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X-Files Episode Guide: Genderbender

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X-Files Season 1, Episode 14

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Written by Larry Barber and Paul Barber
Directed by Rob Bowman

This is another one of those episodes that has more technical significance than anything that's going on in front of the camera. It is the directorial debut of Rob Bowman, who will eventually become one of the show's most trusted helmsman. It is also has a place where Nicholas Lea, who will eventually play one of the most famous recurring roles on this series, in a small and rather bizarre cameo as a single man who almost becomes a victim of the killer. He also has probably the show's funniest line, which he delivers to Mulder and Scully: "The club scene used to be so simple."

This is an episode that, in spite of having one of the more tawdry subject matters for the series entire run, is actually one of the blander X-Files so far. One knows that the constraints of network TV were still being tested twenty years ago, but actually being able to see some of the sex might have at least given Genderbender some spark. Then again, it probably wouldn't. What we have is another solo shot by writers who would never write for the show again, which therefore leads to still another episode which can't quite agree on the series identity.

It starts out promisingly enough, with one of the better teasers that we've had so far, and it puts up a rather intriguing mystery--- a killer is rampaging through the club scene, secreting human pheromones (which in 1994 were still nowhere near being scientifically synthesized) and killing victims of both genders, and then apparently changing sex after a rather amazing 'roll in the hay.' It then takes an interesting turn, by having the killer possibly being a member of a religion known as the Kindred.

And this is where the show starts to stumble. The X-Files will deal with shows that deal with either organized religions or cults several times during it's nine-year run, and they will never quite be able to get a handle on how to do it right. Sometimes, they'll succeed when it comes to dealing with actual religion, instead of the bizarre kinds we come across rather frequently in the first couple of seasons. The Kindred are clearly meant to be a version of the Amish, in both dress and general behavior, but the more bizarre behavior gets, the further away the writers get from solid footing. The dinner sequence with them ignoring a man who seems in the middle of what appear to be death throes is hard enough to fathom, but it gets increasingly surreal when Mulder and Scully come back, and encounter another one of those bizarre healing rituals, that is so badly filmed we can't honestly tell what's happening. When Mulder tells us that Brother Wilson has somehow changed genders, it's as much as a shock to the audience as it is to Scully--- it seemed just as likely that they were burying him up to his neck in sand.

Then the episode starts spiraling out of control--- not that it was that stable to begin with. We see Scully fall under the most bizarre discussions she's had so far, and we're not sure whether she's being seduced by Brother Andrew or lulled to sleep by him. Then there's the scene where a woman tries to seduce Nicholas Lea, fails to finish the job, but turns into a man anyway. The story has no time for this either, because eventually the Kindred catch up with the killer, and seem to disappear and reappear like ghosts. And then, rather than try and give any kind of explanation, the story pulls out a literal deus ex machina, and have the Kindred be revealed to be aliens all along.

Part of the problem with the episode is that the Barbers, unlike the writers for Eve clearly have no picture as to how the series works. Far too many episodes of Season One seem labored over, but this is one that you feel could've been done better if they'd bothered to write a second draft of the teleplay. As it you have one story dealing with a gender-shifting serial killer, and another with a religion that turns out to be extraterrestrial with no legitimate attempt to even try to link them up at any point .Brother Martin's whole reason for leaving his band are never explained well, even by him, nor his reasons for why or how he is killing.

Genderbender isn't really a terrible episode, so much as it is one that doesn't know The X-Files mission statement yet. There are some interesting bits--- the teaser's seduction, Martin interrupted rendezvous in the car--- and one can't help that think, that even a year later, the writers might have had a better grasp of the subject. As it is, it's another one of those episodes that just seem like the series doesn't know whether it's mythology or Monster-of-the-Week, so--- like the killer--- it tries to have it both ways. Unfortunately, it doesn't do a really good job with either, and it just seems kind of tired. Not awful, just not good enough to remember, or even care about the laziness.

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