X-Files writer Darin Morgan talks 'Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster'
Also, how television has changed in 20 years.
The original nine-season run of The X-Files lasted 202 episodes. Only four episodes were written by Darin Morgan. But those episodes loom large in the show’s history. “Humbug,” “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” “War of the Coprophages,” and “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” pushed the series in a direction that was playful, experimental, and even metaphysical, with a sensibility that was lighthearted and melancholy and brain-twistingly cerebral all at once. (Morgan also received a story credit on “Blood,” a season 2 episode which he developed with his brother, longtime X-Files writer-producer Glen Morgan.)
Morgan also played two very different characters on The X-Files: Sad-sack shapeshifter Eddie Van Blundht, and the horrific sewer nightmare monster called the Flukeman. Because his contribution to the show was so radical and unique, fans were excited to hear that he’d be returning for an episode of the 2016 revival. That episode airs Monday night. Titled “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” it’s an unmistakable Darin Morgan production, with a comedic-nihilistic sensibility and several left-field twists. EW got on the phone to talk with Morgan about how television has changed — and how X-Files hasn’t.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you have the idea for “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster”? Did you always envision it as an X-Files story?
DARIN MORGAN: The basic story idea was one I came up with over a decade ago, working on another show. We didn’t get to do it. I’ve always wanted to, ‘cause I’ve always loved the basic story. But there’s not many shows that would allow you to do a Werelizard. [laughs]
Was that from your time working on The Night Stalker?
Yeah, that was The Night Stalker. Which was a crazy experience. I don’t know if you know the backstory. Frank Spotnitz, who was an old X-Files guy, was running it. And we were told, the first day, that even though we were doing a remake of The Night Stalker, we weren’t allowed to do stories about monsters. Or even use the word “monster.” And we just couldn’t believe it, ‘cause that didn’t make any sense. Why you would do a remake of a show about a man searching for monsters, and then not be able to use any monsters?
So I came up with the idea that: “Well, if this idea could work, that maybe this could prove to the network to let us do monster episodes.” We never got that far, ‘cause the show was canceled. But the idea always stayed with me. Of course, the [original] Night Stalker has so many similarities to the X-Files. It was a huge inspiration.
What was the process of writing this episode? Has your process changed since your original run on The X-Files?
No, nothing really changed. That was one of the reasons why I agreed to come back, and was excited to. When I worked on the show, which was season 2 and 3, I never got a note from a studio or network executive about making a change to one of my scripts. I worked on another one of Chris’ shows, called Millennium. X-Files and Millennium were the only shows I ever worked on where I was allowed to do my scripts the way I wanted to.
And so, I made the assumption that Fox was going to let us do the show as we did the show back then. And it turned out to be true. I didn’t get any notes about changing this episode.
We didn’t have a writers’ room then, we didn’t have one now. We all went off on our own to work on our own stories. So, in that respect, it was just like the old days.
At the beginning of the episode, in a very playful way, it feels to me like Mulder is having a mid-life crisis. On a personal level, how do you feel about Mulder and Scully in this revival? Do they feel like they are different people?
Yeah, because they’re older! Having aged myself, it changes you. You look at the world differently.
With Mulder, it isn’t so much a mid-life crisis… well, it is a mid-life crisis, I guess. But it’s a crisis that everyone goes through at some point in their life, regardless of what they do. They just question: Did they make the right choice in life? Going down this career path, or dedicating their life to whatever Mulder does, seeking for the truth or whatever.
I know I’ve changed. When you’re first starting out as a writer, everything seems wonderful, it’s a great job. And then at a certain point you go: Why did I ever become a writer? So I decided to give a little of that to Mulder and Scully.
You didn’t have a writers’ room, but did you and the other writers working on the revival talk before this new season about the general structure of the season?
We talked about what we all wanted to address in our episodes, and then we, to our own amusement, go: “Hey, that’s a through line, sort of!” We talked about what each character was going through. But that is very different from a story room nowadays, where everyone sits down and breaks every plotline. [With X-Files], you’re on the same page, but you also have a little wiggle room to do your own kind of version of the characters.
We always used to talk about how X-Files had Monster-of-the-Week episodes and mythology episodes. “Were-Monster” is definitely the latter, but you wrote “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” which kind of crosses that divide. Actually, one of my colleagues thinks “Jose Chung’s” actually answered all the questions about the conspiracy, and we just didn’t realize it.
[Laughs] That’s a scary thought! To be honest, I didn’t pay any attention to the mythology episodes. I knew that’s what people wanted to see, and I knew that was one of the reasons why the show became popular, but I didn’t have much interest in it. I wasn’t asked to work on them, so I didn’t pay too much attention to them. The mythology ones were pretty much, for the most part, all Chris and Frank. It was understood they were the ones who would do those episodes, and everyone else just focused on your own standalones. That’s how it was then, and that’s kind of how it was now.
That sounds kind of crazy, I guess. Especially nowadays. Like I said, nowadays, all the writers have to work on every episode, because it’s a continuing story. You have to know exactly what everybody is doing. X-Files was completely different, because you could do complete standalones. I didn’t even know what some of the guys were working on.
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As a writer and as a TV viewer, do you miss that era of television? Now, so much television, every series is a long-running storyline? Do you miss when it was individual standalone hours of television?
As a viewer, I don’t mind. I watch probably as much as everybody else does, the continuing-story stuff. That’s all great. As a writer, I honestly don’t want to work on those kind of shows. I’ve done it before, and I find them unfulfilling, to be honest with you. Just because there’s just too many people. You’re not really expressing your own taste, or viewpoint, or anything. It’s a different skill. I’m probably not very good at it. Another reason why I don’t like doing it as a writer.
I always go back to The Twilight Zone, which isn’t fair, because that’s a complete anthology series. But I’m a big fan of Louie, which, much like The X-Files, you don’t know each episode what you’re going to get. Some episodes are really funny, some aren’t at all. They’re sort of standalones, but sometimes the stories linger over an episode or two. That’s one of the reasons why I like that show. Most stuff now is what I call continuing sagas, and just as a writer, I just don’t really like working on that kind of stuff.
The first two episodes of the X-Files revival have done well in the ratings. There are rumors of more episodes. Have you been approached to write another episode? You’ve done five over the course of 22 years.
What does that work out to? One every four or five years? [laughs] Thanks for rubbing that in. I haven’t been approached. To be honest, I haven’t even thought about it. Unfortunately, that’s not how my mind works. I’m not very good at planning my career. I just sort of play it by ear, and whatever comes up, or whatever I’m offered, depending on whether or not I’m working or not. I’m sure if the numbers stay the way they are, Fox will probably bring it back, but I have no clue as to whether that’s actually gonna happen or not.
One of the parts that moved me in the new episode is how you do embed a lovely homage to longtime X-Files director Kim Manners in the episode. Can you talk a bit about how that came about?
The problem with that is, we actually had a lot of people who have passed away who worked on the show, that I wanted to use as a tribute, to put their names in the cemetery scene. The problem is, we only had the budget for two headstones. So, I insisted upon Kim, because Kim was just a huge part of the original series.
I actually wanted to cast Kim in “Jose Chung.” I named the detective “Detective Manners.” I really wanted Kim to play him, ‘cause Kim was actually a great actor, but he was just too exhausted from directing the show. So I guess, in a weird sort of way, this is a chance for me to get him to be in one of my episodes.
You also directed this episode. What was that like? Besides being such a well-written show, X-Files was always praised for its visuals.
In regards to that, the one good part was being able to lean so heavily on the crew. Joel Ransom, the DP, I relied a great deal on him for suggestions of camera stuff. It’s a daunting task to do one of these episodes. They’re really hard to do. All the location shooting, and night shooting. You only have eight days, you know, it’s not a cable show. It’s really challenging to get all that stuff done, and do it in a visually interesting way.
I have to ask one last question, which I think only you are truly able to answer: What do you think the Flukeman is up to today?
What was that, twenty-some years ago? That means there’s probably millions of little Flukepeople swimming around the sewers of Jersey and the East Coast. So, any day now, they’ll be emerging. [laughs]
Come back to EW.com after tonight’s episode for some spoiler-y thoughts about “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” from Darin Morgan.