Fecal Frights: THE X-FILES And "The Host"
When I thought about The X-Files before I started rewatching the whole series again recently, my mind was a jumble of feelings: nostalgia, fear, and a major crush on David Duchovny. One of those fearful memories was Season Two's "The Host" episode, which, if that name doesn't sound familiar is The One About The Giant Flukeman Living In The Sewer Tunnel.
Like "Tooms" and "Squeeze," it's one of the best Monster Of The Week episodes of The X-Files and easily one of my favorites. There are episodes of the show that are funny or weird, and those are good, too, but I tend to remember the ones that freaked me out and "The Host" is at the top of that list.
The episode opens inside a Russian submarine where some poor bastard has been dispatched to deal with overflowing toilets. Right away, it's incredibly gross and uncomfortable. Eugene Victor Tooms made nests out of bile and newspaper, but how often do you come across bile in the wild? Poop on the other hand... When the Russian guy goes to inspect the sewage tanks, he flinches from the smell.
So we're already squicked out within the first few minutes of "The Host," and it just keeps getting grosser, weirder, and creepier as the episode progresses. Poor Russian Bastard gets pulled into the sewage tank by something that's already in there and he doesn't make it out.
Meanwhile at the FBI, as happy as Fox Mulder is to be taken off of his current, mind-bogglingly boring wiretapping assignment, when he gets to Newark, New Jersey (surely Jon Stewart was laughing hysterically watching this episode back in the day), he's peeved to find that the case Skinner has assigned him to is a dead body discovered in a sewer tunnel. It's one of the few times Mulder looks truly uncool and not crush worthy while the jokes fly as fast as the droplets of stinky water: a close up of rubber boots next to a manhole cover, Mulder gagging and coughing, and when one of the men present tells him to watch himself, his response is "Yeah, I wouldn't want to step in anything". Then there's my favorite exchange in this scene:
NORMAN: They say it cuts the smell if you don't breathe through your mouth.
MULDER: They lied.
Mulder, in full-on diva mode, interrupts a meeting that Assistant Director Skinner is having with a bunch of important looking people in suits to complain and is summarily embarrassed into leaving the room, his tantrum ignored. Later, he tells Scully that Skinner is "just rubbing my nose in it." Ah, poop jokes. Of course, we laugh because it's funny, but we also laugh because it helps break up the atmosphere of sheer horror; somehow fecal matter is more horrifying than any monster... except maybe for the one that we'll see later in the episode.
During the autopsy, Scully gasps as a grayish looking worm wriggles out of the corpse. Then, another sanitation worker is attacked; something grabs and tears a strip off of him (literally) when he's armpit-deep in a sewer tunnel full of water. At the doctor's office, the man complains about a bad taste in his mouth and his feeling of nausea is palpable, especially after we saw that critter on Scully's exam table. She reveals to Mulder that it's a Turbellarian, also known as a flatworm or fluke. "Apparently" she says, "it had attached itself to the bile duct and was feeding off the liver." (Tooms would be so proud!)
The bite on sanitation worker victim #2 (ha!) is far too large to be from a regular flatworm, but this is The X-Files so we know it's only going to get worse. And it does. At the Newark County Sewage Processing Plant, Mulder is having an enlightening conversation with the foreman, who's quite proud of the fact that "560,000 people a day call my office on the porcelain telephone." They're interrupted by a frantic call from Charlie, one of the workers, who says that something in the sewer pipe just "swam right past."
The Flukeman is taken into custody (!) and despite the bizarre and grotesque circumstances, Skinner assures Mulder that the suspect will undergo a "full psychiatric evaluation." Mulder argues that "this is not a man; it's a monster" but Skinner is unconvinced. On the way to said institution, the Flukeman escapes from the ambulance and into a portable toilet. A tank cleaning service comes by the next day to vacuum out the portable toilets. The horrible hilarity of something large and lumpy clogging up the giant, intestinal-shaped tube connected to the worker's truck is not lost on anyone watching. When Scully informs Mulder that the worm she found might have been an incubating larvae, Mulder realizes that truly, this is the darkest timeline.
During what is probably the most exciting workday the foreman at the sewage processing plant has ever experienced, he and Mulder rush to the overflow pipe to try and prevent the Flukeman from heading back out to sea. In a moment of genuine what-the-fuckedness, some water splashes on Mulder's shoulder and he wipes it off and then smells his hand, grimacing at the stench. The foreman loses his glasses and gets attacked so Mulder has to jump in the nasty water and save him. Mulder screams for help and all I can think is "Damn it, man, close your mouth!" In the end, they manage to sever the Flukeman in half by slamming a gate down as he's swimming through a pipe.
This episode has become even more disturbing to me since it first aired. About 15 years ago I was forced, through work-related circumstances, to eat lunch at a local casino. I was having stomach problems and the only thing I thought I could tolerate was barbecued shrimp. I had eaten a few when I noticed something unusual in my plate. It was not curled like a shrimp and it wasn't pink: it was grey and rubbery. My manager insisted it was "just a shrimp," but having spent the majority of my life eating Gulf Coast shrimp, I was not fooled. I actually had to cover my plate with a napkin because the damn thing seemed to be staring at me.
Google searches reveal that it was possibly the same type of critter depicted in The X-Files, albeit smaller. Still, it's difficult to decide what's more frightening: a grey flatworm in your barbecued shrimp or having to deal with human poop as a major part of your job.