Written by Marilyn Osborn
Directed by David Nutter
And we were so close to getting out of the hole we were in.
There is a tendency by many of those who saw this episode to utterly loathe it, yet another of the first season's continued problems of trying to assign a level of interest to a story that would otherwise be completely pedestrian. So we try and make this based on the very first X-Files, and if that isn't enough trying to link it to a series of deaths connected with the Lewis & Clark expedition, rather than just having what amounts to the ultimate shaggy dog story.
There are two obvious things wrong with Shapes, both of which can probably be ascribed to the fact that it's yet another episode linked to a first time (and in this case, only) writer for the show. (There are rumors that Morgan & Wong did some uncredited rewrites for this episode I hope those rumors are false, because otherwise there's definitely no excuse for the failings here.) There's the fact that the pacing for this story is god-awful slow. Those of us who are familiar with genre TV know that this is probably going to be a werewolf episode by the time the teaser's over. It takes us well into the second act just for Mulder to confirm that this has something to do with werewolves, and another fifteen minutes for someone to tell us that it is. Usually, it takes Mulder minutes to get his theory for the case, and as we learn, he knew about it well before he and Scully arrived on the scene. So why the hell doesn't he try to show off for once? And then there's that the fact that it tries to make a mystery out of who the creature of the night is, when by the time the creature makes its second attack, everybody with half a brain knows that it's Lyle Parker. And it doesn't say much for Scully that she doesn't seem able to find anything suspicious about Lyle walking around naked right after his father is killed. It just seems like another lead-in to a Scully in jeopardy plot
Then there's the fact that this episode is trying to dress up an old story with a somewhat different twist--- the legend of the Manitou. The X-Files did a much better job dealing with Native Americans then almost any other show of its era, but considering that this is being done by a writer who clearly has no experience with the story, almost everything about it falls decidedly flat. The Indians versus ranchers struggle, the Indian law enforcement official trying to hold in his anger against the white man and his past, and then realizing that the old ways are trying to tell him something, the Native elder who seems determined to tell the FBI what he's seen from many years in the past--- it seems like a B-plot for a Monument Valley western, only it's never seemed more obvious that we're in Vancouver.
It's a shame, because despite all these flaws, the episode is much better than expected. Seeing the stuffed animals at the Parker ranch does gives this story more of an atmosphere than it perhaps deserves. And the genuine anger from many of the Indians does lend this episode more strength it probably should have, thanks to the solid work of Michael Horse and Donnelly Rhodes. It's also rare for any X-Files episode, that it for once presents a law-enforcement official who is sympathetic to the agents cause eventually The major problem with this episode is in retrospect with all the stories about werewolves we could get on TV--- Joss Whedon and Alan Ball would do such brilliant stories in supernatural based shows that this is can only seem bland and sluggish in comparison. It doesn't help matters that half the episode is bland and sluggish, and that when the tribe elder suggests the possibility of a sequel, we fervently hope he's wrong, because we don't want to go through all of this nonsense again.
It's fine. It's definitely nowhere near as bad as the worst of the series or even this season have been. But it's not particularly a lot of fun either. And it seems more like this was an episode that the network executives were pushing for more than anything else (which, in fact, was the case). Considering how well this series would do vampires, ghouls and Frankenstein, its a shame that they couldn't get the most basic trope of horror-sci-fi done well. But then, they were never that good with ghosts and demons, either.
My score: 2 stars.