Saturday, March 25, 2023

The X-Files: "Home"

It seems quite likely that The X-Files was the most popular science fiction series of the Nineties. What is more, it still maintains a huge following world-wide.  For those unfamiliar with the show, The X-Files stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, who are assigned to investigate the "X-files," unsolved cases that cannot be easily explained and often involve the paranormal. Fans of The X-Files generally come in two types. There are those fans who prefer the show's "mythology episodes," episodes which deal with a continuing storyline on The X-Files involving a government conspiracy to conceal the existence of extraterrestrial life. And then there are those fans who prefer The X-Files' "monster of the week" episodes, self-contained episodes that focus on non-reoccurring monsters, paranormal phenomena, or villains. I always fell into the latter category of "monster of the week" fan, not particularly caring for the mythology episodes. Picking a favourite monster of the week episode is difficult for me as there are so many great ones. That said, the most frightening episode of The X-Files for me may well be "Home."

"Home" is the second episode of the fourth season of The X-Files, and debuted on October 11 1996 on Fox. "Home" takes place in the fictional, small Pennsylvania town of the same name. Mulder and Scully are sent to the small town after a group of kids playing baseball discover the corpse of a severely deformed infant. A conversation with the local sheriff, Andy Taylor (Tucker Smallwood) leads them to the Peacock brothers, who can best be described as mutant hillbillies living well off the grid. There's much more to the episode than that, but the less one knows going into "Home" the better.

"Home" marked the triumphant return of writers Glen Morgan and James Wong to The X-Files. Messrs. Morgan and Wong had worked on The X-Files during its first three seasons before departing to produce their own television show Space: Above and Beyond. After Space: Above and Beyond had been cancelled, they returned to The X-Files. For their first script following their return to the show, they decided to write something that would not only be ambitious, but that would push the envelope for what was allowed on television at the time.

Inspiration for "Home" came from diverse sources. One was the 1992 documentary Brother's Keeper, which dealt with an alleged murder that occurred in a small farming community near Utica, New York and the Ward brothers, four brothers who lived on a dilapidated farm that had been passed down through their family for generations. Another bit of inspiration came from My Autobiography by Charlie Chaplin, in which he told how he stayed in a miner's tenement home in Wales and was introduced to a legless man who slept in the kitchen cupboard. Two well known movies also served as inspiration for "Home": The Texas Chaninsaw Massacre (1974) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). Yet another source of inspiration came from, of all things, The Andy Griffith Show. Not only is Home, Pennsylvania's sheriff named "Andy Taylor," but the show contains references to Mayberry, the setting of The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R.F.D.

"Home" proved controversial before it even began filming. The producers of The X-Files worried that with "Home" the show may have gone too far. Tucker Smallwood, who played Sheriff Andy Taylor, was genuinely shocked by the episode's violence. The episode's director, Kim Manners, wanted to use Johnny Mathis's song "Wonderful Wonderful" in the episode, but Mr. Mathis was so appalled after reading the script that he refused to let them use the song. Fortunately, they found a Johnny Mathis soundalike who recorded a cover version for the episode. Kim Manners was the one fan of the script. The director called it "as classic a horror script I'm ever going to see."

"Home" was shot in Surrey, British Columbia, which is hardly a small town, having a population of over 500,000. Fortunately, Surrey has several buildings of the type often seen in small American (and Canadian, for that matter) towns and they were able to shoot the episode at different angles to give the illusion of a town no bigger than, well, Mayberry, North Carolina.

The Fox Network was obviously concerned about "Home." It was the only X-Files episode to carry a TV-MA rating upon its first broadcast. It was also the first X-Files episode to ever bear a viewer discretion warning because of its violent content. While "Home" received positive reviews from critics and did very well in the Nielsen ratings, it would be the only episode of The X-Files that Fox never reran. "Home" would not be seen again until FX began showing repeats of The X-Files in 1997.

In many ways it is understandable why "Home" is considered the scariest episode of The X-Files. Its opening scene, in which the Peacock brothers bury the aforementioned deformed baby, is particularly horrifying, Later in the episode there is a good deal of violence that was unusual for most episodes of the series. Even so, The X-Files had featured episodes that were violent both before and after "Home." What makes "Home" more disturbing than other X-Files episodes is that it might well hit a little too close to, well, home for many. "Home" does not deal with the paranormal or supernatural. The Peacocks are not the products of radiation nor government experiments, nor are they aliens or demons. Instead they are the products of both a highly dysfunctional family and, quite apparently, inbreeding.Unlike the flukeman of "The Host" or Tooms in "Squeeze," the Peacocks could actually exist.

Beyond the fact that the Peacocks could actually exist, "Home" is made all the more disturbing in that it takes aim at traditional American family values. The Peacocks are a nuclear family devoted to their familial traditions and what they view as their family honour. At the same time they are violent, backward, and hostile to outsiders, so much so that their behaviour would be considered dysfunctional by any decent human being. The Peacocks stand in contrast to the small town of Home, with its congenial Sheriff Taylor and the local kids who play baseball there. Although both are products of rural America, Home is the opposite of the Peacock brothers. Home welcomes outsiders and embraces traditional American family values in ways the Peacocks could not conceive. To make a television comparison, the Peacocks are a much more violent, even more dysfunctional Twin Peaks, while Home is Mayberry.

Speaking of Mayberry, one of the things that might make "Home" all the more terrifying is that it references the archetypal small town, Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R.F.D. Its sheriff is named Andy Taylor and his deputy is even named Barney (although his last name is Paster rather than Fife). "Home" is also one of the few times a popular song was used in an episode. What is more, "Wonderful Wonderful" is used in a scene whose ultraviolence contrasts with the upbeat nature of the song. Yet another pop culture reference may be the name of the Peacock family themselves. Although I cannot verify it, there are those who claim that the name "Peacock" was chosen as a slight against rival network NBC, with whom Fox has been engaged in a feud for some time.

I won't say that "Home" is the best episode of The X-Files. I won't even say it is my absolute favourite, as I never can make up my mind with regards to which episode of The X-Files I like best. That having been said, I can say it is the episode that frightened me the most. It scared me when it first aired and, even today, after repeated viewings it still disturbs me. I have to agree with director Kim Manners, it's as classic a horror episode as anyone is going to see.


Brian Schuck said...

I was a huge fan of the X-Files, and like you, I preferred the "monster of the week" episodes to the running mythology, which was too arcane for me. "Home" was in a category all to itself, and made quite an impression on those of us who saw it. I haven't revisited it because I'm not sure I have the stomach for it. As always, you provide a wealth of background information to set this groundbreaking episode in context. By the way, thanks again for hosting this great blogathon - there are lots of great contributions!

Marianne said...

I have not seen this episode of the "X-Files," and I have been watching the show on COMET, the over-the-air broadcast station, from time to time. I always seem to land on the same set of episodes, the ones about Muller having to flee and hide out on a Navajo reservation! I'm a newcomer to the "X-Files," and I wonder if I'll ever be able to catch "Home" on COMET.

Thanks for hosting the blogathon!
Make Mine Film Noir

Hamlette (Rachel) said...

Might the last name "Peacock" be a reference to "The Partridge Family," which was about an unusual (but functional) family?

Mike's Movie Room said...

I came late to the party where The X-Files is concerned. It was only a few years ago that I started collecting the series on DVD, and now I have Seasons 1-8. So far, I've only watched Season 1 and a few episodes of Season 2. The episode you describe sounds like it's way outside of my comfort zone, as I'm not a fan of graphic violence. But I'll give it a good shot! Your description makes it sound very intriguing. And I appreciate your honesty about how graphic it is.

Barry P. said...

Terrific review of a classic X-Files episode, Terence! I remember when this episode aired, and I never forgot my initial experience. I haven't seen this episode since, but I think I'm long overdue for a rewatch.

Rebecca Deniston said...

I never saw X-files, but I'm sort of intrigued. Maybe coming at thematically would be better than just watching it straight through.