Written by Glen Morgan & James Wong
Directed by Kim Manners
There are two different ways to watch and enjoy this episode that was , at the time, intended to be Morgan & Wong’s farewell to the X-Files. Each is equally valid, but one will give you more fun.
You can view this episode as a straight horror story with Mulder and Scully finally delving into a genuine occult story after so many rumors of it in the last year and a half. And just to back it up, you have genuine darkness for most of the episode, with some of the more frightening horror elements the show would ever produce, culminating with a confrontation with an acolyte of the devil himself—- or herself, as it is finally revealed to take the form of a substitute teacher from hell. There are some genuinely scary moments in the story to back it— almost everything Miss Paddock does is genuinely frightening, there’s just something about her face, and then there’s the most horrifying scene arguably in the entire season, when a giant python slithers down a darkened basement, and basically swallows one of the Satanists whole. Of course, if you view it that way, you’d come to the conclusion that Mulder and Scully don’t particularly come off very well, being outmaneuvered by the school board, and completely manipulated by Miss Paddock, ultimately saved by the devil herself, and puzzled by that message on the blackboard at the end.
The more enjoyable way— and frankly, the way I have come to relish it— is as one of the blackest comedies the X-Files will ever indulge in. Fans of the show might recoil in horror at the idea, but considering that this is the kind of trick that Glen’s brother Darin will begin engaging in not that long from now, one can hardly complain or even be that surprised that his brother has this kind of talent for it. The episodes starts out with one of the funniest teasers in years, with the School Board rejected ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ as a high school production not because they think its too controversial, but because they’re Satanists themselves, and we can tell from the teaser, they’re not very good at it. The episode than lays on satiric bit immediately afterwards, by having nobody in the town of Milford Haven be particularly devoted to the idea of devil worship (the teenagers trying to get laid clearly have no idea what they’ve wandered into) and yet are constantly amazed at all of the darkness that seems around them. Even Scully seems to be startled out of her skeptical self when toads fall from the sky and water flows down the drain counterclockwise.
Indeed, one of the more telling jokes the episode makes is one against the fickleness of religion, arguing that if the rituals we are devoted are to have any meaning, we must take them seriously, and if you happen to worship Satan, you’d better stick to it. When Ausbury finally confesses his participation in the level of devil worship that he has forced his younger daughter into, his argument of religious persecution and lack of faith, could stand for anything. Mulder’s remark asking “Did you think you could call up the devil and ask him to behave?” plays comically because that’s exactly what they’ve done, but there’s a certain darker truth, because the consequences are just as telling.
Of course, there’s also the fact that this is a joke on our fellow agents as well as they are completely lead by the nose by Miss Paddock and practically everybody else in the town. This includes one of the blackest jokes in series history when Mulder and Scully listen to Ausbury’s stepdaughter explain the repressed memories that have led her to flee her schoolroom in hysterics. It starts out seemingly seriously enough, but reaches heights of ludicrous proportion when she tells them that she’s given birth to three children, sired by her stepfather, who have all been ritually sacrificed as babies. At a moment that cries out for the skepticism that Scully brings to everything else in the entire world, she just sits there with Mulder and doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. The satirizing of how utterly silly our agents can be at this will be expressed to perfection in the works of Darin Morgan (and later, Vince Gilligan) but coming for the first time here, its a pleasant and very funny shock.
For all the other brilliant touches that this episode has, it would also be significant as being the first episode directed by the late Kim Manners, soon become one of the more prolific directors in X-Files history. If he had any objections to the bizarre mix he was handed, he sure didn’t show it— the episode has some of the more memorable bits (just about everything Miss Paddock does, the layout of the school board whenever they are called together, the way that lightning strikes every time Paddock’s name seems to be mentioned) and it is more than adequately helmed at every moment.
Now the more nitpicking fans of the show might say that , even viewed under this method, Mulder and Scully don’t come off pretty well, but since that’s kind of the point, you’ve really got to be stodgy to make it. The message of “Goodbye, it’s been nice working with you” is clearly a little message from Morgan & Wong to us for having deconstructing the format they have spent the last two seasons perfecting. Had this been their final statement for The X-Files (or for Ten-Thirteen, for that matter) it would have been a superb farewell. As it is, Die Hand Die Verletzt stands as one of the landmark productions for the series, one that many others would try to match— and wonderfully enough, even exceed.