Marking their last scripted episode of The X-Files until season four, their hiatus from the show being a period of time when they went of to create their own series, the sadly short-lived Space:Above and Beyond, Die Hand Die Verletzt sees Glen Morgan and James Wong exit the show (more temporarily than they would have expected) with a deliciously dark, witty horror tale that sees the show mix incredibly dark humour with the second season’s brand of intense scares.
The episode also sees the debut on The X-Files of the late, great Kim Manners, one of the most talented directors to ever work on television and who would become the show’s main go-to guy for gory horror and all plethora of bugs and creatures, beginning with raining toads in this episode.
It goes without saying but Manners would go on to become one of the most important voices on the show and its most prolific director and right from the off one could see that this was a talent who “got” the show, directing with a brilliant visual flourish and giving his debut so many wonderful images that they surely belong on X-Files calendars and laptop wallpapers. The top image of this review is one of those visuals that just sums up the show perfectly.
Opening with a PTA meeting taking an incredibly dark and satanic turn, not to mention featuring brilliant dialogue over what would be a more suitable play for the school, Annie or Jesus Christ Superstar (but not Grease because of the “f word”), Morgan and Wong’s “first” last script for the show was one of those horror experiences that left me floored when I watched it at a young age, staring agape at my television when the episode took some very dark turns and bombarded me with a plethora of incredibly disturbing images (squealing dissected pig, anyone?)
For the first half of the episode, things are not exactly funny, but there is a degree of wit and fun to be hand with proceedings. I mean, we have raining toads at one point, a high level of paranoid conspiracy going on within the small town the episode is set in (“The Night Chicago Died”) as well as a satiric look at the practices of the PTA, and whilst the episode remains wonderfully entertaining, it does go full on dark in its second half, and manages to stay both very scary, and yet, through its writing, subtly pass comment on what the show has become over the course of season two.
If anything, I always felt that Morgan and Wong were actually commenting somewhat on what The X-Files had become at this point in its lifespan. The series had taken a very dark turn into the realm of exploring more deviant crime in some of its stories, not least in the previous episode which saw the show’s most terrifying “monster of the week” to date primarily because he was an all too real serial killer, whilst sexual violence also played a part in the two episodes prior to that one (Excelsis Dei and Aubrey).
As the series would continue, and Space:Above and Beyond found itself cancelled, Morgan and Wong would end up returning to the show in its fourth season with a quartet of episodes which would in many ways subtly deconstruct the series, in a manner of speaking, giving their work the brilliance and wonderment of what the show is like from a pair of writers who were rejoining the show but where in some respects outsiders to the series, and in many ways that deconstruction look at the show they were working on could be seen to be getting a try-out here, effectively because they were of the opinion that this was going to be their last word on the adventures of Mulder and Scully.
Morgan and Wong also have a wonderful habit of putting in what can be described as a “long scene” into much of their episodes, a scene of absolute importance that it features only two or three actors, and have it go on for what can only be described as a longer period of time than one would see in a network television show where speed and pace is the order of the day.
In Die Hand Die Verletzt, the “long scene” is a brutal confession sequence where the character of Shannon, whose stepfather (played by Frasier’s very own Bulldog, Dan Butler) is a member of the PTA and the lead member of the satanic worshippers, thus effectively running the school, details the long history of abuse she has suffered at the hands of her stepfather and those he works with.
The dialogue is harsh, cruel and incredibly dark, but is almost too far-fetched, taking in sexual assault and murdered babies. Of course, none it has happened, and the memories have been placed there by substitute teacher Mrs Paddock (Susan Blommeart, aka the wonderful Mr Caplan from The Blacklist) who has arrived in town to punish Shannon’s stepfather and the rest of his small cabal of satan worshippers for becoming somewhat lack in their faith, only practising the parts they are comfortable with and ignoring the rest.
The story that Mulder and Scully hear is so dark that it almost threatens to tip around to the other side and actually become hysterical, but the horror is kept to the right side of chilling, Manner’s use of the camera, slowly circling around McComb is subtle and makes her performance the key, and her brilliant portrayed breakdown selling the absolute horror of her story. She never becomes too hysteric or over the top and even if the horrors she is conveying are untrue, you actually can’t help but believe them through the power of her acting.
It feels as if Morgan and Wong are pushing the limits, almost to the point of satire, the brand of horror that The X-Files has found itself in during the course of season two, but not taking it beyond that because you can’t poke fun of a story with such a disturbing nature, As noted in the retrospectives to the previous four episodes, the show has found an increasingly darker level of horror to dabble with during season two, culminating with Irresistible, arguably the show’s most frightening episode to date.
As we’ll see when the two writers come back in season four, they were the most wonderful writers on the show who could both write for the show and make comment on it, all without breaking the show’s most singular brand of dark magic and sci-fi horror; it’s fourth wall breaking without actually breaking it.
The writing is brilliant, the humour, when it comes, is funny, and the scares are ferocious, making brilliant use of light and dark, shadows, thunder and lightning and, in the stand out scene of the episode, a snake eating Bulldog from Frasier. It could have become almost too silly, but there is a control of the material here that is superb. From the writing and direction, Die Hand Die Verletztz is another brilliant instalment from the show at a point where it is clearly getting more confident in its ability to do what it’s doing.
With its brilliant final scene that leaves one or two questions hanging, as well as a lovely parting note from its writers within the story itself, as noted earlier it is not the last we will see from a pair of writers who helped make The X-Files the powerhouse it was. That they chose to leave the show the first time with such a devilishly great episode like this is a testament to the powers of their talent. As one door opens, another closes, and as Morgan and Wong take leave of the show, we have now gained a director in helping steer the show visually and brilliantly until its series finale.