Carl Sweeney talks about his favourite X-File, the dark & legendary ‘Home’…
‘Home is a particularly audacious instalment of The X-Files. It’s tense, scary and, at times, very funny. In my view, it represents the artistic peak of the X-Files episodes that can be categorised as horror. In particular, I would argue that the writing and direction are outstanding.
The episode sees Mulder & Scully looking into the death of an infant whose body was buried in the dirt in the remote town of Home, Pennsylvania. Their investigation leads them to encounter the Peacock family, three brothers seemingly living alone in an old house near where the baby was found. If you are somehow reading this but haven’t seen this episode, you should rectify that immediately. You won’t regret it.
‘Home’ was written by the great Glen Morgan & James Wong, who were returning to The X-Files following the cancellation of their series Space: Above & Beyond. It was the first in a quartet of very fine Season 4 episodes that all test the elasticity of the series in different ways. ‘Home’ is almost certainly the most violent and disturbing X-File ever made. I’d argue that ‘Home’ is the apotheosis of a certain type of Morgan & Wong script – scripts that embrace the possibilities The X-Files offers for thematically-rich, genuinely frightening horror (see also ‘Squeeze’/’Tooms’, ‘Ice’, ‘Die Hand Die Verletzt’).
The cleverness of Morgan & Wong’s writing usually becomes apparent with close analysis and this one is no exception. The title has several meanings. Home is the name of the town, a place that hasn’t fully moved with the times. It’s also an apt title for an episode that meditates on the way modernity encroached on a certain way of American life, represented (in an extreme way) by the lifestyle of the Peacock family, and the problems posed when not everybody accepts that change has been for the best. Finally, ‘home plate’ is the base that we first see in the kids’ ball game, where the baby’s body is discovered.
The idea that things are not what they seem on the surface is baked into the script. What looks like a great place for kids to play baseball proves to be a bad choice when blood bubbles up from the soil. Mulder tells Scully that she doesn’t know him as well as she thinks she does when she jokes that he couldn’t live without his cell phone. Soon after, he is surprised when Scully talks about motherhood in a way he hadn’t heard her speak before. Mulder & Scully presume the Peacock house to be empty when they enter it, but Mrs Peacock was there unseen all along, under the bed. In the gripping final stages of the episode, the agents raid the Peacock house and have to contend with a range of booby-traps that aren’t immediately visible.
Wisely, Morgan & Wong leaven the grimness of the subject matter with a fair bit of humour. There are some really good quips from both Mulder & Scully (and an unlikely reference to Babe). I think the funniest moment, though, is actually dialogue-free. While in the Peacock house, Mulder finds a newspaper reporting the death of Elvis and Duchovny pulls a great face.
‘Home’ was directed by the late Kim Manners. Manners was the most prolific helmsman on the show and did all sorts of different episodes. I think that ‘Home’ exemplifies the skill Manners brought to The X-Files and it’s no surprise that he supposedly felt very proud of it.
The sequence where the Peacock brothers leave their home before eventually murdering Sheriff Taylor and his wife showcases Manners at his best. He uses all the tools at his disposal to fashion a tour-de-force that is pure cinema. As the brothers drive to their destination Manners crosscuts back and forth between them, Sheriff Taylor & his wife at home, Scully asleep in bed & Mulder watching TV, thus building tension as we initially don’t know who the brothers are after.
The camerawork in this sequence is interesting. There are times when the camera travels quickly, such as when the Taylor’s leave their front door unlocked and the camera moves in to emphasise the importance of this. At other times, Manners isn’t afraid to keep the camera static to create suspense. When the sheriff’s wife hides under the bed Manners shoots from her point-of-view, making us imagine the way she must be feeling.Throughout the scene, we hear the song ‘Wonderful! Wonderful!’ emanating from the Peacocks’ car stereo, a sweet song which becomes incredibly foreboding when used in this context. It fits thematically too, a pop song from an age now rapidly receding into the past.
After the Peacocks leave, there is a dissolve from the front of the Taylor house to a close-up of the trembling hand of the Sheriff’s Deputy, who has discovered the bodies. His involuntary physiological reaction is entirely understandable and I dare say it has been shared by a large number of people who’ve viewed ‘Home’ over the years. As a whole, the choices made by Manners here (and indeed in the episode as a whole) are very deliberate and undeniably effective.
Home is terrific from start to finish. In my view, it’s the best standalone episode of The X-Files, and it never ceases to appal and excite. Once seen, never forgotten.
You can follow Carl on Twitter @csweeney758