X-Files Flashback: ‘Shapes’


Season 1, Episode 19
Director: David Nutter
Writer: Marilyn Osborn

Sometimes even Dana Scully’s trademark skepticism just feels completely out of place in The X-Files. “Shapes” provides such an experience. The story is extremely straight-forward and simple: Mulder and Scully are called to Montana to investigate a shooting near a Native American reservation. The prologue to the episode shows the root cause: a werewolf (here called “Manitou”) shot during a cattle on a nearby ranch mauling turns out to be a human man. There are complications, of course, as the ranch owners and the Native Americans have legal action pending over a land dispute.

As Mulder and Scully investigate (the first documented X-file was a man shape shifting into a beast), the evidence clearly points to werewolf activity. In fact, there may be two suspects, but, given the rules of werewolf lore, we all know the man scratched by the werewolf in the prologue is the killer. It’s one of the things that annoyed me most about the episode. “Shapes” pretends to have re-written werewolf lore when it so clearly subscribes to tradition while pretending that tradition doesn’t exist. By the end of the episode, Scully has taken said werewolf, Lyle – the son of the ranch owner, back home after being hospitalized for exposure when he showed up one morning laid out naked in the back yard. That would certainly make me go “HMMMM,” but I’m not in The X-Files, I suppose. Anyway, Lyle begins to feel sick as it is dark out (the one difference is the indifference of the moon – the werewolf appears at night regardless of the phases of the moon, although the show still shows a full moon because… yeah…). When Lyle transforms in the bathroom, Scully hears his cries of agony and attempts to help him. She is then attacked by a hairy arm through the door but is later rescued by Mulder and the local sheriff.

So, here’s where it gets really good. Scully says something to the effect of “Lyle was in the bathroom, and I was trying to help him until this mountain lion attacked me.” Yeah. A mountain lion. I mean, is it me or is her persistent skepticism, at least in this episode, enough to warrant turning the television off for a bit and going outside to breathe in logic? It’s just completely ridiculous to me that Scully would be so reluctant and dim-witted to not put two and two together. Clearly, the hairy arm poking out of the bathroom door belonged to the man shape-shifting inside. It’s not like odd things have never happened to her, but, here, her skepticism comes across to me as thickness.

“Shapes” seems well-intended, and it does get some points for introducing Native American lore, atmosphere, and actors. Yet, it feels undercooked at the basic script level. The pieces are there – the special effects aren’t American Werewolf memorable but they’ll do for 90s TV – but they have been undercut by a script that doesn’t really seem to have any interest in the central “monster of the week.” Perhaps there could have been an exploration of more traditional Native American myths and creatures. I know they’re out there. The werewolf bit just didn’t really cut it for me.

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  1. Avatar
    Chris 6 years ago

    This one was a bit of a miss for me. It was such a cool setting on the Indian reservation. The idea of skin walkers was something they could have gone much deeper with and instead it was a very formulaic werewolf story. Why did they go with the obvious bite victim instead of making it about the bloodlines, which would have been way cooler and, with a little altercation to the dialogue and shot order, hidden until later in the episode. All in all what I remember most about this episode is that Scully’s objections finally seem rediculously forced. It goes from “I have a logical explanation for that ” to “I am going to say pretty much anything except the obvious just to disagree with you.” I also remember it as the 187th time we’ve heard Mulder say “How can you continue to deny the evidence that is right in front of you” or some variation of it.

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