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X-Files Episode Guide: 'The Jersey Devil'

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X-Files: Season 1, Episode 5


Written by Chris Carter
Directed by Joe Napolitano

A lot of sci-fi series have the problem of figuring out what they are in their first season. On both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel's inaugural seasons, Joss Whedon didn't quite have a vision for what he wanted his series to be, so he spent most of the season dealing with anthology stories that focused on certain supernatural tropes. Something similar happened in the initial seasons of Smallville and Charmed. Because X-Files predates all of them, one can understand why the writers were having the same problems, and one can certainly see how Carter would be in a similar situation--- one can imagine pitching ideas in the writer's room, and bringing up the idea of the show doing a Bigfoot episode. So, one can understand why an episode like this would come up here and now.

Unfortunately, that excuse only gets you so much leeway. Admittedly, it would smack less of cliche then it would a decade earlier, but still, there's a lot of other problems with The Jersey Devil that not even that can excuse. The coverup level smacks of falsity from the beginning--- it's one thing when the government is trying to coverup evidence of alien abductions; it's far schlockier when Mulder is being stopped from investigate a Neanderthal woman by Atlantic City police who are afraid of the tourist trade being maligned. The far more serious problem is one that will, unfortunately, never entirely go away--- in trying to express the majesty of supernatural, Chris Carter will hand his characters--- particularly Mulder and Scully---- purple and downright unspeakable dialogue. And they will say it at ridiculous times--- few scenes in the first season are as unintentionally hilarious as Mulder's attempts to describe the primitive woman he sees rummaging through garbage in spiritual terms, or when he describes her --- after that same woman attacks him---- as 'beautiful'. I'm not going to even try to describe the exchanges Mulder and Scully have when they have their debate over whether this version of humanity is better than theirs--- it's bad enough that you actually have to here.

The bigger problem is that Carter seems to know that this a weaker script than usual, so he will fall back on a topic that will come up repeatedly in the show's first season: he will introduce some element of the central character's personal life as background. So he falls back to have Scully avoid investigating with him to go to her godson's birthday, thus treating to us to the even more cliched atmosphere of an army of six year olds, and a friend of Scully's (never to be seen again) suggest about the possibilities of motherhood. Fans of the show can talk about foreshadowing of later seasons in this episode; right now, it just seems like one of these things you have your female lead do in any series. It seems even more absurd when Scully goes out on a date with the dullest man imaginable, and refers to Mulder as 'a jerk'. Frankly, at this point, one can hardly blame her for her assessment, considering how ridiculous Mulder seems to be when it comes to pursuing a lead. I'd be wondering about his sanity as well.

Even the 'twists' that seem to pervade this story have no oomph to them. The fact that the Jersey Devil is actually a woman seems no different then if they were pursuing a Neanderthal man. What were given amounts to shots of a naked person rummaging through garbage, leaping through deserted building, and finally getting shot in the forest. Which would be different if we saw the male version that we see in the flashback, doing anything remotely different. And the fact that the devils seem to have died protecting their young doesn't bring us any clarity either, or even attempt to explain how any of the men or women in the forest have survived as long as they have, if every generation they head out into civilization to get killed. The discussions that Mulder and Scully try to have with anthropologists about the same subject seem to amount to little more than tosh as well--- I kept waiting for Graham Chapman to step into the room, and say: "This program has a tendency to get silly." Problem is, it's doing this, and everything else in the episode in dead earnest, when it could've used a few laughs.

That's perhaps the biggest problem with The Jersey Devil. Later episodes will have humor levied into them very delicately, which will make the shows more entertaining and watchable. But at this point in the series, Carter doesn't seem to know that--- he's playing everything in dead earnest, and it just makes things seem even more silly. (It doesn't help matters that of all the show's writers, Carter will have the least comic aptitude.). There will be more than our fair share of ridiculous monster of the week's in our future--- but few with so little imagination. And to find that we're facing this problem barely four episodes in---- no wonder nobody was paying much attention to the series at this point.


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