X-Files Flashback: ‘Arcadia’

Arcadia

Season 6, Episode 15
Director: Michael Watkins
Writer: Daniel Arkin

The X-Files entry “Arcadia” is widely considered a massive fan favorite. It’s not really the mystery at the core of the episode that drives that distinction. Instead, it’s exchanges like this that were genetically engineered for X-Files geeks to cream themselves over:

Mulder: “Isn’t that right, honey bunch?”

Scully: “That’s right, poopie head.”

“Arcadia” doesn’t boast an extremely compelling supernatural narrative, but what it does offer (in spades) is an amusing Stepford-like parody of planned communities and homeowners associations to which many (including myself) can completely relate. Plus, it’s just a whole lot of goofy Mulder/Scully fun.

The episode begins with Dave Kline coming home from work to the Falls of Arcadia, a cookie-cutter community full of broadly smiling people and super helpful neighbors. As Dave arrives home, he checks the mail, as one does, put finds the mailbox is covered in fresh paint. Turns out his neighbor has fixed it for him, much to Dave’s extreme annoyance. He has also received a mysterious package that contains a tacky “whirligig” that Dave readily attaches to the home in an act of rebellion. Later than night, Dave and his wife are visited by a massive creature that kills them both.

Seven months later, enter Rob and Laura Petrie. We know them better as Fox Mulder and Dana Scully who are undercover to investigate the Kline’s disappearance. As they move in, nervous neighbors all assemble to help them beat the homeowner’s association mandate that all move-ins must be complete by 6pm. They finish the job with seconds to spare. Over the course of the next few days, Mulder and Scully inquire as to the whereabouts of the Klines and are met with blank expressions. They intentionally break HOA rules only to be quickly saved by friendly next-door neighbors. When another neighbor goes missing, Mulder and Scully determine that samples taken from a ceiling fan in their home and from a dog that entered the sewer system all contain random bits of garbage, indicating that the planned community was built on top of a massive trash dump.

Evidence eventually points to the HOA president Gene Gogolak as orchestrating the murders against those who violated the HOA rules. Mulder discovered that Gogolak, who owns an exotic furniture company called Pier 9, has discovered the ability to manifest and control a creature to exercise his bidding through many trips to the East. In the end, Mulder handcuffs Gogolak to his mailbox after Scully has an encounter with the creature. Terrified of breaking his own rules, Gogolak begs his neighbors to rescue him, but they turn their backs, allowing the creature to materialize from the ground and kill Gogolak. Once Gogolak dies, the creature disappears having no one to control it. Meanwhile, the Falls of Arcadia wins another award as one of the best planned communities in the country.

So, truth be told, I live in one of those planned communities much like the Falls of Arcadia. Granted, our HOA rules aren’t nearly as restrictive as Gogolak’s, but I have been one to experience the oddities associated with living in such a place. You never feel a part of the broader community despite the close proximity. There are always cliques and circles in which you are not included, and paranoia creeps in as you’re made to think people are judging/critiquing/purposefully excluding you for your differences. “Arcadia” feeds on that experience, and, as such, it brilliantly succeeds at that level. Mulder and Scully’s distaste for the atmosphere leads to several amusing and spot-on social criticisms. Add to that the amusing back-and-forth exchanges between a “married” Mulder and Scully, and you’re left with an episode that succeeds more on its social and character interactions than through the supernatural elements.

Credit Duchovny and Anderson for relying on their six seasons of character building to sell the “old married couple” interplay. Duchovny, in particular, sings with his witty/sarcastic asides to Anderson as they chatter back and forth behind closed doors, gently tip-toeing around the suppression of their unexpressed feelings. “Arcadia” isn’t the best X-File they’ve ever handled, but it does have the jaunty sense of humor that many of Chris Carter’s more experimental episodes feature. And that biting sense of humor is one of the things I love best about The X-Files.

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