The X-Files has a way of keeping us on our toes. One week, it will give us an episode that speaks to larger themes and offers ambiguous takeaways. Other times, the series leaves us with a clear cut moral. The fourth installment of the X-Files miniseries falls into the latter category, as it quite plainly leaves us with this simple message: The absolute worst thing we can do is treat people like trash. And writer-director Glen Morgan delivers that message through equal parts over-the-top gore and at times overly sentimental reflection.
That’s not to say that this week’s episode, “Home Again,” was in any way a failure. It brought us season-best performances from the X-Files leads Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny as they balance chasing a particularly terrifying monster and reconciling internal demons. But as we round the corner toward the season finale, and the series seems to still be introducing new threads to its increasingly robust central plotline, The X-Files miniseries is running the risk of overloading viewers with conflicts that it may not be able to resolve.
“Home Again” begins in Philadelphia, where bullish bureaucrat Joseph Cutler (Alessandro Juliani) is doing his part for gentrification by overseeing a “relocation” of homeless people. Which is actually just a bunch of men spraying the down-on-their-luck crew with hoses. Before we can hate Cutler too much, though, he finds a quick comeuppance when a mysterious, larger-than-life figure crashes through his office door and efficiently dismembers him.
We learn that a man referred to on the streets as “The Band-Aid Nose Man” has been on the prowl. Throughout the episode, he handily tears apart two street artists bent on exploiting the population and a legalese-obsessed business woman. It’s seriously gruesome — and feels far more graphic than some of the effects that The X-Files got away with in the 20th century. Given the monster-of-the-week’s brutal tendencies, and the fact that bodies keep turning up, it’s only logical that Mulder spends a bulk of the episode trying to track him down.
But “Home Again” also spends a considerable amount of time delving into Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and her increasingly tragic personal life. Early in the episode, she receives a phone call from her brother that their mother Margaret (Sheila Larken) is in critical condition following a heart attack. Scully stays by her bedside, though she’s shaken by much of what she encounters; Margaret asking about her estranged son Charlie; a coin pendant Scully finds in her mother’s belongings; and the fact that her mother changed her living will to include a DNR without her daughter’s knowledge.
Margaret awakens only once before she dies — and only when she hears Charlie’s voice through Scully’s cell phone. She looks up at Mulder and mutters something about William — the name of Mulder and Scully’s missing son. And since Scully has spent most of the time mistaking incoming calls as being from her long-lost son, her mother’s dying words don’t exactly go over well.
To process her grief, Scully throws herself back into her work. And in no time, she and Mulder have tracked down Trashman (Tim Armstrong), an eccentric artist who claims to have brought the Band-Aid Nose Man into existence by sheer force of will — and some decent drawing skills. Trashman’s phantom seeks revenge on those who cast the needy aside — a theme most cogent viewers probably picked up on already. And while it’s obvious that he’s surprised his work came to life, he’s not exactly upset at the havoc it’s wreaking.
Mulder and Scully try to rescue the Band Aid Nose Man’s last victim, but the exceedingly tall and creepy creation leaves him in a pile in the very building he was in the process of evicting. That’s the last we see of Trashman’s masterpiece — at least, for now.
“Home Again” ends with Mulder and Scully sitting on a piece of driftwood near a peaceful body of water. She seems to have to come to peace with her mother seeking out Charlie, but is still overcome by a seemingly overwhelming guilt over giving up William. “I need to believe we didn’t treat him like trash,” she tells Mulder, who’s had his own experience recently in searching for understanding. In fact, the search for something to believe seems to be the overarching theme of The X-Files reboot; where earlier seasons had our characters desperately seeking the truth, we now find them trying to grapple with the world now that they know it.
Over most of the past 10 seasons of The X-Files, Scully has prided herself on not letting go of the composure she displays, even in the face of some pretty terrible evil. But for much of “Home Again,” we get swept up in the pure emotionality of Scully’s difficult journey — letting go of her mother and coming to grips with her guilt over giving William up. And that’s largely thanks to Gillian Anderson’s bravely vulnerable performance.
The episode also succeeds in mending the rift between Mulder and Scully that was so obvious during the earlier moments of the miniseries. Once again, their on-the-clock rapport translates to a much more intimate chemistry in the hospital and in the episode’s closing moments.
And writer-director Glen Morgan — another veteran member of the X-Files creative team — ensures that even the non-Mulder-and-Scully moments — the ones where the Band-Aid Nose Man goes to town on his victims — will remain some of the series’ most memorably gruesome. Though ultimately, the monster-of-the-week took a backseat to Scully’s much more emotionally resonant grief, it at the very least added some adrenaline to an episode that would have otherwise been downright depressing.
Despite this hour’s success in upping the gore factor and rebuilding relationships, it never quite reaches the effectiveness of last week’s killer monster-of-the-week outing. And like the three episodes before it, “Home Again” offers some closure to longstanding characters, but also asks more questions than it answers. So it’s hard not to wonder how they’ll wrap up the major plot points they’ve thrown at us so far — the rebooted government conspiracy, the mystery of William’s disappearance, and how Mulder and Scully fit into it all.