Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.
The nuts and bolts of “Familiar” were decent. On the surface, this was a fairly dark, zero-sum tale about a cursed town and witchcraft gone wrong. Not only did two kids get killed, but two young kids. Yes, narratively, there is a weird and stark difference between dead kids based on age and children barely out of their toddler years being brutally killed is extra morose.
The X-Files has dealt with the supernatural in the past, but it’s not exactly the show’s bread and butter. The most we ever really see from this realm are some of the freaks and monsters Mulder and Scully chase down. It’s more urban myths and folklore than magic. Then there are the paranormal aspects of the series: the ghosts and ghouls and vengeful spirits. Still, X-Files made its name with science-gone-wrong type tales that explored wayward experiments and/or unexplained mental powers/phenomenon.
The idea of witches and curses and spellcraft isn’t outside The X-Files’ domain, surely, but it does feel borderline. And with Supernatural now in its 13th season over on The CW and the Winchester boys sort of having a lock this type of story, Mulder and Scully felt like they were almost creeping around in hunter territory this week.
And, like I said, the bones of the mystery were strong and quite devilish. As was the nature of the spell itself, which basically turned the town into paranoid rabble – not only punishing both the target of the spell and the caster of the spell, but punishing everyone for the horrific witch trials that took place in New England hundreds of years previous.
So while the culprit here, the caster of the curse – the police chief’s wife (played by Erin Chambers) – intended to bring misery to the woman her husband stepped out with, she wound up sewing up her entire sordid mess (and spontaneously combusting) leaving Mulder and Scully not much to clean up afterwards. Which then allowed Mulder to further wax about how the town’s tendency to turn into an angry mob, on a dime, spoke to the overall societal climate of 2018.
Which was, for sure, the worst part of this episode. The need to tether this case to something as hacky as “What’s going on here is what’s going on everywhere. The news these days, I’ll tell ya.” Woof. So dumb. For the most part, Season 11’s been able to comment on the modern era with a modicum of meta-charm, but this particular stretch was painful. And that final exchange? Scully saying “I can’t wait to get out of this town” and Mulder responding with “There is no getting out of this town, Scully. Not these days.” Boy, that sure showed us out here in society. I think I shouted “No!” at my TV when he said that. Also, at the thought of the writer chef-kissing after typing that particular bit of nonsense.
Was “people shouldn’t rush to judgment” the lecture we needed right now? A much more interesting take on “witch hunts,” these days, would be to comment on how many rotten men are misusing the term throughout the #MeToo movement as they try to strangely own a concept rooted in the persecution and murder of women. Better still, this episode didn’t need an undercurrent of comparison at all. It just needed to be a cracking, vibrant mystery.
One final element here, meant perhaps to draw up some IT comparisons, was the use of a clown luring kids to their doom. Or in this case, Mr. Chuckleteeth – a children’s show TV character so wildly disturbing in appearance that it was almost distracting. As in, there is no way any sane parent would allow their kid to look upon something as terrible as Mr. Cuckleteeth for more than two seconds. Same for the Bibbletiggles (some sort of demonic Teletubbies). Part of this episodes’ menace-of-the-moment involved these overtly nightmarish “toys” ushering kids off to their doom. It’s a good gotcha gimmick but, again, these things almost looked too suspiciously evil to believe.