April 24, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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The X-Files “Shapes”

Mulder and Scully look into the murder of a Native American who may have been mistaken for some kind of wild animal.

Apparently, this episode is the result of the network telling the series’s creators they wanted Mulder and Scully to investigate more traditional monsters.  The show was already looking into some Native American folklore that more or less could be mistaken for the wolfman from the sounds of things, and the rest is history.

The Case:  The Wolf-Man!  I mean, a Manitou.

The Rest:  OK, true confessions time:  when this episode was brand new, I think this was one of my early favorites.  I was, at the time and possibly still, a bit of a werewolf fan.  Vampires were overdone.  There are dozens of good vampire stories as told in books and movies.  Everyone knows Dracula.  Werewolf movies and characters are a lot less prominent, no doubt due to the special effects required to show a transformation.  Slapping a pair of fangs on someone is a lot easier than a full body suit of some kind.

So, seeing what was basically a werewolf on this show was bound to catch my interest.  True, this creature isn’t quite a werewolf, but what little of him is visible (and it is a good make-up effect) sure looks like one, and the idea that the Manitou (as it is eventually revealed to be) spreads its curse though bites and scratches and only comes out as night while the poor victim becomes a bloodthirsty beast that will attack, kill, and even eat loved ones, well, that sure sounds like a werewolf.  The episode has a lot of werewolf movie tropes, up to and including the current man who doesn’t know he’s the monster waking up in a field naked near his last attack.

However, the episode also makes it clear that it isn’t quite a werewolf.  The transformation, the old Native American wiseman explains, occurs at night regardless of the phase of the moon, and the creature is just as mortal as any other man.  He’s just faster, stronger, and hairier.

But watching the episode in 2023 makes me wonder how, well, accurate the episode is in its depiction of Manitou folklore, and that’s assuming “folklore” is even the right word for it.  I don’t know, but there’s a part of me that looks at an episode like this and wonders how much is an accurate representation and how much is cultural (mis)appropriation.  It doesn’t help that Mulder becomes something of a white savior, one the wiseman praises for both having something like a Native name and being a believer when so many other Natives just plain don’t.  True, I don’t think Mulder got to kill the beast in the end when Scully was in danger–that fell to the local Native sheriff–but he was quick to point out this was actually the first ever X-File, and it pops up every eight years, leading the wiseman to tell Mulder he will see him back in eight years.

Needless to say, that didn’t happen in season eight.  I’d have to check to see if Duchovny was still on the show for that season.

Also needless to say, Scully somehow ran from the monster and somehow didn’t see it, allowing her to still be confused about the whole monster thing and have plausible deniability over what happened.

Likewise, the locals sure were mad at Mulder and Scully, and not for the usual reasons.  More like they represent a distant and generally unhelpful American government.

So, is this episode still a personal early favorite?  Well, not really. but I’m not entirely sure how much this show has aged well just yet.