The X Files Revisited: 6.04, 6.05 Dreamland
The X Files ran for nine seasons and two movies, charting the efforts of Agents Mulder and Scully in their search for the unexplained. And then in 2016, it returned for six new episodes, a mix of mythology and case of the week stories that brought Mulder and Scully back the FBI. From the brilliant Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster to the frantic mythology cliff-hanger in My Struggle II, it was largely viewed as a success and there are hopes that season 10 is just the first of more. In the lead up to the revival, The Digital Fix reviewed the best and most significant episodes of the first 100 episodes in the season's run, from the pilot episode all the way through to the 100th episode Unusual Suspects. Now we're going to continue that run, picking key episodes from the second half of the show - and two movies – and our next revisited is season six body-swapping comedy two-parter Dreamland...
Comedy was a key part of the sixth season of The X Files and none more so than in the show's first two-parter not tied to the show's mythology. Not only was it a story of Fox Mulder and man in Black Morris Fletcher (a great guest star performance by Michael McKean) swapping bodies, but the largely comic tone was something not seen on this scale before or since. Reviewing this season now, it is the perfect balance to the more serious theme at play - Mulder and Scully cut off from the X Files and ostracized from everyone in the FBI - and showed that the series could shake things up successfully in its sixth year. Yes the lighter tone of The X Files might have felt a little tiring come season seven, but here it helps make this season another contender for classic status.
The way The X Files conspires to have Mulder and Scully working unusual cases despite being off the X Files is a simple but effective role; they disobey orders and go off searching for the strange and mysterious. It meant Mulder abandoning his current case of investigating suspicious manure purchases to help on a case involving a woman with an exploding head in Drive. While in the previous episode Triangle he literally packed up and went off to the Bermuda Triangle to locate a cruise liner missing since 1939. This time he's found a source in Area 51 and despite the strict orders of their new boss Kersh, he's dragged Scully down to Utah to investigate the real truth behind UFOs. For the second time in two episodes Mulder becomes part of the X File himself; the malfunctioning aircraft flying overhead as he is intercepted by men in black (led by Fletcher) results in both men switching bodies, Mulder in Fletcher, Fletcher in Mulder.
What follows in Dreamland part 1 is some of the best comic moments the show has done to date. Fletcher impersonating Mulder is a lot of fun, particularly Scully's confusion and frustration as he calls her a little lady, asks her to buy a pack of Morleys, plays the perfect by-the-rules agent to suck up to Kersh and then seduces his ice queen of an assistant. And the icing on the cake comes in the following episode where he uncovers a bedroom crammed with boxes - thus confirming that Mulder has spent at least six years sleeping on the sofa - and turning it into a bachelor pad complete with water bed and mirrored ceiling!
But the scenes where Duchvony plays Mulder in Fletcher's body are even more hilarious. Seeing him interact with Fletcher's family, an emotional daughter who just wants a nose ring (him telling her shes too young for a nose job is priceless), a son who doesn't care and a frustrated wife that is ready to divorce him. Seeing Mulder desperately try to fumble his way through Fletcher's life is cringe worthy and a joy to watch, topped by the fantastic scene where he stands his his vest and boxers, staring at the reflection of Fletcher in the mirrored wardrobe and attempting what can only be described as a bizarre dance off - until his wife catches him.
Added to this are the mutterings of Scully in his sleep, which causes Fletcher's wife to deduce she must be his mistress. Mulder desperately tries to play it down, telling her she is his work partner but the sudden arrival of Scully at his house is comic timing gold. Scully gets called a great deal many names by Fletcher's wife as she tosses his things out of the house, but it is Mulder who really suffers - much to the laughs of the audience.
The first part is the finer episode of the two, filled with lots and lots of great comedy and a great mystery as Fletcher's colleagues - who Mulder tries to dupe - investigate bizarre cases of body swaps and a lizard alive with its head fused to a rock. The after effects of the crashing aircraft using - we assume - alien technology, adds some real depth to the episode to prevent it from becoming a superfluous affair. The aftershock hitting the gas station Mulder just left, with the owner fused into the floor is gruesome and shocking, while the body swap of the pilot and an elderly native american woman is great comic touch. Julia Vera plays the military officer in the old woman's body extremely convincingly!
With Fletcher back in Kersh's good graces and Scully beginning to suspect something is very wrong with her partner, the episode plays her as a rebel out on her own, truly taking up Mulder's mantle. And so it is shocking to see her forced by Kersh and Fletcher / Mulder to trap the real Mulder in the first episode's cliffhanger. Seeing him dragged away by the other men in black makes for a great tease for the concluding part and while part 2 isn't as strong as the first, there is still plenty of comedy and drama to warrant this as a two part non-mythology episode.
In episode two, Morris Fletcher's attempted seduction of Scully is a wonderful moment. The wine, water bed and handcuffs...she's willing to play along right up to the moment she cuffs him to the bed, pulls a gun and demands to know where the real Mulder is. I was glad to see even a skeptic like Scully could see the truth even without the answers to prove it. Meanwhile the real Mulder faces interrogation until the episode hits us with another bold twist; the mole is the base's commander and in true comic fashion he contacted Mulder to find out if the aircraft he had been testing at Area 51 came from actual aliens!
Unfortunately the second part also loses a bit of a direction after this. Mulder finds himself back working in Area 51 but without any hope of returning to his old life while Scully sees powerless to take action too. The key fault in the Dreamland two-parter is that not much actually happens and the three lead characters (including Fletcher) don't actually do anything proactive to solve 'the case'. Mulder doesn't uncover any juicy secrets in Area 51, Scully doesn't find a scientific reason for the body swap and Fletcher is more concerned with having fun with his new lease of life as an FBI agent.
Fortunately there continue to be fun moments, such as Fletcher encountering the Lone Gunmen and revealing rather smugly that he made up half the stories
they publish while on the toilet. And the revelation that he planted Saddam Hussein (who is in fact a man from Tulsa discovered in 1979) is a fantastic moment. It's too ludicrous to be true but you can also believe he might have been able to do that.
There are some nice endearing moments towards the end of the second episode as all the characters realise that they are powerless to reverse what happened. The scene between Mulder and Scully as they realise they have to say goodbye is very bittersweet and the moment when Fletcher in Mulder's body tells his wife what is really happening is heartbreaking.
The slingshot idea of the changes reversing one by one back to the original moment is a cool idea if a little bit of a cop out. It allows time to reverse, ending with Mulder and Fletcher back in their own bodies as the men in black intercept Mulder and Scully on the dark highway. Though the episode can't quite make up whether everything was reversed. Scully finds the fused coins she discovered in the site of destroyed gas station and Mulder returns home to find all of Fletcher's changes to his apartment intact. But because this is a comedy two parter it also works - if you don't think too hard about it - and Mulder's newfound waterbed will make a great return in the later season six episode Monday.
The Dreamland two-parter is another great example of the lighter tone of season six absolutely working; it has a lot of fun with the body-swapping premise and Michael McKean makes for a memorable guest star. It shows how The X Files was able to shake up its storytelling after five years and a movie and is the first non-conspiracy two-parter in the show's history (if you don't count the connected Tooms and Pusher stories from earlier seasons). For me, it is also an example of how the show could do great comedy without always venturing into bigger Darin-Morgan-esque hilarity. Dreamland is The X Files at its most confident and continues to be a joy to watched from beginning to end...