“Home Again” was originally meant to air as The X-Files‘ second episode of season 10, an alteration that makes sense after seeing how the episode proceeds. It’s a story that focuses more on Scully than Mulder and Scully together, pulling them apart for nearly half the episode before they solve a murder mystery together. Alternately, the episode that became the second to air, “Founder’s Mutation,” featured the familiar team dynamic, one of the strengths of the series throughout its ten seasons.
Had “Home Again” aired in the second slot, it might have felt like a weak stand-alone episode despite the references to Mulder and Scully’s son William. But as the fourth episode this season, The X-Files had room to work with Mulder and Scully together before separating them, and “Home Again” comes right after an episode where Mulder suffers from his own identity crisis. In this episode, Scully learns of her mother’s heart attack, and drops everything to be with her in the hospital.
Fans of The X-Files will know that Scully has had her own share of family issues, and “Home Again” brings them up right away; her mother, dropping in and out of consciousness, asks for Scully’s brother Charlie instead of her more immediate family, and it bothers Scully that the time spent away from her mother has clouded the bond she had with her. A quarter necklace and a change in her mother’s advance directive cement this discomfort, further ostracizing Scully from her mother’s life.
“Home Again” pursues Scully’s grief quite well, relying more on symbolism than expository dialogue. And there’s a direct correlation here to the season premiere “My Struggle” and “Founder’s Mutation,” with Scully recognizing the loss she’s endured after giving her son William up for adoption. While The X-Files has a tendency to explore this redundant theme in “Home Again” – with Scully exposing her exact emotions to Mulder in a dialogue at the end of the episode rather than allowing the viewer to grasp the meaning – the strength of the episode lies in its metaphorical depiction of “human trash,” whether it be a son given up for adoption or the homeless on the streets of Philadelphia forced to move to a group home during a cleanup operation.
The main mystery of The X-Files Home Again expands on that idea of human trash with a disturbing killer known only as Trash Man (or sometimes Band Aid Nose Man), a deteriorating monstrosity that acts as a guardian for the homeless. Trash Man is a creation that doesn’t get much explanation; he rides around in his own garbage truck, leaving maggot-filled footprints and a rotten stench in his wake. His appearance is notated by his graffiti silhouette, and he targets only those that want to harm the innocent indigent.
“Home Again”‘s antagonist is effectively terrifying, and the episode doesn’t flinch from his ultraviolence. He’s known for tearing the limbs off of his victims, and The X-Files gives us multiple examples of Trash Man’s vengeance. And both Mulder and Scully are helpless to stop Trash Man’s reign – willed into existence by an artist, the monster is basically unstoppable until he slinks back into the shadows after completing his task. “Home Again” prefers to leave Trash Man’s existence an unsolved mystery, and while the episode could have used a bit more time to expand on Trash Man’s backstory (or at least the tulku area of Buddhism it rushes to name-drop), The X-Files allows this eerie creepypasta character to live on without exposing his secrets.
The X-Files Home Again subplots resonate despite early indications that neither will tie to the other, and the episode’s tone slips back to the seriousness and intensity of The X-Files‘ darker episodes. Its only misstep is allowing Scully to give voice to her emotions, since the episode’s theme has more impact when left unspoken. But “Home Again” really does feel like The X-Files has returned to some of the best monster designs in the series, and one of Mulder’s quotes from the episode rings true: “Scully, ‘back in the day’ is now.”
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