Monday, 11 December 2017

X-Files Rewatch | Humbug

image credit: dvd bash/20th century fox

A personal favourite within my family's X-Files lexicon, 'Humbug' is one of season two's highlights and a masterpiece of the series as a whole. 

Written by Darin Morgan and directed by Kim Manners, 'Humbug' was the first episode of the series to revolve around a comedic script, which Morgan would continue in three other episodes later in the series. The 'normal' episodes of the show delved into comedic territory every once in a while (especially through discussions and quips between Mulder and Scully), but there had yet to be an episode where the entire narrative and cast got to experience comedy throughout an entire episode. 

The absurd humor stems from the commentary on Otherness and difference, displayed between the 'normal' Mulder and Scully investigating a community of former sideshow performers, who have been cast out as 'freaks' by the public. Mulder and Scully are led to the town after a series of murders occur within the community; to which Mulder believes was conducted by the mysterious Fiji Mermaid. Scully disagrees, obviously, and instead believes it to be a humbug, i.e. a hoax. 

Even though I've seen these episodes so many times now, it still flaws me how intricate episodes of The X-Files are. There are so many layers that go into one forty-or-so minute episode, something that was rarely seen before its time and is rarely seen now. The team and writers behind the show pour their hearts and souls into each episode's backstory/mythology, and 'Humbug' is a fantastic example of this. 

  
  
  
  
  
gifset credit: trusttnno1.tumblr.com

Sure, many fans remember the episode for its humor (i.e. the famed 'we're exhuming your potato' line), but it's the way in which Morgan portrays the concept of Otherness/the Other that truly captivates me. I did study this theory in film, but I'm not going to pretend like I understand it -- I barely did then and I barely do now. The main aspect of the theory is the way in which one perceives and can compare themselves to someone different, i.e. the Other. With 'Humbug', this presentation of ideology challenges both Mulder, Scully, and the audience's assumptions on Otherness and difference within society. 

This is explored further through the majority identities of Mulder and Scully that meet with the minority identities/outcasts of the sideshow community. The irony of the episode rather poignantly turns out to be that Mulder and Scully may naturally judge the Other, but they themselves are part of that category to their peers. They are outcasts. They're shunned to the bottom of the pile via their basement office as they are alien to those above and around them in the Bureau due to their beliefs and ideas. 

This theory is presented, observed, tackled and concluded within the span of the normal television runtime. A narrative and ideology that could take up an entire series or film are explored in just the right quantity for it to not only stick with an audience but also the characters themselves. Its episodes like 'Humbug' that irks me as to why they are not talked about more, and why the series as a whole isn't as celebrated as the likes of Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones. I mean it is, but not to the extent that it should be ... maybe its the fierce fangirl in me, I don't know.

If you're reading this and have never watched the series, please do. You'll thank me later. There are plenty more episodes as deep and hilarious as this, trust me. 



Mulder's reaction to the reverend using his foot to turn the page of the bible lmao

• I love this back and forth between Mulder and Nutt: 

MULDER: Tell me, have you done much circus work in your life?  
NUTT: And what makes you think I've ever spectated a circus, much less be enslaved by one?  
MULDER: I know that many of the citizens here are former circus hands and I just thought that maybe- 
NUTT: You thought that because I am a person of short stature, that the only career I could procure for myself would be one confined to the so-called 'big top'. You took one quick look at me and decided you could deduce my entire life. Never, would it have occurred to you that a person of my height could have possibly obtained a degree in hotel management?  
MULDER: I'm sorry, I meant no offense.  
NUTT: Well then, why should I take offense? Just because it's human nature to make instantaneous judgments of others based solely on their physical appearances? Why I've done the same thing too, for example. I've taken in your all-American features, your dower demeanor, your unimaginable necktie design and concluded that you work for the government ... an FBI agent ... but do you see the tragedy here? I have mistakenly reduced you to a stereotype, a caricature. Instead of regarding you as a special, unique individual.  
MULDER: ... But I am an FBI agent. 

• Lanny looking at Scully's cleavage, and Scully looking at his growth. Both covering themselves back up with their dressing gowns. I love that little detail. 


• The community of former sideshow acts is comprised of actors and actresses, but also includes real-life sideshow performers such as Jim Rose (portraying Dr. Blockhead), The Enigma (portraying The Conundrum), Michael J. Anderson (portraying Mr. Nutt) and Vincet Schiavelli (portraying Lanny). 

Fiji Mermaid: The Fiji (also Feejee mermaid) was an object comprising the torso and head of a juvenile monkey sewn to the back half of a fish. It was a common feature of sideshows, where it was presented as the mummified body of a creature that was supposedly half mammal and half fish, a version of a mermaid. 

The original had fish scales with animal hair superimposed on its body with pendulous breasts on its chest. The mouth was wide open with its teeth bared, the right hand was on the right cheek, and the left tucked under its lower left jaw. The mermaid was supposedly caught near the Fiji Islands in the South Pacific ... the original object was exhibited by P. T. Barnum in Barnum's American Museum in New York in 1842 and then disappeared. It was assumed that it had been destroyed in one of Barnum's many fires that destroyed his collections. 

Fisherman in Japan and the East Indies had long constructed 'hybrids' by stitching the upper bodies of apes onto the bodies of fish -- they were sometimes used for religious purposes. 

Humbug: A humbug is a person or object that behaves in a deceptive or dishonest way, often as a hoax or in jest. The term was first described in 1751 as student slang, and recorded in 1840 as a 'nautical phrase'. It is now also often used as an exclamation to mean nonsense or gibberish. 

When referring to a person, a humbug means a fraud or impostor, implying an element of unjustified publicity and spectacle. In modern usage, the word is most associated with the character Ebenezer Scrooge, created by Charles Dickens in the novella A Christmas Carol. His famous reference to Christmas, 'Bah! Humbug!', declaring Christmas to be a fraud.

• Gillian Anderson really ate that roach. Duchovny's reaction to her doing so was caught by Manners and used in the final cut of the episode. 



• *everyone leaving the funeral* MULDER: ...I can't wait for the wake. 

MULDER: Exactly how does one become a professional blockhead? 
BLOCKHEAD: Starting in my homeland of Yemen, I studied with yogis, fakirs, and swamis, learning the ancient arts of body manipulation ... but most men know nothing of these arts. For instance, did you know that your protective Chinese practice of Tiea Bu Shan, you can train your testicles to draw up into your abdomen? 
MULDER: Oh, I'm doing that as we speak. 

• *the conundrum pops out of the vat, gasping for air, they all look at him in shock*
MULDER: I saw him this morning down by the river, he was eating a fish. 
BLOCKHEAD: He knows between-show snacks will ruin his appetite. 
MULDER: I could be mistaken, maybe it was another bald-headed, jigsaw-puzzle-tattooed, naked guy I saw. 

MULDER: Everybody's uncle is an amateur magician. 

MULDER: Does Agent Scully know that you're under her crawl space?
NUTT: I was merely repairing the plumbing on this unit. I know what you're thinking my friend, but you are grossly mistaken; just because I'm not of so-called 'average height', does not mean I receive my thrills vicariously. Not all women are attracted to overly tall, lanky men such as yourself. You'd be surprised how many women find my size intriguingly alluring. 
MULDER: And you'd be surprised how many men do as well. 

SHERIFF HAMILTON: *shining flashlight on Mulder and Scully) May I ask what you're doing? 
MULDER: We're exhuming ... your potato. 
HAMILTON: May I ask why? 

HAMILTON: Oh sure, I spent the first half of my life as Jim-Jim. Then one morning, I noticed a bald spot on top of my head and realized I wasn't only losing my hair, but my career as well. Eventually, all the hair went on top of my head anyway. The rest of my body is still pretty hairy, which is why I never go to the beach. 
SCULLY: That doesn't quite explain the potato. 
HAMILTON: I got some warts on my hand. 
MULDER: That doesn't quite explain the potato. 

SCULLY: Mulder, are you okay? 
MULDER: *on a bed of nails* It's more comfortable than a futon. 

HAMILTON: (to Scully) Now you're sure it was the twin you saw running around here? I mean, maybe it was the Fiji Mermaid and he jumped back in the river and swum his way back to Fiji. 
MULDER: Now you know how I feel. 

BLOCKHEAD: 21st-century genetic engineering will not only eradicate the Siamese twins, the alligator-skinned people but you're going to be hard-pressed to find a slight overbite or a not so high cheekbone. You see I've seen the future, and it looks just like him (Camera pans over to Mulder, who is practically posing on the steps of a trailer). Imagine, going through your whole life looking like that. That's why it's left up to the self-made freaks like me and the Conundrum to remind people. 


•  Alligator Man // The victim suffered from ichthyosis - a congenital skin disease characterized by the shedding of the epidermis in the form of scales. 


• Scully tricking Mulder into believing that she ate a cricket. Mulder's face as she figures it out -- as he says in season seven, she always keeps him guessing. 
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