The X-Files: “Home”

Family Plot

by Sarah Stegall

copyright 1996 by Sarah Stegall

Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong

Directed by Kim Manners

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Buried Child”, actor and playwright Sam Shepard uses the image of a child’s corpse unearthed in a family’s backyard to speak to us of buried hopes and fears, and the dark secrets that can hold a family together. Just as silence can bind family members in a net of conspiracy and oppression, so are the inarticulate and grotesque Peacock brothers of “Home” entangled in a hopeless web of silence, ignorance, and depravity. Whether this is a deliberate echo of the dark secrets that bound and divided the Mulder family, in which “normal” parental feeling was sacrificed for a “greater cause”, I can’t decide. But Glen Morgan and Jim Wong’s long-awaited return to The X-Files is definitely disturbing, thought-provoking, and nasty.

Mulder and Scully are sent to Home, Pennsylvania to investigate the live burial of a deformed infant, a child entombed in a sandlot under home plate next door to a local family well known for its incestuous ways. They are urged to stay and investigate by the down-home Sheriff Andy Taylor (Tucker Smallwood) and his deputy Barney (Sebastian Spence), who repeatedly reinforce the image of a town where no one locks his doors and everyone is a good neighbor. This bucolic Mayberry is shattered when Taylor and his wife are bludgeoned to death in one of the most horrific death scenes ever shown on The X-Files. I suspect it was the stunning brutality of their murder, not the theme of incest, that finally brought forth a Parental Guidance warning from the Fox network. Matters escalate as Scully becomes convinced that the horribly disfigured newborn was birthed by a woman held captive by the Peacock recluses, and the agents move in on a house so filled with horror it would have sent Norman Bates screaming in terror. Incest, ignorance, infanticide and three very gruesome murders combine in an episode with little suspense, no X-File, and all the sick fascination of a multiple car wreck.

There was not much mystery buried in this plot. In a series where people pronounced dead by a coroner come back to life (“3“, “Fresh Bones”, “Miracle Man”), I knew immediately that when Sheriff Taylor said the Peacocks Senior were “presumed dead” that he would be proved wrong. Which made the identity of the woman in the house all too obvious. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this story for what it was–a creep show in the mold of “Irresistible”. If it had no overtly X- Files overtones, well, Chris Carter has made it plain from the beginning that the series is out to scare us at any cost. And if he can’t scare us, he will shock us. Not since “The Host” or “F. Emasculata” have I been so repulsed by the characters in The X-Files; thank God and Directors of Photography Ron Stannett and Jon Joffin for wisely putting Mulder and Scully in plenty of sunlight to balance the gloom and corruption of that haunted house.

It was only a hundred years ago that John Merrick (the “Elephant Man”) was an outcast not just because of his appearance, but because people of Victorian England assumed (as their ancestors did) that physical deformity mirrored a deformity of the mind and soul. Indeed, even the physician who “rescued” Merrick from degradation at first assumed he was insane or retarded. The idea of the benign soul trapped in the body of a monster has been well explored by Glen’s brother Darin Morgan in “Humbug“, and later by Kim Newton in “Revelations“. But just as it is on the verge of becoming a sentimental conceit, Morgan and Wong stand it on its head. Every family archetype is trotted out and crucified: the dutiful sons are dim-witted thugs, and their loving mother is a controlling tyrant who sacrifices a family’s soul to preserve its decaying flesh. I’m surprised she buried her infant; I expected her to eat it. This unremitting portrait of evil is sharply contrasted against Our Heroes, whose companionable relationship, intelligence, and bravery highlight this episode.

Morgan and Wong’s strong suit has always been characterization, and in this script they deliver some of the best Mulder and Scully scenes, and some of the best secondary character writing, in a month of Sundays. Scully takes the driver’s seat both literally and metaphorically in this episode. Warm, funny, and wise, Gillian Anderson’s “uber-Scully” is a warrior-scientist mother figure who strides across this story like Brunnhilde in a tailored suit. Despite Mulder’s insistence that this case is not an X-File, she persists in liberating the helpless woman she is convinced is being held in the Peacock house. She leads the investigation with her head but backs it up superbly with her heart, unwilling to risk leaving a defenseless victim in peril another minute even if it means risking her own life. This is the Scully Morgan and Wong showed us in their first X-File, “Squeeze”: when asked “Whose side are you on?”, she replies, “The victim’s.”

Duchovny makes Mulder the scholar again, a side of him I have missed (now who’s quoting edutainment TV?). The baseball-juggling scene was wonderful, as Agent Mulder tells us more about his boyhood in 8 seconds than the previous three years have revealed. Tucker Smallwood’s Sheriff Taylor, is cast from the same mold as Andy Griffith himself: a gentle, peace loving man who loves his small town so passionately it blinds him to the danger at its heart. Karin Konoval gives an impressive performance as Momma Peacock, one of the most malignant characters to adorn The X-Files since Eugene Tooms himself.

If Morgan and Wong have one signal failing, however, it is their tendency to overlook important details. They may dismiss this as nit-picking, but any writer should be concerned with something that jolts a viewer out of that dream-state induced by total involvement with the story. In the case of “Home”, which is ostensibly set in Pennsylvania, it is the attempt to turn the Peacock family into Appalachian hillbillies which grates. From Mrs. Peacock’s countrified drawl (“I’m hongry”) to her anachronistic reference to the Civil War as “The War of Northern Aggression” (a phrase not used even in my staunchly Southern family, who lost ancestors on the Rebel side), every attempt is made to link the Peacocks to the Southern Gothic stereotype made famous by the likes of Faulkner, Wharton, and James “Deliverance” Dickey. It would have been so much more interesting, and more in the ground-breaking tradition of The X-Files, to have dispensed with this cliche and made the family very distinctly NOT Southern.

The younger Peacocks are supposed to be the offspring of the older son and the mother. If Edmund was father and brother to the other boys, they must have been born after the “deaths” of the father and mother. Yet Sheriff Taylor, who assumes the parents are dead, seems to think there is nothing strange about the sudden introduction of two new Peacocks when all but Edmund were supposed to have died. Rather, it is the usually infallible Scully who has lost the ability to count, or else she would never have theorized that a 41 year old man could be the father of a man in his mid-thirties, congenital deformities notwithstanding. The dates don’t add up…again. This kind of carelessness is annoying when found in the context of a script so attentive to other details of music and setting and timing.

A gruesome episode enhanced by some really creepy settings and wonderful characters is flawed by a predictable script. All in all, this Addams Family values tale is a Saturday night drive-in special, a nightmare on Rural Route One out of Tobe Hooper by David Lynch. The only critic really worthy of it is Joe Bob Briggs, but this reviewer (not at all related to Joe Bob’s girlfriend Vida Stegall) awards it a crunchy three out of five sunflower seeds.