The Jersey Devil makes for a classic monster tale, playing off something a good many of us have heard in some form or another as an urban legend of some beast that lives in the woods and will drag you away. Whether Bigfoot, a Wendigo, or just a way to keep horny teenagers from parking, the tale has been with us in some form or another. With that in mind it’s not too surprising that Scully lets Mulder take this one on his own.
This woman claims to have been taken aboard a spaceship and held in an anti-gravity chamber without food and water for three days.
This is the first appearance of one of Mulder’s recurring personal interests – pornography. This comes up numerous times across the X-Files (and beyond, in Duchovny’s other TV and movie interests) but the strongest link for me is the character “Jake Winters”, a character Duchovny played in the 1992 movie “Red Shoe Diaries“. One thing I’ve always liked about these references is that Scully gets neither squeamish nor self-righteous. It’s a simple acceptance of this into the character of her partner and for the time it was made, it’s refreshing.
We have jurisdiction here.
Perhaps due to the nature of Mulder’s investigations, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that local law enforcement gets bent out of shape. It’s not really all that surprising – long before the events of 9/11 had the country pay close attention to how intelligence agencies did, or did not, cooperate with each other, this distrust and territoriality was quite common.
That Mulder frequently deals with people already on the edge – whether it’s people like Max Fennig, rogue agents, secretive UFO groups, or people with no power whatsoever – only increases the idea that local law enforcement will consider a matter like the Jersey Devil as a way for one problem to erase another, which is what Det. Thompson and his men appear to be doing. It’s an example of a wider drive to dismiss or destroy when convenient and I can understand that it would be anathema to a man like Mulder who seeks to get to the heart of these matters and understand them.
It’s not just the cases either. Mulder is willing to get his hands dirty where a lot of others – like the park ranger – are afraid of what they risk just by admitting to themselves what they have seen. I can’t see a lot of agents being willing to sleep in a cardboard box just to get closer to their quarry.
I don’t think I’m cut out for this
Even though Scully is apart from Mulder for much of this case, even going on dates, Mulder remains a focus. During her god-son’s party, the notion of Mulder as suitable mate material is brought up. Although Scully doesn’t go anywhere with the idea, the idea is put in motion, with Mulder as not only some quirky guy she’s been tasked to work with but as a man. To add to this, her date with Scott’s father presents her with the mind-numbingly boring, normal existence that “real life” as envisioned by friends and family would have her settle for, which only makes Mulder all the more interesting. With Mulder, she could really talk about her day, about her case, she could talk about what really interests her. I don’t see that a lot of others would have that same interest and I think that this is a great way to make this point.
It’s not just Scully either. When Scully brings up that she has a date, there’s a pause, an awkwardness there. In a lot of other shows, it could have easily gone the route of stupidly territorial or mushy but here, it’s just a small look, a pause, just another of those things that made their relationship great. But, like Scully, that seed is planted – an idea of Scully as not just another agent but date material. It takes them out of the workplace mindset and allows for the hint of something else.
Oh, it’s a kind of universal wild man myth. A symbolic fear of our dual natures as humans, as creators of life and destroyers of it.
DR. DIAMOND: Well, we humans have retained hereditary traits through evolution that have proven to be extremely destructive. We tend to be tribal and aggressively territorial, oriented by selfish sexual and reproductive drives that make, co-operation beyond the family-a-tribe, extremely hard for us.
MULDER: While we over-populate the world and create new technologies to kill each other with. Maybe we’re just beasts with big brains. (Scully is standing, not moving, a still face gazing into nothingness) What?
SCULLY: No I was just, thinking about my godson’s birthday party, eight little six year old boys running around, talk about primitive behaviour.
Then there’s the notion of her in amongst all these little wild animals – the kids – and their wild behaviour. There isn’t much difference between those kids and the wild man in the forest. A little discipline here, a little schooling there – it’s all surface phenomena. Underneath, we could all just as easily be Jersey Devils, doing what we had to in order to survive. Not only men and women, people in general, but even the law enforcement that keep popping up in the episode. Det. Thompson and his men are no less tribal and territorial than the Jersey Devil itself. The park ranger that won’t go against the wishes of the pack in order to secure his place in the pack. Dr Diamond plays a fantastic role in this episode – raising the Jersey Devil from mere monster of the week to a statement about us as humans and the way we’ve ordered our lives. It’s not a good statement, but it’s an accurate one.
No interest? Not at this time.
Scully has looked normal in the face and found it wanting. There may be aspects of it that appeal to her but it can never appeal to her intellectual curiosity in the way that Mulder can. In the end, it’s not surprising that she shows no interest in another date with Rod but opts for a trip with Mulder, a man whose passions she might not always agree with but that, on a deeper level, she understands. Mulder does have a life, an odd life if not a normal one and now that life is Scully’s as well.
Original Air Date—8 October 1993
When a body is found in the woods of New Jersey missing a limb, Mulder tracks the case to an old X-File and decides to investigate. Despite the local police department, Mulder and Scully try to find the legendary “Jersey Devil” before it attacks again.
Director: Joe Napolitano
Writers: Chris Carter
- According to writer Chris Carter, he wanted to focus this episode on an evolutionary relic, rather than a generic hairy creature. In his own words, “the idea was not to make this a monster per se, but almost a missing link.”
- For most of this episode, guest star Claire Stansfield was required to run around naked. To prevent the audience from glimpsing more than the Fox network would allow, Stansfield wore a codpiece and her hair was tied over her breasts.
- In several scenes, Scully meets her best friend, Ellen, and discusses the possibility of dating Mulder. According to Chris Carter, the purpose of those scenes was “to show the life she’s passing on. I just wanted to open up Scully a little bit for the audience.”
- In reality, the Jersey Devil is a well-known urban legend found in the southern environs of New Jersey. While the legend varies on the origins of the Devil, there are many that still believe in the creature and have reported sightings, right into 2007.
- Bill Dow, who plays the role of Dad in this episode’s teaser, would later return in the series to play recurring character Charles Burks.
- This episode was one of a few, randomly arranged near the start of the series, wherein Gillian Anderson struggled to find her voice and her rhythm with the stories. Anderson ultimately felt uncomfortable with re-watching scenes of herself as Scully, delivering lines of dialogue in a manner that the actress felt was too cocky for her character.
- The incident from 1947 that is sighted by Mulder seems to have been a liberty taken by Chris Carter; of all known documented examples of the Jersey Devil legend, most of the dates extend from the early nineteen hundreds. There were multiple accounts of sightings in 1909. The last claimed sightings were from the early nineteen thirties. In 1974, Jeremiah J. Sullivan from the publication New York Folklore Quarterly regarded the Jersey Devil as one of the few unexplored incidents of mass hysteria connected with folklore in American History.