"War of the Coprophages"
Written by Darin Morgan
Directed by Kim Manners
In which Mulder investigates a series of deaths linked by a possible infestation of cockroaches, leading him to a secret government research facility, alien probes, and a woman named Bambi...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
After the success of “Humbug” and “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”, it was only inevitable that the series would begin airing semi-regular episodes with elements of self-parody. And perhaps there was good reason for that decision; the Darin Morgan episodes are often cited as fan favorites. This episode in particular takes the self-parody concept to a different level, stepping outside the box of the series continuity to tell a completely different kind of story.
By the time the third season was halfway done, the series had gained a passionate following. Fanfic by “shippers” had become a fixture of the fandom, and the internet community was one of the most pervasive. Carter had already begun slipping references to internet fans of some notoriety, and in this case, Morgan takes the fandom and gives it a tongue-in-cheek love letter.
Darin Morgan’s story is essentially structured like a madman’s version of early “X-Files” fan fiction. The plot, such as it is, comes directly out of the classic science fiction films of the 1950s and 1960s. The only difference is that the cockroaches in this episode aren’t 100 feet tall. Like those classics of yesteryear, there’s little attempt to explain what happens. People die, cockroaches swarm, and who the hell knows why? That’s not the point of it.
Morgan effectively gives some of the fandom exactly what they want, taking it to such a degree that it’s rendered ridiculous. Scene after scene is another commentary on the worst excesses of non-explicit fan fiction. It’s interesting to contrast this episode with one of the worst episodes of the final season, “Trustno1”. In the case of this episode, the idea of a jealous and possessive Scully is played to the hilt, with Scully sleeping with the phone on her pillow, yearning for an excuse for Mulder to get her involved. It’s a subtle reminder of how silly it would be to take Scully in that kind of extreme direction. Yet, in “Trustno1”, all of the things played for self-parody in this episode become serious character development!
Once recognized as something completely separate from the series “canon”, this episode can be enjoyed for what it is. The constant cycle of death scenes is classic comedy, with Mulder jumping at bizarre killer cockroach theories until Scully gives a perfectly rational explanation for every single death without even seeing a shred of evidence. Scully casually tosses out the right answer every time Mulder calls for her to come and investigate…until the moment that Bambi shows up!
Of course, then there’s the classic reversal. Suddenly it’s Scully suggesting that she hit the road and join the investigation, while Mulder shrugs her off in favor of the hot etymologist. The implication, of course, is that Mulder seems to be ignorant of Scully’s not-so-silent pining. It’s clearly meant for laughs, because for all Mulder’s drooling, there’s not a hint of anything remotely romantic between Mulder and Bambi. And of course, Bambi is just a stand-in for Scully, not-so-subtly suggesting that Mulder secretly wants a woman like Scully but can’t admit it.
The parody doesn’t end there. The name of the town, Miller’s Grove, is a play on Grove’s Mill, NJ, the town where Martians were supposedly beginning their invasion in the Orson Welles radio drama version of “War of the Worlds”. The fact that the town just happens to be filled with scientists and just happens to hide a secret government insect research facility is par for the classic sci-fi course. Mulder, of course, breaks into the facility, and one of the best moments of the episode comes when Scully begins chiding him for even thinking about it, when he’s already inside!
It may not be intentional, but when Mulder is “surrounded” by the cockroaches, his reaction is so muted that it works to undermine whatever seriousness might have built up around the body count. It sounds just like David Duchovny pretending to be scared of killer cockroaches, and doing a really bad job of it. Or maybe they had him do the voiceover five seconds after he woke up the next morning. Whatever the case, it’s completely absurd, and it works for this episode. It’s almost as good as Mulder waking up because he’s worried about cockroaches crawling up his nose!
The scene between Mulder and Ivanov is another great send-up of classic science fiction, right down to the wheelchair-bound scientist who just happens to be an expert on the most advanced human research one could apply to alien metallic cockroaches, so he can be astonished. And then there’s the public panic scene, with Scully an island of exasperated calm in the midst of crowds fighting over a can of “Die! Bug! Die!”. The fact that Scully scavenges the Choco Droppings, playing on the metaphor of humans as just big versions of cockroaches, adds a measure of hilarity.
The episode becomes a bit too focused on the human/cockroach metaphor once the fun has to come to an end. The crazy scientist begins to believe Mulder is a cockroach, Mulder and Scully become covered in dung, Mulder writes his report while eating a large piece of dung-esque cake…it’s all mildly amusing, just like the predictable pairing of Bambi and Ivanov. It’s all a little too easy, and one wonders if actually explaining why the cockroaches were swarming around dead people might have been better.
As good as the episode is at taking some of fandom’s sacred cows and placing them in the middle of a parody of classic science fiction films, the ending is a little too sophomoric. It’s far more interesting to consider how many fans just don’t understand that this episode is making fun of them! It’s friendly sarcasm, perhaps, but still providing an example of what the show would become if the will of some fans became reality.
Watching this episode is just a little unnerving for that very reason. It was funny to think, watching the episode first-run, that the series could ever wander into such ridiculous territory. It’s not nearly so amusing with the series now over, having spent its final few seasons lingering in that kind of material, with Chris Carter practically forcing the writers not to take chances. Like this episode, the final few seasons never quite found a cohesive plot thread and Scully became an echo of this version of the character.
Since this episode is best enjoyed on its own, without trying to make connections to the larger mythology or anything else considered “canon”, Darin Morgan’s prophetic script ultimately works against it. It was only as solid and funny as it was absurd. Once the self-parody became reality, it was just a said reminder of how bad writing and characterization were once confined to a popular subset of the overall fandom.
MULDER: “Scully…what are you wearing?”
SCULLY: “Yeah, well, don’t look too hard. You might not like what you find.”
MULDER: “Isn’t that what Dr. Zaius said to Charlton Heston at the end of ‘Planet of the Apes’?”
SCULLY: “And look what happened.”
MULDER: “It appears that cockroaches are mortally attacking people.”
SCULLY: “I’m not going to ask you if you just said what I think you said because I know it’s what you just said.”
NEWTON: “After talking with Agent Mulder here, I suddenly feel slightly constipated.”
FRASS: “What’s his problem?”
MULDER: “He’s upset that I don’t know what’s going on here.”
FRASS: (Pause.) “So what the hell is going on here?”
SCULLY: “Who died now?”
SCULLY: “Mulder, you’re not thinking about trespassing onto government property again, are you? I know that you’ve done it in the past, but I don’t think that this case warrants-”
MULDER: “It’s too late. I’m already inside.”
SCULLY: “Well…what’s going on? What do you see?”
MULDER: “Dr. Berenbaum, I’m going to have to ask you a few questions.”
BAMBI: “For instance?”
MULDER: “What’s a woman like you doing in a place like this?”
BAMBI: “Does my scientific detachment disturb you?”
MULDER: “No…no, actually, I find it quite refreshing. (Phone.) Not now…”
SCULLY: “Her name is Bambi?”
MULDER: “Yeah. Both her parents were naturalists. Her theory is that UFOs are actually nocturnal insect swarms passing through electrical air fields.”
SCULLY: (Pause.) “Her name is Bambi?”
MULDER: “Scully, can I confess something to you?”
SCULLY: “Mulder…are you sure it wasn’t a girly scream?”
MULDER: “Can you tell what kind of cockroach it is?”
BAMBI: “I should be able to. The abdomen’s still attached and we differentiate species by their genitalia. Oh my God!”
MULDER: “Is it abnormal?”
BAMBI: “I’ll say…he’s hung like a club-tailed dragonfly!”
SCULLY: “I’m in a convenience store on the outskirts of…civilization…”
Overall, this episode was a rare self-contained parody, well written by Darin Morgan. By standing on its own outside of continuity, the episode gives itself plenty of room to send-up the series premise and its early internet fandom. There’s no real sense of resolution, but that’s really incidental to the point of the parody. Unfortunately, so much of the parody would ultimately become a part of the series, and that takes away from its absurdity.
Final Rating: 8/10
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