Remember in 2016, when people all over the country were spotting clowns in the woods or clinging to the back of garbage trucks? And it was this whole thing that suddenly went away because the election happened and the world went crazy. Or, and I sort of think this might be true, it was intended as viral marketing for IT, but it freaked people out so badly that they ended the campaign and never spoke of it again. It’s one of those things that I like to talk about and so I’ve lost track of whether or not I actually believe it. Anyway, those clowns are back for “Familiar”.
By the way, I lost track because of that big gap in the middle of the season, but we’re almost at the end. It’s a ten-episode season and this is episode eight. We’ve got one standalone and then the finale, and that’s probably it. Sure, Chris Carter is talking about doing more, but Gillian Anderson has said she’s done after this year. And yeah, they’ve done the show without the leads before, but it’s not a great idea. It may be a moot point, since the ratings are lower this season and I have this bad feeling that Disney’s acquisition of FOX is going to absolutely devastate their TV lineup. This is something that I’ve actually lost sleep over because I am normal and healthy.
My point is, I feel like the pressure’s really on here. In all likelihood, we’re looking at the final episodes of The X-Files, and that feels weird. Even though it already happened once before. Twice, really, since this season was not confirmed when last season aired. And I really hope that “My Struggle IV” wraps up with an actual ending and not another cliffhanger. Let’s not take anything for granted, Chris Carter.
With all that said, let’s look at the season’s antepenultimate episode. “Familiar” delivered something we really haven’t seen this year. An old-fashioned small town “monster of the week” episode. No Skinner, no mythology (outside of a mention of William). Just Mulder and Scully running afoul of local law enforcement and looking into weird stuff. That’s just the kind of hit I needed.
On the other hand, it was a little jarring for me, as a guy who’s pretty much walked away from network dramas that don’t feature the Penguin as a lead character. The set in stone one-hour timeslot didn’t do this episode and favors. It’s a busy episode and I think some of the storytelling got lost while trying to fit everything in. It’d be great if they could pull an AMC and just give them ten extra minutes. There are a lot of reasons why that’s not possible on a network show, but if there’s a DVD cut of this episode that runs another 10-15 minutes at most, this episode is twice as good. The salt circles and the witchcraft get short shrift and they haven’t done much with that kind of thing before.
But since we live in a world where TV episodes don’t always get to be as long as they need to be, we’re left with a “Familiar” that’s still darn good. (I’ve been workshopping a “Familar, but not to Familar, but not too not Familiar” riff and I can’t make it work. But if it had, a very small number of people would have enjoyed it a lot.) It feels a little like a spiritual successor to “Home”. It’s thematically different, but there’s a little bit of that button-pushing that manages to not be gratuitous. I mean, this is the episode where Scully and Mulder explain that the person who killed a child is probably also a pedophile and that’s a lot to drop on viewers at 8:00 on a Tuesday night. But there was a way to do it that wasn’t sensationalistic, and that’s what they did.
I enjoyed the creepiness of Mr. Chuckleteeth and the weird children’s programming. I’m still perplexed by the existence of TeleTubbies, so I was glad to see them parodied here. And I kind of like that not only do they not really solve the case, but there’s no clean solution available at all. It’s like Season 3 of Fargo where the cops think there’s a serial killer with two different gimmicks and he switches between them. It’s just a nexus of weirdness with witches and Chuckleteeth and what appears to be a Hellhound. (I say “appears to be” as if that’s a real thing that you can identify.) It’s just another unsolved X-File on the books, and I’m glad we got one of those before the end of the season.
Even after all these years and so very many episodes, there’s still a particular itch that only X-Files can scratch. And most of the time I’m not even aware of it, but when an episode lands in the sweet spot like this, man, that’s the stuff.
Our final standalone episode is next!