Season 7, Episode 12
Director: Michael Watkins
Writer: Vince Gilligan
During seven seasons of more-or-less straightforward episodes of The X-Files, the creative team occasionally takes a few creative risks. “The Post-Modern Prometheus” comes to mind as one of the better examples of the series’s and Chris Carter’s creative stretching. With “X-Cops,” Vince Gilligan gets his shake at a structurally unique offering. It’s not the mash-up of X-Files and X-Men that maybe I’ve always wanted. Instead, it’s a mash-up of one of Fox’s other massive successes: X-Files and the shaky-cam reality show Cops. While the payoff isn’t perhaps as high as some of the more stylized episodes, “X-Cops” is a completely amusing entertainment that provides long-time fans of the series the kind of meaty material that would send them into orbit.
The episode takes on the filmmaking attributes of “Cops” by using the same camera equipment and filmmaking crew giving it an exceedingly authentic feel. It begins with a sheriff’s deputy investigating a potential burglary outside of Los Angeles. During the routine investigation, the deputy becomes terrified of a creature not seen by the camera. As the deputy and the cameraman run back to the patrol car, they are chased and are eventually overturned within the car. Assisting officers eventually run across Mulder and Scully who are investigating the same distress call of an area “monster.” The subsequent scenes introduce all varieties of lower-middle class residents of this Los Angeles neighborhood including a terrified hispanic woman, a prostitute, and an older gay couple. Mulder eventually hypothesizes that the creature causing the injuries and damage is a fear-feeding entity, using its victim’s greatest fear to paralyze or even kill it. In the end, the sun rises, and the attacks stop. Mulder continues mugging for the camera, though.
“X-Cops” may feel like a gimmick on the surface, and, in some ways, it is just that – a clever gimmick. However, Vince Gilligan infuses the story with as much carefully placed information, slices of life, and socio-ecomonic commentary as possible. The plot isn’t as simple as your average episode of “Cops.” The identity and hunt for the monster actually winds through a ton of information and characters that are quickly introduced, discussed, and discarded – something The X-Files doesn’t often do well. And these characters are in turn detailed and fascinating vignettes of Los Angeles life. Some will say they’re stereotypes, and that is entirely possible – especially the flamboyant member of the gay couple who dresses like Norma Desmond and has the brash attitude of Jackee Harry.
In the end, the framing device of the episode successfully serves a dual purpose. First, it sends up the very natural of The X-Files with Mulder an instant vain camera ham who is given to fits of philosophizing in front of the camera and with Scully an irritated borderline shrew who simply doesn’t like or trust the added attention. Second, the episode becomes something of a prototype for the self-referential “found footage” horror films that exploded within the last ten years. Sure, “Cops” started it all, but The X-Files clearly had an influence on the filmmakers of such series as Paranormal Activity among others. Around every corner, I anticipated dead-eyed children or bodies flying at the camera. To that effect, it was a little disappointing that there were no glimpses of the central creature. Only terrified reactions to it with a shaky camera and dozens of screams populating the audio. “Cops” goes down as one of the few episodes of The X-Files that warrants a second viewing in my book – something of a rarity after 201 of these.