Religious phenomena is something that pops up on The X-Files every once in a while and is usually an excuse to have Mulder and Scully swap their traditional believer/skeptic partnership. Except for the first time they did an episode with a religious theme, in the shape of Miracle Man, where it’s in fact Mulder who goes through the emotional ringer and not Scully, thus we get a religion flavoured X-Files where Mulder is not a jackass, which is usually the case (just watch season three’s Revelations to see what I mean, as well as parts of season five’s All Souls).
I have come across some negativity surrounding Miracle Man over the years, something that comes from reading way too many X-Files books and reviews, but hey, I’m a fan so what are you going to do, and whilst I am not going to write about how it’s a misunderstood masterpiece or anything, as I am prone to do sometimes (remember when I kind of defended Ghost in the Machine), in all honesty I rather like Miracle Man. Okay, so I guess I am kind of defending it.
The first thing to note about the episode is that there is in no way any subtlety to it. It takes the theme of commercialised evangelism and pretty much does what you would expect with it. Faith healing, loud guy with a microphone, a suspicious sheriff, small town controversy, but hey, it actually does it in an enjoyable way.
The script, which comes from Howard Gordon and Chris Carter, the first of their annual collaborations which would happen over the course of Gordon’s four-year stint on the show, is decent, well told, and whilst it does rely on stereotypes and doesn’t appear interested in subverting those stereotypes or clichés, it utilises them pretty well and the story has a sweep to it that is hard not to get taken along with.
You’ll see the twist and turns coming as it layers on some of the symbolism pretty thickly, especially in the prison beating scene, but it gives David Duchovny and the writers a chance to once again explore Mulder’s back story and his search for his sister, which makes the episode feel very different in comparison to season three’s Revelations, season five’s All Souls or season seven’s Orison which put Scully’s character and beliefs under the microscope via religion.
Whilst Miracle Man, far from being the best ever episode, is entertaining for its forty five minute run time, Shapes, on the other hand, is a bit of a bore.
A werewolf tale is something one would expect The X-Files to deal with in its first season and it has to be said, the make up and special effects work at the episode’s climax are pretty well done for a first season television show in 1993. In fact the show was capable of doing so much and pulling it off in its first season when its budget was limited. Except for Space, which as we all know, was incredibly expensive but looked cheap.
Shapes looks good and makes great use of those Vancouver forests throughout its run time. David Nutter is such a great director, one of my favourite television directors, and whilst the script, by one time X-File writer Marilyn Osborne is far from masterful, it benefits, much like Genderbender, in having a wonderful director tasked with bringing it to the screen.
The problem that the episode has is that it’s quite dull. Its clichéd and derivative and doesn’t do anything interesting with its story. It tries to tie itself into the greater X-Files backstory by linking it to the “first X-File” which in itself in a pretty interesting idea, but it’s not enough to make it good in any way.
Overall, its pretty clumsily handled, or at least it feels that way to me. Brilliantly though, Michael Horse shows up from Twin Peaks, playing a sheriff, much like he also did in Twin Peaks, which makes one feel as if he has simply walked in from David Lynch and Mark Frost’s famed surreal mystery drama and then wonder whether or not David Duchovny is going to dig out his high heels and skirt. Of course, if you start thinking that then you realise that maybe the episode isn’t working the way it really ought to.
When it does work, it does so on purely visceral level. There is fantastic use of Vancouver forests as I’ve said, as well as some glorious prosthetic work when it comes to the werewolf effects. As is the case with all werewolves tales in movies and television, one cannot help but measure the transformation sequence with that of John Landis’ brilliant An American Werewolf in London and The X-Files actually does it pretty well.
I’m not totally sure of the circumstances which led to the episode coming about, but it does feel as if its being done because “hey, we’re a show about the paranormal” or Fox asking for it specifically.
It verges on having something interesting and different to say though the use of Native American characters in the story, but it never really makes it work. It’s kind of boring and in the end a bit of a wasted opportunity.