X-Files Flashback: ‘Grotesque’

Season 3, Episode 14
Director: Kim Manners
Writer: Howard Gordan

After a stretch of unique, playing, genre-bending X-Files episodes, the series returns to more of a regular beat with “Grotesque,” an outing that digs into the character mythology of Fox Mulder. I don’t have a lot to say about this one other than I didn’t find it particularly interesting or engaging. It’s not a bad episode, some scenes are well executed and produce a slightly jumpy reaction, but it’s not particularly memorable either.

The prologue features a art class sketching a live nude. In the back of the room, an artist is having a “moment” where, instead of drawing the intended figure, he draws a horrific gargoyle. Later, the model is attacked and murdered in a dark alley behind the studio. The next morning, the artist, John Mostow, is arrested by the FBI, led by Agent Bill Patterson (Kurtwood Smith from nearly every TV show you’ve ever seen). Having a previous connection with Mulder, Patterson calls in Mulder and Scully when Mostow claims to have been possessed, which may not be far from the truth given that more murders happen while he is in custody. Mulder goes into a rare trance-live investigative state and begins to operate on his own. Scully becomes alarmed with this new behavior and confronts Patterson who tells her not to worry – let Mulder do this thing. In the end, Mulder suspects Patterson’s 3-year obsession for Mostow led him to committing some of the murders, and Patterson tries to flee after being confronted. He is eventually arrested and imprisoned, persistently claiming his innocence.

One of my biggest complaints with the episode is what I consider to be rather subpar cinematography. The episode primarily takes place at night, so it obviously requires the right mixture of shadow and light to become effectively creepy. But most of the episode is just plain dark, making it difficult to see anything let alone something scary. The story itself is a little muddled as well. I appreciate the expansion of the Mulder mythology, but there isn’t much meat there on which to hang an episode. You get a little backstory of Mulder’s time in the FBI Academy and his relationship to an authority figure, but nothing thus far has warranted Mulder’s (in my opinion) out of character dismissal of Scully’s involvement. I did love the concept of dead bodies cast inside clay gargoyles, which I suspect was the main driver for the episode, but it needed a better and more clearly defined central villain. On a side note, it did give Mulder to go full-on solo Ghost with some clay and a spinning wheel.

Overall, “Grotesque” is a weird combination of more of the same dusted with X-Files oddities, a combination that prevents it from becoming a fully effective episode. Maybe if the cinematographer had balanced light and dark a little better, then it would have been more visually interesting. As it stands, the whole thing becomes a very muddled affair.

Note: “Grotesque” won an Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography, which is the universe giving me the big middle finger.

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