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The X-Files - Familiar - Review

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The X-Files “Familiar” was written by Benjamin Van Allen and directed by Holly Dale, whose other credits include Grimm, Castle, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and all the Chicago shows. This is Van Allen’s first writing credit but he’s been a writer’s assistant for the last two seasons on the show. And given what a throwback this is to original X-Files, it feels like maybe he was either a big fan back in the day or he’s really done his homework. One of the advantages to a very short season is that you don’t have to water down your story ideas and this episode had so many monsters running around, mudding the waters, it was terrific and felt like three separate episode rolled into one – in a good way.

I loved the way the episode also plays with the title. A familiar is the animal or spirit that helps a witch – ultimately the cause of the murders here. BUT the episode also plays on the familiarity of popular horror tropes and movies! It all seems familiar to us somehow!

The episode begins in Connecticut – the site of Witch trials from 1647 to 1697 – and a young boy being lured into the forest by the super-scary life-sized puppet Mr Chuckleteeth (Keith Arbuthnot). This was a terrific way to play on three fears – obviously the loss of a child – and did we all notice that Andrew (Sebastian Billinglsey-Rodriguez) was wearing the same yellow raincoat that the first kid in It is wearing when he’s attacked and taken by Pennywise??? So there’s also the ripped from the headlines clowns attacking people in the woods and the entire Slender Man legend. Mr Chuckleteeth has the black and white, skinny Slender Man look, but also acts more like a clown, delightfully straddling the two. In addition, Andrew also has a creep toy Mr Chuckleteeth, referencing toys and especially ventriloquist dummies who come to life – and Chuckleteeth sounds a lot like Chuckie doesn’t it? How many horror references in the first five minutes!?!?! Wow, show, just wow!

Pretty much all of those classic horror tropes have nothing to do with the actual murder though – we’ve got a bunch more horror tropes to work through. Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) arrive on the scene and the local law enforcement aren’t happy, but they’ve been called in because it’s protocol for the FBI to have jurisdiction over any murder of a law enforcement family. Just a quick shout out here for the guest casting too. I was happy to see both Alex Carter (Chief Strong) and Roger Cross (Officer Wentworth) guest starring as both are terrific actors and turn in great performances here.

It’s a small, tight-knit town, plus Chief Strong has a secret that he doesn’t want coming out, so they aren’t terribly helpful. At first the cops only turn over the coroner’s file and photos. Strong pushes the idea of an animal attack. That Coywolf hybrid? Yep. It’s real! But the coroner’s report suggests human intervention and there’s no way to tell when the animal depredation happened. Scully points out that if the killer goes undetected, he’ll be emboldened to strike again. It’s a nice scene when Mulder backs Scully up. Of course, Mulder’s own theory is Hellhound – and of course, there IS a Hellhound involved! Coywolves are a cross between coyotes and grey wolves, so unlikely to be black – like the Hellhound!

Mulder also brings up the story of Goodie Bishop. She is also an historical figure who was executed as a witch during the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. However, she didn’t spontaneously combust but was hanged. She wasn’t accused of laying with the Devil, per se, but of various crimes, including killing her husband. Scully, tells Mulder – no witches or devils with this case! She just wants to find the killer.

At Andrew’s funeral, it’s clear that something is going on between Andrew’s mother Diane (Sharon Taylor) and Strong. When Andrew’s father (Jason Gray-Stanford) asks Wentworth why they haven’t released the body, Wentworth tells him about Scully’s predator theory. And here we get another real life horror story – a John Wayne Gacy murderer. Naturally, Officer Eggers checks the sex offender database and finds a likely suspect – Melvin Peters (Ken Godmere). Like Killer Clown Gacy, they discover that Peters also dresses up and performs at kids’ birthday parties and the like.

Mulder is determined to interrogate the other witness to the disappearance – Emily Strong (Emma Oliver). Scully is against it – she’s only five! And her mother, Anna (Erin Chambers) was right there and has been interviews. Naturally, Mulder gets his way, and they find Emily transfixed by her favorite tv show – which is clearly the Teletubbies – easily the creepiest children’s show ever! It just so happens that Mr Chuckleteeth is also one of the characters on this show.

Mulder discovers a shelf of books at the Strong house on witchcraft – including a Grimoire. Anna tells Mulder that Strong is a local history buff. When Emily goes missing, she is lured away by one of the teletubbies – naturally the Purple one!

While Scully checks out Peters house with Strong – and subdue Egger when he’s there too, Mulder checks out the forest. He runs into what he is convinced is a Hellhound. Scully is sure that the obvious answer of Peters is the right one, but Mulder thinks it’s too perfect. Just like the witch trials, Mulder points out that there is a problem with this rush to judgement. And he’s proven right when the mob attacks Peters and Eggers ends up killing him.

Emily’s body is found in the forest, and Mulder finds a magic circle made of salt that is used for calling witches and demons. It’s also a Puritan graveyard! Mulder confronts Strong, telling him that he knows someone is practicing witchcraft. Strong admits that he let the devil into his soul, but he didn’t kill anyone. His sin is having an affair with Diane.

The arraignment for Officer Eggers is a joke. Mulder dubs Peters’ death a “witch hunt” and remarks that all small towns have their scapegoat. Wentworth proves to be the outlier and he wants the real killer to be punished – he knows Peters didn’t do it because he got evidence that Peters was performing at a kid’s party at the time that Andrew was taken.

In the end, of course, it’s the woman scorned wreaking havoc, and they discover that it’s Anna who used the Grimoire to punish Diane and Strong – she had no idea that the punishment would be to kill the kids.

The episode works to its climax as all of the demons that Anna summoned seem to come back to punish the town. Diane is run off the road by a vision of Andrew, and Eggers thinks he sees Mr Chuckleteeth in Strong’s house and shoots at him before the tv comes on and Mr Chuckleteeth seemingly ends up in the flames of hell. As Eggers goes to leave the house, Strong shoots him dead.

Strong is lured into the woods by Diane’s wrecked car – her dead body is in the woods but he doesn’t see it. Mulder and Scully also go into the woods and find Anna casting another spell. A Hellhound shows up and rips out Strong’s through. Mulder warns Anna to drop the book, but just like the Goody Bishop in his version of the story, Anna bursts into flames with the book and is consumed. The book is untouched, however, and Scully gives the Grimoire to Wentworth for safekeeping. Surely, he is the most trustworthy in the town?

I really liked this episode and how it kept you guessing until the end – and how each of the possibilities was right in its own way. I felt like this was another really strong episode for this season. What did you think of the episode? Did it hit all your horror-buttons? Did it feel "familiar?!" Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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