Yes, this is an X-Files episode, but I’m coming to a new place in my relationship with the X-Files. I was an X-Phile back in the 90s, but after being messed with and hurt for years by the convoluted and ultimately meaningless mythology episodes, I came to feel apathy for the show. And as someone wiser than me once said (or more likely, some character in a work of fiction, I don’t remember), the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s apathy. The worst part for me is that I don’t fall in love with many TV shows; I’m not a promiscuous TV watcher, so it sucked even more.
But lately I’ve been able to step back and really appreciate, as if for the first time, the stand-alone episodes. While I thought of it as a sci-fi show when it was on, because back then I thought horror meant only that which scared me into sleeping with the covers over my head, I realize now that the whole run of the show was a series of love letters to genre fiction. And “The Post-Modern Prometheus” is not only an affectionate homage to Universal monster movies, it’s the only episode to explicitly refer to the Frankenstein mythos.
The story is this: Shaineh Berkowitz (Pattie Tierce) sees Mulder on Jerry Springer and asks him to come to her little town and investigate her situation; she was impregnated by a mysterious creature 18 years ago and now it has happened again. The town is thrilled to have Mulder and Scully in town because they believe in the existence of the creature and now they think they’re gonna be famous. There is a creature, but that also means there’s a mad scientist, who is played by J. Peterman. And because this is a comedic episode, the creature comes out being sympathetic. Now that I think of it, it’s also one of the few episodes where the mystery is explained and verified by the authorities without Mulder looking like an idiot. That’s before it goes meta and Mulder demands that the ending is changed.
The homage to Universal is perfect, down to the way the voices sound echoey like you’re watching it in a big old movie palace. But there’s more to love. The story includes genre fans who go to conventions, comic book references, a huge reminder to love people based on something other than their looks, and, obviously, a huge comment on the horror that reality TV had already inflicted on society in 1997. It’s too bad nobody listened, because we couldn’t even imagine how much worse it was going to get. Remember how Jerry Springer used to include a final thought? I know the soul of exploitation is pretending to make a good old stare at a two-headed baby into an object lesson too, but we’re so far past pretending to learn something positive from reality TV that Springer in the 90s seems quaint if not downright benevolent.
But for me, all that reality crap is overridden by the fantastic elements and, of course, the fact that Mulder and Scully share a dance at a Cher concert at the end. Yep, I was (am) a ‘shipper fan. I’ll admit it here. (My readers either really like me or y’all are exceedingly polite, because the response here is almost always indulgent of my less-than objective, “I love almost everything” approach. And this is the internet, so that’s surprising.) And I realize now that it’s more than okay for me to say it, because the fandom is the essence of what made the X-Files so great. The stand-alone episodes evolved according to our feedback. The show referenced our reactions to it, referenced itself, and referenced its references to itself, all while never betraying its cool exterior. The show itself was accessible post modern fiction: an enhancement of the sci-fi and horror of the past, a reaction against cop show realism, a deconstruction of both speculative and detective traditions, and it was, and continues to be, defined by how it was perceived. That’s what makes this episode such a classic example of the show and therefore perfect for inclusion here. If you haven’t seen “The Post Modern Prometheus,” please go to Netflix and watch.