September 2013 saw the 20th anniversary of the first airing of The X-Files. To celebrate this on The Hex Dimension, I’m providing you with retrospectives on episodes and I’ll also be covering the films at the points that they fit into the series’ chronology. So, without further ado… welcome to “Gender Bender”.
Mulder and Scully are first seen investigating the death of the man that we see in the opening of the episode. This is after a scene involving the death of a man after sex. Introducing the Kindred, Mulder lays out his usual X-Files spin: a set of mysterious deaths, all with similar hallmarks.
Scully remarks that she can’t even imagine anyone having unprotected sex in this day and age. It’s the early 90s and the spectre of AIDs/HIV is still looming over the cultural landscape – I feel that younger viewers wouldn’t quite get the impact of Scully’s words today. With that in mind, it’s possible that you’d miss how part of the episode is a bit of an allegory for the spread of the disease at that time.
One thing I always notice about this episode is how it struggles a bit to convey two very different cultures. From the early 90s rave scene in the US to those who belong to Amish-esque religions (here it’s the fictional Kindred) in various parts of the US countryside. Rave culture as a whole is something that many authorities still fail to really understand, and the less said about the general perception of minority Christian sects the better.
But this apparent lack of comprehension means that Larry Barber and Paul Barber are able to cast the Kindred as total others to Scully and Mulder. Their difference makes them immediately suspect. At the same time I will say that Carter’s series is not the first thing to use a religious sect that looks like the Amish as some kind of “other” like entity in text.
A testament to the ingenuity of the team behind The X-Files, the “caves” of the Kindred are a fantastic set. Apparently it was really hard for them to film in there and they needed extra time to get all of the footage that they needed. But the claustrophobic and womb like nature of the caves really help to emulate the themes of death and rebirth that are there in the episode.
And they also help to escalate the creepy appearance of the sect there. It’s not just secret what they’re doing, but super-secret. Okay, and the slimy nature of the cave walls doesn’t exactly help to not make them seem very “other”.
There’s a scene where Scully thinks she’s about to get information on their killer and is, “[…] about to do the wild thing with some stranger,” as Mulder puts it. Scully is unable to help herself in this scene and I find that a little upsetting. Scully isn’t vulnerable very often, but she is here and worst of all it’s while she’s about to be used for sex.
Then there’s the killer themselves: “Marty”. If Scully being a victim seems a bit cheap in this episode, then the (more than) hint in the episode’s closing scenes that the Kindred aren’t of this Earth seems even cheaper, because it’s used as a way to quickly wrap things up.
For me this is one of the weaker episodes of the season, mainly because things don’t seem to fit together. It was like, “Here, let’s see how these things mix together,” and then forgetting to turn the oven off at the right point.
What did you think of this episode? Let us know in the comments below.