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 “Shapes”.

Shapes X-Files season 1 img 1Down on the ranch

“All I’m saying, it was no kind of animal that I know of.” Says ranch owner Jim Parker as Mulder and Scully start straight on the case of a series of strange animal attacks on a ranch that results in the shooting of a Native American who lived on a nearby reservation.

I suppose something that’s really difficult for those outside of the US to understand is just how strained relationships between Native Americans and the authorities are in the US. In particular the FBI and Native Americans, as referenced early on in a conversation between Mulder and Ish when Wounded Knee comes up. You can read about that incident here, but suffice to say that in 1994, some thirty years and a bit after the events there, it still made (and makes) for a very relevant historical reference. It sets up the episode’s relationships quite well.

Shapes X-Files season 1 img 2Toothy

Like the imagery we have of the beast that’s shown off during Shape’s opening, what Scully and Mulder find our bits and pieces of the puzzle at work, not the whole. And it is this piecemeal visual representation of the beast that works so well. After all, how many werewolf films have you watched where the illusion of the creature has been spoiled when you’re shown a fully body view of it? Exactly, and it also has the neat advantage of not screwing-up your episode’s budget.

One of the neater aspects of the episode comes from the revelation by Mulder that a case similar to the one they’re working was the first X-File. And so so, while unlike many previous episodes where we’ve had a lot of characterisation of the two agents, the X-Files themselves are given their origins.

Shapes X-Files season 1 img 3Generational

This episode contains a lot of sadness – from the fact that the land wars between European settlers and indigenous populations are not something that can be consigned to the 19th Century to the deaths that happen. It’s like the episode shows that colonisation still makes communities bleed, that it hasn’t ended at a particular generation.

Elsewhere in the episode, the idea of generations is raised again, as Ish says that Mulder is more open to Native American beliefs than some Native Americans as he looks over at Sheriff Tskany – one of the younger inhabitants of the reservation. Stopping short of giving Mulder a Native American name like “Running Fox”, it opens up – in a way – a continuing affinity between Mulder’s character and Native American communities and culture that is explored in later seasons.

Shapes X-Files season 1 img 4Effects

The glances we get at the beast in this episode really do serve it well, as I’ve previously suggested. However, one of the best moments for effects in the episode is a transformation sequence near the end. Things start going all American Werewolf in London and it’s quite impressive. Compared to the iffy effects of an episode like “Ghost In The Machine”, the effects here work really well.

Expect for this one moment early on when Mulder picks up what’s meant to be a discarded tuft of fur – that bit wasn’t so great. When you watch the episode, you’ll see that the fur still has some leather backing to it, rather than looking like a chunk of fur that caught in some overgrowth.

What did you think of this episode? Let us know in the comments below.