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October 4, 2015

The X-Files: Humbug (or, the episode that scarred me for life) - VIDEOS

by Kona Gallagher, posted Jul 31st 2008 2:01PM
humbug x filesDo not adjust your web browser. You are now entering the Retro Squad, where we are reviewing past episodes of classic TV shows.

(S02E20) I was never a regular X-Files viewer, so I can't say that I had a favorite episode, or that I really liked or disliked certain plots or narrative directions taken by the show. For the most part, all of the episodes run together in my head -- with the exception of one.

I saw it only once, when it originally aired back in 1995. I didn't remember the details of the plot. Instead, it was just the images that still randomly come to mind over a decade later. A guy hammering a nail into his face, another covered in tattoos and eating a live fish, and a fetus in fetu that made me terrified of ever having children.

Since this week is X-Files week for Retro Squad, I knew that I had to talk about Humbug. I didn't want to, but I knew it was time to re-confront my nightmares.

I set out in search of this episode, kind of hoping I wouldn't find it. Unfortunately, I did. While watching it a second time wasn't quite as traumatic as it was for me 13 years ago, it still wasn't pleasant. In fact, I played Brick Breaker on my cell phone just to avoid looking at it directly.

In Humbug, Scully and Mulder are sent to Gibsonton, Florida (fact: nothing good ever happens in Florida) to investigate a series of murders that have taken place over the past 26 years. The victims are unrelated, but the injuries suggest a ritualistic aspect to the killings. Mulder, always wanting to believe that there's a fantastical element at play, notes that the tracks at some of the murder scenes appear to be simian in nature and excitedly speculates that the killer could be the Fiji Mermaid, a mythical half-monkey half-fish creature.

While they are in town, Scully and Mulder interact with Gibsonton's inhabitants, which are mostly made up of current and ex-circus freaks. We meet Doctor Blockhead, who, as Mulder wryly points out, does not actually hold a doctorate, but does have an intense pain threshold, as seen in the clip below.

Of course, each person we meet is more horrifying than the last. As Mulder is out for a jog, he encounters Conundrum, a "geek" tattooed from head to toe in blue puzzle pieces, who emerges from a lake and devours a live fish. We learn that he doesn't talk and can (and will) eat anything.
conundrum x files
Then, there's Lanny, the motel porter. Oh, Lanny. Dear, sweet, alcoholic Lanny. He's one of the town's few residents who hasn't worked in the circus, instead making his living by doing the "less demeaning" job of carrying other people's luggage.

Besides being tall and goofy looking, Lanny doesn't have the outward appearance of a circus freak -- other than the fact that HIS PARTIALLY-ABSORBED TWIN IS HANGING OUT OF HIS STOMACH.

This twin, named Leonard, is single-handedly responsible for my fear of twins, having children, stomachs, funhouses, the name Leonard ... basically this messed me up.

x files woundLeonard, presumably tired of Lanny's drinking and whining, decides to leave his twin (oh yes, he can do that) and try to find a new brother. He does this by extracting himself from Lanny and trying to implant himself into someone new. Leonard, being an underdeveloped twin-fetus thing, lacks the ability to understand that this is resulting in the deaths of his potential hosts.

Once Scully and Mulder figure this out, they leave Lanny behind and try to find Leonard before he kills again. The duo tracks Leonard to a funhouse, where they attempt to capture him/it. Unfortunately, Leonard's travels have given him and unusually strong upper body. That, combined with the fact that he is covered in blood and slime, makes him a slippery little bugger that is able to out-maneuver and escape from Scully and Mulder.
x files leonard
While he can easily out-, uh, slide a pair of FBI agents, Leonard can't get by everyone, so when he comes across a certain geek with a penchant for eating living things, it appears that Leonard's reign of terror abruptly ends in a sea of gastric juices.

Humbug is noted for being the very first comedy episode of the conspiracy series. While there were some funny moments, namely Mulder and Scully exhuming a potato in the course of their misguided investigation, I definitely found (and find) this episode much more disturbing than funny.

The episode was also laced with some heavy-handed lessons, mainly "don't judge a book by its cover," "we're all people," etc., etc. Dr. Blockhead sums up the main lesson and encourages people to embrace non-conformity, lest we all end up like Mulder.

x files conundrum eatingI can't say that I learned any of the intended lessons from this episode. In fact, I think it achieved exactly the opposite. Case in point: About two years ago, I found myself on the Airtrain at Newark Airport with Conundrum (who is actually a man named Enigma). Did I smile and nod in a show of understanding and solidarity, embracing the fact that even though we look different and Conundrum is just a character he played, we occupy the same slice of this planet? Hell no. I just smooshed myself into the corner and whimpered until I got to my gate.

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I can totally empathize with your fears, only mine came from repeated exposure to the movie Alien when I was like, six... and then followed by this episode of the X-Files. And all the other episodes of X Files that feature parasitic hosts/things popping out of things/gross under-the-skin nastiness. THANKS, DIRECTORS. YOU JUST NEGATED THE LIVES OF ANY FUTURE CHILDREN I MIGHT HAVE HAD.

Anyway, besides that, I thought the episode was pretty cool. Doesn't mean I, you know, watched any of the disturbing bits, though. God, how I love the fast-forward button...

October 18 2011 at 1:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Andy Nordvall

I always though Lenny had joined and found a new host with the Conundrum, not that he just got eaten.


August 01 2008 at 12:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

HAHA yeah I meant Home. I kept repeating to myself that it was called Home and not House. Engage brain.

August 01 2008 at 10:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I remember loving this episode, and not finding it too disturbing at all. It was definitely the first to walk the line between comedy and horror.

And the plot about the creepy twin is lifted wholesale from the classic horror flick "Basket Case" (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083624/), which I guarantee you will freak you out far more than this episode.

July 31 2008 at 10:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This was one of the four? episodes penned by Darin Morgan, generally considered the show's best writer. I don't necessarily agree with that (I prefer the work of Howard Gordon and Vince Gilligan, on and off of The X-Files), but Morgan's episodes were a quirky, comical blast. He won a writing Emmy for Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose, and wrote the classic Jose Chung's From Outer Space.

July 31 2008 at 7:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why on Earth would someone who didnt watch the show write a review on the show? That's puzzling. Skimming thru an entire anthology of X-files episodes doesn't seem like the proper way to write a review.

This episode seemed like someone had met Jim Rose or recently saw his Sideshow and decided to piece together characters/parts for the various members of that Sideshow. Throw in a dash of the macabre to justify their presence and viola! A crappy episode.

If you want to talk about the creepiest episode ever you should try to skim thru the episode called house. It was so creepy and original someone decided to make a movie out of that one episode and call it Wrong Turn.

July 31 2008 at 4:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to Boomstick's comment
Joey Geraci

Remembering classic X-files just makes me more sad that the new movie sucks as much as it appears to.

July 31 2008 at 4:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Actually, I have one small correction for you because this is one of my favorite episodes. The host twin, the alcoholic porter, is actually named Lanny, not Lenny. It would be really weird to have the same name as your parasitic detachable twin, no?

July 31 2008 at 3:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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