The X-Files: Familiar
March 8, 2018 7:40 AM - Season 11, Episode 8 - Subscribe

Mulder and Scully suspect that darker forces are at play as they investigate a brutal animal attack on a little boy in Connecticut. [Official synopsis] [CW: violence to children, mostly unseen]

The X-Files Recap: Don’t Go Into the Woods (Brian Tallerico for Vulture via Yahoo Entertainment)
“Familiar” is a well-directed and performed X-Files episode, but it ultimately falls into a few too many screenwriting traps to ignore. The metaphors are seriously muddled — infidelity, witchcraft, McCarthyism, and vigilante justice are all thrown into the mix — and a lot of the dialogue is tragically overheated. Worst of all, Scully and Mulder are forced into beliefs that don’t make much logical sense aside from serving those cloudy metaphors. “Familiar” isn’t a horrible episode, just a forgettable one — assuming you can get that damn Mr. Chuckle Teeth song out of your head.
An okay X-Files is elevated by a nifty monster (Zack Handlen for A.V. Club)
The title gives the game away. The name “Familiar” refers to the shape-shifting demon who appears multiple times throughout the hour, a mysterious beast as comfortable in the clothes of (seriously creepy) kid show staples as it is in the skin of an ex-lover. But it’s also an accurate description of the episode as a whole. We’ve been here before, more or less. Mysterious deaths, a seemingly normal small town hiding monstrous secrets, and Mulder and Scully, bumbling about doing what they do—which in this case is trail just five steps behind what’s going on until the eventual and inevitable collapse.
posted by filthy light thief (21 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Mr. Chuckleteeth, happy as can be
Mr. Chuckleteeth, won't you play with me?
When I'm feeling lonely, lonely as can be
Oh, Mr. Chuckleteeth, won't you play with me.
Mr. Chuckleteeth, we all love you so
Stay with us forever, and never let us go
posted by filthy light thief at 7:44 AM on March 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Randy Disher! Six!

"Stirring something other than his cauldron"

Mr. Chuckleteeth reminds me strongly of a statue in a guest room I stayed in years ago. I had trouble sleeping there because it was staring down at me all night from the mantelpiece.
posted by Query at 8:58 AM on March 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Benjamin Van Allen, the episode's primary writer: "When I was thinking of this episode, I thought of the teaser first, then I had to figure out a way to make the teaser make sense"

So, yeah, it's pretty much all about Mr. Chuckleteeth.

After years of watching Mulder and Scully elbow their way into local cases just because Mulder saw something in a tabloid somewhere, I did enjoy the police chief's initial question of "what are you even doing here, anyway?" which, jurisdictional matters aside, I don't think M&S ever answered.
posted by AndrewInDC at 9:43 AM on March 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

Chief Strong: But, uh let me ask you, what's the FBI doing here?
Scully: The FBI has jurisdiction over the killing of the immediate family of a law enforcement officer.
Chief Strong: Wait. You think that this was a murder?
Scully: I don't rule it out.
Chief Strong: What makes you say that?
Scully: I know this is a small town, and probably very close-knit, and I'm sure that you don't want to hear this. But if a man did this and it would typically be a man he would be emboldened by escaping detection - and would likely kill again. The evidence ...
Chief Strong: ... doesn't support that.
Scully: Well, the broken neck supports that.

(I'm pretty that's who said what - I pulled the text from a rough transcript of the episode)
posted by filthy light thief at 10:09 AM on March 8, 2018

Mr. Chuckleteeth and Alien Teletubbies were incredibly creepy. Then again, human puppet tv shows often cross the line between something being "cute" and "well, I wasn't planning on sleeping tonight anyway". So, good job, prop department.
posted by lmfsilva at 11:39 AM on March 8, 2018

Ha, I'm halfway through Candle Cove, so I'm well accustomed to frightening kids' show characters appearing in the woods as harbingers to child murders, but Mr. Chuckleteeth was a masterpiece of the disturbing.

I quite liked this episode, but then I read Zack Handlen's takedown and couldn't disagree with any of his points. It was also pretty obstinate in not updating the Mulder-Scully dynamic for 2018. It's become cliché to ask "After all Scully's seen she still doesn't believe this is possible?" and while I can still see her dismissing hellhounds and witchcraft, surely she can accept something out of the ordinary is happening? She had her son psychically transmit an alien invasion and pandemic scenario into her head, then later appear to her as Dr. Marvin Candle! It would be funny if now she tried to explain everything away as being caused by psychic powers.

Mulder: Those flames that consumed her were the flames of hell.
Scully: There are many documented cases of pyrokinesis—
Mulder: Oh god, not the pyrokinesis again.

Something I'm curious about: Has the X-Files previously shown child murder? I feel like this might have been a first. I remember the dead baby in "Home," but it died in childbirth.
posted by ejs at 6:48 PM on March 8, 2018

I thought this one was effectively dramatic, but the child murder was hard to take. That poor little boy with little yellow raincoat, and the little angle-faced girl! Actually this one was a bloodbath in general. EVERYBODY died, other than Curtis from 24.

I noticed that they were pretty restrained with the depiction of the kid's autopsy, which I was grateful for, but it made me realize that I don't think we've seen a big gory autopsy in the revived series. Those were a vital part of the original series, but maybe the creators feel like it's become cliche now thanks to stuff like CSI. (Come to think of it, the revival doesn't seem as gory in general as the original show. I'm not remembering any new episodes that have squicked me out the way the old show did.)

I was very much on Mulder's side when he talked about how wrong it was that the town was so eager to scapegoat the creepy guy, even though he'd served his time. That mob scene was truly horrific. At the same time, it really creeps me out how this franchise keeps giving us these kind of sympathetic sexual predators. There's the guy in Small Potatoes, the kid in Post-Modern Prometheus, the Billy Connolly priest guy in the second movie (a literal child rapist!) and now this. I may well be forgetting some others. I don't think it's bad to create characters who do evil things but are still sympathetic to some degree... But that's a LOT of sympathetic sexual predators!

The monsters in this one were pretty chilling, but I thought their TV incarnations were a little too creepy to believe as shows kids would actually watch. I would've liked to have seen them look just a bit more colorful and silly on their TV show, and then gray and scary like that in real life. And Mr. Chuckleteeth's song sounded like the Dreidle song with new lyrics, which is... weird.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:56 PM on March 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

Preface: my local FOX station has been running a "classic" episode immediately before each new episode. I usually watch a day late, so this evening I got home, fixed some dinner, sat down in front of the tv, and queued up first yesterday's rerun. I got 30 seconds into "Home," looked at my food, chicken and pumpkin covered in crushed tomatoes, and clicked "stop" and "delete." Sorry, Mrs. ohgodihaveblockedouteverythingabouthisepisodeIcannotnopeoutfastenoughohgod. Then because of the way my DVR sets hour blocks, the new episode's recording started with the voiceover from Mrs NOPECOCK about finding a new home and the son climbing out of the trunk of the car and then driving off into the sunset. So that set the stage: Creeped out by reflex before the episode even started.

I really thought this was a great creepy MOTW. I kind of thought they were going for a subliminal messaging thing with the psychedelic teletubbies, so that was a good fake-out. I guess the idea was that the entity luring everyone away was who they most wanted to see. I guess the mob justice bit was not particularly innovative but it served the plot well enough.

Andrew's yellow raincoat had to be a hat-tip to Georgie from IT, right?
posted by sldownard at 11:48 AM on March 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

There was some good things about this episode -- Mr. Chuckleteeth was indeed as creepy as all get out -- and I was happy to see a witchcraft premise as witches are my favourite horror archetype, but ultimately the script had a muddled feel and didn't work that well.
posted by orange swan at 7:06 PM on March 9, 2018

I enjoyed this episode revisiting old motw formulas.

Things appear weird, but there's a logical explanation. But Mulder's skeptical and Scully finds something that confirms that he's mostly right; this time surprisingly so. But again unable to prove anything definitively.

Scully: "How did you know Mulder?"
Mulder: "I..... did not see that coming."

But yeah, Act 3 didn't start out making any sort of sense.

I was ok with the straightforward morality lesson about hubris and escalation, and small community stress-response dynamics.


Q: spirits and other supernatural phenomena - in the present day are they purely manipulating the minds of people (making them think that they're seeing things on TV), or are they/some able to actually manipulate technology like TV displays directly?

I guess the simple answer would be to have video of the phenomenon beamed to a remote location.
posted by porpoise at 9:32 PM on March 9, 2018

OK, so let's say I found the brief preview of this episode last week really unbearably creepy. It sounds like I should just skip this one, yeah?
posted by potrzebie at 10:47 PM on March 9, 2018

The one part that fell flat for me was Scully insisting there couldn't be anything supernatural about this. Seriously, Scully? For 25 years now, every case you've gone out on has ended up being something supernatural. Her skeptic act stopped seeming remotely plausible way back when Ace of Base ruled the charts.

Andrew's yellow raincoat had to be a hat-tip to Georgie from IT, right?

I thought of Georgie too. I'd say it was either an homage or a shameless rip-off, depending on how you look at it.

It sounds like I should just skip this one, yeah?

Well, it's The X-Files. It's supposed to be creepy! I wouldn't say this was the show's scariest episode ever, but YMMV.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 11:06 PM on March 9, 2018

I guess I'm more asking if there's anything so compelling about this episode that it's worth gritting my teeth through the scary clown or ventriloquist's dummy or whatever.
posted by potrzebie at 12:55 PM on March 12, 2018

Well, it's not a classic. It's a typical, good, MOTW episode. I guess you can skip it without any harm.
posted by lmfsilva at 3:24 PM on March 12, 2018

I'd say watch it. In addition to being scary it also felt very relevant to this moment in our culture. I thought the mob violence was scarier than Mr. Chuckleteeth.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:44 PM on March 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

My wife just kept asking, “Mr. Chuck E Cheese? Isn’t he a mouse?”
posted by valkane at 5:34 PM on March 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

It was grossly unfair of Mulder to lump Scully in with the townspeople for wanting to convict and punish the sex offender without a trial. They've known each other for 20+ years, he knows her integrity, she wanted to apprehend a suspect and nothing more.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:12 PM on March 24, 2018

We really liked this. It was very much like a classic episode, with some updates for modern sensibility, including the beating / mob scene / murder, which was unusually harrowing.
posted by mwhybark at 11:35 PM on March 27, 2018

I felt like this was a duplicate of one of the old ones.. I forget which one. Had some kind of animate doll clown thing?
posted by bitterkitten at 3:10 PM on March 31, 2018

Chinga? (writer: STEPHEN KING omg)

don't bleeve I ever caught that
posted by mwhybark at 7:04 PM on March 31, 2018

I thought it was unrealistic, not to mention irresponsible, to have a sheriff and a cop go right back to work after the death of their respective children. Surely they would have been on bereavement leave for two weeks?

Bridget Bishop was an actual victim of the witchcraft trials in Salem in 1692, and was the first to be hanged. It seemed odd to me, and somewhat disrespectful, that the show would reference her as being from this little town in Connecticut and having spontaneously combusted, as though she actually was a witch.

Something I'm curious about: Has the X-Files previously shown child murder? I feel like this might have been a first. I remember the dead baby in "Home," but it died in childbirth.

Yes, it has. In "The Calusari", a 2-year-old boy is murdered when he is lured onto a traintrack. A little boy is murdered via sandbox avalanche in "The Walk". There were children murdered in the mass cult suicide in "The Field Where I Died". "Paper Hearts" was about the case of a serial child killer, though all the murders were long past. There were babies aborted in "Terms of Endearment". A child is consumed by the sea monster in "Agua Mala". "Sein Und Zeit"/"Closure" features a child serial killer, whose many victims are found buried on his property, though he did not murder the little girl abducted in Part 1. "Invocation" was about the murder of little boy ten years before. And of course, Doggett's son Luke was murdered.

And, er, the baby in "Home" wasn't stillborn. It was buried alive.
posted by orange swan at 10:34 AM on October 21, 2020

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