THE X FILES “FAMILIAR” REVIEW
BY CHRIS B
It is the crime that never gets easier—the death of a child, this one the son of a police officer in the small New England town of Eastwood. Though the locals try to blame it on an animal attack, possibly a coy-wolf, Scully relies upon her years of experience as an agent and doctor to suggest a murder by human hands is most likely the cause, someone who would be “emboldened’ by the fact that he has gotten away with his crime and “aroused” at the suffering his victim.
The local officers try to blow off her interpretation of the crime scene details as “careless assumptions” but it takes Mulder’s intervention and his assertion that Scully is “damn good at her job” for them to grudgingly listen.
Scully insists no wolf snatched a child off of a playground, but Mulder has a different idea: a hellhound, or “a large black dog that guards the gates of the underworld.” Or it could have to do with the spontaneous combustion in 1658 of a woman accused of witchcraft.
Basically, the usual suspects, then.
As Mulder points out, “Just because there were bogus witch hunts doesn’t mean there were no witches.” Scully rolls her eyes at this, insisting that “the only devil…probably parked right here in front of the playground, stirring something other than his cauldron.” Ick.
When they examine the body, they note a residue of salt around one of the boy’s ankles. They believe his cause of death as most likely being shaken to death.
The town is distinctly uncomfortable with the interference of the FBI in Andrew’s death, particularly with Scully’s assertions about the potential killer. Mulder’s subsequent interview with a small witness, Chief Strong’s daughter, reveals that her father is a local history nut and has volumes on his bookshelf dedicated to the legend of the Eastwood witch, and that Mr. Chuckleteeth (a character from the cartoon the little girl watches) was in the forest that day.
However, the police chief’s wife should’ve been more on her guard in her own living room. As her daughter obsessively watches her cartoon, the little girl looks to the window and think she sees one of the hulking figures outside the door. By the time her mom enter’s the room, she’s disappeared.
Emily is later found dead at the same spot in the woods, similar signs of animal predation on her. Mulder sees a pile of salt nearby and soon realizes that it’s not a pile, but “a magic circle” surrounding the child’s body. “In witchcraft, magic circles are used to summon spirits and demons when casting spells or curses. The salt protects the caster from the demons unleashed…witches were said to conjure spirits called familiars, which usually took the form of animals, but sometimes could take human shape,” or possibly that of a television character. He realizes that the spot in the woods is a Puritan graveyard, “ground where spirits and demons have been unleashed.”
Mulder accuses the chief of closing prematurely the case of the first child’s death so that it would not be investigated further. Scully asks him point-blank: “Did you kill those children?”
The chief claims that he has “let the devil into his soul” but that he has killed no one. He is “a lustful man, an adulterer,” engaged in an affair with the dead boy’s mother. He thinks the deaths are celestial payback for his indiscretions.
Mulder is only certain of one thing: “Someone has put a curse on this town…and unwittingly opened the gates of Hell.”
Then, all hell breaks loose.
Officer Eggers’s wife decides to leave her husband, and as she is speeding away, she thinks she sees her son standing in the road. She crashes her car, and the only witness is a certain hell hound who growls at the devastated piece of machinery littering up the presumptive gate to Hell.
Officer Eggers tries to confront his boss, sporting his gun. He finds a seemingly empty house, save the ephemeral figure of Mr. Chuckleteeth, who leads him out of the door—and directly into the chief’s waiting pistol.
A trail of salt leads away from the door.
Mulder notices that the grimoire is missing from the Strongs’ bookshelf, the volume which has instructions for summoning demons. This pushes them back to the scene of the original crime, out in the woods. Chief Strong gets there first and sees Diane Eggers’s car. He also thinks he sees Diane in the woods, so he rushes in, oblivious when he passes her mutilated corpse.
The chief finds his wife amid a circle of candles, repeating a curse that brings the hound circling. She’d only intended to curse her cheating husband and is intent to end what she started. The dark forces handle it for her—first by eating her husband’s throat, and second by engulfing Anna Strong in flames.
The book doesn’t burn—there’s a first. It remains as evidence, of either “a town in the grip of madness of the most human faults and frailty” or “in the grip of a curse unleashed by a modern-day witch.” Does that madness include an explanation for why two FBI agents stood by passively and watched a woman burn to a crisp?
Perhaps Mulder is right: “There’s no getting out of this town…not these days.” So it would seem. Just do the world a favor and stay off the merry-go-round.
Tales From American Hysteria
The first victim’s father, Officer Eggers, after hearing Scully’s interpretation of the crime scene, believes he’s found the man who killed his son, a convicted sex offender named Melvin Peter who’d never registered with the police when he moved into town. Eggers bursts into the man’s home, followed quickly by Scully and Chief Strong. Lucky for him, the man is not home to eat one of the officer’s bullets.
At the same moment, Mulder, out at the crime scene, has a stare-down with a large black wolf.
When he meets up with Scully at Melvin’s home, a search of the premises reveals a creepy balloon arrangements in one of the bedrooms that is made up for a child, a clown suit with a mask like that of Mr. Chuckleteeth, and a monkey in a cage—literally, for once.
It’s perfect, right? He’s so obviously guilty, right?
That’s Mulder’s problem with it. “This guy has no chance,” Mulder opines of the man, and Scully is baffled as to why her partner would defend such a person. Mulder clarifies: “I’m not defending him, but you said it yourself—it’s this rush to judgement. Mass hysteria, Salem, McCarthyism—what happened to the precious presumption of innocence, which is rooted in the very democratic ideal that it’s better to let ten guilty men go free than to imprison one innocent man…and you and this mob are re-convicting him, right here and now, for the sins of his past, with the fervor that we see too often in this ‘American experience’ of ours.”
If supposition is permitted to replace facts, rumor to replace evidence, then we are all doomed.
Officer Eggers finds Melvin Peter and proceeds to beat in his face on the street corner; soon, it becomes a free-for-all when a mob of onlookers joins him, making a quality production of what could have been a missing scene from Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” Only when Mulder fires his weapon in the air does the mob desist.
But it’s not quite enough.
Without warning, Eggers pulls his gun and shoots Melvin in the head.
The agents are in the courtroom to watch, as Mulder terms it, “two injustices…the death of an innocent man and the release of a guilty officer.” He claims it is “a witch hunt” and that small-town justice would not look past their “scapegoat.”
Outside, the agents are met by Eggers’s partner, who “didn’t become a cop to watch a man get gunned down without due process.” He’s done some investigating of his own and learned that Melvin was performing at a birthday party forty miles away when Andrew had been abducted.
But monsters can’t plead their innocence when they’re dead, and when Justice has but one scale, can it ever be in a state of balance?