Monday, May 14, 2012

Grotesque X

Way back in 1996, season three of The X-Files featured an episode called 'Grotesque.' This meant nothing to me at the time - mainly because my parents didn't own a television - but it's very interesting now...

This story focuses on the psychological, rather than the supernatural, although these categories (predictably) blur together, especially when Fox Mulder gets involved. Things kick off when a serial killer best known for mutilating the faces of young men is finally caught and placed into custody. John Mostow is an artist, and when the FBI beat down his door they discover an apartment covered in creepy gargoyle sketches.

FBI Agent Bill Patterson (Kurtwood Smith) is thrilled to have found the killer after three years of searching; however, Mostow denies he is the real murderer, claiming to have been possessed by an evil spirit. The Law are understandably skeptical about this, being more interested in fingerprints and DNA and things of that nature. Then, while Mostow is in custody, another young man is killed in the exact same way. Is there a second killer? An accomplice? Or has the evil spirit found a new host? Scully and the Fox are called in to find out.

My main interest in this story is its linking of gargoyles and the grotesque with "dark forces" that live within the human soul. The demonic spirit isn't given a name, although we are told that "with a snap of its finger, it makes men lick the greasy floor of hell, just to see its reflection." Totally uncool, man.

Mostow claims that he draws gargoyles to ward off the demon (which doesn't seem to be working). Luckily, Mulder is versed in Gothic lore and can verify this theory: "historically, that's what gargoyles have been used for. To ward off evil spirits. Like on the eaves of buildings." But this is not the limit of Mostow's obsession.

When they visit the killer's apartment, Mulder discovers a secret room filled with leering gargoyle torsos sculpted from clay. This creepy scene, and the whole episode in general, really reminds me of the Dr Who episode 'Blink' - which I highly recommend you watch, if you haven't already.

Just like the Weeping Angels in Dr Who, the clay gargoyles are more than they seem...

I won't spoil it. You'll have to watch and see what happens.

During the investigation, Mulder pours over historical documents and reads up on gargoyles. His inner monologue summarizes this research and draws out some of the ideas circulating the episode:
"The name is from the French "gargouille". The name of a medieval dragon that prowled the river Seine. Whose horrible image became the symbol of the soul of the condemned. Turned to stone. Or of the devils and demons of the underworld spared eternal damnation. The embodiment of the lesser forces of the universe who inspired dread, the threat of our own damnation. Ushers into hell or into the realm of our own dark fears and imagination. For over 1200 years, this grotesque image has found its expression in stone, clay, wood, oil and charcoal. Born again and again as if resurrecting itself by its own will through tortured human expression, almost as if it existed. Haunting men inwardly so that it may haunt mankind for eternity. As it must have haunted John Mostow. But what impulses moved it to kill? Could this be the same dark force at work? Its ultimate expression the destruction of the flesh? Of the very hand that creates it? Is this evil something born in each of us? Crouching in the shadow of every human soul waiting to emerge? A monster waiting to violate our bodies and twist our will to do its bidding? Is this the monster called madness?"

Here the grotesque quality of the gargoyle expresses the "dark" parts of the human psyche; all the fears and horrors conjured by human culture and imagination. It is also associated with the weaknesses of individuals. Those people who fail to control or defeat their inner demons, who let them escape and wreak havoc on the world: "allowing the monster without to turn within. We are left alone staring into the abyss. Into the laughing face of madness."

The episode also suggests that such weakness is contagious - Mulder himself starts obsessing over gargoyles and scrawls his own series of grotesque sketches. Scully maintains her "this-is-ridiculous-please-be-a-normal-dude" perspective, but she is peripheral to the main story in this one. It is Mulder who takes the psychological journey of discovery.

Again, I'm not going to spoil the ending, but it was quite good. At least one decent red herring. It's an extremely Gothic episode, at times so darkly lit you can barely see what's going on. In this way the lighting supports the theme of inner "darkness," as well as the experience of stepping into the unknown: "we work in the dark. We do what we can to battle the evil that would otherwise destroy us."

Anyway, back to writing. Must stop procrastinating...

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