Tuesday, 12 July 2011


As I mentioned a while ago, I managed to pick the X Files complete box set for just over £30.00, which is a pretty good bargain. I'm working my through it fairly slowly because there a lots of other DVDs I want to watch, so I've only just finished watching the second season. This one, however, contains what may be my favourite ever episode of the show -Humbug

It's very funny.
It's grotesque.
It subverts your expectations.
And all at the same time.

It opens with two kids in an outdoor canvas pool at night. They are frollicking in the water while unknown to them they are being watched by something hideous. The camera cuts between kids and creature which is gradually getting closer. It slides unseen into the water. It erupts with a roar. The kids scream-
Suffering from a  skin disease, he's been on tour with a carnival as the Alligator Man and now he's home. He tells the kids to get back inside to their mom and when they've gone, he lies back and relaxes.
And that's when the real monster gets him and the credits start.

Mulder and Scully arrive to investigate the strange death and find themselves in a small town with a large population of 'special people', many of whom tour for parts of the year -the kids mom is a bearded lady. Here, they, Mulder in particular, are the odd ones out. The owner (Michael J Anderson of Twin Peaks fame) of the hotel where they check in is a person of unusually small stature. When Mulder casually asks if he's worked shows, he becomes irate and begins a rant about judging people by appearances, condemning Mulder for not even thinking that a person such as himself might have a degree -which he proudly points to behind the desk -in hotel management. He then attacks Mulder's appearance, his suit, his tie, his short, shiny shoes, etc and says that this cliche leads one to no other conclusion that, sneer, Mulder could only be an FBI agent. "But I am an FBI agent," Mulder confesses stunning his antagonist into silence.
This cleverly and wittily makes the point that appearances both are and are not deceptive.

At the funeral of the murdered man, a youngish long-haired and aggressive escapologist erupts from the grave before the coffin can be placed in it, has a rant and makes himself a suspect. Another candidate also makes his appearance. While walking along the river, a grotesque figure erupts from the water with a large fish in his mouth. The jigsaw tattooed man, who is wearing only a loincloth, scrambles onto the river bank and takes a bit of the fish. Seeing Mulder, he runs away.
This turns out to be The Conundrum, a geek (therefore the lowest on the carny totem pole) who eats anything and munches on a bowl of bugs in front of Mulder and Scully. He walks almost like an animal and doesn't speak. He also works with the escapologist.

The local chief of police also used to do tours as the Dog-faced Boy until he started to go bald and had to look for more regular work. We also meet an alcoholic hotel employee (played by the late character actor Vincent Schiavelli) who has a seemingly non-viable twin attached to his stomach like a colostomy bag.
I've delayed mentioning this because as soon as the viewer sees Schiavelli, they/you/me are screaming out, "It's the colostomy bag! That's the monster!" Which, of course, it is. Hide your eyes now because it's an ugly mother.
Told you.

We also get told a little about freak/special people lore. One story told by owner/curator of the dedicated museum to Scully (and shortly before he pulls a neat and witty little trick on her) is about Chang and Eng the original Siamese twins. One night Chang woke up to find his twin had died. He lays there for several hours knowing that his own death was imminent. This prepares us for the death of Schiavelli after his twin has been disposed of (which I'll get to in a moment). "What did he die of?" asks Mulder. "Cirrhosis," answers the sheriff. I did mention he was an alcoholic.

The twin meets his fate when he misguidedly attacks The Conundrum. We don't, thankfully, see any details, but at the end of the encounter The Conundrum is lying back and rubbing his stomach. Incidentally, the detachable twin isn't an intentional killer. Earlier, Schiavelli tells our heroes that his twin hates him so much, he's just looking for somewhere else to live and doesn't realise that eating a hole in someone's stomach won't work.

Next morning and as Mulder and Scully are about to leave, the escapologist and The Conundrum drive up to them. They are on their way to a new show but the geek is clearly out of sorts and the escapologist says he's been like that all morning.

Then The Conundrum looks up, smiles and says, "Probably something I ate." Cue credits.

I really really love this episode which is like no other in the X Files and was brilliantly written by Darin Morgan. It succeeds in making important moral points without ever seeming to preach. It uses humour with great deftness. It constantly subverts your own assumptions and makes you enjoy it. It's an absolute delight from start to finish.

No comments: