TV Review: The X-Files - Season 11 Episode 8 "Familiar"

Episode: "Familiar"

Synopsis: Mulder and Scully investigate the brutal animal attack of a little boy in Connecticut, while suspecting darker forces are at play.

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REVIEW: One of the greatest episodes of The X-Files was called "Die Hand Die Verletzt". Airing back in the second season of the original series run, it was set in a suburban high school when teenagers were suspected of witchcraft. As it turned out, the witch was actually the unassuming teacher that clearly looked like a wicked old lady. Tonight's episode, "Familiar", revisits the witchcraft storyline in a fairly predictable episode that still feels like a vintage hour of top notch Mulder and Scully. Sure, the twists were telegraphed early in the first act, but the creepy visuals and a prescient storyline helped save this hour from mediocrity. It does feel odd as the anti-penultimate hour of the season, but beggars can't be choosers.

Like SyFy's current horror anthology series Channel Zero (which, if you aren't watching, you better add to your DVR now), this hour of The X-Files uses a creepy doll/monster to haunt your dreams. Known as Mr. Chuckle-teeth, the doll is a plot device that is clearly influenced by Stephen King's IT. Now, I doubt this episode could have been made to capitalize on last year's hit film, but it definitely has roots in the original novel and mini-series. I was expecting the villain to be a Slenderman type of actual monster, but as soon as the element of witchcraft came into play, I knew where this episode was headed. Scripted by newcomer Benjamin Van Allen and helmed by Holly Dale, "Familiar' looks good and is well acted, but it falls prey to too many predictable twists and turns. 

There is a lot to like in this hour, namely the fact that they didn't try to make it too funny. There are a couple of earned laughs at the start of the episode, but once they show a dead child you know there will be no more jokes for the next 44 minutes. The core of this episode is that the Salem Witch Trials are not a forgotten memory and we live in a day when unverifeid hate against the unknown can lead the average person to commit horrendous acts. There is a very Twilight Zone-esque segment here where Mulder and Scully try to stop a mob from killing a suspected child killer despite no evidence of a crime. Mulder's explanation of the mob's desire for a scapegoat is coupled with veiled references to the current political climate of American society in the Donald Trump era. Where the original run was rooted in Bush and Clinton era paranoia and conspiracy theories, this season has embraced the insanity many feel since the last presidential election.

What muddles the episode is the combination of witchcraft, murder, mob vengeance, and the supernatural beings like Mr. Chuckle-teeth. Mulder references hellhounds at one point after which he actually sees a demonic dog. At that point, I knew the scary doll and demonic Teletubbies were just a bait and switch to fill part of the story. Sure, they are effective visual creations but they end up being wasted here. All of these surreal moments seem to be mounting to something with the mob scene which ends with a shocking act of violence. But, when the episode returned from commercial, it went right back to trying to sell the witch plot element. By episode's end, we get everything wrapped up neatly but it feels a little to easily tied together.

The X-Files, TV Review, FOX, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, The X-Files TV Review, Familiar

The witch hunt aspect of "Familiar" was well executed but ended up, like the monstrous incarnations seen throughout, as nothing more than a means to an end. The final act reveals that the entire wave of killings was because the wife of the town's police chief knew he was sleeping with the mother of the child killed in the opening scene and conjured a hellish demon to curse the adulterous pair. Of course, any time you mess with demons, you end up paying the price. In this case, everyone ends up dead. The episode ends with Mulder delivering some wise words about the danger of messing with the supernatural and we are left with the haunting image of a playground merry-go-round moving by itself. Haunting, yes, but also fairly cliche.

As far as Mulder and Scully go, this was the first episode of Season 11 where I didn't once think that they looked too old to be still playing these characters. The episode also moved along without any involvement from the two agents who serve as witnesses to the madness instead of participants. I have always liked this storytelling tactic with The X-Files as it allows a level of skepticism to separate the audience from the proceedings and also keeps Mulder and Scully as spectators. With some cleaning up, "Familiar" could have been a much better episode, but it was still an enjoyable hour of television. I doubt anyone will pay it much attention after the initial airing as it is too much like too many other episodes, but at the very least you will have trouble getting the disturbing visage of Mr. Chuckle-teeth out of your head.

Next on The X-Files: "Nothing Lasts Forever" airs March 14th - While investigating human organ theft, Mulder and Scully uncover a mysterious cult consumed with macabre rituals.
Source: JoBlo.com



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