"Humbug" is the twentieth episode of the second season of The X-Files. It first aired on the Fox network on March 31, 1995. Written by Darin Morgan and directed by Kim Manners, it was Morgan's first script for The X-Files. He would write a further three more scripts in season three. The episode is a "Monster-of-the-week" story, independent of the series' mythology arc.
A bizarre murder in Florida brings Mulder and Scully to a town populated by circus freaks and sideshow performers of all shapes and sizes, bringing into question the very definition of "normal."
In the town of Gibsonton, Florida, two brothers are playing in their home outdoor swimming pool one night. However, a mysterious figure approach them from the woods surrounding their home and jumps into the pool without them noticing. As the brothers are playing, they notice something was wrong and before they left the pool, the figure emerged from the water. It was revealed to be a man with a severe skin disease all over his entire body. The man was actually the children's father and scared his children for a bit fun. After some laughs in the pool, the father told his children to go back into the house as it was late and time for them to go to bed. As the kids agreed, they left the pool but the father stayed behind to swim. However, an unknown mysterious figure was approaching the pool from the woods. The man heard the noise and was looking around to see what it was but it was too late as the unseen figure killed the father from the pool.
Mulder and Scully were sent in to investigate the murder of the man known as the "Alligator Man" as he was an entertainer for a circus with a band of strange and talented individuals. Mulder's supernatural focus for the episode is the Fiji Mermaid, a hoax used as a sideshow attraction that first appeared in the mid-1800s. During their investigation, Mulder and Scully shift their suspicion around three of the inhabitants of the city: "The Conundrum", a heavily tattooed man who never talks and will "eat anything"; "Dr. Blockhead", a "body manipulator" and "Jim-Jim the Dogface Boy", a former performer who later became the local sheriff.
During their investigation, Scully points out to Mulder that the both of them have been wrongly suspicious of many of the circus freaks in town simply because of their abnormalities, which could be considered racial profiling of a sort, if "circus freak" were a race.
The supposed "Fiji Mermaid" ends up being Leonard, the underdeveloped in fetu twin of Lanny, an assistant at the hotel, who carries guests luggage to and from their vehicles. Leonard is capable of exiting and then returning into Lanny's body. Lanny mournfully suggests that the motivation behind his brother's attacks is that he is seeking a new brother, as a replacement for the alcoholic Lanny, by attempting to burrow into their side.
After Leonard disconnects from Lanny for the final time, he is chased by Mulder and Scully into a circus funhouse, where their attempts to catch him prove fruitless. Outside, Leonard attacks the Conundrum as he puts out his garbage. Mulder and Scully exit the funhouse but are unable to find Leonard. They discover the Conundrum lying on the ground with a hugely distended stomach and a contented smile, suggesting that he has killed and devoured Leonard.
Since Leonard is still officially at large, the Sheriff launches a search radiating outwards from the trailer park, looking for fresh tracks. Even as he is orchestrating the search, he sarcastically asks Scully if she was sure that what she saw was a disjoined twin instead of the Fiji Mermaid, which could have jumped into the ocean and swum all the way back to Fiji. Mulder wryly comments that Scully has just gotten a taste of the attitude people usually direct towards him at crime scenes.
Scully notices Dr. Blockhead lashing his belongings onto the roof of his car, preparing to start his own search for Leonard, and hoping to make him part of Blockhead's act. He says Leonard's next likely move will be to try to rejoin with Lanny, but Scully says Lanny died the previous night - from cirrhosis of the liver, not the separation from Leonard. Scully adds that Lanny's autopsy showed severe abnormalities in his circulatory system and internal organs, that were almost umbilical in nature.
Dr. Blockhead philosophically remarks that genetic engineering will soon eliminate not only the extreme abnormalities of the inhabitants of Gibsonton, but also minor imperfections that don't fit in with society's idea of normality. He points at Mulder as the textbook illustration of humanity's future: "buttoned-down suit-and-tie wearing office drones with no individuality." He then declares it is the job of "self-made freaks" like himself and the Conundrum to keep society aware that "nature abhors normality", and inevitably, some kind of mutant will appear - though why that is so, he admits, is as much a mystery to him as it is to Scully.
As Blockhead starts his car, Mulder notices the Conundrum slouched in the passenger seat, semi-conscious or sick. He asks what is wrong, and Blockhead admits he doesn't know. For the first and last time, the Conundrum speaks up, "probably something I ate," and gives a lazy smile. As Dr. Blockhead and the Conundrum drive away, Mulder and Scully turn to each other with confused and somewhat horrified looks on their faces.
SEMICOLON-SEPARATED LIST OF ITEMS/LOCATIONS REFERENCED IN EPISODE (BUT NOT LINKED TO IF ALREADY LINKED IN SUMMARY OR GUEST STARS SECTIONS)
- The Fiji mermaid (or "Feejee mermaid"), is a famous attraction exhibited by P.T. Barnum in his "Barnum's American Museum" in New York in 1842. Said to be the mummified body of a mermaid caught off of Fiji, It was composed of the head and torso of a juvenile monkey attached to the body of a fish. In carnival parlance, such faked attractions are known as "Gaffs".
- The original object later vanished, likely destroyed in one of the many fires that affected Barnum's collections. Since then, many versions of the famous mermaid have been exhibited, some claiming to Barnum's original, essentially faking a fake.
- A humbug is a person or object that behaves in a deceptive or dishonest way, often as a hoax or in jest
- This may be the first episode of the series to venture into the territory of comedy on a much larger scale.
- Gillian Anderson actually chewed an insect without swallowing, during the shooting of the scene with Dr. Blockhead.
- Actors David Duchovny and Michael Anderson have both previously appeared in the cult television series Twin Peaks.
- Although the setting of this installment is established as Gibsonton, Florida, the train shown briefly in the episode shows rail cars that would not be common in that state. This is due to the filming location in the Pacific Northwest and proximity to Canadian railroads.
Cast and Characters
- John Payne (Jerald Glazebrook) previously played Guard in The X-Files episode "The Erlenmeyer Flask".
- Gordon Tipple (Hepcat Helm) previously played Detective in The X-Files episode "Eve" and Joe Crandall in "Young at Heart".
- Jim Rose as Dr. Blockhead
- Wayne Grace as Sheriff James Hamilton
- Michael Anderson as Mr. Nutt
- The Enigma as The Conundrum
- Vincent Schiavelli as Lanny
- Alex Diakun as Curator
- John Payne as Jerald Glazebrook
- Gordon Tipple as Hepcat Helm
- Alvin Law as Reverend