X-Files Flashback: ‘The Host’

Season 2, Episode 2
Director: Daniel Sackheim
Writer: Chris Carter

The trouble with iconic episodes of a show is that, when viewed through the prism of preceding hype, they seldom match their reputation. That phenomena, I must say, is exactly not what I experienced with The X-Files‘s “The Host” episode – the debut of the “Flukeman.” Everything you’ve heard about the episode is 100 percent true. It is thrilling. It is engrossing. And it is super, super, super gross.  As such, this is one of the very best episodes of The X-Files thus far.

The prologue begins on a Russian tanker.  A junior level seaman is forced to deal with an onboard sewage problem. As he reaches into a giant vat of waste, he is pulled in kicking and screaming. Other seamen try to help, but it is too late. The young man is lost, only to wash up in a New Jersey sewer weeks later. In that same sewer, another man is attacked, but this time he is saved yet has a massive wound resembling a strange bite mark on his back. He checks out OK but complains of a strange taste. Later, he vomits a small worm – a fluke – and is found dead in his apartment. Hungry?

The culprit of all this, as Mulder and Scully eventually discover, is the Flukeman, a human-fluke hybrid who implants larvae in its victims as its method of reproducing. They initially trap the Flukeman in a New Jersey sewer, but he escapes, killing another man. The episode concludes with Mulder swimming in an offshoot of the New Jersey sewer system and cutting the Flukeman in half. The closing shot includes a Flukeman floating to the top of the water, eyes open.

The concept of the Flukeman is vividly rendered and one of the more ingenious creations of the series. It is discovered later in the episode that he is a result of fallout from the Chernobyl disaster, and, later in a comic series dedicated to the creature, it is revealed that Flukeman is a human mutated by radiated water and garden variety flukes. Whatever the origins, the creature is terrifying – perhaps not quite the equal of Season One’s Tooms but most assuredly a close second. The episode feeds off of our natural disgust of sewage and the innate fear of what resides within the sewers. It nicely uses this fear to build suspense and deep tension within the audience accentuated by the claustrophobic sets and cinematography. Plus, the creature of the episode is another ingeniously reasoned creation where its survival is the main avenue that causes other humans problems. This isn’t a creature who randomly kills – it attacks for survival, for reproduction. That motivation taps into deep horror genre tropes brilliantly.

Aside from the horror of the antagonist, the episode is also notable for continuing the thread of the disillusioned Mulder with the purpose of the X-files in his life. He grows closer to Scully, and, after he confesses contemplating quitting the FBI, she expresses (in her Scully way of course) that she would miss him professionally and personally. Scully’s demeanor this season, thus far, has definitely pushed their relationship in the romantic direction without explicitly stating as much. Perhaps that’s due to Gillian Anderson’s real-life pregnancy during this period, forcing her to wear bulky trench coats and remain office-bound. Additionally, Mulder is encouraged to continue pursuing X-files-like cases by a mysterious man within the FBI who continues to contact him, giving him vague statements of support. The X-files may have been disbanded, but “The Host” confirms for us that someone wishes them reinstated.

Overall, “The Host” is an excellent episode that blends focused, gruesome horror with enough plot momentum to move the mythology of the series forward. It doesn’t deal with aliens, but not all episodes really have to dip into that. Instead, it develops a new, unique creature and underlays that story with small hints and details about the future of the series. Representing the horrors man has on its environment, the Flukeman is a star of The X-Files, and “The Host” goes down in X-Files history as one of its most deranged and disturbed episodes.

Still, it’s no “Home…”

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