We revisit a Satanic high school in this season two classic that gives us horror and black comedy in equal measure.
The X Files ran for nine seasons and two movies, charting the efforts of Agents Mulder and Scully in their search for the unexplained. Now eight years after the second movie The X Files: I Want To Believe, the show is returning for six new episodes in 2016. Here at The Digital Fix, we are going to work our way through each season, reviewing some of the big episodes – and both movies – across the years in the build up to season ten. With 202 episodes, there is simply too much to cover every episode; instead we’ll pick the story highlights of each year. Next up is Die Hand die verletzt, a memorable season two tale that delves into the horrors of a Satanic Parent Teacher Committee in an American high school…
One of the The X Files‘ most successful traits was its ability to blend horror with
black comedy, with later episodes like Bad Blood and Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose proving to be some of the show’s most beloved stories. While not overtly comic in nature as some of those later tales, Die Hand die verletzt is one of the earliest episodes to properly interweave macabre comedy with chilling horror at its very best.
That theme is set in the opening scene, as a parent teacher committee debates the school’s next theatrical production. Jesus Christ Superstar is not appropriate for the school. Grease has the F word. And then lead each other in a Satanic prayer. The twisted mix of humour and terror continues as a group of teenagers attempt to recreate a satanic ritual just to get laid, only to fall foul of evil forces. Despite a woeful miss-pronunciation of Azazel they conjure up disembodied voices in the forest, rats running around their feet, burst of fire blocking their escape. It is all done tongue in cheek but it works because the episode never takes itself too seriously. I particularly love Mulder’s suggestion of lunch when they investigate the dead teenager in the forest and frogs start raining down on them.
The arrival of Mrs Paddock as a substitute teacher plays with convention. The Parent Teacher Committee are Satanic wannabes, worshipping something they cannot control while she appears to be the real thing, disguised as a caring, unassuming woman in her late forties her wants to be there for the kids in their time of need and give them a good education. Of course, she really is the evil presence conjured up during the teenagers’ ritual, something the bloody heart and a pair of eyes in her top drawer clearly demonstrates.
Things really get interesting when grieving teenager Shannon sees the pig embryo she is dissecting her class with Mrs Paddock start to move. It is deeply unsettling as is much of the content of the episode; devoid of humour it would emotionally draining indeed, particularly as her conversation with Mulder and Scully shows. Remembering suppressed memories, she recounts her childhood. Suffering abuse from her stepfather Jim (the lead member of the Satanic Parent Teacher Committee, played by Frasier’s Bulldog Dan Butler) she goes on to tell the agents how strangers would come to her house, tie her and her sister in a basement with red walls and abuse them further. Shannon had fallen pregnant three times from this, all her babies dead and buried in the basement, while her sister had been sacrificed at eight years old. It is nasty, chilling stuff indeed.
Of course, it might not be real. Shannon’s mother tells the agents that her sister died of cot death at eight weeks, though the evidence still suggests that Jim had involved her in his Satanic rituals, something he eventually confesses to Mulder before his own gruesome death.
Fortunately when things grow serious, the episode pulls it back enough with some OTT plot twists while remaining utterly engaging. Mrs Paddock performs a ritual on Shannon using her charm bracelet, candle and incense, something that eventually puts Mulder and Scully on her trail. Scully quickly learns that no one can remember hiring her and the teach she is substituting for had developed a sudden bout of Necrotizing Fasciitis after years of clean health. Sure it is silly but it is part of the charm of Die Hand die verletzt.
Dan Butler’s Jim ultimately proves to be as pathetic as his Satanic colleagues when he realises there is a dark angel among them, demanding a sacrifice. While the others end up hunting Mulder and Scully, Jim tries to find redemption first, giving himself up to Mulder. “Did you really think you could call up the devil and ask him to behave?” the intrepid agent asks, before leaving him handcuffed in his basement after receiving a call from Scully at the school.
The twist of course is that it was all a ploy by Paddock to get Jim alone and vulnerable so that she can unleash her killer python on him. The scene with the snake slithering down the stairs towards Jim is terrifying whether you like snakes or not and his fate is horrific. Eaten and devoured in minutes, the agents find nothing left but a pile of bloody bones, digested in less than an hour in what would normally take weeks.
The episode ends on a stormy night in the school as Paddock unleashes her black magic, all black eyes and guttural incantations while the rest of the parent teacher committee hunt Mulder and Scully even as they hunt them. In a brilliant double the surviving committee members turn on each other just as they are about to sacrifice Mulder and Scully, becoming their own sacrifice.
Paddock possess the man with the gun, ending the threat and leaving the dazed agents a final message on the chalkboard of her classroom. Goodbye. It’s been nice working with you. Some fans found the ending rather abrupt but I love it. There is no post-case reflection of voiceover, just a blackly comic final message that leaves you with a smile on your face. Susan Blommaert delivers a brilliant performance as the dark angel, making her one of the most memorable characters in the show’s long history. I would have loved to have Mulder and Scully run into her again but that would probably – pardon the pun – tarnished the magic of this episode.
One of the highlights of season two, and the last regular episode written by veteran writers Glen Morgan and James Wong, Die Hand die verletzt is a great little black comic tale that The X Files does so well. It’s not the strongest episode of the season but it certainly is one of the most fun.
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