X-Files Flashback: ‘Red Museum’

Red Museum

Season 2, Episode 10
Director: Win Phelps
Writer: Chris Carter

A more apt title for The X-Files‘s “Red Museum” would have been “Red Herring” given everything that happens through the course of the episode. The narrative shifts from that of a Peeping Tom perspective to that of a religious cult to genetic engineered beef before finally settling on a course that redirects us, rather unexpectedly, back to the central mythology of the series. As such, the episode is another entry in the long line of extremely disconnected but ultimately engaging and entertaining episodes… even if the return to the overall mythology of the series felt like an incredibly tacked-on afterthought.

“Red Museum” begins with a woman returning home from her job at the local meat processing plant. The quick scene of beef being sliced and hung in the cooler made me revisit my long-ago three days of vegetarianism and, if the show had been brave enough to link some sort of villainous parasite to the processed beef, that personal mandate would have been re-applied. At home, the woman asks her oldest son to order a pizza while she takes a shower, and, as she undresses, a man watches her strip from behind the wall. Her son then receives a phone call and steps out for five minutes, not to be seen again until the next morning when he’s found wandering in the woods in his underwear with “He is one” scrawled across his back.

Naturally, Mulder and Scully are called to investigate because the local sheriff believes the activity to be linked to a local vegetarian cult called “the Church of the Red Museum” whose followers save cattle from slaughter and parade around town wearing all white with red turbans. The religious sect, in turns out, has little to do with the pattern of child disappearances. Instead, over the course of the epiosde, Mulder and Scully discover that the local pediatrician has been injecting the kids with “special vitamins” since birth. When the doctor dies in an unexpected plane crash, Scully is able to determine that these “special vitamins” are actually injections developed from the “Purity Control” serum allegedly derived from an alien fetus. Thus, the plot shifts back into the overall mythology of the series.

We wrap up when the Crew Cut Man who murdered Deep Throat shows up and kills those who knew about the series of injections as well as the local sheriff’s son. Mulder is anxious to capture the Crew Cut Man, but the sheriff kills him in a fit of grief. The mysterious child kidnappings are also blamed on the Peeping Tom who used to own a day care center and feels remorse over the increased aggressiveness inherent in the genetically altered children. The children raised in the “Red Museum” sect were apparently considered members of a control group for comparison against the alien-influenced kids. The question of why the kidnapped kids are stripped half-naked is never fully addressed.

The problem with “red herring” shows is that, even though they’re designed to throw you off the central trail, they often leave many questions to be answered. For example, why was the Peeping Tom videotaping and spying on that particular family? Was he documenting something with the injected child? Why did he need to kidnap, strip, and drug them? What was the purpose of injecting cattle with hormones? Was that just a USDA advancement? Why did the religious sect AND the government experiments settle on this town? These are but a few of the unanswered questions that plagued me by the end of the episode. Perhaps the confusion is a direct result of the missed crossover with Picket Fences, a popular, Emmy-winning drama of the time that also tendered to dabble in oddities. The turds over at CBS were afraid of publicizing The X-Files over their own struggling series (which still won a boatload of Emmys) and shut down the crossover attempt.

Whatever the cause, “Red Museum” is an episode that contains a lot of interesting ideas but fails to tie any of them together or resolve them in a satisfactory manner. Particularly the too-quick wrap up with the Crew Cut Man’s plot line. But as with most over-stuffed episodes, there’s a lot to engage the audience here, so it’s not a completely uninteresting episode. It’s just one that feels underbaked and not as crisp as some of the best episodes can be.

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