In which Mulder and Scully meet the Devil.
Jersey Devil: Season 1 Epsiode 5
Written by Chris Carter, Directed by Joe Napolitano
First aired October 8, 1993
There are a number of episodes, especially from the earlier seasons, that hold a special place in my heart because I watched them back when I was thirteen and still new to the series. I wasn’t as discerning an audience member then, so I loved them whether they were good or not. Which is why I love this episode, even though I know a lot of people find it embarrassing.
Still with me? Hopefully I haven’t lost all credibility.
Chris Carter wrote this one, which is important because it’s a very early exploration of Scully’s love life. I think this episode may be as close as we ever get to Carter making a coherent argument against Scully’s being in a relationship. In fact, this episode says a great deal about Carter’s thoughts on romantic relationships—in a fictional context if not in real life.
While I amble toward my point, have a picture of Mulder and Scully being pretty.
This episode is kind of a companion to Squeeze, though obviously not as successful. Whereas Squeeze asks Scully to choose between a mainstream career or one with Mulder, Jersey Devil asks Scully to choose between a mainstream romantic relationship or a Romantic quest. (Carter has talked about his vision of Mulder and Scully as Romantic quest people, and while he hasn’t explicitly said that Romantic = asexual, the subtext is there.)
Now look. I’m a bitchy literature nerd, which means I’m honor-bound to question his terms. He uses “big R Romanticism” for the same ends as he uses “Platonic.” But like Inigo Montoya, I do not think these words mean what he thinks they mean. I’m sure I’ll get further into all of that at some point.
Okay, before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s back up a bit. We start off with the cold open in 1947 and a family with a flat tire. Dad mysteriously disappears and is later found with his legs eaten off. The cops then indiscriminately open fire on…something which may or may not be emerging from a cave.
Police response to weird shit: 1947.
We then jump to Scully, who is wearing an adorable outfit. I would totally wear those two colors together if not the outfit itself. She walks into the office super eager to tell Mulder about this Case That’ll Take His Knees Out and…
Walks in on him reading porn.
Like, actual porn.
I am a trifle shocked by this. Not for moral reasons, but for practical ones. He’s reading it at work, and shows no self-consciousness or anxiety when he’s caught. I assume that “FBI’s Most Unwanted” or not, if he got caught with porn in the office he’d be fired. Wouldn’t that be the perfect excuse for the evil types to paint him as a skeezy weirdo, discredit him, fire him, and condemn him to obscurity? Leave your porn at home, Mulder!
Scully’s reaction is also significant. First of all, Mulder is out of line for asking her to be okay with this. It’s Mulder and we love him, but if it was anybody else we’d be grossed the fuck out. It shows a lot about Scully’s tolerance and acceptance of Mulder that she gives him a smirk but doesn’t seem bothered. “Anti-gravity’s right,” she quips of the woman in the magazine, and then continues on as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Everyone has different attitudes about sexuality, of course, but other couples could potentially take years to become that comfortable with one another.
Scully thinks you’re a perv, Mulder.
Mulder’s porn-as-character-note deserves a post of its own, but for now let’s follow Scully’s example and move on. One of the ways Jersey Devil suffers in comparison to Squeeze is the setup of Scully’s skepticism. She brings the case to Mulder, and then doesn’t want to go to Jersey. Once they get there and have their delightful first interaction with Detective Thompson, she wants to leave and then balks and the idea of driving three whole hours back to DC by herself. There are times in this episode when Scully’s characterization feels off. As much as I hate saying this, she sounds like “a girl.” Not a real human woman, mind you: “a girl” meaning that weird amalgamation of assumptions that men create.
That birthday party is the best argument against motherhood I have seen in a long time. Even the sound design makes my blood pressure go up. Who in their right mind would give a rabid pack of children kazoos?
This dog has earned her cake.
More important: remember when the series was fresh and new and Scully had a circle of people in her life that included more than just Mulder? Yeah, me too.
Hindsight puts a lot of weight on the conversation Scully has with her friend in the kitchen. It’s so early in the arc of her relationship with Mulder, and she is relatively such a young person. We see that she’s good with kids, but not sure if she wants them. The friend then of course asks about Mulder, whom Scully said was cute (!!!) and Scully replies that he’s a jerk—or not a jerk, but obsessed with his work.
I thought her friend said “first you have to get laid” instead of “get a date.”
This face made a lot more sense in that context.
It’s jarring to me that she calls Mulder a jerk. Not that he’s perfect, but if she felt that way I’d want her to show it. I also wouldn’t expect all the banter and the closeness they’re already developing. What I do like about Scully’s conversation with Ellenn (not a typo that’s her name on imdb; played by Tamsin Kelsey) is that they talk about the settle-for-the-first-available-man trope. I like that Carter is trying to highlight the enormous pressure Scully is under to to regard her being single as a problem. “Here, have this guy. He’s divorced and has a pulse, he should do just fine!” her friend basically says. And in this episode Scully is vulnerable to that pressure and gives in. (I hate that the episode gives credence to this catastrofuck philosophy.)
Scully doesn’t really want anything to do with this Rob guy. Her entire demeanor in the scene is of a woman about to go on a Give Him a Chance date. And there is nothing more of a soul-sucking waste of time than Give Him a Chance dates.
Let’s give a delicate shudder and check back in with Mulder. Ranger Peter Brullet (played by Michael MacRae) is having story time with Mulder and giving us some backstory on this episode’s version of the Jersey Devil. Which, if you’re curious, bears no resemblance whatsoever to the actual folktale of the Jersey Devil (wikipedia article).
Brullet’s been waiting years for the right person to hear his story.
And Mulder’s been waiting years to hear it.
Mulder then heads into town and meets his new friend Jack (played by Hrothgar Mathews—an excellent name by the way). There is a tendency to portray homeless people as either dangerous, weird, or servile. That trap is avoided here: Mulder and Jack have a real conversation—as real as a conversation about an urban myth beastie can be. I really like their exchange about the hotel room, because they treat each other like people.
“Do they have HBO?” “Yeah.”
I wish the episode had pushed a bit more on Detective Thompson (played by Wayne Tippit). I like the idea that he was just protecting the revenue of the city and had no interest in investigating a killer who had only killed homeless people. The concept just wasn’t fully explored.
Okay for the jail conversation I would like to call your attention to Scully’s outfit and especially her collar pin—she’s got a collar pin!! Also, like Mulder I would be unconcerned that I was in jail listening to a dude throwing up if Scully was going to get me out and take me to breakfast.
I love the super awkward way Anderson plays Scully telling Mulder that she has a date. I can’t really wrap my head around Mulder’s response, though. Why does he think he can ask her to cancel? If it was a jealousy-driven thing, or because he wanted to ask her out himself, it still wouldn’t be appropriate. But it would at least make sense. I don’t think it’s jealousy, though. If I’m completely honest I think it’s just a poorly written line, because it only exists to set up her response: “Unlike you, Mulder, I would like to have a life.”
(Wait. Scully doesn’t have a life just because she’s single? Bullshit. I’ve heard too many people completely discount women’s friends, families, careers, and hobbies and say they have “no life” just because they’re single.)
Let’s take another moment to appreciate Scully’s primness and collar pin.
…And young scruffy puppy Mulder.
In the next scene Scully and Mulder chat with one of Scully’s old professors, Dr. Diamond (played by Gregory Sierra). This scene mostly just reinforces the idea of modern man as Earth’s most violent animal, but I also like the professor. He listens to Mulder’s crazy shit and is willing to spitball ideas.
And now let’s have a look at that life Scully’s pursuing, which at this moment means dinner with the dullest man in the tristate area. She looks a cross between bored and offended that she spent time getting cute for this.
In the course of one monologue, this guy manages to:
1. Let us know he’s creepily possessive (of his son but still)
2. Tell us he has dreams about violently killing his son’s stepfather
3. Refer to his ex-wife as his wife
4. Mansplain Scully’s feelings to her
And all on the first date! Yeah, guy. That’ll get ya laid.
“If I tell him I have IBS, can we end this date?” ~Scully probably.
I see what Carter’s going for here. He’s showing us that brilliant, courageous Scully is never going to be satisfied with a “normal” relationship in a “normal” life. So she has to choose between wasting away of boredom in this
actually kinda creepy perfectly nice but unfulfilling romantic relationship or having an exciting but romantically unfulfilling life with Mulder.
Here’s the problem though: it’s a false dichotomy. Let’s exercise our inner Scully: regardless of whether it’s with Mulder, are we suggesting that there is no way Scully could live her life as an agent of the X-Files and also have a fulfilling romantic relationship? On what evidence are we to believe this? Are there no women with dangerous and demanding careers who are also in happy relationships?
All right, moving on before I go in too deep. The rest of the episode is a race of Mulder, Scully, Dr. Diamond, and Ranger Brullet against Detective Thompson: whoever reaches the Jersey Devil first wins.
They make a good Scooby gang.
The differing attitudes of the Detective and Mulder show us that Mulder isn’t just obsessed with the paranormal because of his sister. He has genuine love and awe and fascination for that which can’t be explained. When he goes on his long monologue theorizing about what the days of the Devil must be like, as much as I agree with Scully for smiling indulgently and rolling her eyes, I think he’s genuinely curious.
Also that whole scene in which the Devil is straddling Mulder is awkwardly funny.
Police response to weird shit 1993: identical.
The Devil was never going to survive; Thompson was always going to murder her. And the whole episode concept is silly, but the moment of Mulder closing her eyes is still genuinely sad. Likewise the theme of police brutality isn’t properly developed in the episode, but I still believe Mulder’s rage when he confronts Detective Thompson.
The episode wraps up with Scully in her first and last attempt to make Mulder take a night off. Realizing it’s a lost cause, she pauses to reject Rob and then catches up with a surprised Mulder. They talk coyly about Rob, exchange racist banter about Africa (yikes), and then head off to meet an anthropologist. The moral of the episode? Scully is the end of evolution.
Bonus images to reward you for making it this far: Mulder as worst secretive agent ever.