There are some writers that you just give your heart to. Some writers whose work touches you deeply, and stays with you over the years.
Before Darin Morgan’s episodes of The X-Files aired, I had never really noticed the names of the screenwriters on my favourite shows. Which, in retrospect, seems ridiculous, as I was always well aware of who wrote what when it came to books. But TV-wise, I was pretty clueless.
When I started watching The X-Files I was so caught up in the crazy stuff that was happening to Mulder and Scully that I didn’t stop to wonder about the creative forces behind their adventures. Then ‘Humbug’ came along in season two, and it was so fresh, so funny, so different, that it blew our collective hats off. And all those lovely nineties sci-fi magazines threw out the trivia that the guy who wrote this episode had played the Flukeman in ‘The Host’, and we were all like – ‘Wait, what?’. It was the nineties, pre-Google, and we were desperate for trivia.
Four episodes into season three the name Darin Morgan came up again, and we watched with interest, laughed raucously, and then swallowed our tears, as cranky but kind Clyde Bruckman consulted with Mulder and Scully, and then killed himself.
After that we only got two more episodes – ‘War of the Coprophages’ and ‘Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’’ – before Morgan strolled off the show, leaving us searching in vain for his name on the opening credits of the next six seasons. If it was something of a thrill to see him appear as Eddie Van Blundht in ‘Small Potatoes’, we were still a little sad that it was only written by someone called Vince Gilligan. Later we’d find out that Morgan had a hand in rewriting ‘Quagmire’, and that the Morganesque ‘Conversation on the Rock’ actually was written by the man himself.
Darin Morgan had set a precedent and a demand for the inclusion of comedy episodes on The X-Files, and eventually we got more of them. And yes, some of them were big and funny and clever, but they weren’t the eloquent and richly-layered fairytales that Darin Morgan gave us. They just weren’t the same.
So what was it that made his episodes quite so special? Leaving aside the quirky humour, and the tortuous paths that his stories could take, all of his episodes had an underlying sense of sadness about them. And sad, as we all know (and to quote another fandom entirely) is ‘happy for deep people’. Yes, other episodes of The X-Files had us in tears, many times, but their sadness wasn’t juxtaposed with humour in the same way. They didn’t make you choke with laughter and then stab you in the heart when you were most vulnerable. Only Darin could do that. And we wanted more of it.
But aside from the pervasive melancholy, what I really connected with in Darin Morgan’s writing, as a shy twenty-something fangirl in the nineties, was his recognition of the horror and pain of being human, of not being comfortable in one’s own skin, and how, sometimes, it’s all just too much to bear. His portrayal of this pain was entirely relatable, and resonated with a whole spectrum of fans who themselves often felt like outsiders, freaks, aliens.
“Imagine going through your whole life looking like this,” says Scully, at the beginning of ‘Humbug’, and we shiver, because although we may not have scales, it often feels as though we do. What Morgan also reflected on screen was the intellectual and emotional torment of simply trying to exist in a world that makes little sense, is full of expectations which one has no desire to fulfil, and is populated by other humans who are both ridiculous and impossible to understand. Forget about aliens: all they want to do is probe you. It’s people who are the problem.
“I want to be abducted by aliens”, says Blaine Faulkner in ‘Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’’. “I hate this town, I hate – people. I just want to be taken away to some place where I, I don’t have to worry about finding a job.” Blaine was me. Blaine was all of us.
Morgan also addressed the bleakness of a universe in which forging meaningful connections is nigh on impossible. “It hurts. It hurts not to be wanted” says Lanny in ‘Humbug’, as his deformed brother Leonard literally destroys lives in his quest to find love: “You cannot change the way you were born.” Not being loved, or not being loved enough, not being recognised for who you are inside, not being understood or accepted – these themes of alienation and isolation underlie much of Darin Morgan’s writing. “Then there are those who care not about extra-terrestrials, searching for meaning in other human beings,” says Jose Chung: “Rare or lucky are those who find it. For although we may not be alone in the universe, in our own separate ways on this planet, we are all… alone.” Bleak indeed, but something with which many of us could identify.
Season 10’s ‘Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster’, and season 11’s ‘The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat’, reprise all of these themes. “I can’t go on like this! I’m going insane having to look at you every day,” screams ex-lizard Guy Mann, as he throws a chair at his reflection, already disillusioned by the absurd urges that he has inherited as a human. We hear you Guy. Same.
But if Morgan’s portrayals of how monstrous it feels to be human sometimes verge on utter despair, or end in suicide, he also shows us that by making mock of ourselves and our situations, and by turning conventional perceptions on their heads, we can perhaps find a way to go on living. “I quickly realised that the only way to be happy as a human was to spend all of your time in the company of non-humans,” says Guy Mann in ‘Were-Monster’. Because ‘You should get a dog’ is always good advice. “Imagine going through your whole life looking like that,” says Dr Blockhead, pointing at the ridiculous figure of Mulder, in ‘Humbug’. Sure, we might be freaks, but at least we’re not that freak. And if all else fails, perhaps you can take a leaf out of Reggie Something’s book, and immerse yourself in the fantasy that you’re part of the X-Files…
Perhaps one of the morals of Darin Morgan’s postmodern fairytales is that although we may be uncomfortable being ourselves, maybe we can find a way to be comfortable with our discomfort. For there is a sweetness in these episodes, a kindness, somewhere beneath the layers of humour and sadness. “It’s time to face the facts guys,” says Reggie in ‘The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat’, “This is the end of the X-Files. But maybe the point wasn’t to find the truth, but to find each other.” Reggie: desperate to be part of an enduring, loving, and beloved partnership that is a force for good in this world. Reggie is also all of us. I can neither confirm nor deny whether I was crying by this point.
Perhaps none of this is what Morgan intended. But the intent of the writer dissolves into a viewership of millions, and the subtext creates itself. Ultimately, we all see what we want to see in these episodes, and what I saw was a glimmer of optimism, set amongst so much darkness.
There are some writers you just give your heart to. Some writers who change your world.
Thank you, Darin Morgan. Your words save me.