by Michelle Erica Green

American Gothic

"Arcadia" Plot Summary:

David Klein drives home to his gated neighborhood, The Falls at Arcadia in San Diego, only to discover that his neighbor has repainted his mailbox to match all the other mailboxes on the street. While ranting to his wife Nancy about the neighborhood code, he opens a package he received from an anonymous sender. It's a tacky wooden windmill. After joking with Nancy about how it would never pass the code, David installs it above his garage. That night he is awakened by sounds downstairs; when he goes to invistigate, a hideous monster attacks first David, then Nancy.

Seven months later, a woman waits with a welcome basket for Rob and Laura Petrie, a.k.a. Mulder and Scully, who are posing as a suburban husband and wife to investigate the disappearances of several couples from the neighborhood. Since all moves must be completed by 6 p.m., the neighbors turn out to help them. Though one neighbor drops a fragile box, everyone is exceedingly helpful and the move is completed on time. Mulder is unhappy to learn that he will not be allowed to keep a basketball hoop in the driveway without permission and jokes to Scully that she should have let him carry her over the threshold, but Scully is already unpacking her broken "china," which is actually a blood analyzer. Fortunately the rest of their equipment is intact. As Scully videotapes the inside of the immaculate house, she narrates the strange history of the neighborhood where people and their cars disappeared. Mulder asks whether it's time to make that honeymoon video now that she's got the camera and tries to get the happy homemaker to cook for him, but he's mostly bored because he really doesn't think the case is an x-file.

Mike, the neighbor who dropped the fragile box, comes over with an entire set of china to replace "Rob and Laura"'s. A veterinarian, he seems friendly enough, but when Scully asks about the previous occupants of the house, he flees. Inside, Mulder has found a tiny spot of blood. Meanwhile, at the home of Gene Gogolak - the man Mulder has been told to consult about whether the rules permit a basketball hoop - a dinner party is in progress. While the women do the dishes, the men discuss the new neighbors. Mike says that since there are so many rules, someone should tell them about the consequences for breaking them, but Gene and the rest agree that they can't be trusted yet. When Mike goes to the bathroom (with a warning to use Glade afterwards), Gogolak sends one of the men after him with the observation that Mike's a weak link in an otherwise strong chain. That night while watching an anthropological video about scapegoating in tribal cultures, one of Mike's outdoor bulbs burns out. He rushes to replace it, but the creature attacks him, splattering blood all over the doormat.

In the morning, Mulder finds Winn - one of the men from the dinner party - cleaning Mike's mat, explaining that Mike often goes out of town so he helps out with maintaining the neighborhood code. Mulder and Scully, who call each other Honeybunch and Poopyhead, receive an invitation to dinner, the Mulder goes to Gogolak to ask about the basketball hoop. Pointing out that theirs is one of the top-ranked planned communities in California, the older man says no - rules are rules, and if this one gets bent, soon Mulder will want a spinning daisy reflector in his front yard. Mulder inquires about the man's unusual decor and learns that the artwork is from Nepal and Malaysia, where Gogolak travels on business for his Pier Nine import stores.

At dinner with Winn and his wife Kammi, "Rob" says that he and "Laura" met at a UFO conference. Then "Rob" reveals that he doesn't believe Mike is out of town: he called the vet's office that morning to check about getting a dog, but the office said the veterinarian was missing. Mulder jokes that every community must have its dark underbelly, but Winn insists that this neighborhood is the American dream. Later, while Scully walks the dog with Kammi, she learns that the other woman isn't quite as enchanted, but won't talk about why. Scruffy gets loose and scrambles into a sewer drain, where Scully finds the cadeuceus Mike wore around his neck. When the dog returns to the panicked Kammi, it has unusual bloodstains on its head. A nearby manhole cover rises as they walk away.

At home, Scully - wearing a cucumber-green beauty masque - complains about Mulder's messy toothpaste habits and his failure to put the toilet seat down. She reminds him to call her Laura, but when he invites her to bed to snuggle, she tells him to call her Scully and sends him to sleep on the sofa. In the morning Mulder puts a plastic pink flamingo on the lawn, but in the time it takes him to get a glass of orange juice, it is removed. Mulder throws the rest of his juice on the mailbox, then sits with the carton for most of the day watching out the window, but when he gets up to go to the bathroom, someone cleans and straightens the mailbox. Inside, he finds a note: "Be like the others before it gets dark."

That evening Mulder shoots baskets on his portable hoop. Kammi sees him and begs Winn to stop him, but after Mulder refuses to heed Winn's warnings, he spies the creature as Kammi screams. The creature vanishes, but Winn and Mulder both see that Winn and Kammi's lamp post bulb has burned out. As Mulder returns home to find his hoop put away and a hole in his perfectly manicured lawn, Winn goes to Gogolak to ask what he and his family did wrong. Gogolak claims he had nothing to do with the creature's presence, blaming Rob and Laura: "It only takes one rotten apple to spoil the whole bunch." Meanwhile Scully arrives home from the lab and hears strange noises inside the house. Grabbing a fireplace poker, she misses seeing the creature upstairs as she heads into the basement, then nearly clobbers Mulder when he comes up the stairs.

Mulder informs Scully that someone snuck into the house to tidy up, and he now knows he was wrong: this case is an x-file. Showing her the holes in their yard and others, he tells her about the creature he saw. Scully has another theory, however. The "blood stains" were actually ketchup and motor oil, the hairs came from scrub brushes; they are seeing garbage from the landfill on which the community is built, and the holes in the ground could be caused by methane gas rising out of it. Mulder points out that the missing people could be buried in the holes in the yard, but Scully doesn't see how they can investigate without tipping their hand about being FBI agents.

In the morning as a backhoe digs up the Petrie's grass, Mulder cheerfully tells his horrified neighbors that he's planning to put in a reflecting pool; there isn't anything in the neighborhood code which says he can't. Gogolak says quietly, "Let him dig his own grave." That night, Mulder and Scully investigate the hole; they don't find any bodies, but they do find the hideous ornament which David Klein put up on the night he disappeared, and Mulder spies a label on the bottom: "Made in Malaysia for Pier 9 Imports." Joking that he's off to price rattan furniture, Mulder heads to Gogolak's while Scully goes inside after calling for a forensics team and hearing a disturbing noise. Her gun is gone. Something comes up the stairs, but it turns out to be Mike, covered in blood and dirt. Telling her that he was hiding in the sewer, he warns her to get out of there before the Ubermensch comes for her.

As Mike barricades Scully inside the room to keep the Ubermensch out, Mulder accuses Gogolak of killing the Kleins. Though he explains that the Malaysian whirligig gave him the connection - Mulder believes Gogolak used a Malasian conjuring technique to will into existence a creature that would force people to fit in and follow his rules, but not even Gogolak can control it now - the head of the homeowner's association warns him that he'll be laughed out of court. Nonetheless Mulder arrests the man and takes him in handcuffs to the Petrie home, but when he realizes his partner is trapped inside with the creature, he chains Gogolak to the mailbox and rushes in. Gogolak shouts to Winn that he has FBI agents for neighbors, but Winn and Kammi won't rescue Gogolak even when they hear the creature approaching. Inside, Mulder finds Scully inside a closet and helps her out, then hears Gogolak cry out. Though the creature rushes at Mulder after a savage attack on the other man, it falls apart into dirt and grime as Gogolak dies.

Mulder and Scully move out of the Petrie home as Scully relates the contents of their FBI report. The neighbors have come forward to implicate Gogolak in the deaths of the missing couples in the neighborhood, but no one will break the code of silence on Gogolak's own death, nor their own potential culpability. She notes that the community code claimed a final victim, but the neighborhood was still ranked one of Calfornia's top communities for a sixth straight year.


I was a little disappointed in Chris Carter when I heard he'd finally decided to do the old playing-married-couple storyline, so I am delighted to report that this episode was thoroughly enjoyable on both a Monster of the Week level and a relationship level. I howled aloud when Mulder and Scully revealed they were playing Rob and Laura Petrie, which were the names of Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore's characters from The Dick Van Dyke Show. The expression on Scully's face when Mulder announced his "wife"'s obsession with New Age accoutrements like crystals and mood rings was absolutely priceless, as was Mulder's I'm-only-half-kidding sleepy smile when he asked Scully to come to bed with him. They did just enough of his sexual banter to be funny without overdoing it, though it would have been nice if Scully were making similar jokes; she's looked awfully cold and uncomfortable in such situations of late, which doesn't make sense unless she thinks he's serious, and if she does think he's serious, I'd think that would be something she'd need to deal with one way or the other, rather than keep repressing if she wants to keep working with him. This episode was of course a giant tease for 'shippers on any serious level, but I doubt we'll hear any complaining.

The sewer monster Ubermensch was a fun combination of Fluke Man, the golem from "Kaddish," and various other ground-dwelling suburban horrors this series has presented. It looked disgusting and its vague origins were sensible given that I thought all along we were going to find out the neighbors themselves were committing murder without any supernatural assistance. Even with a real creature, the neighbors remained the real horror of The Falls At Arcadia. All of them would have been right at home in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," the famous story in which a community chooses one of their own to murder. This is not Arcadia of blissful legend, but from Poussin's famous painting "Et In Arcadia Ego," a reminder of the presence of death even - or perhaps especially - in what looks like an earthly paradise. We didn't see a single child, which I suppose might also have been in the community code, but no one said so - how could you raise kids without basketball hoops, after all?

The monochromatic community was reminiscent of the artificial town from The Truman Show right down to Mulder's pink Izod, and it was no surprise to discover that it was built on a garbage dump: it made sense that the neighborhood had a literal underbelly as well as a metaphorical one, though I'm surprised no one admitted to the smell. Once again I am forced to wonder why The X-Files' creators consider suburbia a Hell on par with imprisonment in a Russian gulag, but in the case of this Neighborhood Watch, it's hard to disagree.

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