Written by Chris Carter
Directed by Rob Bowman
In which Mulder and Scully investigate the deaths of several teenage boys in a small town, only to fall victim to the same odd astrological influences driving the killings...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
Airing this episode right after another Darin Morgan romp might have been a tactical error. “War of the Coprophages” was a stand-alone conceptual parody of the series and its central conceits, as well as an amusing tribute to old-fashioned science fiction films. This episode, on the other hand, makes no attempt to set itself apart, placing it in the same category as “Humbug”. And unfortunately, Chris Carter is no Darin Morgan.
The central premise of the episode is set up in the teaser, where two teenage girls, Margi and Terri, seem to be sinisterly linked to the deaths of teenage boys. Almost immediately, Margi and Terri are incredibly annoying. Not only do they display a complete disregard for anything approaching fashion sense (what is that, faux-80s?), but they seem to be overly callous. Yet, for some reason, the rest of the town of Comity doesn’t take notice.
The comedic element of personalities and relationships out of alignment shows up rather quickly, and it seems as though Mulder and Scully have gotten sick of each other. Again, coming off the exaggerated bickering of the previous episode, this is just bad timing, plain and simple. One begins to wonder if the agents have started to resent each other’s quirks, and considering how confused and fractured the third season has been, that’s not hard to believe.
Satanic cult killings, as mentioned, are the stuff of urban legend, and no investigation into organized community Satanism has ever been substantiated. It’s a bit amusing to see this come up as a point of comedy in a series for which much of the evil activity depicted to an evil non-corporal consciousness. Regardless, it sets up Scully as more smug than usual, making the local Detective White look naďve, so that Mulder’s exaggerated “frat boy” attitudes look even worse in contrast.
Underneath the surface of the whole Satanism frenzy is an interesting commentary on the alien abduction issue. How many times has Scully made similar observations about the testimony of alleged abductees, in terms of the common elements of abduction memories and possible sources of those “experiences”? The implication to this episode is completely overlooked. What does it say about the influence of evil on the world, if there’s some basis in reality for the supposedly unsubstantiated abduction phenomenon…something Scully just recently realized in “731”?
It does add a layer of sarcasm to Mulder’s constant attempts to place Scully’s counterarguments in “context”. Mulder’s heard it all before, and at least some part of him probably resents Scully’s constant opposition to his theories and interpretations. Influenced towards conflict, Mulder lets some of that frustration out. It’s funny, to be sure, but it does suggest that Mulder and Scully keep a lot of their interpersonal frustrations carefully hidden away.
As the episode marches on, Margi and Terri find their most violent thoughts manifested, and they react as though it’s the most normal thing in the world. That’s a little hard to swallow, but it’s all covered under the same blanket rationale: Margi and Terri are at the center of bizarre influences due to a rare planetary alignment. Extremes are apparently accepted as the norm under these circumstances.
Interesting that Scully should bring up the little issue of Mulder and his tendency to “ditch” her when it’s convenient. If there’s any question how she interprets those moments, this episode seems to cover the answer. Every time Mulder rushes off without telling Scully what he’s doing, Scully takes it personally. And sure enough, just like in the previous episode, Scully is even more perturbed when Mulder ditches her to work with another woman.
The mob mentality of the Comity townsfolk becomes a constant source of hilarity, even though it’s an example of a disturbing tendency. Scully’s lack of patience with the constant fear-mongering is priceless, because it’s exactly what she must be thinking whenever Mulder goes off on some wild tangent.
Personality traits from hell keep growing more and more prominent. Mulder becomes a complete pain in the ass, paying more attention to women’s perfume than the case at hand. Scully, on the other hand, becomes an increasingly neurotic and possessive shrew. It culminates in Mulder getting drunk off improvised screwdrivers and Scully chain-smoking while obsessing over Detective White.
Compare these events to those in “War of the Coprophages”, and it almost seems as if Carter is trying to out-parody Darin Morgan. Unfortunately, Morgan is far better at playing up Scully’s jealousy and Mulder’s apparent randiness without making it overly contentious or negative in the process. The previous episode wasn’t to be taken seriously, because the exaggeration was all in good fun.
This episode, on the other hand, lends a hostility to those exaggerations, as if to say that in the “real world” of the series, Mulder and Scully harbor some serious and damaging resentments. It’s clearly a response to the growing fan desire by the third season to lend a romantic or sexual attraction between the agents. Carter was dead set against any romance between Mulder and Scully, and this almost seems like his way of making sure they don’t get too close.
By this point, urges are twisted so much that people are acting without real motivation, attracted without knowing why or even having any drive to continue the effort past a given moment. Margi and Terri, in particular, look like they vaguely wanted to look sexy, but forgot why or how in the process. Detective White is just as bad, though that scene is clearly designed to make Scully as uncomfortable as possible. (Scully, in particular, is treated horribly in this episode, portrayed as a moody bitch instead of a competent woman.)
There’s little doubt that this is a damaging episode for the characters, something best ignored for the long term as an aberration. That being the case, how does the central concept work to allow this? In actuality, it fits well enough with the overall mythology of the series. Once again, it comes down to the unseen influences and spiritual concerns.
In this case, as Zirinka vaguely mentions, Comity sits at a crossroads of astrological influence. Astrology, granted, is far from an exact science. However, the series has developed the concept of locations with metaphysical significance, like the “lighthouses” where abductees are meant to gather at the time of Colonization. This could be interpreted as the same locations where the material and spiritual worlds intersect, where Purity can effectively “infect” mass populations prepared for that purpose.
Comity could also be such a location, and if so, then non-physical influences would be heightened. In folklore around the world, astronomical events have been reflected in rituals with spiritual considerations, especially in metaphorical respects. The syzygy effect in this episode, then, could be explained exactly as Zirinka puts it: spiritual influences of great potency are focused on certain areas, effecting people to a lesser or greater degree based on their connection to the spiritual.
There’s a baseline connection within everyone, as depicted on the series, and so the effect does something to everyone, exaggerating certain traits. But for people like Mulder, Scully, Margi, and Terri, obviously individuals with a genetic disposition towards a strong connection to spiritual entities and energies, the syzygy effect would be heightened.
Margi and Terri in particular become “possessed”, as it were, by the latent abilities made manifest during the moment of syzygy. Even if there’s no Satanic aspect to it all, the townsfolk of Comity are right to believe that something is taking control of the community, even if it’s something inherent to the individuals in question. Even Margi and Terri come to recognize that it’s centered around them…but only in the sense that they see something wrong in each other.
The chaos at the police station is well executed, even if the constant use of the Keystone Kops motif is a little over the top. It’s hard to imagine how anyone avoided getting shot, especially since the guns in holsters couldn’t all be on the hip, and even those tend to line up well with limbs when all is said and done! Even worse, though, is the conceit that the syzygy effect would somehow come to an abrupt end (or at least significantly reduce) at the stroke of midnight.
There are some minor aftereffects, though they are barely mentioned and leave much open to interpretation. How much do the victims of the syzygy effect remember, and for how long? Do Mulder and Scully consider those moments of contention something best forgotten, or do they let the bad feelings linger?
At the very least, there is some minor information regarding a possible timeline. “Nisei” and “731” took place around October 1995, and one could place “Revelations” in December 1995, around the holiday season. “War of the Coprophages”, of course, does not need to fit into the timeline since it technically doesn’t take place in the “real world” of the series. This episode, then, takes place around January 12, 1996.
While there are some funny moments along the way, this episode is just a little too harsh to be truly comical. Carter seems to take pride in writing episodes where Mulder and Scully abuse one another (“Fight Club” is a perfect example from later in the series), and that’s just plain wrong. It’s also too much frivolity too often by this point in the season. Expanding horizons is all well and good, but too much self-parody takes away from the series as a whole.
SCULLY: “Where is she going?”
MULDER: “You don’t suppose she’s a virgin, do you?”
SCULLY: “I doubt she’s even a blonde…”
MULDER: “If it’s no bother, if it’s not too bog a deal, maybe you can get me a few photographs of that thing which bears absolutely no resemblance to a horned beast.”
SCULLY: “Sure. Fine. Whatever…”
WHITE: “So…what are you doing at my house?”
MULDER: “I was hoping you could help me solve the mystery of the horny beast…”
MULDER: “No, no, be my guest…I know how much you like snapping on the latex!”
SCULLY: “I’m driv…why do you always have to drive? Because you’re the guy? Because you’re the big macho man?”
MULDER: “No! I was just never sure your little feet could reach the pedals!”
ZIRINKA: “I’m just waiting for authorization.”
MULDER: “I’m a federal agent!”
ZIRINKA: “Last I heard, the federal government couldn’t pay its bills…”
BOB: “I think it was Satan! Yes, sir…Satan it was!”
MULDER: “You just ran a stop sign back there, Scully.”
SCULLY: “Shut up, Mulder.”
MULDER: “Sure. Fine. Whatever…”
Overall, this episode was a vain attempt to replicate Darin Morgan’s comedic style, but the results don’t hit the same level of quality. Without the ability to stand alone, separate from the overall series canon, this episode damages the characters in ways that are hard to smooth over. The central phenomenon works well with the overall mythology, but there’s not much else to it.
Final Rating: 5/10
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