Science Fiction Double Feature
"The Post-Modern Prometheus" Plot Summary:
The mother of a comic-book obsessed teenager watches The Jerry Springer Show featuring a woman who had a wolf-baby. Suddenly, a recording of Cher singing "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" starts to play, the room fills with smoke, and a sheet covers the house. Several weeks later, Mulder and Scully travel to her town while Scully reads aloud a letter from the woman to Mulder - she got his name from The Jerry Springer Show. She's been impregnated for the second time by a Cher-loving, peanut butter-devouring monster with two mouths. Scully is skeptical; Mulder wants to get his own 900 number.
The woman, Shayna Berkowitz, had a tubal ligation years earlier, so her pregnancy is indeed a mystery. But Scully finds further reason to doubt her story when she learns that the teenage son, Izzy Berkowitz, has created a comic book called Mutato featuring a creature exactly like the one described by his mother as the father of her children. They try to lure the creature with a peanut butter sandwich, but after a brief glimpse, they are warned by an old farmer to get off his property and talk to the real monster - his son, a geneticist.
Mulder and Scully meet with Dr. Polidori, who's trying to escape to Ingolstadt to deliver a paper, leaving his unhappy wife behind. Polidori tells Scully of his gene-altering talents when she warns that he could end up a footnote on The Jerry Springer Show. Mulder, who calls the scientist Dr. Frankenstein and notes that the genetic engineer is like a post-modern Prometheus, wonders whether any scientist could resist the temptation to remake life in his own image. Scully points out that most people remake life through normal reproduction.
The wife, Elizabeth, is trapped by the same creature that impregnated Shayna Berkowitz. Mulder and Scully pass the house and see that it's covered with a sheet; they burst in and inhale fumes from the smoke triggered by something on one of the burners. The old man shows up to say that there is no monster, but Elizabeth insists that she saw a creature with two mouths which ate all the peanut butter. Scully discovers that the stuff burning on the stove is an agricultural material which farmers need permission to use, so she and Mulder set off to search the old man's farm.
They are too late, however; the old man has been murdered by his scientist son and buried in the barn by the sobbing mutant. Mulder and Scully find the agricultural material and the grave, but are interrupted by a local town reporter who has already caused them no end of trouble by reporting on their private conversations. She shows them photos of the farmer with the two-mouthed man as a boy. They are in turn interrupted by a lynch mob led by Dr. Polidori, determined to find the creature; when Mulder and Scully spot the mutant hiding in a cellar where he has a shrine to Cher, they inadvertently draw the attention of the angry crowd.
Polidori claims that his father created the "monster," but the "monster" says that Polidori created him as part of an unnatural experiment. Though the farmer hated his son, he rescued and loved the mutant, and wanted to help him get a mate. The mutant went through people's houses, seeking love, finding out about the world through their magazines and media centers, ultimately discovering Cher from the movie Mask in which she loved a child as deformed as himself. He admits to having impregnated Shayna and Elizabeth, who go on Jerry Springer with their newborn mutant babies.
Mulder refuses to accept that jail is the end of the mutant's story; he insists that the monster's supposed to go free to search for his bride. Scully doubts that this story will have such an ending, but Mulder seeks out the comic book writer, demanding more. The entire town goes on a pilgrimage to see Cher performing "Walking in Memphis," the mutant is ecstatic, and Fox, truly happy, asks Dana to dance.
If you've never read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus, you'll miss several of the jokes in this episode, but "The Post-Modern Prometheus" is a hoot even if you don't know that the education of the mutant is a rip-off of the scenes in Frankenstein where the monster is educated by hearing Milton's "Paradise Lost" read aloud, and even if you don't get why Dr. Polidori has to lecture in Ingolstadt while his barren bride languishes at home. The historical Polidori was the author of The Vampyre, a novelistic precursor to Dracula; he was a friend of Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and allegedly attended a weekend orgy with Mary Shelley, her husband, Byron, and his mistress (see Ken Russell's film Gothic for a particularly fantastical version of these events).
There were other references to gothic literary masterworks, plus visual homages to Frankensteins from Boris Karloff to Kenneth Branagh - even Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein got a nod by way of a kid with a mask. X Files creator Chris Carter wrote this episode and filmed it in black and white, which made for some scenes that were difficult to make out on my small TV set, but otherwise created a fabulous tone for this scream-fest...I mean because it was hilarious, not because it was scary. The use of lightning flashes in several scenes punctuated an episode marked by mood lighting and perverse use of fog machines, and the ongoing air of gloom - even in the town's busy diner - was offset by the quirkiness of the characters, who might have seemed over the top in day-glo technicolor.
Scully says early on that the mutant (who, like Frankenstein's monster, never gets a name) must be a hoax, perpetrated by people whose lives are ruled by daytime talk shows. Mulder insists that not everyone's goal is to get onto Jerry Springer, leading Scully to ask him whether there's anything he doesn't believe in, but Mulder sounds pretty convinced when he says that he's not even sure he believes in alien abductions anymore. He does seem terribly eager to believe in the myth of the mad scientist, but then, the myth of the mad scientist proves to be true.
I found the idea of Cher as the mutant's savior oddly touching. Carter seems to believe that fandom can work as a force for good in the lives of audiences, he does not seem to be ridiculing his viewers in the least. I also liked the fact that the episode was framed as a comic book, allowing one to believe that the entire story was a fabrication by the artistic teenage boy - like Frankenstein, which is framed by the narrative of a sailor who at times doubts his own story, this one is open to wide interpretation as to its veracity. It's interesting that the tabloids in this episode reported nothing but the truth, verbatim, off tape recordings, yet the "truth" did not offer an accurate representation of what was happening in the town.
And I adored the hokiness of the ending, especially Mulder asking Scully to dance. Mulder often steps back and resists human connection as if there's something more important out there; this whole episode was about how maybe there isn't, though it takes scapegoats and social disasters to remind people of that. Maybe Mulder's changed. It'll be interesting to see if he meant it when he said alien abductions no longer seemed important outside The Jerry Springer Show. Because of course X Files wasn't only parodying Frankenstein this week; it was parodying itself, a show whose mass-market success is partly dependent on being situated in an age of talk shows and tabloids. When it takes itself overly seriously, I'll worry.
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