"The Jersey Devil"
Written by Chris Carter
Directed by Joe Napolitano
In which we get the first look at Mulder chasing after something truly silly, Scully trying to get a life, and Chris Carter’s haphazard writing skills
Synopsis - Analysis - Memorable Quotes - Observations
"Would you believe the government pays me for this?"
The episode opens in 1947 on what appears to be an empty stretch of road close to Atlantic City, New Jersey. A family is on its way through the night when one of the tires goes flat. The father pulls over and gets out to change the tire. He is promptly attacked by some unknown figure and pulled into the woods. Police investigate and find someone hiding in a cave. It attacks them, and they shoot at it repeatedly.
Fast forward almost 50 years to August 1993. Scully arrives at the office and jokingly tells Mulder a story about a dismembered body found outside of Atlantic City. Within seconds, Mulder has managed to connect the body to an old case file related to the Jersey Devil. He described the case, based on the events that took place in 1947. Despite Scully’s obvious misgivings, they wind up taking a trip to the Jersey shore.
They show up at the morgue, where the coroner tells them that a park ranger found the body. The coroner believes that the bite marks on the body are from a large adult male. Soon a local detective shows up and tells the agents that the case is not even close to being within their jurisdiction. They leave, and when Mulder argues about it, Scully reminds him that the detective is right. Mulder’s response is to toss Scully the keys, rather than return to Washington.
Mulder looks up the number for the New Jersey Park Service, and not much later in the afternoon, he’s checking out the area where the body was found with Ranger Peter Boulay. Boulay informs Mulder that the victim was a homeless man, and that it was odd for one of them to be in the woods, because most of the homeless in the area are scared of the woods. When Mulder asks him to elaborate, Boulay speculates that it could be the Devil. Boulay’s seen some odd evidence of feral human activity in the area.
Meanwhile, Scully is “supervising” her godson’s birthday party, and discussing men and her lack of action with her friend Ellen. Ellen suggests that Scully might need a life, something to give her a little more incentive to warm up to motherhood. Ellen suggests Mulder, but Scully dismisses the idea. Mulder, after all, is too obsessed with his work (and how!). But when the divorced father of one of the children at the party stops in to pick the kid up, Scully has a new option.
As the sun sets at the shore, Mulder has discovered the more scenic side of Atlantic City...the part where all of the homeless people are hiding. He asks around, checking for someone who might have known the victim. A man named Jack responds, and after Mulder hands him a bit of money, he tells Mulder what he knows. Something has been sniffing around through the garbage, freaking out the locals. Jack shows him a rather plain drawing of a Bigfoot-type creature, and tells Mulder that the drawing is what they’ve seen.
Mulder gives Jack a night in his hotel room so he can stake out in Jack’s lean-to. Sure enough, the strange and feral creature shows up. Mulder takes chase after the figure, but eventually it winds up climbing onto the roof of a nearby building. Mulder whistles to get its attention, but a police patrol catches up with him first. At the station, the detective reams Mulder out. Mulder responds with claims that the detective knows what is out there killing people, and the police are trying to keep it quiet so the tourism won’t be affected.
Mulder calls Scully from the drunk tank, and she comes to pick him up. As they grab a bite to eat, Scully reminds Mulder that if he continues to get into trouble with the local law enforcement, it could get back to the Bureau. Stories about investigating the Jersey Devil aren’t going to gain him supporters. Mulder insists on staying to investigate, but Scully wants to return to Washington. Not only does she want Mulder to speak to a friend of hers, but she has a date!
At the University of Maryland, Dr. Diamond, a professor of anthropology, speaks to Mulder about the various myths of “the wild man”. Mulder manages to get Diamond to grant that it is possible that a feral human being, raised in the wild, could sit above humans on the food chain. Scully is less than pleased.
Back at the office, Mulder is reviewing the case file, and realizes that a distinctly large-bosomed rendering of a Yeti or Sasquatch seems to match the drawing that Jack gave him. His theory seems to be backed up when Ranger Boulay calls him with news that a male body had been found in the woods...and the dead man seems to fit the profile of the past feral activity.
Scully is trapped in the midst of her date with the world’s most boring man, and when Mulder calls with his speculation. Scully couldn’t look more relieved to be pulled away from her newly discovered “life”. The agents bring Dr. Diamond down to the morgue to meet Ranger Boulay and see the body, but it’s been removed without notice. Mulder takes them to the building that he had chased the unknown figure towards the night before, and they begin searching for some sign of the killer.
While they are searching, local police notice Ranger Boulay’s truck outside of the building, and call the detective. In a matter of moments, a SWAT team is ready to burst into the building. Completely unaware of this fact, Mulder and Scully take a moment to discuss the finer points of human evolution and the behavior of groups of young boys. They wrap it up just in time to see the detective catching up with Diamond.
Mulder runs in another direction when he sees a flash of movement outside, and jumps onto the roof of another building after the figure. As the SWAT team begins fanning out through the building, Scully follows after him. Mulder walks into a poorly lit room, and finds himself tossed to the ground by a rather naked and feral young woman. Mulder makes the wrong move, and the woman nearly disembowels him. Scully shows up just in time to stop him from making it worse.
Mulder is treated for his wound while Scully tries to pick up the pieces of the mess he has created. The Atlantic City police department has filed a complaint against Mulder with the assistant DA. Suddenly the SWAT team is attacked by the woman, and in the mayhem, she escapes into the woods. As the police hunt down the woman, Mulder and the others try to capture her. Unfortunately, the police end up killing her before Mulder can stop them.
Now that the situation is contained, the police allow Dr. Diamond to examine the body. The report comes in a week later. To Mulder’s disappointment, there’s no evidence that the woman was part of some prehistoric, lost offshoot of humanity. But there is evidence that the woman bore offspring, leading Mulder to wonder if there are others out there. He speculates that when the man died, the woman was forced to search for the family’s food on the outskirts of the city.
Scully tells Mulder that he needs to take some time off, get his life back together, but Mulder waves her off. He’s more interested in discussing the case with an ethno-biologist at the Smithsonian. When Scully’s date calls to woo her into further adventures of estate planning and tazation, she reconsiders the benefits of having a life in the first place. She chooses to go with Mulder.
Sometime later, a family is walking through the woods. The father is telling his kids about the Jersey Devil. Hiding in the brush, a young feral girl watches them walk by...
While the previous episodes have been fairly well connected in their depiction of Mulder’s slow but steady descent from VCU darling to Bureau pariah, this episode seems to take place at a point where the damage has already been done. Mulder is no longer even remotely concerned with his reputation, while Scully points out that he needs to consider how his obsessive behavior reflects on him with the Bureau.
Other than this connection to the running theme of the early episodes of the series, there is little to connect this episode to the rest of what we’ve seen. Mulder and Scully are front and center, but there’s a feeling that runs through this episode, a kind of sloppiness.
Mulder will always be a bit too impulsive for his own good, but his decisions in this episode fall a little flat. Scully’s attempts at finding a life outside of her work are never seen again, except when there is a specific reaction to some event that drives her to search for something different. It could be that this episode is meant to show us how Scully finds that her place is helping Mulder, because his own instincts of self-preservation have begun to fail him. Mulder needs Scully to keep him from making too many foolish mistakes and getting himself shut down, and Scully needs Mulder to provide her with the kind of excitement that she craves in her life.
But a lot of that is lost in the attempts to draw a parallel between the wild children and wild beast-women. The supporting characters of Ranger Boulay and Dr. Diamond come across as convenient sounding boards. The episode lumbers forward with very little building of tension, and the dialogue lacks snap and energy.
Oddly enough, there seems to be other evidence that this episode is just a bit off-kilter. When Scully walks into the basement office, it looks as though she walks through a busy floor of desks to get there. In other words, it doesn’t look like they’re in the office at all. Even the layout of the office itself is different from what we’ve seen in the first four episodes. It’s as though they were temporarily moved into another room while the basement office was being painted...or bugged!
This episode also marks the beginning of another trend: warping myths and legends into something very different from what they are in the real world. For instance, the Jersey Devil legend is not exactly about some creature pulling people out of cars into the woods. The real legend involves some creature that lives in the Pine Barrens, a kind of in-bred demonic spawn that has tormented towns in southern New Jersey since the American Revolution. Sightings range from Trenton to Salem to eastern Pennsylvania. It’s often described as much less human than what is depicted here.
Carter takes that idea and tries to attach some kind of moral to it, some kind of statement on human behavior as a whole. The result is uninspired, and almost feels as though the connection to the X-Files is forced. This wouldn’t be the only time that Carter’s ideas wouldn’t quite fit with the series, nor is this the worst example of it. But in the end, this episode is just a substandard offering after the excellence of the first four episodes.
SCULLY: Anti-gravity’s right...
MULDER: You feeling lucky, Scully?
SCULLY: Relative to whom?
DETECTIVE THOMPSON: You’ve been spending too much time in supermarket check-out lanes... (I wonder what he’d think of last episode’s case file!)
SCULLY: Chewing somebody’s arm off is not exactly a defensive posture...
DR. DIAMOND: Our intelligence virtually assures us, barring the introduction of some alien life-form, we will live out our days as rulers of the world... (What an interesting line...an odd bit of accidental foreshadowing?)
SCULLY: Keep that up, Mulder, and I’ll hurt you like that beast-woman...
MULDER: Eight million years out of Africa...
SCULLY: And look who’s holding the door...
- Another new hairstyle for Scully in this episode. I guess she’s got more free time in those days...
- Michelle Forbes, who plays Glenna the Coroner, is of course better known as Ensign Ro on “Star Trek: The Next Generation”.
- Ah, the first true weekend investigation...this would become quite the “X-Files” tradition!
- Great to see so many children so well supervised...
- Scully, as usual, looks damned good when she’s dressed down in her civvies! Especially when she’s on that date...yum!
- Interesting for Scully to claim no facility for children in this episode. Maybe a few years with Mulder gave her some experience!
- Why is it so cold on a late August night on the Jersey shore? Anyone who’s spent summers at the shore knows that it’s hazy and humid just about 24 hours a day that time of year!
- Scully has interesting friends. I especially like the Jeff Goldblum impersonator.
- Could Scully’s date have had less personality?
- What’s with the completely unnecessary and boring philosophy discussion between Mulder and Scully in the middle of a search?
- Nice jump for someone in heels!
- How did all of those leaves get on top of the woman’s body?
- I wonder what the tire tread hanging up in the office is all about...whatever it was, it had to be more interesting than this...
- So Mulder’s idea of fun on a Friday night is talking evolution with an ethno-biologist.
- Then again, he apparently usually works all night, since Scully tells him to take the day off...at well past 5 PM!
Overall, this episode was the first evidence that Chris Carter is not always the best choice for writer on his own series. This script does very little to engage interest from the audience, and there are some odd disconnects with the episodes that have already aired. Unfortunately, it would be a sign of things to come.
I give it a 5/10.
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