X-Files Flashback: ‘The Jersey Devil’

Jersey Devil

Season 1, Episode 5
Director: Joe Napolitano
Writer: Chris Carter

The X-Files‘ fifth episode, “The Jersey Devil,” kicks things off with a captivating and effectively scary beginning. In 1947, a family sings on their way into Atlantic City. A few miles outside the city, the car blows a tire, and the father gets out to change it (fortunately leaving their son in the car – Ralphie would say a whole lot more than “fudge” out here). A few beats later, the father is knocked down screaming and is dragged into the woods by an unseen entity. The next morning, his dead body is found missing its legs, the apparent victim of some form of cannibal. The investigating police soon trap the perp in a cave and open fire on it.

Cut to modern day New Jersey where a homeless man was found mauled in the same woods, contributing to the local mythology of the Jersey Devil. Mulder and Scully aren’t officially called to investigate the case but show up on the scene nonetheless, running afoul of the local authorities. Mulder stays in Atlantic City to conduct his own informal investigation in the slums outside the forest where he befriends a homeless man and eventually sees a figure resembling sketches of the rumored Jersey Devil. The figure – a wild woman bearing some resemblance to an early Neanderthal – is ultimately caught and shot to death in the woods.

This episode falls into the “monster of the week” category, but, aside from its atmospheric start, it isn’t particularly scary. In fact, it takes a more academic approach on the material over a more traditional X-Files supernatural slant. Duchovny is given one of those in-depth monologues the writers seem to really like to give him, but he carries this one off better than others I’ve seen. Perhaps he has a better acting partner in this episode than in other instances – this time sharing the dialogue with an engaged actor playing a University of Maryland anthropology professor. Mulder’s exploration of the skirts of Atlantic City also highlights how seedy it was in the early 90s (and very well could still be) and gives the episode a “Very Important Moral Lesson” on which to hang its hat.

Since Mulder’s scenes largely focus on the investigation, series creator Chris Carter, who penned this episode, chooses to broaden the appeal of the previously “cold” Scully by having her attend a child’s birthday party, lament on her dating life, and actually go on a date with a divorced father. Clearly, this subplot is also meant to initiate sexual tension between Mulder and Scully, but I find it a little strange that an episode about a ravenous and wild female is juxtaposed with an exploration of Scully’s ticking biological clock. After the “whore got what’s comin’ to her” current in “Conduit,” the proximity of these two plots further highlights an unsettling attitude about female sexuality that was, apparently, prevalent in early 90’s science fiction.

I will admit to laughing, though, when Mulder corners the wild woman in an abandoned Atlantic City warehouse and she looks at him with those “come hither” eyes. When he talks about her later, he raves about her beauty. It’s the kind of thing only a geek like Mulder would say.

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