I wish I could say that I loved “Home Again.” It’s got a great, creepy monster. It deals with an important and timely issue, addressing gentrification and the displacement of homeless people in cities. Thematically, it’s both rich and consistent, and the episode moves along at a brisk pace while still spending an appropriate amount of time on its more emotional scenes. Unfortunately, it only partly works, and the episode just leaves too many questions unanswered for it to feel very satisfying. This could be intentional, but it would have been better if something had been resolved by the end of the hour.
The episode opens with Alessandro Juliani (from Battlestar Galactica!) appearing as an evil public official overseeing the forced removal of what amounts to a small village of homeless people who are in the way of a new housing development that would gentrify the Philadelphia neighborhood they live in. The casually brutal inhumanity with which the homeless people are treated may be slightly exaggerated, but only slightly, and it’s a great way to set up the catharsis we’re supposed feel as a mysterious man starts ripping those responsible for the abuse of the homeless apart limb from limb. It promises to be a compelling story, but “Home Again” unfortunately doesn’t quite deliver on its interesting premise.
This is primarily because the episode gets bogged down in melodrama when Scully’s mother has a heart attack right in the middle of Mulder and Scully examining the first crime scene. While there are several more murders over the course of the episode, there’s very little actual investigation of the crimes, and the mystery remains unsolved at the end of the episode although there is a somewhat gratifying conclusion to the murder spree, as all of the bad guys who are being mean to homeless people end up dead. Instead of exploring a potentially fascinating X-File, Scully goes to be with her mom in the hospital and spends most of her screen time this week dealing with the news that her mother has changed her advanced directive without Dana’s knowledge. Like the monster of the week, this storyline has a lot of potential, but it too feels just half-baked.
The monster of the week plot ends up being a straightforward revenge story, but it seems to assume that the audience already has a high level of familiarity with issues surrounding gentrification and its effect on homeless populations. Further, it seems to take it as given that just knowing that homeless people exist and are being harmed will be enough to provoke a sense of outrage in the viewer. At no point, for example, do Scully and Mulder actually talk to any of the homeless people who are being displaced. They are always spoken about and for, but the episode would have been much improved by giving these people a voice of their own instead of simply having a story happen around them. Even at the end of the episode, the plight of the homeless is not revisited after the last grisly murder, so the audience is left wondering what happened to them and what good is done by having a secret monstrous avenger on your side if it doesn’t actual change anything. In short, it’s a worthy theme that just isn’t done justice in the episode.
Similarly, Scully’s mother’s death feels less impactful than it ought. There’s a certain sort of naturalism to this story that I normally like, but I’m not sure The X-Files is the place for naturalistic storytelling. Certainly, the death of a parent is never convenient, and it contributes to the sort of slice-of-life feeling this whole season of the show has had so far, but I have to admit that I mostly just found it terribly disappointing that Scully was once again sort of sidelined from the story—and in a weird way. The episode in many ways could be considered a very Scully-centric one, but the truth is that very little actually happened in “Home Again.” I would have much preferred to just have the whole episode dedicated to Mulder and Scully actually working on the case of the bandaid-nosed man, and have the sweet character moments between the pair left to fanfic writers if the show’s writers aren’t going to do it properly.
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what didn’t work this week, but I’m pretty sure the problem is just that both plotlines needed several more minutes of material to round them out and ensure that they hit their emotional marks. “Home Again” isn’t a bad episode, but I just want more of all of it. It feels as though the show’s writers are working really hard to squeeze, well, everything into these six episodes. I can understand treating these episodes as a final farewell, but that’s no excuse to waste a great monster of the week idea like this.