. But though we meet a large cast of quirky expendable characters, it never really fufills the promise of those genres by killing off the vast majority of them. Then again, it avoids cliché by letting Scully be particularly successful, so it's not a big complaint. Where the episode doesn't quite avoid cliché is in the portrayal of rural Florida law enforcement as folksy idiots. It leads to a fun running gag about them not believing Mulder and Scully are with the FBI, and the lead deputy does get to show good-heartedness and bravery before he's dissolved into bad water, but he's still caricatured. That's par for the course in this guest cast, which includes a paranoid gun nut, an irredeemable looter, and a sassy Latino expectant mother (she, at least, is hilarious).

Rob Bowman is certainly the perfect director for this episode. Rain, key lights, darkness... you won't believe how tense a close-up of a drain or tap will make you. The translucent tentacle monster, a sort of giant, parasitic jellyfish, is an effective creature, though the episode takes things a bit too far by giving it the ability to liquefy itself. Invisibly hide in water, sure. Be some kind of living water, well... We're in Doctor Who territory when soft water is its deadly weakness, y'know? One wonders how much sea water got into the condos' pipes that it can keep preying on people. But that's Aqua Mala all over. It doers a lot of things well, but then either goes too far, or not far enough. So while Mulder and Scully lost in the story has humor, it makes the deputy the star of the first couple acts; he even gets the best cliffhangers. Though Scully's cleverness saves the day, we're not allowed to really see it and have to suffer through exposition instead. Though it's nice to see Darren McGavin again as former Agent Dales, we don't really need him to put his stamp of approval on Scully in the coda.

I don't want to come down too hard on it, mind you. It's got some fun moments of comedy and banter, with both leads getting some good lines, as does the pregnant lady. The storm and the monster are well realized, the danger well balanced with the character humor. It just needed one more draft, you know?

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Though it makes frequent missteps, this is still a fun monster/disaster story.

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