All pics, as always, borrowed from the wonderful Haven for The FBI's Most Unwanted Airdate: March 7, 1999 "Admit it Scully, you just want to play house."
Hmm.... I wonder, did she? Did she really?
At any rate, this episode can best be described as one of life's "guilty little pleasures." Sure the plot left much to be desrired, and sure the characters were a little more"plastic" than true to life, but that was only some of what made this episode a whole lot of fun, if not a little bit lacking in substance.
As it all starts out, we see the "Falls at Arcadia," one of the nation's top ranking planned family communities. The neighborhood is picturesque, the houses identically asthetically pleasing, the neighboors friendly, if not a little TOO friendly---it is the American dream, such as it appears. However, this town also hides something of a "dark under-belly." Apparently, the law at "Arcadia" is either fit in.... or die, such as the new neighbors eventually find out.
Thus, Mulder and Scully come in to investigate----under the guise of prospective homebuyers---the "Petries"----Rob and Laura. And if that's not scary enough, (Just get a look at Mulder in his pink polo top) as time progresses, they slowly begin to find evidence of an even darker secret than simple "home owners associations"----the existence of a "garbage monster" (A tibetan conjured being, as Mulder finds out) who offs those "disobedient homeowners" that don't follow the rules. Meaning, you follow the rules, or you die. ---Even the smallest broken lightbulb means death.
Well, like I said before, this wasn't the most impressive episode---story-wise. The garbage monster just seemed more forced than spooky, more silly than scary. (I was laughing when I should have been gasping...) And the idea of this entire scenario just seems more like a badly conjured ploy to figure out a way for Mulder and and Scully to "play house," (which was the way Mulder aptly put it in the beginning) than an actual X File.
So what am I saying?
Basically, I'm saying that I didn't watch this episode for the STORY, which was a shame, because it really would have added substance to the rest of the subtext.
So, let's get right down to the ship:
Firstly, I want to discuss the very first thing I noticed---which was the subtext of differing attitudes between Mulder and Scully.
<--- Well, hello there.... Mulder was very casual about the case----pretty much to the point where he wasn't taking the whole thing seriously. (probably because he didn't think it was an X File.) He chose names that were not "serious" (Rob and Laura Petrie---from the Dick Van Dyke Show) and continuosly baited Scully with innuendos that he knew would only annoy her. For him, it was another ridiculous case with a positive spin--he got to touch Scully more, and he got to tease her. A plus for Mulder, always.
Scully, on the other hand, was VERY serious and concentrated on the case from the beginning--when she told Mulder that his choice of names gave her the impression that he was not taking any of it seriously. However, there was also something else--a tinge of something different in Scully's attitude that was very "under the surface" shippy. --It was quite evident from the beginning, and also in many scenes after that.
Thus, takes us to the second thing I want to discuss: Scully's reasoning behind choosing this case.
When Mulder accused Scully of choosing a case that was not, in his opinion, an X File, Scully very weakly tried to argue his point. Her eyes refused to meet his, and she shot him a 'look.' "People disappeared," she tried to argue. But of course, Mulder saw through that. And in a moment of clarity, he called her on it:
"Admit it Scully, you just want to play house."
<---Denial ain't just a river in Egypt... It was perhaps, the shippiest line uttered in quite a few episodes, if you look at it in a certain light. After all, how many times has Scully hinted that maybe she'd want something more than the work-cosumed, boyfriend/husband-less life that she has now---a life that resembles something remotely normal. In "Dreamland," Scully asked Mulder, "Don't you ever just want to stop? To get out of the damn car?"
Sometimes, Scully does.
This is Scully trying to live out her wish; trying to preview what her life could be like, if she were ever married and living "the dream" she had always (secretly) wanted. This is Scully's veiled attempt at "pretend," her chance to see what it would be like to live like the "other half"; to have that house and that neighborhood with Mulder by her side. She wants a husband and a family, but she knows that none of it means anything if the person she marries is not Mulder. Scully wants to play house in the worst way, but at the same time, she is very much afraid of those emotions: She loves Mulder, but that's wrong, and it scares her. The intimacy scares her. She wants the picket fence, but she knows that she won't ever be able to have it. This is her way of testing her own psyche---trying to figure out why it is she wants that "suburban life" so badly. A part of her craves it, and a part of her thinks, "I don't need this. Maybe if I try it, I'll see that it isn't so great, and then it won't bother me anymore."
And Mulder knows her, and when he accuses her of "playing house," she gives him one of the dirtiest looks I've ever seen her give. Why? Well, my guess is that she certainly doesn't want Mulder to know that one of her secret fantasies involves him, the picket fence, and the idyllic life. I think that even SHE is afraid to accept that about herself.
This "test of married life" is also evident in the "bedroom" scene, when Mulder and Scully discuss the case--- subconciously doing "married-like" things while they talk: Mulder walks into the room and rips off his shirt---tossing it just inches past Scully's nose so that it lands over the back of a chair. Scully shoots him a look that screams, "excuse me? I KNOW you did not just toss that shirt past my head like that!" Then, Scully goes into the bathroom while Mulder fiddles with his computer.
"Whoever taught you to squeeze a tube of toothpaste?" we hear her call, and then a hand sticks out with the offending tube. A few minutes later, we hear, "Second warning. Toilet seat," then the lid slamming down.
And THEN, we get the tour-de-force---Scully's ultimate test of married intimacy---a cloth headband, a robe, jammies, and a cumcumber/guava face mask that could scare anyone. Because, after all, sex is not what makes a marriage successful or intimate, and neither is romance: it's being comfortable with the other person in your own skin: being comfortable with allowing them to see you at your worst (or scariest, such as the case may be.)
<---Yikes. What is that? Guacamole?
Obviously, Mulder and Scully can handle this comfort level quite easily.
But, the most important part of this scene occurs when Mulder comments, "You know, you fit in really well here."
Scully just looks at him with an almost sad, wistful type expression, and replies, "Yeah. And you don't." At this point---her expression is almost one of introspection---from the looks of it, she feels as if her "fantasy" is bursting before her eyes. Here is her idyllic life, her "normal life" and Mulder---the only man she would ever share it with----does not seem to fit in. He is the perennial square peg in a round hole. It is, in a way, something of a disappointment to Scully, who (although she'd never admit it to Mulder) only wanted to "play house" with Mulder to see what would happen.
We also see Scully's fear of intimacy figure into this scene, when Mulder smiles at her and pats the bed he is lying on---not saying anything for a moment, just "suggesting" that she come sit down. The camera pans back to Scully, and at first, she is silent. No refusal, no rolling of eyes---just inner conflict. We see her staring at Mulder---her expression torn--almost as if she's waiting for Mulder to say something sweet--something endearing---something that would convince her to sit with him on the bed. And if you look closely at her face in that moment, she appears almost as if she WANTS him to convince her to stay, like she WANTS to sit on that bed with him. But of course, Mulder has to go and ruin the moment and joke, "Come on Laura. You know, we're married now."
And once again, Scully looks deflated---her expression says, 'I knew it. Mulder didn't really want me to be with him. He was only joking. This is ridiculous. I don't care..." And THAT'S when she kicks him out. (But only after he makes his joke.) Her fear of allowing things to progress and her fear of Mulder as anything more than a friend overrides her "experiment" with playing pretend.
"It's Scully, Mulder" she sighs, sounding somewhat dissilusioned. "Goodnight."
<--- Awww... But then again, it's not like Mulder was only baiting Scully---it was not like he wasn't curious about what "playing house" would be like, too. Because if you notice, (and I don't think I've ever seen married couples who need to be constantly touching each other like this) Mulder uses every opportunity that he can to touch Scully, smile at her, and hint at what he believes she was "really" thinking of when she decided on this assignment. He puts his arm around her every chance that he gets, (like, during the scenes at the beginning, with the neighbors, or at Mr. Gogolak's house) and even when she pulls away (looking a bit uncomfortable) he doesn't appear to be rattled. For Mulder, it feels perfectly natural to hold Scully. My guess would be that (even though he's got some serious intimacy issues as well) if either of them were ever to make the first move, it would be Mulder. (forced by a dire situation, maybe) but it would be him.
And of course, this episode was also (I must say) very funny---although I was disappointed with a few lighter moments that I thought could have been more "shippy"---but instead seemed very contrived. (Like, when Mulder puts his arms around Scully until the neighbors leave, and then Scully puts her hands up in a supplicating gesture---as if to say, "woah there, big fella. Keep your mitts off." It just seemed a bit forced to me...)
<--- Touchy, touchy...
But I did, however, enjoy the truly funny moments. I just thought that Mulder and Scully (as always) made a wonderfully awkward pair at times----two people who did not know what to do with themselves and their feelings, and who made jokes to cover this up..
<---Mulder's small attempt at joking: "Woman, get in here and make me a sandwich."
<---- Does that look like, "No?" to you?
Ok, lastly, I want to mention "Things to look for" (Since everyone seemed to enjoy this last time)
1: The "toothpaste line"--- "Mulder, who the heck taught you how to squeeze a tube of toothpaste?" and the "toilet seat line"---"Second warning, toilet seat" was a jab at us fans. David Duchovny once mentioned that if Mulder and Scully were to ever become involved, the show would become too domesticated: it would stop being about the story, and start being about things like toothpaste and leaving the lid of the toilet seat up. (I forget who mentioned this to me first---someone on "Gerties Board"---and I don't remember which article this was mentioned in, but I know that it was)
2: Look for the large, unmistakable grin Mulder and Scully share when, in the beginning kitchen scene, Scully asks, "are you ready?" and Mulder replies, "let's get it on, honey," ---and She hands him a pair of LATEX gloves. Hmmm...You do the math....
3: During the "dinner scene" with the Shroeders, Scully asks Cammie if she would like some company on her walk. Cammie agrees, and when Scully gets up, Mulder moves to put his arms around her and kiss her. Scully backs away nervously and blows him a kiss instead. Mulder blushes and gives Wynn Shroeder a sheepish smile.
4: In the beginning, when he was asked "What do you do for a living, " Mulder didn't know what to say. Are we to believe that the FBI, one of the most powerful and well equipped agencies in the US, does NOT provide their agents with background stories for their undercover assignments?
5: Scully mentions the date in the beginning: February 24th, which is the day after her birthday. Hmmm... An undercover assignment where she would have to feign marriage to her extremely good looking partner...I wonder, late birthday present to self?
Anyways, all in all, this episode was a little contrived, if not well-meaning and successful in the barest of its intentions. Sure, the plot line was thin, and sure, the writing could have been a little better, but for the most part, this was still enjoyable to watch. It was meant as a spoof of Mulder and Scully's relationship (how many times has Chris Carter heard the fans say, 'Mulder and Scully are like a married couple?') and it was also a spoof of "The American Dream." After all, normal isn't always what it seems, is it? Being perfect is impossible, and sometimes, the strange is more normal (and less stressful) than it appears...