War of the Coprophages
|"War of the Coprophages"|
|The X-Files episode|
|Episode no.||Season 3
|Directed by||Kim Manners|
|Written by||Darin Morgan|
|Original air date||January 5, 1996|
|List of season 3 episodes
List of The X-Files episodes
"War of the Coprophages" is the twelfth episode of the third season of the science fiction television series The X-Files. It premiered on the Fox network on January 5, 1996. It was written by Darin Morgan, and directed by Kim Manners. The episode is a "Monster-of-the-Week" story, a stand-alone plot which is unconnected to the series' wider mythology. "War of the Coprophages" earned a Nielsen household rating of 10.1, being watched by 16.32 million people in its initial broadcast. The episode received mostly positive reviews from critics, who praised its humorous tone.
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 investigates a small town plagued by deaths in which the bodies are found covered in cockroaches. Working from home, Scully has scientific explanations for all of them, but Mulder—at the crime scene with an attractive bug expert—suspects the insects may not be organic, or earthly.
"War of the Coprophages" was Darin Morgan's third episode, after the second season episode "Humbug" and season three's "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose". In order to achieve the effect of a cockroach infestation, the show used around three hundred cockroaches for the episode in addition to extremely detailed rubber cockroach props and "piles and piles" of faux-dung. The episode's title is a reference to the famous novel The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, as well as its 1938 radio adaptation by Orson Welles. The character Dr. Berenbaum is named for entomologist May Berenbaum.
In Miller's Grove, Massachusetts, an exterminator inspects the basement of Dr. Jeff Eckerle, intending to eradicate a cockroach infestation. However, the exterminator clutches his heart and collapses while being seemingly attacked by a cluster of cockroaches. When Eckerle finds the exterminator's body, it is covered with roaches.
Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) is coincidentally nearby, investigating reported UFO sightings in Miller's Grove. While having a phone conversation with Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), Mulder is approached by the local sheriff, Frass, who tells him that a series of "roach attacks" have taken place in town. Frass allows Mulder onto the scene at Eckerle's residence.
Nearby a trio of teenagers drink beer and huff methane generated by filtering fumes from burnt manure. One of them sees a roach crawl underneath his skin. Trying to get rid of it, he slices himself to death with a razor. Scully provides Mulder with a logical explanation (that this is a case of Ekbom's syndrome or delusional parasitosis) but he finds a cockroach on the underside of a piece of furniture. When attempting to capture it and place it in a container for tests, the cockroach crumbles like an empty shell, and Mulder theorizes that the casing was made of metal. Later, another death occurs when the medical examiner is found dead, also covered with cockroaches. Scully attributes his death to cerebral aneurysm.
Sheriff Frass theorizes that the government has been breeding killer cockroaches, informing Mulder about a nearby facility. Inside, he sees the walls rippling and is surprised by Dr. Bambi Berenbaum, a researcher from the Department of Agriculture who is studying cockroaches. Berenbaum has great interest in insects and believes that UFOs are actually nocturnal insect swarms. Yet another death occurs in Mulder's hotel. By this point Mulder believes Scully's theories about the people dying more logical deaths, although now it is Scully who is wondering what is going on and decides to head up there herself.
Mulder brings a cockroach he finds to Berenbaum, who thinks it may be mechanical. Mulder visits the nearby Dr. Ivanov, a wheelchair-using scientist who works on insect-like robots. After showing the scientist the insect specimen, Ivanov is rendered speechless; he informs Mulder that the specimen is, technology-wise, vastly superior to anything he's ever seen before. Scully soon arrives in the town, finding it overrun with panic over the roaches. Scully's attempts to get people to calm down fail. Mulder catches another roach to bring to Berenbaum, but this time it is a seemingly normal cockroach. Scully finds out that Eckerle was researching methane and importing animal dung, which may have brought the roaches over.
Mulder goes with Berenbaum to see Eckerle at a facility, who is overrun with fear, pulling a gun on him, thinking in his panic that even Mulder may somehow be a cockroach. Scully arrives on the scene and meets Berenbaum. When Mulder's phone rings Eckerle believes it to be Mulder making a cockroach chirp, proving he really is a cockroach. Eckerle shoots at Mulder, releasing methane gas. The agents flee as the facility explodes, covering them in the animal dung. Dr. Ivanov arrives and meets Berenbaum, and the two leave with each other discussing their interests in insects and robots. That night Mulder writes his report on the case, wondering how humanity would react if insect-like robots visited Earth. Mulder finds a bizarre looking bug by his food, which he crushes with an X-File.
Writer Darin Morgan was inspired to write the episode when he saw a cover of a magazine featuring insect like robots created by roboticist Rodney Brooks. Mass hysteria was also a key element to the episode, with many references to Orson Welles's famous radio play of War of the Worlds. Most notably, the episode's title is a reference to The War of the Worlds and the town this episode takes place in—Miller's Grove—is a play on Grover's Mill, the setting of Orson Welles's 1938 radio adaptation. Originally, a scene featuring the sheriff discussing a noted case of hysteria from the 1930s was planned to be included in the final episode, but was cut due to time. The episode, like Morgan's previous effort, the second season's "Humbug," used a great deal of humor, including an in-joke where Scully reads Breakfast at Tiffany's, referencing David Duchovny's Final Jeopardy! question when he appeared on Jeopardy!. The last part of the episode's title, coprophages, refers to a dung eater.
The show's animal trainer, Debbie Cove, used around three hundred cockroaches for this episode. Cove later noted that only one of the cockroaches died during the filming, due to old age. Director Kim Manners was very pleased with the way the cockroaches behaved, noting that "every shot I wanted to get, they got." Cast and crew members later recalled that Manners began giving orders to the roaches. Cinematographer John Bartley explained, "when I saw Kim Manners talking to a bucket of cockroaches, that was a highlight for me." Several "incredibly detailed" rubber cockroaches were created for the episode. These props were extremely detailed: prop master Ken Hawryliw explained that, "you could put one next to a real roach and no one would know the difference." In addition, the "piles and piles" of faux-dung were created for the show by using an organic, feces-free substance.
The episode came under heavy criticism by the standards and practices department at parent network Fox, who took exception to the initial script's heavy use of words such as "crap" to refer to the excrement that episode's cockroaches fed upon. Darin Morgan later attacked and parodied this approach in the twenty-first episode of the second season of the American crime-thriller television series Millennium called "Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me". In the episode, a network censor again targets the use of the word "crap" and storms onto the set of a show resembling The X-Files being taped, featuring lookalikes of Mulder and Scully with those series' theme music playing in the background.
The episode marks a rare occasion in the series in which the fourth wall is broken: Although no character addresses the audience, an animated cockroach "walks" across the camera lens during one scene.
"War of the Coprophages" premiered on the Fox network on January 5, 1996. This episode earned a Nielsen rating of 10.1, with a 16 share, meaning that roughly 10.1 percent of all television-equipped households, and 16 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. It was viewed by 16.32 million viewers.
The episode received positive reviews from critics. Entertainment Weekly gave "War of the Coprophages" an A-, and wrote, "Irreverent camp that's infested with laughs (and creepy-crawlies) but throws credibility out the window." Reviewer Zack Handlen of The A.V. Club gave the episode an A and compared it to the previously Morgan-penned "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose", writing, "So! This is the second Darin Morgan episode I've had to write about, and once again, I'm not sure I've done it justice. [...] The comedy here can be broad, but there's always enough self-aware commentary buried in it that it never becomes simplistic. While "Bruckman" dealt with the misery of knowing all the answers, "Coprophages" looks at how easy it is to convince yourself you know what's going on, even when you don't. It'd be better to believe in a bunch of bugs from outer space coming down to earth to mess with our minds, than it would be to accept the more likely truth that bugs like shit—and around here, there's always plenty to go around." Critical Myth's John Keegan gave the episode an 8/10 and praised the episode's self-parodying style, saying, "Overall, this episode was a rare self-contained parody, well written by Darin Morgan. By standing on its own outside of continuity, the episode gives itself plenty of room to send-up the series premise and its early internet fandom. There’s no real sense of resolution, but that’s really incidental to the point of the parody." Author Phil Farrand rated the episode as his second favorite episode of the first four seasons in his book The Nitpickers Guide to the X-Files.
The cast and the crew of the show enjoyed the episode, for the most part. Co-producer Paul Rabwin said that the episode had some of the funniest material in The X-Files as well as some of the most horrific, such as the scene where a cockroach crawled into someone's arm. Gillian Anderson rated the episode one of her favorite episodes of the third season. On a more negative note, writer Darin Morgan ended up being unhappy with the final product, saying "The other day, my girlfriend was saying, 'I never understood that episode,' and I guess I don't either. It was an episode that had a lot of what I thought were really good ideas and never quite got it to work. I was really disappointed with that episode. Some people love it."
- Lowry, pp. 141–144
- Edwards, p. 161
- Lowry, p. 145
- Lowry, p. 146
- Lowry, p. 144
- Lowry, p. 142
- "Coprophagous - Definition and More". Merriam Webster. Retrieved 8 April 2012.
- Lowry, p. 143
- Lowry, p. 147
- Shearman and Pearson, p. 161
- R.W. Goodwin, et al (booklet). The X-Files: The Complete Third Season (Liner notes). Fox.
- Lowry, p. 251
- "X Cyclopedia: The Ultimate Episode Guide, Season 3 | EW.com". Entertainment Weekly. November 29, 1996. Retrieved November 25, 2011.
- Handlen, Zack (July 25, 2010). ""731"/"Revelations"/"War of the Coprophages"". The A.V. Club. Retrieved December 25, 2011.
- Keegan, John. "War of the Coprophages". Critical Myth. Retrieved December 25, 2009.
- Farrand, p. 223
- Edwards, p. 162
- Hurwitz and Knowles, p. 82
- Edwards, Ted (1996). X-Files Confidential. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-316-21808-1.
- Farrand, Phil (1998). The Nitpickers Guide to the X-Files. Doubleday Direct. ISBN 1-56865-503-7.
- Hurwitz, Matt; Knowles, Chris (2008). The Complete X-Files. Insight Editions. ISBN 1-933784-80-6.
- 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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- "War of the Coprophages" on The X-Files official website
- "War of the Coprophages" at the Internet Movie Database
- "War of the Coprophages" at TV.com