Tuesday, December 28, 2010

X-Files--"Humbug"

You may not realize it by the above photo, but "Humbug” is the most comedic episode of the series yet. It was the first of four scripts written by Darin Morgan, who previously appeared as Flukeman in “The Host.” The episode features the murder investigation of a sideshow freak with no paranormal aspects. The script actually makes no effort to add who the murderer really is in order to set up the final joke. Nevertheless, what could have been a one trick episode at best or a bad Vincent price movie at worst winds up a fun, but unusual installment.

Aside from the one joke set up I mentioned, the other significant issue with ’Humbug” is how poorly Vancouver doubles for central Florida. It is obviously late fall in Canada. The actors have to suffer through wearing lighter clothes, a few even swimming in pools or a lake, with their breath clearly visible in the cold air. (They have not yet learned the BBC trick of sucking on an ice cube in winter to keep that from happening.) The only concession is overcoats during night scenes. It must have been a tough shoot.

Mulder and Scully head to central Florida to investigate the murder of the Alligator Man, a sideshow freak suffering from a skin condition which caused him to grow scales. The Alligator man had a hole borrowed into the left side of his abdomen just as a number of previous victims have. Mulder not only believes there is a serial killer targeting sideshow freaks, but unusual tracks near the corpses lead him to believe the killer is a freak himself.

Once they get to the carnival, all signs point to Dr. Blockhead, the human contortionist who can feel no pain. Or perhaps it is The Conundrum, a tattooed human who will eat anything. Or maybe it is the local sheriff, who used to be the Dog Faced Boy before receiving a Nurelco for Christmas. Only the agents are in the dark. We bear witness to two murders during their investigation which are clearly committed by a tiny, but vicious creature. The only character we have met so far who could fit that description is Leonard, the undeveloped co-joined twin of Larry, an assistant to the sideshow owner, Mr. Nutt.

Sure enough, that is the case. Leonard can separate himself from Larry for short periods of time. He resents Larry for whatever reasons, so he seeks out other people he can borrow into in order to survive. When he escapes Larry’s abdomen in the climax, Larry dies from years of alcohol abuse, so Leonard is desperate to find another host. There is a morbidly funny chase between the agents and Leonard in a fun house before Leonard escapes, attacks The Conundrum, and, known only to the audience, is eaten by him. Case closed.

“Humbug” has a highly entertaining combination oftwisted humor and horrific violence. Watching Leonard scurry about seeking a new host is both hilarious and terrifying. There is a moral message throughout about celebrating differences, but it is buried in so much weirdness, the episode never gets preachy.

I do have to mention one bit. There is a scene in the second act after the second murder in which Larry awakens scully by knocking on her trailer door. It is early in the morning and both are in their robes. Their robes are both open enough to expose themselves--Larry’s parasitic twin and Scully’s cleavage. They glimpse at one another for the briefest of moments before wrapping themselves up in an embarrassed manner. While the rest of the episode clearly has a celebrate the difference theme to it, even if often done tongue in cheek, that one scene stands out as the polar opposite. Here is Larry the freak, clearly deformed, and obviously never been with a woman catching a glimpse of the beautiful Scully he could only ever accidentally do. There is sad reality to the encounter which both realize as they quietly, but hurriedly hide themselves. Larry was obviously embarrassed by his deformity. What was running through Scully’s mind is anyone’s guess. Fear of Larry’s attraction or the shame of reminding him of something he can never have? I do not know, but there is a certain deflation of the central theme because of me dwelling on it.

A couple casting notes. Larry is played by the late, great character actor Vincent Schiavelli, probably best known for his role in Ghost. Mr. Nutt the dwarf is played by Michael J. Anderson, who starred in Twin Peaks as did David Duchovny. I do not believe they were ever in the same episode, but I could be wrong. I have not seen Twin Peaks in twenty years. The other sideshow freaks were real carnival performers essentially playing themselves with surprisingly good acting skills.

“Humbug” is an entertaining episode unlike any which has aired thus far. As I explained when I reviewed Freaks not too long ago, my disabilities make it difficult for me to watch such things. I understand the alienation some freaks feel. It is difficult to deal with the reality of certain truths, such as the deformed cannot participate as freely in life as others do, but even worse when said reality is dealt with in the form of entertainment. Nevertheless, I am overall amused by “Humbug” even through some uncomfortable moments.

Ratings: *** (out of 5)

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