Is the Flukeman the most repulsive monster in the show’s history?
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. This early season two episode delivers one of the show’s most gruesome monster of the week cases, even if the X Files themselves remain closed…
The X Files has delivered some particularly nasty episodes – both the season one stories featuring Eugene Victor Tooms come to mind – but The Host might be the most vile one of all. Definitely not an episode to watch after you’ve eaten, the Flukeman is a stomach-churning monstrosity that reinforces the fact that nothing good lives in the sewer…
After an utterly vile opening that sees poor Russian crewman Dimitri pulled into a tank on a Russian cargo ship while unblocking a sewage tank we return to Mulder and the monotony in his life that become surveillance duty. Life after the X Files continues to be a rather mundane affair – unscheduled trips to Puerto Rico aside – but I for one like the fact that the show didn’t wrap up the season one cliffhanger in a single episode. Instead the show finds ways to tap into the supernatural and The Host is the most successful.
Mulder is giving a reprieve by being sent into the sewers in New Jersey to investigate a murder case. At first he views it as a bad joke on Assitant Director Skinner’s behalf but we continue to see that his boss isn’t quite the villain he was set up to be. After standing up to the Cigarette Smoking Man in Little Green Men here he gives Mulder a case that is an X File in all but name. He even goes on to note the mystery of the Flukeman should have been part of Mulder and Scully’s investigations.
One of the thing I enjoyed about this episode on rewatch is that it is as much about progressing the overall story as it is about a capturing a terrifying monster. Skinner becomes an ally to Mulder, even if he is too defeated by events to realise it. And we also get the debut of the shadowy Mr X. We don’t see him in person for a couple of episodes yet, but with his ambiguous call to Mulder, suggesting he has a friend in the FBI he becomes a worthy follow up to Deep Throat. “Success in your current assignment is imperative.” Mr X tells Mulder on the phone. “Reinstatement of The X Files must be undeniable.” It keeps the energy of the show alive.
It also continues to demonstrate the close bond Mulder and Scully share after their year of investigating UFO sightings, psychic killers, ancient killer creatures dug out of ice and trees and a monster that can climb out of the toilet. (It should be noted that the Flukeman and Tooms share that rather nasty trait, along with the infected fluke worms’ ability to attach itself to the bile duct and feed off the victim’s liver).
Scully is the one that keep Mulder going and she is the one he immediately turns to when he needs someone do an autopsy on the victim. They even have a good laugh later in the episode when Mulder muses that they might be dealing with a giant killer fluke worm ““Well that’s good.” Mulder notes when Scully shoots him down. “I didn’t want to have to tell Skinner that his murder suspect was a giant, blood sucking worm.” It is with a bittersweet smile that Scully notes it was almost like old times.
But really, what everyone remembers most about The Host is not the on-going story but the monster itself and the design of the creature is one of the most striking in the show’s history. The episode wisely chooses to build the mystery of what attacked Dimitri and the sewer worker in New Jersey. Scully finding the worm in the Russian’s corpse is the first starling moment in the episode and the sucker bite on the worker is a nasty piece of work. When he starts pouring the toothpaste in his mouth to get rid of the taste of sewer water you can imagine tasting it yourself and it makes the whole experience somewhat unsettling. The moment he starts coughing up blood in the shower you know something nasty is coming and the worm pouring out of his mouth doesn’t disappoint.
Even with these events making for a deeply unsettling viewing experience, the first appearance of the Flukeman in the sewage plant is still shocking. Half human, half worm – as Scully describes it a parasitic with primate physiology – it is the stuff of nightmares indeed. Of course without the X Files to support the case, the authorities try conventional means all to no avail. Locking it up on a psychiatric hospital and then transporting it in a Marshall’s truck was never going to go well.
The scene where the Marshall searches for the missing Flukeman in the back of the track is very creepy and again less is more as we hear his screams while the truck sits next to a ‘live bait’ sign – black humour at its best. Watching it slither into the portaloo is particularly repulsive and I loved how the sewage van sucks it up and passes Mulder as he hunts for the Marshall’s killer on the road.
The stomach churning moments continue as Mulder finds himself back in the sewers, rushing in to save the plant worker after he is sucked into the water. As Mulder dives in to save him, the Flukeman crawls around his feet. Think the creature in the trash compactor scene from Star Wars, only a thousand times more disgusting. Even Mulder’s final action, slicing the Flukeman in half with a metal sliding door is met with cheers and a sick feeling in your throat.
The Host is not an episode to watch lightly. Chilling, tense and vile in equal measure, it is one the show’s strongest episodes – just for the uncomfortable feeling it produces alone. A creature we learn created out of the radioactive cesspool of Chernobyl, it is a monster of humanity’s making. And of course it ends like Squeeze with the tease of more horrors to come – even if this time it didn’t happen. The last moments return to the sewers of New Jersey where a Flukeman opens its dead eyes, staring at the audience through the murky waters. It sends a shiver down my spine every time.
There would be plenty more chills to come as the series progressed, but none got to me like the dreaded Flukeman…
Guessed the spoiler? Are modern audiences too savvy for TV show twists?
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum