The Good: "Humbug" is funny/quirky, "Anasazi" is dark and dangerous, Acting, Concepts, Extra features.
The Bad: Both are a little light on character development for my tastes.
The Basics: In another fairly incredible video of The X-Files, Scully and Mulder do comedy and end up at one another's throats with "Humbug" and "Anasazi!"
The wonderful thing about The X-Files might well be that the series did not take long to attempt to find its footing and simultaneously reinvent itself. On the one hand, The X-Files began to develop its own mythology, figuring out exactly what the government conspiracy was in relation to the existence to extraterrestrials on Earth. That mythology framed the larger arcs of the series and was balanced by bottle episodes with a monster-of-the-week. The monster-of-the-week stories essentially came in two types: one where the viewer knows the monster from the beginning of the episode or one where the viewer follows the clues with Mulder and Scully to figure out just who or what the creature of the week is.
"Humbug" became the first bottle episode to change that and it did it by playing with the whole concept of The X-Files. Instead of a serious, tense murder mystery, it has the distinction of being the first comedic episode of the series. As a result, there is a ramped up amount of wordplay, physical jokes and, indeed, a lighter tone to the piece than most episodes of The X-Files. And because it worked so well, the series would (at least attempt to) produce one comedy episode per season. Also on this video is "Anasazi," the second season finale, which was designed to top the first season ender and manages to give it a fair run for its money with a solid conspiracy mythology episode.
In "Humbug," Mulder and Scully investigate a murder in Florida that is part of a string of murders going back over forty years. The victim in the latest murder is a carnival freakshow performer and much of the mystery in the case revolves around the lack of easy access to the various victims as well as a lack of pattern in the people being killed. This puts the FBI agents in a small town with a carnival where virtually everyone in the park is a suspect.
Mulder's initial fascination with the Fiji Mermaid quickly gives way to Scully suspecting that the killer might well be an extreme personality or circumstance. Amid contortionists, geeks, and sadly disfigured individuals, the pair hunts for perhaps the most unusual killer yet.
In "Anasazi," Mulder has been behaving erratically for days when he loses his temper and attacks Assistant Director Skinner. Relieved of his duties for the attack and his suspected receipt of the Defense Department's MJ files (all of the proof of extraterrestrial contact that the U.S. government has), Mulder is called to Martha's Vineyard by his father, who attempts to confess to Mulder his role in the conspiracy to keep the knowledge in the MJ files private.
As Scully works to salvage Mulder's career and to translate the MJ files from Navajo, Mulder's father is killed by Krycek and Mulder begins a hunt for the rogue. In the process, Mulder and Scully find themselves closer to the truth than they ever have been before and Scully uncovers the reason for Mulder's behavior, but finds herself met with paranoia and a life threatening situation.
On the plot front, both episodes work very well. "Humbug" is clearly an episode with a pretty light plot: it's a creature feature with a fairly obvious antagonist. Instead of belaboring the investigation, "Humbug" plays with the characters Mulder and Scully encounter as they attempt to track down the killer. Virtually from the beginning, the general location of the killer is known and it is simply a matter of figuring out who among the carnival folk might have done it.
The result is a very effective comedy. Gags include such things as a Siamese twin peeking at Scully's breasts while Scully tries to sneak a peak at his conjoined twin, Mulder assuming that a man of short stature once worked the freakshow circuit only to be given a lecture on prejudice wherein the man surmises that Mulder could be an FBI agent, and Mulder and Scully's attempt to find the killer leads them to exhume . . . a potato. "Humbug" is funny and it manages to be funny in a way that maintains the general spirit of The X-Files while still being a remarkably rewatchable comedy.
In fact, watching "Humbug" now has the added flavor of seeing Michael J. Anderson in a carnival freakshow setting long before there ever was Carnivale (reviewed here!). As always, Anderson is articulate, funny and able to perform in a way that makes his character's appearance memorable. He is almost as memorable as Floyd "Red Crow" Westerman, who makes his debut on The X-Files in "Anasazi" as Albert Holsteen. This is the first of several appearances Holsteen makes and Westerman embodies the Navajo elder in such a way that the viewer becomes glad that he is not simply a one-shot character. Instead, Albert seems instantly layered as a Navajo who has a clear understanding of how nature works and he seems able to commune with the desert.
"Anasazi" also puts Nicholas Lea back in play as Krycek, who disappeared early in the second season after aiding the shadow conspiracy forces in facilitating Scully's abduction. Krycek's role here is simple: he's come to kill Bill Mulder and this foreshadows well how Krycek will be utilized in the future. Nicholas Lea is able to play cold-blooded and efficient with an intensity that is believably murderous. Krycek may well be the villain most fans of The X-Files love to hate, but Lea plays him perfectly!
"Humbug" helps to illustrate something that actress Gillian Anderson has not - classically - been allowed to exhibit, namely her sense of comic timing. Instead of being relegated to Mulder's expository soundingboard, Anderson's Scully is portrayed as quick-witted and able to deliver the witty lines with the best of them. Anderson - or the episode's editor - has a great sense of comic ability and is able to emote humorously with facial expressions and body language as well as deliver great funny lines while in character.
Similarly, "Anasazi" gives David Duchovny the opportunity to strut his stuff and show off his acting chops. Duchovny is saddled with playing Mulder consistently on edge, which involves a lot of Mulder yelling at, well, everybody. Duchovny manages to play the scenes with a genuinely dangerous quality and he keeps it interesting by making his character's body language sag slowly over the course of the episode. As Mulder becomes more and more deranged, Duchovny shows is with his performance beautifully.
Of course, the whole point of "Anasazi" is to set up a cliffhanger and it manages to do that, going out with a bang that will leave fans of The X-Files clamoring for more. Even on video, "Humbug" and "Anasazi" come with a bonus feature, which is a little featurette about each episode called "a private conversation with Chris Carter," where he discusses some behind-the-scenes aspects of the episodes. They are interesting and those who have not, traditionally, been fans of The X-Files will enjoy the stories of such things as Gillian Anderson's sleight of hand and painting the Vancouver hills red.
"Humbug" and "Anasazi" are definitely episodes for fans of science fiction more than those who like straightforward drama or straightforward comedy. But for those looking to expand their horizons, you could do a lot worse than these two episodes!
[Given that VHS is a rapidly dying medium, a far better investment would be The X-Files - The Complete Second Season, reviewed here!
As well, those who already love The X-Files will find The X-Files - The Complete Series to be an even better buy and my review may be accessed by clicking here!
Thanks for reading!]
"Humbug" - 8/10
"Anasazi" - 9/10
VHS - 7.5/10
For other television episode, season and series reviews, please check out the organized listing of them on this index page!
© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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