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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

X-Files Case Report: "The Jersey Devil"

"Unlike you, Mulder, I would like to have a life."

As I wrote in the intro to this series, I didn't become a regular viewer of The X-Files until the show was in its third season, so there are a lot of episodes from seasons 1, 2, and 3 that I have never seen. That's one primary motivation for doing this series in the first place, now that we live in a time when watching old episodes of shows that we may have missed is one of the easiest things in the world to do. I remember how it wasn't always thus; watching reruns of Star Trek as a kid, on an independent teevee station, meant that I could go quite some time without seeing a particular episode – and, in fact, there actually is one episode of Star Trek: The Original Series that I have not seen, to this very day. (It's "Dagger of the Mind".)

So, the fifth episode of The X-Files is the earliest in the series that I have never seen. "The Jersey Devil" is a pure "monster of the week" tale: there are no hints of government conspiracies or alien abductions here. Instead, we have some kind of wild thing on the loose in the woods outside Atlantic City, NJ. We first see this thing in the teaser sequence, set in the 1950s; a family is driving at night on a back road to Atlantic City, when they get a flat tire. The father is jacking up the car, says something to his wife, and while he's in midsentence gets violently yanked into the woods where he is partially eaten. Cut to the present day, when something is preying on homeless people in the back streets of Atlantic City.

Mulder, of course, immediately connects the dots between the current murders and the case from 1950-something, and immediately postulates the existence of something called the Jersey Devil, which is apparently some kind of cannabalistic beastie living in the Jersey woods and preying on people. Eventually it turns out that the current Devil is a descendent of the one from the 1950s, and is actually a female.

Along the way, Mulder ends up annoying the local police, as he so often does. This leads to a typically X-Files-ish ending as the police are intent on doing one thing, Mulder is intent on doing another, and as often happens, Mulder ends up deeply disappointed.

There's really not a whole lot to say about this episode. Part of the reason is that the show's mystery is short-changed by quite a bit of screentime devoted to Mulder and Scully's personal lives – that is, Scully's desire for a normal personal life and Mulder's lack of awareness that there even is such a thing. Scully goes to a friend's kid's birthday party; she goes on a date with some guy. The date is predictably interrupted by the waiter who comes over and says, "Agent Scully, you have a phone call." Guess who it is. (This was the early 90s, when the only person on teevee who obsessively used a cell phone was Fox Mulder himself.) At this point in my rewatch, I'm wondering how soon the show will reach the point where we stop hearing so much about their personal lives.

This episode is basically OK – not great, not bad. It's the first "meh" installment of the series. The next one up is "Shadows".


CCAC said...

I saw this X-Files not all that long ago (SyFy over some weekend recently). Between the "monster of the week" and the main plot thread shows, I typically enjoyed the monster of the week episodes, after a while I thought the main government conspiracy/smoking man plot began to get too belabored, after a while I would wonder how Mulder could even keep his job after some episode endings.

Star Trek episodes, as a kid for the longest time it was alway the second part to the Menagerie I never saw in reruns.

Kerry said...

My cousins who lived in NJ firmly believed in the New Jersey Devil. I remember being terrified to visit them.

It's their Bigfoot, of sorts.

Another note, I cannot bear to watch "Californication" because of the Mulder/sex addict dichotomy. Too weird.