Farewell to the Lords of Darkness
by Sarah Stegall
copyright ©1995 by Sarah Stegall
Writer: Glen Morgan and James Wong
Director: Kim Manners
The flip side of paranoia is humor. In Friday’s episode of “The X-Files”, departing staff writers James Wong and Glen Morgan steep a rather mundane tale of demon worship in a New England town in their own unique blend of sly wit and sudden terror. From the opening scene, where a bourgeois school board ends a rather prosaic meeting with an invocation to the Lords of Darkness, through giveaways like “Crowley High School”, to a rain of frogs that strains even Mulder’s composure, Morgan and Wong are teasing us. We are not really meant to take this episode seriously, I think. It’s hard to imagine an out-and-out self-parody coming from “The X-Files”, but “Die Hand Die Verletzt” comes close.
Some of the humor in “Die Hand” was directed squarely at the ‘Net: references to the Internet, character names that echo the X-Philes themselves. Other instances were purest slapstick: Mulder and Scully being dragged feet- first across a gymnasium floor was one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long while. One deliciously ironic inversion was the recitation of every jingoistic buzzword of the religious right–by the demon worshippers. We discover that the acolytes of Hell are real bluenoses when it comes to profanity and heavy metal music! But just when we are taken with a fit of giggles, Morgan and Wong throw us one of their trademark curve balls: a wriggling fetal pig dissection, eyeballs in a glass jar used as a paperweight in the Principal’s office, a man-eating python. Everything is just a little exaggerated, though, just a little over the top. The patented dark and gloomy atmosphere of “The X- Files” is taken to such extremes that Mulder’s interview with Shannon’s father in the basement puts his face in half- shadow. The teen-age Shannon’s outpouring tale of ritual abuse piles on every tabloid tale ever invented by a feverish imagination. Mulder and Scully’s aloofness and objectivity are so far beyond the norm that they approach catatonia. And why not? They spend most of the episode listening to expositions: the sheriff in the forest scene, Shannon’s hysterical “confession”, her father’s long-winded disquisition on the practices of demon worshippers.
It was inevitable that sooner or later we would see an X-Files story dealing with “the occult”. I am grateful that Morgan, Wong, and Ten Thirteen Productions bent over backwards to afford fair treatment to a minority religion which has often been a convenient target for hatred and fear. It was made clear to this viewer, at least, that what was going on in that town had nothing to do with paganism or Wicca. However, I am afraid that in this laudable effort to clear up a massive misconception, the story and pacing suffered a great deal. As gratifying as it was to hear Mulder championing a controversial religion, his oration sounded more than a little stilted. In fact, the pair’s constant chiming in with arguments in defense of Wicca and paganism in general came across as contrived and politically correct. I am reluctant to criticize a good- faith effort to counteract misunderstanding about “witchcraft”; the alternative, one supposes, would be the usual cult-du-jour handling in which a counterculture faith is blamed for everything from teen suicides to global warming. But when the message overshadows the story to this extent, we are looking at propaganda.
David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson sleepwalked through this one. Again, the Spooky Patrol wasn’t called upon to do much more than observe and record events as they unfolded. The only time Mulder appeared to be awake at all were his comments on the rain of frogs (“Maybe their parachutes didn’t open”) and his interview with Shannon’s grieving father. I wish, just once in a while, we could see a little more of Scully physically defending herself with some effectiveness, and a little less of Mulder getting hit on the head. I’m taking up a collection to buy Mulder a hard hat.
I note once again a sea-change in the second season’s treatment of the paranormal. It was clear to anyone that an actual supernatural force was at work in Crowley High, in the person of Mrs. Paddock, who gave new meaning to the phrase, “substitute teacher from hell”.] But whereas in the first year we were usually left uncertain as to whether or not what Mulder was chasing was “real”, in the second season we are definitely seeing extraordinary phenomena presented as genuine. Which is fine, but it makes Dana Scully look increasingly obtuse, as she flounders for explanations which deny the evidence before her. Carter is going to have to either re-introduce the ambiguity of Year One, or allow Dana Scully to believe what she sees.
For their last episode, I had hoped for a real blowout from Morgan and Wong. This wasn’t it, but then it would be hard to top such masterpieces as “Squeeze”, “Tooms”, “Blood“, and “One Breath“. This team has left an indelible mark on “The X-Files”, and their influence will be felt throughout the run of the series. It’s hard to imagine anyone could surpass the creation of Eugene Tooms or Luther Lee Boggs. In the last scene of “Die Hand Die Verletzt”, Mulder and Scully stand in darkness. Suddenly the lights go on and they see a message in flowing script on the blackboard: “Good-bye. It’s been nice working with you.” A message from the departing Mrs. Paddock? Or a farewell from the Lords of Darkness, Glen and Jim?
This one gets two sunflower seeds out of five.