The third episode of the rebooted X-Files, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” was a welcome bit of awareness for a season that started out so self-seriously it was high camp. Written by Darin Morgan, a longtime X-Files contributor who was responsible for a handful of its most beloved episodes, “Were-Monster” was a spoof on the series’ own “monster of the week” segments, so delightfully absurd and comedic it was the best episode in years—that is, until Morgan tried his hand at discussing trans narratives, which was bumbling at best and deeply transphobic at worst.
The madcap plot begins when Scully and Mulder are dispatched to investigate a series of murders in Oregon characterized by human-like bitemarks on the neck. It’s promising enough at the go, with Mulder having a clever existential crisis about the veracity of his work, guest starring X-Files superfan Kumail Nanjiani and drag star DJ “Shangela” Pierce. Among its humor, though—including a fantastically silly scene in which Shangela knocks out a predator with her handbag—is the foreshadowing fact that she’s cast stereotypically as a sex worker, and, in recounting her experience to Mulder, spouts out the deeply non sequitur line “I transitioned last year,” an interaction unlikely to actually occur, when detailing the attacker’s tighty whities. Unrealistic and insulting to trans women, it’s just the beginning of this potentially good, utterly disappointing episode.
Mulder eventually tracks his leads to Guy Mann, a feckless Australian in a seersucker suit who wants desperately to be killed, owing to the fact that he was living his life happily as a horny toad until some sort of rabid human came along and turned him into half-human, half-toad. After which he describes his journey, and he Mulder share this exchange:
Guy: “Man, she hit like a man!”
Mulder: “That’s because she used to be... she once... she’s transgender.”
Guy: “What? You can’t transform into a different sex! That’s nuts!”
Mulder: “It’s not nuts, it’s actually a very common medical procedure. You don’t need the surgery, technically, to—”
Guy: “Maybe that’s what I could do! It’s a cure! I’ll do the surgery!”
Mulder: “No, completely different.”
Guy: “Tell me how much it costs, I’ll do it.”
Mulder: “They cut off your genitals.”
Guy: “No, leave it. That’s a step too far, isn’t it. Well, anyway, I think she gave me a concussion.”
Giving Morgan the benefit of the doubt, Mulder’s monologue may have been the writer’s awkward stab at trying to increase trans awareness? I guess? But tantamount beneath that was the episode’s core, gross plot point: that trans people’s experiences are at least nominally parallel to that of a horny toad who morphs into a man, and that trans narratives are still fodder for cheap, hateful jokes—a premise it’s hard to believe even exists in 2016, or any year.
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Image of Shangela side-eyeing via screenshot/Fox.