The X Files Revisited: 3.12: War of the Coprophages

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 time Darin Morgan is back on scripting duties to bring Mulder and Scully face to face with killer cockroaches from outer space...

Mulder "Scully, if an alien civilization were technologically advanced enough to build and send artificially intelligent robotic probes to the farthest reaches of space, might they not have also been able to perfect the extraction of methane fuel from manure? An abundant and replenishing energy source on a planet filled with dung-producing creatures?"
Scully "Mulder, I think you’ve been in this town too long."

Yes, it's another Darin Morgan classic, his third of fourth scripts for the show (though rest easy, he's back for the revival and he's written a script called Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Man). And while it isn't quite as brilliant as Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose or Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space' it is still an episode filled with witty one liners and instantly quotable dialogue.

This time Mulder and Scully end up in a small town overrun with killer cockroaches. The very unsettling nature of this incident is established from the word go as the exterminator in the pre-title sequence proceeds to tell his client that there are 4,000 known species of cockroach, a one single female can produce over half a million in one year, in every part of the world. And then they come out, swarming over him and killing him.

Fortunately there is a healthy balance of humour to offset that sensation of your skin crawling. A drug-taking student hallucinating the creepy crawlies burrowing under his skin, a paranoid doctor being attacked while he sits on the toilet and a guest being overrun in a slightly seedy motel room, this is nasty business and Mulder just happens to wander into the town while on retreat while his apartment - pun intended - is being fumigated.

Over the course of one evening, Mulder gets caught up in the local town panic as more and more people die and he immediately gets on the phone to Scully to call in some assistance. These late night calls and brilliant; we see Scully in her downtime, cleaning her firearm, washing her dog Queequeg (acquired in Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose) and sitting down in front of the TV with her dinner. Mulder meanwhile views UFO watching and local conspiracies as the best use of his free time.

The ingenious nature of these calls is that every time, Scully has an obvious solution that doesn't involve killer cockroaches; the exterminator was (oh the irony) allergic to cockroaches, the student died of a drug-induced high, the doctor on the toilet has a brain aneurysm straining too hard. What is even more brilliant is that she is ultimately proved right; in many cases killer cockroaches are just a red herring.

And Morgan's script even takes time to examine and have with the long-established motivations of their characters. From her warning to be careful in his search for the truth (complete with Planet Of The Apes comparison) to her warning of his repeated use of breaking into government property. And it all ends with this winning piece of dialogue.

"It appears that cockroaches are mortally attacking people." to which Scully drolly replies "I'm not going to ask you if you just said what I think you just said, because I know it's what you just said."

And Mulder's quest leads him to the sexy, enigmatic Dr. Bambi Berenbaum. She is part Bond Girl, part government scientist and she is here in the town to experiment on cockroaches. And when she theorises that UFOs are actually insect swarms there is instant attraction between her and Mulder - and open hostility from Scully. "Her name is Bambi?"

The hilarity continues as Scully finally makes her way to the town and encounters a supermarket in utter chaos as the local inhabitants fight over cans of bug spray and buy up every last scrap if food so they can escape the ebola virus-spreading cockroaches that will cause everyone to bleed through their nipples. When boxes of chocolates are scattered across the floor and everyone flees at the sight of "ROACHES!" Scully is left bewildered and alone in the empty supermarket; her picking up the box of suspicious chocolates suspiciously and taking a bite is priceless.

Mulder meanwhile visits the Institute Of Robotics, encountering a giant robotic cockroach and fanatical Dr. Ivanov, a man hellbent on developing a fleet of insects robots to take to another planet. And there is even a bit of fourth wall breaking as a cockroach runs across the TV screen, sure to send a shudder down every viewer's spine.

The chaos ends rather dramatically in an exploding methane plant when Scully theorises that methane gas from a special manure accidently shipped in has caused the erratic cockroach behaviour. Poor Mulder and Scully end the episode covered in manure while Mulder's potential love interest falls for the much older, wheelchair-bound Doctor Ivanov instead. "Smart is sexy." notes Scully as the two scientific minds walk off into the virtual sunset, leaving the raging inferno of the methane plant behind them.

War of the Coprophages is another episode that does The X Files's particular brand of black comedy at its very best. Darin Morgan's script is electric, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson have blatant fun developing previously unseen insights into their character and with a mixture of horrific, skin-crawling deaths and slapstick, the episode is a blast from beginning to end. Creepy crawlies can be horrific at the least of times, but after this episode you might want to check what's lurking in the depths of your house.

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