Be advised: this will go into detail about various plot elements of the episode, and there will be SPOILERS. Trust no one.
After last week's comedy diversion, it was a dive back into melancholy for the show. And if you thought Mulder and particularly Scully were put through the emotional wringer in episode two, Home Again, written and directed by regular executive producer Glen Morgan, saw Dana Katherine Scully mourning, remembering and regretting.
But along with the heartbreak and headache came horror, as the main plot – though it was almost a sideshow to Scully's story – touched on street art, Tibetan belief, trash monsters and responsibility. Heady stuff...
Our setting this week was the Philadelphia, known as the City of Brotherly Love, where very little love was on display from an officious bureaucrat called (Alessandro Juliani, who you might know from Man Of Steel but more likely as Battlestar Galactica's Lt. Gaeta), who is overseeing water jets hosing down the homeless on a street to encourage them to move on. He gets his comeuppance, though, as a weird creature we'll come to know as the Band-Aid Nose Man (John DeSantis), who steps from a garbage lorry and, once he's finished tearing the terrifying Cutler limb from life, climbs back into the truck, which closes its crushing maw upon him and drives away. It's a fantastically tactical use of gore and terror, and the low-key style really works. This is one killer likely to join the X-Files' pantheon of creeps and creatures. Credits!
Mulder and Scully show up to investigate (and it's here you see signs of the episode's original placement as the second of these six), asked by a local detective because of their background with "spooky" cases. Someone's clearly heard of Mulder. The crime scene is covered in foot prints, which are unusual because they lack ridges and can't be traced.
Now the actual main thrust of the episode butts in: Scully gets a call she momentarily things might be from William (the child she gave up to protect), but is actually from William Scully Jr., her older brother. Her mother Katherine has had a heart attack and is in dire straits in a Washington, DC hospital. With Mulder insisting that she go, Scully heads out. Gillian Anderson gives a mini-masterclass in acting here, and you'll easily find yourself empathising with her as her face crumples at the news.
As Mulder continues his investigation (not before removing a goo-covered, disgusting plaster from his shoe) and wonders whether the security cameras in Cutler's office can help (they can't), Scully rushes to her mother's (Sheila Larken) bedside. More heart-rending stuff here, as Dana talks to her mother – "don't go home yet, I need you" she tearfully tells her comatose form – and learns that her mother has only woken once and asked for Charlie, Dana's younger brother and long since estranged from the family.
Mulder, meanwhile, who had noticed some graffiti across from Cutler's window, consults with a local copper to get access to it. And he meets Daryl Landry (Daryl Shuttleworth) and Nancy Huff (Peggy Jo Jacobs), who are arguing about the homeless. Landry's a developer trying to get the street folk shuffled off to an empty, abandoned hospital, while Huff is a seemingly concerned administrator, but soon reveals that she's really more worried about potentially dangerous "downtown people" (a phrase that will come back to bite her in a big way later) could potentially hurt nearby school kids. Neither of them are really speaking for the homeless. Who does? "The Band-Aid Nose Man", according to one nearby lurker, who walks off without explaining what he means. Where's Basil Exposition when you need him?
Back to Scully and the episode's first big flashback to earlier X-Files years as we see Mulder worried by her bedside in her post-abduction state during Season Two's One Breath. In the here and now, she receives another call from her brother, and explains that their mother wants to be kept alive. Except... she doesn't, we learn. Intercut with these scenes, we see Mulder talking with a scientific analyst about the material found near the first crime scene. It's neither organic nor non-organic. Thanks, science dude! That really helps, in all ways but actually.
The street art won't help either, as two men have taken it down from the rooftop and are eagerly wondering what they can sell it for. Sadly for them, the Binman cometh and both end up either suffocated in a trash bag or torn apart.
Despite the ongoing investigation, Mulder shows up in DC to comfort Scully in her hour of need. He still finds time to consult with her about the case, telling her that he can't stay too long as he has a theory that the killer, whoever or whatever it is, will strike again. Scully more wants to ponder why her mother would ask for the one child she may not get to see. And what's the significance of the quarter coin necklace found amongst her belongings?
We whip quickly back to Philly, where Nancy Huff is arriving home in a rainstorm, listening to Downtown by Petula Clark. And guess what? Yes, here comes our Monster Of The Week to stalk her through her house before turning her into a random assortment of body parts. He takes one chunk and returns to his trash truck.
At her mother's bedside, Scully is asking Mulder whether he ever encountered the power to wish someone back to life, and Mulder tells her he did just that when he hoped she'd come out of her own coma back in One Breath. "You're a dark wizard," she smiles, and then receives a phone call from Charlie. After having her brother talk to his mother, it seems as though Margaret Scully is waking up... Only for her to reference William (as in Mulder and Scully's son) to Mulder before dying. It's a true gut punch of a moment, played to the hilt by Anderson, who really shines again. After snapping at hospital orderlies who had arrives to harvest her mother's organs, Scully decides that what she needs is to throw herself into work.
As the homeless are finally decamped to the hospital in hired school busses, the agents get on the trail of paint fragments found at one of the crime scenes. Their stakeout of a store leads them to street artist known as Trashman (musician Tim Armstrong), who inhabits a dark, dismal basement. In this scene, Morgan lets the full X-Files flag fly, as the agents get their flashlights out and the beams cross in the dark. No, that's not a sex reference.
Turns out this trashy Banksy has an agenda: he's sick of people not taking responsibility for their own waste and treating the homeless with an out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude. But his angry impulses have, through some unlikely links to Tibetan mythology, seen that energy channeled into the consciousness of the creature, which, Golem-like, has a mind of its own and murder on that mind. Scully, whose own thoughts are occupied with worries about (and more flashbacks of) her son, turns the argument around on the artist, pointing out that his attempt to forget what he did with the creature makes him just as guilty as those who would turn a blind eye to the ills of humanity.
Landry, though, has more of a stench on his mind, as he arrives at the hospital where the homeless citizens are being offload, only for the lights to flicker (naturally, he wanders off down a dark, quiet hallway) and the Band-Aid Nose Man to show up. By now, Mulder and Scully have figured out where he might strike next, but they're too late to stop him - he slaughters Landry and somehow evades them even though the room he was in had only one exit and the FBI duo arrived moments after he killed. Only the Band-Aid remains...
Finally, Mulder and Scully are sitting by a lake with Margaret Scully's ashes in an urn. Dana finally thinks she's figured out her mother's message - that she and Mulder need to make sure their son is okay, even though they can't see him because of the adoption. It's a difficult sacrifice, but it's helped Scully get a little closure. Even if she's sad that she believes Mulder will find the answer to his big questions, but she has a whole set of little questions to which she can never find a response. She wants to believe they didn't treat their son like trash. Well, no... You gave him up to save him from nefarious threats. At least, that's what you thought at the time.
"Back in the day is now" is a line of dialogue spoken in the episode, and it's certainly been a big theme for the revived show so far. There were lots of callbacks again tonight, and largely handled well. Though Home Again in no way works to the level of last week's laugh-fest, it ranks roughly in the same league as episode 2, especially in terms of the tone it was going for, which is perhaps not surprising given that Founder's Mutation was written and directed by Glen Morgan's regular creative partner, James Wong. But while Morgan delivered on the Scully emotional journey, he wasn't as successful binding the mystery of the week to it, and when there was crossover, it felt like heavy-handed lecturing. Certainly, the hulking trash monster was a great addition to the show's list of supernatural creations. But the whole idea of the impulse becoming reality isn't explored all that well, and too many questions are simply left dangling. Such as why does the Trashman artist think that if he can't see the creature, it won't hurt him? A metaphor about the theme of not taking responsibility is one thing, but this makes it sounds like the Band-Aid Nose Man is the Ravenous Bubglatter Beast of Traal (always carry your towel, kids.) And while Gillian Anderson delivers once more, David Duchovny's more limited range is evident too – though he does good work in the little moments where it's just our heroes together. Not a stand-out, then, but perfectly entertaining X-Files and still a better example of the series than that stumbling initial effort.