“Familiar” does its best to make Mulder’s defense of Melvin more palatable. After Rick follows his suspect and throws him to the ground, Melvin yells, “It was statutory! I never hurt anybody!” The scenario reminded me of U.K. drama Broadchurch, about another small town undone by the murder of another small boy. There, too, the townspeople seize on revelations that a local man is a sex offender, and it ends badly. But where Broadchurch gave the situation enough detail and nuance to make it a tragedy, Melvin’s story remains ambiguous. Like a scene from the pages of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” the crowd stones and kicks Melvin as Wentworth tries to protect him, and when Mulder fires his gun into the air to stop the hysteria, Rick takes the opportunity to grab his own gun and shoot Melvin in the head.
Here, at least, The X-Files allows Mulder to make the anti-establishment commentary that suits him. Mulder predicts Rick will be released after his hearing, and he is, on bail; the judge even cites his “exemplary record” as a cop. “It’s small-town justice,” Mulder says. “They have their scapegoat, their predator.” Small towns and cops protect their own. It’s no accident that Wentworth, the only black cop featured in this episode, is the one to speak out against a police officer shooting an unarmed man without cause. “I didn’t become a cop to watch men get gunned down without due process,” he says, handing Mulder and Scully evidence that exonerates Melvin too late. The man was performing at a birthday party 40 miles away when Andrew was taken; Wentworth told the chief, but the chief didn’t seem to care.
Chief Strong has a lot on his mind: His daughter Emily was killed just as Andrew was, drawn to the woods by her favorite TV star, a Teletubby-like terror called a Bibbletiggle with a smeared-mascara face and dead alien eyes. Emily’s body is found outside a ring of salt in the woods, which Mulder identifies as a magic circle (“Mulder, stop”), used in witchcraft to protect a spell caster from spirits and demons (“Mulder, this is protecting no one”). He suspects that what the kids saw were familiars, conjured entities that are usually said to take animal form but can appear as beguiling humans, TV characters included. Scully sighs: “What do you mean a TV character?” Her affectionate naysaying is dialed up a notch tonight, like she just jumped out of the early seasons.
The only thing marking this script as a product of 2018 and not 1998 is the added resonance of absent children, and even then Scully had already lost a child (a daughter also named Emily). Mulder and Scully pause over Andrew’s body to acknowledge that it’s “hard not to take it personally” when “an innocent life is cut short.” They exchange a look when the chief’s wife, Anna, screams at him that it’s all his fault Emily is dead. And when Rick breaks into the Strongs’ nice home, hunting a shadowy figure with his gun drawn, the sequence mirrors the dream that led Scully to their son in “Ghouli”: a suburban house of horrors, a parent with no child to raise trapped in an endless maze of domesticity. The most loaded line of the hour sounds simple unless you know better: “I have a son,” Mulder tells Anna. “He’s grown though.”
That’s as explicit as the script gets with those comparisons, sticking instead to that classic X-Files approach of running right up against a big personal issue but never verbalizing it. There’s something refreshing about how standalone this episode is — after so many episodes that doubled as commentary on The X-Files, here this season relaxes into the sort of unselfconscious story that made up the bulk of the show — but a 10-episode season still isn’t 24. “Familiar” could have dug just a little deeper into those lost-child parallels to elevate the hour beyond typical monster-of-the-week fare and tie it in with what’s to come. Coming as it does so close to the end of this event series, this episode feels like it’s hiding inside a ring of salt and ignoring the fears that wait just beyond. (Next: Every store in Connecticut is out of candles now)