The X Files Revisited: 7.12 X-Cops
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 pilot episode and then carried on throughout the series, covering the best and most significant episodes of the show including the first movie The X Files: Fight The Future. In this experimental season seven episode, Mulder and Scully find themselves on an episode of Cops...
Like The X Files, reality television show Cops is a TV phenomenon in itself. Running on Fox since 1989, the show follows police officers, constables, sheriff's deputies, federal agents and state troopers on patrol. And in season seven, both TV shows came together in the most unique way possible. X-Cops is one of the more experimental episodes of The X Files, a handheld camera 45 minute episode that seems local LA police encounter a series of strange disturbances in a very rough area and run into the two agents on the hunt for a werewolf during a full moon.
I always remember enjoying this episode, but I didn't realise just how much fun this story really is. It really embraces the premise; a local deputy Wetzel (Judson Mills) encounters something lurking in the shadows of a prowler case while being filmed for Cops. In a blind panic, they race back to the patrol car and are attacked by something large and unseen. When he is saved by the rest of his unit and no nonsense Sergeant Paula Duthie (Dee Freeman), the cops race to apprehend two suspicious suspects in the area - Mulder and Scully.
I love the way they wander into the episode - it's like Sam and Dean Winchester walking into an episode of NCIS - and yet it totally works, this clashing of real life reality TV and supernatural drama. There is a brilliant The Blair Witch Project vibe to the whole thing; we never actually see the monster hunting people under the full moon. But it also plays the surrealism of the event by delivering some fantastic comic moments. Mulder telling Wetzel and Duthie that the deputy was bitten by a werewolf is perfect. He delivers it with his usual serious gusto and you can see the visible groan on Scully's face (she is quick to remind him that they are in TV).
"With all due respect, what the *bleep* are you talking about?"
It's a perfectly delivered line by Duthie as the continue their case for a giant eight-foot werewolf - yes it is as crazy as it sounds but played seriously. The first real twist is when an eyewitness describes a picture of Freddy Kruger to the sketch artist, making this something far more insidious; fear itself is stalking humanity under the full moon. It totally works because the nature of the episode could never effectively deliver a giant monster on screen and it does offer an interesting insight into what people's fears are. A bubblegum pink-haired prostitute Chantara is 'killed' by her violent ex boyfriend, while the terrified coroner is killed by the hunter virus because that is her worst nightmare.
X-Cops feels both like an episode of Cops and The X Files. The dramatic moments as cops race down dark streets and storm empty houses is gritty and realistic and Mulder and Scully are still the same as we remember them, Mulder gleefully following his supernatural theories and Scully reining him in. I also love her frustration about having every movement and conversation on camera, down to the downright hostile glare as the cameraman attempts to enter her car.
The performances from the two leads cops (Judson Mills and Dee Freeman) feel natural and engaging and there are some delightfully over the top moments too. Local butch queens Steve and Edy are hilarious - from their Hmm mmms as they interact with the agents and cops and Edy's sudden transformation for his TV debut to the heartwarming and very funny scene as Mulder and Scully are caught up in a lover's quarrel between them at their house.
The final scene is actually edge of your seat stuff, rescuing the episode as the novelty of the episode starts to wear off (that's the only real fault I can find). Mulder and Scully rushing into the abandoned house is channelling pure The Blair Witch Project at this moment and there is a real sense of dread in terror both in Mulder and Scully and the missing deputy. The discovery of the two terrified crew is a great comedy break - followed by a frustrated Scully slamming the door back on them - before the final terrifying moment as they try to rescue a screaming Wetzel in the upstairs bedroom. Only the first glimmer of sunrise saves the deputy in true horror movie fashion, leaving the agents and cops with no real answers to what the beast was and whether it will strike again.
X-Cops is one of many experimental episodes of season seven and the highlight of the year for me. The premise is fun, fresh and frightening in equal measure and definitely proof that less is more. Sure it won't be everyone's cup of tea, but for me, it is proof that even with season seven of The X Files marking a downward trend in quality, it could still pull out a classic or two...