X-Files Flashblack: ‘Signs and Wonders’

Signs and Wonders

Season 7, Episode 9
Director: Kim Manners
Writer: Jeffrey Bell

Why did “Signs and Wonders” have to have snakes?

Full disclosure: I hate snakes. There’s nothing good about a snake to me. Yes, I understand all of the positive benefits, rodent control, etc. Doesn’t factor into my logic at all. I cannot stand a snake. The best kind of snake to me is a dead, dead, dead snake. So, naturally, when The X-Files does a snake-handlers episode (“Signs and Wonders”), it’s going to get under my skin. And it did. In a major way.

The episode begins with a young man, Jared, fleeing his home in a panic. When he gets into the car, snakes magically appear out of nowhere and begin to strike him. When Jared’s body is found without a single residue of snake left behind, Mulder and Scully are asked to investigate. During the investigation, they encounter two preachers: the seemingly normal Reverend Mackey and the seemingly insane Reverend Enoch O’Connor of the snake-handling church. The general thought is that O’Connor struck out at Jared because he was romantically involved with his daughter, Gracie, and got her pregnant. However, it is revealed that Jared is sterile, and Mackey tells Mulder and Scully that O’Connor fathered his own grandchild. In the end, it is revealed that Mackey is the conjuror of snakes and fathered Gracie’s child, not Jared. Mulder attempts to arrest Mackey but is attacked by snakes and is later saved by Scully. Mackey, however, was not captured and moved on to another church.

“Signs and Wonders” is a clever little episode despite the immediate terror it instilled in me thanks to snake. You know I hate them, right? It spends much of the time going down the obvious path where the snake-handling reverend just has to be the villain. Worse, he’s uneducated and potentially rapes his own daughter. Once that bit of information was revealed, my bullshit meter went off just a little. Because naturally any Southern preacher who handles snakes obviously also rapes his daughter, right? But that was all a red herring. The real villain here was the one you don’t initially expect, and he turns out to be far worse than the more obvious choice. Although, I will admit that having Mackey become some sort of demon / monster of the week without any explanation as to his background is a bit of a ninth-inning hack. It’s as if they needed just five minutes more to fully dive into his character before showing him at his newest church where he apparently keeps a pet snake in his stomach. Shudder.

With an episode about snakes, you really need some great snake special effects to really drive home the terror. Here, there are ample examples of that. Jared’s death by snake in his car. Church volunteer Iris’s (the omnipresent Beth Grant) death by staple remover/snakes. Scully’s near-miss with a trailer full of snakes. Mulder’s attack by snakes in the episode’s end. Even the exorcism of Gracie’s snake babies. These are well-orchestrated, truly terrifying moments of snake-based horror that had me at the first rattle. “Signs and Wonders” probably wouldn’t be much of an episode had they not gone all-in with the snakes, but I’m good with what they delivered.

Because you know I hate snakes, right? Shudder.

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