Shapes (The X-Files)
|The X-Files episode|
|Episode no.||Season 1
|Directed by||David Nutter|
|Written by||Marilyn Osborn|
|Original air date||April 1, 1994|
|List of season 1 episodes
List of The X-Files episodes
"Shapes" is the nineteenth episode of the first season of the American science fiction television series The X-Files. It premiered on the Fox network on April 1, 1994. "Shapes" was written by Marilyn Osborn, and directed by David Nutter. It featured guest appearances by Michael Horse, Ty Miller and Donnelly Rhodes. The episode is a "Monster-of-the-Week" story, a stand-alone plot which is unconnected to the series' wider mythology. "Shapes" earned a Nielsen household rating of 7.6, being watched by 7.2 million households in its initial broadcast; and received mixed reviews, with varied reaction to the episode's handling of the werewolf genre and of its Native American themes.
The show centers on FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) who work on cases linked to the paranormal, called X-Files. In this episode, Mulder and Scully are called to Montana after a shooting on a farm near a Native American reservation. Investigating the case, the agents find that the dead man, and those that he attacked, may be capable of shapeshifting into ferocious beasts—a phenomenon which was documented in the very first X-File.
"Shapes" was written after executives at Fox had suggested that the series should feature a "more conventional" type of monster, and producers James Wong and Glen Morgan began looking into Native American legends of the Manitou to form the basis of the episode's concept. Much of the episode was filmed in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, British Columbia.
FBI agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder travel to rural Montana to investigate the killing of a Native American man, Joseph Goodensnake, by local ranch owner Jim Parker. Upon arriving in Montana, Mulder informs Scully that forty years previously there was a similar incident in the area, which was investigated by J. Edgar Hoover and became the FBI's first X-File case. The present killing appears to be motivated by a dispute over the ownership of a tract of land, although Parker claims that he fired on a monstrous animal rather than a human. Parker's son, Lyle, bears scars that lends credence to the story.
At the scene of the shooting, Scully reasons that at the short range from which Goodensnake was shot, it would have been impossible to mistake him for an animal. However, Mulder finds tracks leading to the area that appear to change from human to something more animal in nature. Scully dismisses this, but finds a large section of human skin nearby. She believes that the Parkers knowingly killed Goodensnake, but knows that they couldn't have skinned him since no signs of such injury were found on the body.
The matter is complicated by the difficulties Mulder and Scully have with dealing with the Native American population, stemming from the experience of the locals with the FBI at the Wounded Knee incident in 1973. Goodensnake's sister Gwen is also bitter that her neighbors are too frightened of native legends to confront his death. Despite these misgivings, the agents find a seeming ally in Sheriff Charles Tskany, who permits Scully to make a cursory examination of Goodensnake's body, but forbids a full autopsy. They discover that he had elongated canines, similar to those of an animal, and bears long-healed scars similar to those borne by Lyle.
Goodensnake's body is cremated in a traditional ceremony, while the agents watch from a distance. Mulder shares with Scully his belief that both the culprits in both the current case and Hoover's investigation are werewolves. Scully dismisses this theory and instead credits the belief to clinical lycanthropy. The elder Parker is subsequently ripped apart by an unseen animal outside his home, and Lyle is found naked and unconscious a few hundred yards away.
Ish, one of the elder men of the reservation, explains to Mulder the legend of the manitou, a creature which can possess and transform a man and which can pass to a new host, through a bite, or upon the death of the original host. Ish believes he had seen the creature in his youth, but was too frightened to confront it. He says it happens every eight years to someone in the region, and that it has been that long since the last sighting of a possible manitou.
An examination of Lyle reveals his father's flesh in his stomach, though not before Scully brings him home from the hospital. After the medical examiner calls, Mulder and Tskany hurry to the Parker ranch. The beast has already arrived at the ranch house, and has stalked Scully into the attic of the Parker home. Just as the creature lunges from the shadows to attack Scully, she shoots it, thinking it was the Parker's pet mountain lion, escaped. Outside, Mulder and Tskany see that the mountain lion is still in its cage, and discover Lyle's body in the attic. As the agents leave, they learn that Gwen has left town, while Ish cryptically warns Mulder, "See you in about eight years".
"Shapes" was written after executives at Fox had suggested that the series should feature a "more conventional" type of monster, and producers James Wong and Glen Morgan began looking into Native American legends of the Manitou to form the basis of the episode's concept, believing that "a horror show should be able to do these legends that have been around since the thirteen hundreds". The episode made mention of the first X-File case to have been opened, apparently initiated by J. Edgar Hoover in 1946; whilst it also references the events of the earlier first season episode "Beyond the Sea", as Scully is seen discussing her father's death. "Shapes" marked the first time an episode of The X-Files had made use of Native American themes and folklore. Whilst this episode was a stand-alone 'monster-of-the-week' story, later episodes beginning with the second season finale "Anasazi", would begin to incorporate Navajo cultural references into the show's overarching mythology.
Guest star Michael Horse, who plays Sheriff Charles Tskany, is the third guest star of the series to have previously appeared alongside David Duchovny in Twin Peaks, after fellow alumnui Claire Stansfield, who played the Jersey Devil in the episode of the same name, and Don Davis who had portrayed Agent Scully's father William in the earlier episode "Beyond the Sea". Davis would reappear in the second season's "One Breath", whilst other Twin Peaks actors would appear later episodes of the series—Michael J. Anderson in the second season's "Humbug", and Kenneth Welsh in the third season's "Revelations"
Much of the episode was filmed in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, British Columbia, on a site named Bordertown—a "classic western" town that had been built specifically for film sets, located just a "ten-minute drive" from first assistant director Tom Braidwood's home. The area was chosen as it provided locations for the exterior shots of the reservation, plus all of the interior areas that were needed for the episode. Despite covering the area in gravel, heavy rains left the ground sodden and muddy enough to bog down equipment and vehicles. Similar weather conditions would hinder the filming of the next episode, "Darkness Falls". The funeral pyre scene was lit mostly using the natural light of the bonfire used; whilst the extras who sang and prayed were cast by director David Nutter after a visit to a weekly meeting of Native Americans in Vancouver, who felt that casting non-professionals would lend the scene more authenticity.
Broadcast and reception
"Shapes" premiered on the Fox network on April 1, 1994, and was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC Two on February 2, 1995. The episode earned a Nielsen household rating of 7.6 with a 14 share, meaning that roughly 7.6 percent of all television-equipped households, and 14 percent of households watching TV, were tuned in to the episode. A total of 7.2 million households watched this episode during its original airing.
In a retrospective of the first season in Entertainment Weekly, the episode was rated a D+, being described as having a "garden-variety werewolf plot" that offered "nothing much to sink your teeth into". Zack Handlen, writing for The A.V. Club, described the episode as "thoroughly predictable". He found the plot to be unoriginal, believing that it existed "more out of a sense of tradition than any real desire to tell a specific story"; however, he praised the acting in the episode, especially that of guest star Michael Horse. Matt Haigh, writing for Den of Geek, described "Shapes" as being "a very basic and slightly drawn-out werewolf and detective story", though overall finding that the episode's visual effects and atmosphere meant that it "that mostly comes out good in the end". "Shapes" has been criticized for seeming like a "werewolf tale with Native American trappings", with its attempts at political correctness being seen as forced. However, it was praised for not adhering to the "noble savage" archetype in its portrayal of the Native American characters. Jane Goldman, in The X-Files Book of the Unexplained, feels that the episode seriously misrepresents the folklore it portrays, noting that "for many natives, calling a crazed, man-eating beast 'Manitou' is like calling Charles Manson 'God'". The plot for "Shapes" was also adapted as a novel for young adults in 1996 by Ellen Steiber.
- Lowry, p.144
- "X Cyclopedia: The Ultimate Episode Guide, Season 1 | EW.com". Entertainment Weekly. November 29, 1996. Retrieved August 7, 2011.
- Handlen, Zack (August 1, 2008). ""Shapes" / "Darkness Falls" / "Tooms" | The X-Files/Millennium | TV Club | TV | The A.V. Club". The A.V. Club. Retrieved August 7, 2011.
- Cantor, p.158
- Lavery, Hague and Cartwright, p.32
- Gradnitzer and Pittson, p.46
- Lowry, p.146
- Mat Beck, Chris Carter, Howard Gordon, Dean Haglund, David Nutter, Paul Rawbin, Daniel Sackheim, Mark Snow. The Truth About Season One (DVD). Fox.
- Robert Mandel, Daniel Sackheim, et al (booklet). The X-Files: The Complete First Season (Liner notes). Fox.
- Lowry, p.248
- Haigh, Matt (November 27, 2008). "Revisiting The X-Files: Season 1 Episode 19 – Den of Geek". Den of Geek. Dennis Publishing. Retrieved August 7, 2011.
- Gwenllian-Jones and Pearson, p.125
- Gwenllian-Jones and Pearson, p.124
- Goldman, p.158
- Steiber, Ellen (1996). Shapes: A Novel. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-440633-4.
- "Shapes: a novel (Book, 1996)". WorldCat. Retrieved August 8, 2011. "…based on the teleplay written by Marilyn Osborn"
- Cantor, Paul A (2003). Gilligan Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-7425-0779-3.
- Gradnitzer, Louisa; Pittson, Todd (1999). X Marks the Spot: On Location with The X-Files. Arsenal Pulp Press. ISBN 1-55152-066-4.
- Goldman, Jane (1997). The X-Files Book of the Unexplained. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-81962-7.
- Gwenllian-Jones, Sara; Pearson, Roberta E. (2004). Cult television. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0-8166-3831-4.
- Lavery, David; Hague, Angela; Cartwright, Marla (1996). Deny All Knowledge: Reading The X-Files. Syracuse University Press. ISBN 0-8156-2717-3.
- Lowry, Brian (1995). The Truth is Out There: The Official Guide to the X-Files. Harper Prism. ISBN 0-06-105330-9.
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