Season 3, Episode 14: “Grotesque”
“Grotesque” is an episode that, at least compared to other X-Files episodes, isn’t really that grotesque. Of course, everyone is freaked out by different things, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you serious X-Philes weren’t cowering under the bed when you watched this one, nor did your mouths fall open in horror. That’s not to say the situation isn’t messed up and the visuals aren’t frightening; they are. But “Grotesque,” while it does make a noble effort, does not manage to capture the dark tone or horror of Season 2’s “Irresistible,” which is the episode that sits on the forefront of my brain whenever I watch “Grotesque.”
I said in my “Oubliette” review that “Irresistible” created a new standard for The X-Files and spent the rest of Season 2 and Season 3 trying to reach it. It will reach it, I promise (and in this season, too!), but not in the way you might expect, and I will say nothing more so as not to give anything away. Needless to say, perhaps the best method for reaching the bar “Irresistible” raised was not merely trying to copy the tone. Though “Grotesque” isn’t similar to “Irresistible” in subject matter, you can definitely see that they were trying to infuse the episode with Donnie Pfaster-like flavor – the dark lighting, the devil (which in “Irresistible” was implied but still present), the gruesome decorations, etc. The similarities are quite obvious – I mean, I can’t be the only one who’s noticed…
It’s sort of Mulder’s answer to the Scully-centered episode “Irresistible” (2×13) where the line between the paranormal and natural human evil is blurred, but this one is psychological rather than emotional.
-Salome, Musings of an X-Phile
Whew, thanks, Salome (as always). Good to know I’m not completely crazy.
Still, is it fair to compare “Grotesque” to “Irresistible,” especially considering that “Irresistible” is so damn good and iconic? Well, yes and no. I believe every episode should be given a chance to stand on its own, but, like I said, it’s hard to dissociate “Grotesque” from its predecessor, especially when the connection between the two is made so obvious.
There are other things in “Grotesque” which harken back to earlier days in the show as well. Agent Patterson is reminiscent of the string of FBI agents in Season 1 that were either pissed off by or jealous of Mulder’s intelligence and skill. The show hasn’t brought it up in a while, but you might remember that Mulder for a time was the FBI’s golden boy, and was on the path to fame and fortune until he discovered the X-Files and moved into the basement. However, a major difference between Agent Patterson and the others – who mostly acted akin to jealous fifth graders – is that Patterson truly, legitimately hates Mulder. According to Mulder, it’s because he didn’t worship Patterson or whatever, but I have a feeling it’s more because Patterson was, like most people, jealous of Mulder’s gifts. Very, very jealous.
And yet, according to the other agent whose name I can’t remember, Patterson also has this secret admiration for Mulder. In fact, he requested Mulder’s involvement in this case. Oh, he still hates him, but he hates him because he’s impressed by him.
You might be saying to yourself, “I don’t know, this sounds like fairly complex stuff.” And you’d be right! This is a very interesting dynamic between Patterson and Mulder. In fact, the biggest problem with this episode is that it really doesn’t use that dynamic to its advantage. Much of the focus is instead put on Mulder’s quasi-descent into dark psychological realms, which is interesting enough, but not quite as much. And the ending…I confess I really hate the ending, where Patterson turns out to be the killer. That’s taking the easy way out; it’s skirting the issue. They should have addressed the rift between Patterson and Mulder more. If they had, I feel like “Grotesque” would have been really good, as opposed to really okay.
Still, the episode still gives us one of the best DFWS moments in the history of the show. It might even be THE best. You can almost see the fire coming out of her nostrils.
Final score for “Grotesque” is 6/10. After going back and forth on whether or not I should give this one a 6 or a 7, I finally decided on 6 because at the end of the day, the good is far outweighed by the mediocre. Plus, there’s just a distance between Mulder and Scully in this one that I confess I don’t like. It’s nice to see Scully concerned about him, but she seems almost uncomfortable to actually confront him about anything. She’ll confront Patterson, she’ll confront Skinner, but Mulder?
Notable Nuggets (and Nitpicks)
- Does the model in the very opening scene remind anyone else of the beast man from Season 1’s “The Jersey Devil”?
- It is a little disturbing to see Mulder’s apartment decorated with the gargoyle drawings.
- I find it strange that Mulder doesn’t find Patterson’s mantra attractive. The show talks all the time about how Mulder gets in killers’ heads to catch them. “Young at Heart” comes to mind. Hey – that’s another episode where they talk about how scary smart Mulder is. Maybe there’s a connection…