X-Files Flashback: ‘Hungry’

Season 7, Episode 3
Director: Kim Manners
Writer: Vince Gilligan

I completely missed the fact that Vince Gilligan wrote the latest episode of The X-Files, “Hungry.” Even without knowing it, I should have realized it given the completely unique narrative structure of the episode in addition to the sympathetic viewpoint of the main character. Again, as with many of his other X-Files episodes, you can clearly see him working out the characters and structure of Breaking Bad on his writing assignments for The X-Files. He may not have been consciously doing that, but he’s definitely exercising the same creative area of his brain. It’s to our benefit, though, as “Hungry” is one of the simpler, and much better for it, X-Files episodes I’ve seen in a while.

The prologue centers around a Lucky Boy fast-food joint late at night. An obnoxious man enters the drive through long after the restaurant has closed, but someone forgot to turn off the Open sign. He argues with an employee before being asked to drive to the window. Hearing a strange sucking sound inside, he leans into the window only to be attacked and pulled into the restaurant. A few days later, Mulder and Scully visit Lucky Boy after the obnoxious man’s body was found with a hole in the head and missing a brain. Cashier Rob Roberts (Chad Donella) seems to become a focal point of Mulder’s, but Scully and the local police department are more focused on an ex-con cook. The focal point of the episode, however, remains on Rob’s viewpoint, so we follow his struggles to control his pervasive hunger.

Rob is some kind of vampiric creature with human emotions and guilt but feeds on the human brain. His natural state resembles that of the legendary “Bat Boy” but with a retractable proboscis for a tongue that he uses to pierce his victims’ brains. Through the episode, Rob makes every attempt to avoid Mulder and Scully, attend his therapy sessions, battle his persistent hunger, and clean up after his multiple murders. At the end, Rob’s therapist figures out he has killed someone but has not yet determined his true state. After being confronted, Rob reveals himself to her as Mulder and Scully burst through the door. The therapist pleads to all to spare Rob’s life, hoping he can accentuate the good inside. In an act of suicide, Rob lunges at Mulder who delivers two fatal shots. Rob’s last words are, “I can’t be something I’m not.”

The minor brilliance of “Hungry” rests on the audience’s growing empathy with Rob, our “monster of the week.” Rather than focus on the more traditional X-File approach of the “Whodunnit,” the episode allows us to experience the rationale and motive behind this killer – a killer of necessity and genetics (as he claims) than one of spree or for fun. Chad Donella’s likable performance is key here. With his “Simpsons’ pimple-faced geek” voice and sad eyes, he’s asked to carry not only the episode but also to use his natural abilities to help the audience sympathize with this monster. We see Rob attempt to fight the killing urge – even amusingly attending an Overeaters Anonymous meeting at one point – without success. The episode ultimately asks the question of “Is Rob’s killing nature or nurture?” Clearly, it comes down on the side of nature as Rob is disgusted with himself yet can’t fight his inner urges.

Taking a break from the Mulder and Scully perspective was a welcome change of pace after the most recent 3-part series. And it was nice to see a relatively low profile actor carry an episode completely on his own. “Hungry” likely wouldn’t go down as one of the greatest episodes of The X-Files, but it’s such a welcome breath of fresh air / change of pace that it immediately rises to the top of the more recent episodes I’ve seen. Plus, how awesome is the scene where Rob fantasizes about cooking hamburger brains at Lucky Boy? It’s the kind of perverse joy you find in the darkest and blackest of comic X-Files episodes.

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