The X-Files #298: Familiar

"Mister Chuckleteeth, happy as can be / Mister Chuckleteeth, won't you play with me?"
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: A child is lured to his death a by kids show character.

REVIEW: At its core, Familiar is a one-off monster story of the type those bored with the Mytharc have been craving, with creepy shenanigans in a small town. On that basis alone, it works quite well. It's ultimately about witchcraft and a ritual gone wrong in a monkey's paw kind of way. A hellmouth has been opened, and something's gotten out, and that thing lures children and adults to their deaths as part of a badly aimed curse manifesting as a character out of a Teletubbies pastiche, or else the dead kids, etc. In reality (if that word applies), it's a hellhound, though you might be tempted to say Mulder's imagination makes it so. It's principal disguise, Mr. Chuckleteeth taps into horror's fascination with sinister dolls, but also killers who dress as clowns, and child predators of a more mundane - and thus more horrific -  kind.

Indeed, the real strength of the episode is that it makes the point that the set up need not be an "X-file". The cops - and we meet so many, Mulder and Scully may well be crashing a small town police drama - don't understand what the FBI is doing there, and Scully herself has little patience for Mulder's supernatural theories given the nature of the crime(s). Whether it's the murder of a child, or the mob rule that takes the town over as they head for the registered sex offender living among them (forcing Mulder, master of the unpopular opinion to defend him) to lynch an innocent man, these are things that could happen anywhere, hellmouth or no. Mulder's last line to that effect, "There's no getting out of this town, these days", is a brilliant one. Of course, Mulder does turn out to be correct about the witchcraft and the monsters and all that, as the town's present-day hysteria is contrasted with the witch trials in its past. A woman is immolated while casting a spell (laying to rest an old argument between the two agents, though I like that Mulder throws Scully a reasonable theory), a grimoire fails to burn, it's an X-file in the end.

But the episode doesn't get full marks. It has its problems. One of them is that the chief of police, whose adultery was the trigger for everything that's since happened, doesn't sell the idea that he truly believes he let the devil into his soul and is thus the direct cause of the horror. That moment is not easy to act, and almost requires going over the top, but it's too matter-of-fact. One also wonders where the other cops, who are more or less protecting him, stand on this. And then there's the cop who's child is initially killed, who takes the law into his own hands and tries to kill the man he thinks responsible. He's then arrested, and out on bail, but still has his gun? Hellhounds, fine, but willing suspension of disbelief has its limits.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A couple of small problems aside, it's nice to go back to the show's roots, and this dark tale fits the bill, while also saying something about the horrors of the real world. Things that are indeed a little too "familiar".



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