X-Files Flashback: ‘War of the Coprophages’

War of the Coprophages

Season 3, Episode 12
Director: Kim Manners
Writer: Darin Morgan

With all due respect to Indiana Jones, but cockroaches… Why did it have to be cockroaches?

“War of the Coprophages” begins with an amusing entry into this marvel of eccentricity and absurdist humor. A man waxes poetic about a cockroach, about its place in the world, and promptly and unceremoniously kills it. The camera pulls back to reveal an exterminator dealing with a cockroach infestation in Dr. Jeff Eckerle’s basement. This being The X-Files, though, the man struggles to breathe and falls to the walls where hundreds of cockroaches begin pouring out of a crack in the foundation. As Eckerle reappears, he sees the exterminator’s dead body, covered in cockroaches.

If “War of the Coprophages” were a more traditional episode of X-Files, then it would be near-unbearable to watch, something like a low-rent TV version of David Cronenberg’s The Fly, perhaps. Instead, “War” has its tongue so firmly in cheek here that it may never again see the light of day. After you ease into it, the cockroach attacks don’t seem so terrible. In fact, various displays of human angst quickly become far more disgusting that the tiny insects themselves. As a stand-alone episode, “War of the Coprophages” will never win Emmys or even find its way to the top of series’ “best of” lists, but it isn’t without significant pleasures.

Mulder, taking a break from FBI work to do a little on-the-side UFO sighting in the town of Miller’s Grove, manages to find his way into this cockroach conundrum. One of the more amusing aspects of the show is the near-identical conversations he has on the phone with Scully. He calls to ask for her to join him. She asks why. He tells her of a death. She explains it away through science. He says OK and hangs up. End of story. This exchange occurs a few times becoming progressively funnier as it moves along. After multiple murders are uncovered, Mulder meets a sexy researcher, Dr. Bambi Berenbaum (Bobbie Phillips, Showgirls), who is as into bugs as she is into UFO conspiracies. Mulder is immediately entranced. Cue Scully packing to join his investigation.

When she arrives in town, Scully is confronted by mass hysteria. There is a fantastic scene in a gas station where society has completely crumbled, and people are grabbing anything they can to flee town, away from the killer cockroaches. The investigation ultimately leads to Eckerle’s own research facility where he explores alternative fuel sources, including animal dung. Thinking the cockroach infestation may be attributed to the dung, Mulder, Dr. Bambi, and Scully arrive at the facility where Eckerle has gone insane thanks to the constant presence of cockroaches. As Mulder tries to reason with him, Eckerle fires a gun that ricochets into a pipe containing methane gas. He and Scully race out of the building, making it out just as the facility erupts causing shit to fly into the air. We close with a cute scene involving Mulder studying a massive cockroach that sits and watches him file a report before smashing it with an x-file.

I can’t begin to tell you what “War of the Coprophages” is about, and I suspect it really is intended to be about nothing at all – just a purely amusing footnote in the series’ long history. There are countless chuckle-worthy moments – Mulder and Scully’s early interactions, the cockroach deaths, the bizarre characters that pop out of the woodwork – that really sell the episode. Plus, it’s just an imaginatively written episode, meandering all over the place but somehow remaining consistent in tone. At one point, Mulder hypothesizes that the cockroaches are actually tiny mechanical bugs sent here by aliens. Of course he does.

The direct associations between the widespread infestation of cockroaches and the seemingly random deaths in Miller’s Grove is never fully explored. And that’s OK. What remains outside of the central mystery is far stronger: a playful and engaging comic story about the budding romantic relationship between two colleagues who are iconically perfect for each other.

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