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Arcadia

While I enjoyed this episode, particularly the interplay between Mulder and Scully, I think it suffers from the too-much-too-late syndrome. Just as in "Monday" there were many interesting plot developments, but it was all summed up too quickly. Pacing aside, I still liked it.

Anyway, here's what happens in this story of suburban evil:

Dave Kline, a resident of an exclusive San Diego community known as "The Falls of Arcadia," arrives at his stately, three-car-garage home in the early evening. It's a normal day -- the sun is slowly setting on the horizon, neighbors are tending to their overly-manicured yards and Kline is ready for a pleasant evening sipping brandy from a tumbler while ignoring the advances of his forlorn wife. Ladies and gentleman, we have entered suburbia.

Kline's utopia is shattered by a repainted mailbox. His next door neighbor, Win Shroeder, has repainted the box so it's "up to code." Seems kindly enough, but Kline doesn't think so. He gruffly enters his home and spends the next 30 seconds throwing a hissy fit in the kitchen. His wife calmly tells him to shut his yap.

The hissy fit subsides and Kline rifles through the mail. A paper package reveals an anonymous gift -- a wooden, faux-antique whirligig. It's the kind of wind toy that makes homeowners swoon and neighbors snarl.

The Klines have been looking for a way to nonviolently protest the strict rules of Arcadia, so they waste no time in tacking the whirligig to the side of their home. Later that night a calm, Southern-California breeze blows through the whirligig's wooden parts, initiating a rhythmic series of "thuds." The "thuds" suddenly stop and Dave Kline is stirred from his slumber. Sensing that someone (or something) is now in the house, he grabs a heavy trophy and creeps downstairs. Amidst the shadows dances a monster -- a gooey, ill-tempered suburban nightmare. Kline is woefully unaware of its presence and the monster tiptoes behind the trophy-carrying homeowner. Kline spins around and is devoured by the hulking mass. As the camera pans away the screams of Mrs. Kline echo through the dark suburban landscape. No on hears you scream in suburbia.

Seven months later, Mulder and Scully arrive at the Kline's home in a minivan. Mulder is outfitted in suburban commando wear: Khaki pants, collared T-shirt, navy knit sweater draped around his neck and tied at the sleeves. Scully is also camouflaged: Hair swept back, khaki suit and a rarely-seen smile. There's no two ways about it: They're undercover.

The agents are posing as a married couple -- Rob and Laura Petrie ("like the dish") -- so they can investigate the disappearances of three separate Arcadia couples. Within an hour of arriving, the agents know weirdness is definitely afoot.

Arcadia is governed by a set of rules that makes the Old Testament look like an issue of "People." One of these rules says that all move-ins must be finished by 6 p.m. Mulder and Scully (aka Rob and Laura) arrive at 5:10 p.m. and they're met by a horde of neighbors who quickly snatch their belongings from the moving truck and rush them inside the house. The agents help out, bewildered by their new neighbor's actions.

As promised, the neighbors finish the job at exactly 6 p.m. and Mulder and Scully are left to their new home. Scully rips off her jacket and asks Mulder "Are you ready?" "Let's get it on honey!" is his response and that's when the latex breaks out -- um, latex gloves that is. The agents forensically scour the Kline's former residence, looking for clues to their demise. Scully documents their investigation via videotape. She explains (while taping the scene) that three normal, stable couples have disappeared from Arcadia since 1991. Each crime scene presented nothing but an impeccably-kept home. Local law enforcement has run out of options so they've turned to the FBI and that's where Mulder and Scully come in. As she finishes up her dialogue, Mulder pops in front of the camera and asks "You wanna make that honeymoon video now?"

Mulder is obviously enjoying himself in his undercover role but Scully questions his dedication to the case. Mulder claims that he's dedicated, but he doesn't see how this is an X-file (he also screws up the continuity of the last three episodes by remarking that this case is their first X-file since regaining their X position). The doorbell interrupts their banter but Mulder's smart-ass tendencies rise to the fore and he demands (in his best drawl) "Woman, get back in here and make me a san'wich!" Scully rips off her gloves, glares at her partner with beams that put the Death Star to shame, then tosses the gloves at Mulder's face as she walks toward the front door.

Their visitor is Mike Raskub ("Big Mike"), a neighbor who accidentally dropped a box of Scully's equipment -- marked as "china" -- during the move. His guilt has lead him to collect his own dishes and offer them as penance for his goober actions. Scully notices a caduceus dangling from Mike's neck (a caduceus is the well-known medical symbol) and discovers that Mikey is a veterinarian. Using her most condescending smile she asks the kind vet why the Klines moved away. Big Mike's words become jumbled, his brow sweats and his fight-or-flight mechanism kicks in. He hands Scully the box of dishes then darts away, leaving her query unanswered.

While Scully has made nice with Big Mike, Mulder has been plucking dried goo from a ceiling fan in the living room. The nasty substance looks like hair and blood. Once again, Mulder finds a clue in a clueless room.

Later that evening a smattering of Arcadia residents gather for dinner at the home of Gene Gogolak. Gogolak uses fear to keep Arcadia's residents in line, and there's plenty of fright at this dinner party. The residents discuss the Petries (Mulder and Scully) and deem them "a cute couple." Gogolak doesn't have time to discuss the "cuteness" of Mulder and Scully, so he hastily dismisses the women and holds an impromptu meeting in the dining room with the male residents. The discussion goes badly, especially for Big Mike. He wants to tell the Petries why the Klines disappeared. Mikey submissively suggests that the Petries would have a better chance of abiding by the rules if they knew what happens when you don't follow them. A dark cloud floats over Mike's head as Gogolak stares at him with his coal-black eyes.

The dinner party comes to an end and Mike retires to his home. He settles into bed, watching a documentary before drifting off to Vet slumber. His trip to Sleepyworld is interrupted when he notices that the light in his front yard has blown. Mike jumps from the covers and rushes outside with another bulb. He successfully makes the change and walks back to his front door, but the hulking monster from the opening scene rises from his lawn and splatters Big Mike's blood over the front steps. The doctor is out.

The next morning Mulder and Scully walk up Big Mike's driveway and see Win Shroeder washing off Mike's stairway with a hose. The agents startle Shroeder, but he recovers and stammers a lame explanation for his neighborly cleaning. Mike has left town for a while and Good Ol' Win is keeping things neat for the big fella. Scully's scepticism oozes from her pores and she asks Shroeder why a vet would leave town. Shroeder etches a fake smile on his mug and shrugs his suburban shoulders. Instead of answering, he invites Mulder and Scully to dinner that evening. Being diligent agents, they accept, but before they walk away Mulder asks Win who he should talk to about putting up a basketball hoop. Well Mulder, that would be Nazi-extraordinaire Gene Gogolak.

Mulder and Scully visit Gogolak's lair (or would it be a bunker?) where the evil Homeowner Association President denies Mulder's hoop dream. Reading from the revered book of "Contracts, Covenants and Restrictions" Gogolak condescendingly says that a basketball net leads to lawn ornaments and lawn ornaments lead to drug dealers selling smack on street corners. Mulder doesn't pursue the issue, instead focusing on Gogolak's interior decorating. Gogolak's living room isn't the kind of place Martha Stewart advertises in the White Sale. Tibetan artifacts line the walls and Gogolak explains that his position as head of Pier 9 Imports sends him to Tibet twice a year. Mulder files this piece of information away in his cavernous X-files head.

That evening Mulder and Scully dine at the sicky-sweet home of Win and Cami Shroeder. The Shroeder's don't take well to Mulder's sense of humor, particularly his insistence that dolphins are tasty. Hampered by a lack of humor, the conversation turns toward the genesis of Rob and Laura's marriage. Mulder explains that they met at a UFO convention, eliciting a painful smile from Scully. Mulder elaborates, happily declaring that Laura is a incurable new-ager who spends gobs of money on spiritual knickknacks. Watching closely you'll see that Scully keeps a smile on her face during Mulder's crack, but beneath the table she's gunning her foot into his shin. All kidding aside, Mulder and Scully return to their investigation, again questioning the whereabouts of Big Mike. Cami's face wrinkles and she rises from her chair, propelled by an undeniable urge to walk the dog. Scully offers to join her on the excursion, so she also rises, exchanging a forced air kiss with Mulder before departing.

Mulder and Scully are using a time-honored investigative technique: Separate the couple to get their individual stories. While on their walk, Scully casually asks Cami about Big Mike. Her questions are deflected when the dog -- Scruffy -- gets loose and runs into a road-side storm drain (Scruffy is one of those yippy, taco-bell-lizard-lizard dogs and he easily fits through the opening). Scully, who just happens to be carrying a flashlight, darts the beam into the drain and spots Big Mike's necklace (the one with the caduceus). Using her Go-Go-Gadget arm she nabs the necklace just as Scruffy sprints back through the opening. His forehead is covered in the same substance Mulder scraped from the ceiling fan. Scully wipes the goo from Scruffy's noggin with a handkerchief then pockets the evidence. Scully and Cami walk off as a nearby sewer grate creeks up and an unseen creature watches them hurry down the street.

Back at the Petries, the agents get ready for bed while discussing the case. Mulder's bachelor habits are driving Scully nuts -- he doesn't put the seat down and he squeezes the toothpaste tube incorrectly. Scully's nighttime mud mask shocks Mulder but he puts the horror aside and teases Scully to lie down next to him. No matter how you look at it, Scully is not in the mood. Mulder takes the hint, grabs a pillow and walks toward the living room, mumbling "the thrill is gone" as he passes his partner.

The next day, Mulder gives in to his antagonistic ways and goads the neighbors by placing a pink flamingo on his front lawn. Framed against a brilliant blue sky Mulder looks across the street and says to an unseen enemy, "bring it on!" His flamingo stakeout is thwarted within seconds -- someone plucks the ugly bird from his lawn without him seeing. The second time around, Mulder takes a more violent approach, kicking his mailbox askew and spraying it with orange juice. This time his stakeout is more thorough, but the juice catches up to him and he's forced to use the bathroom. When he returns the box has been set straight and a hand-written note warns "Be like the others before it gets dark."

It gets dark, but Mulder isn't a conformist. He drags his portable basketball hoop from the garage and works on his jumper, much to the chagrin of the Shroeders. Win rushes across the street and tries to push the hoop back in the garage, desperate to hide the device before something bad happens. Mulder is incredulous, asking why it's such a big deal. He doesn't get an answer because Cami starts screaming from across the street. Mulder runs to the Shroeder house, sprints up a nearby hill and watches as the gooey sasquatch tromps off. He walks back to Cami to ask if she's okay, but she's mute -- her teary eyes are fixed on the broken bulb in the Shroeder's front-yard light. The horror! The horror!

While Mulder and the Shroeders stare at the light, something drags Mulder's basketball hoop into the garage. Scully drives up in the minivan just as the garage door closes. Inside the house she hears movement upstairs. She calls out for Mulder, but he doesn't answer. Armed with a fireplace poker, Scully stalks the elusive beast. She starts walking upstairs, but something shuffles in the living room so she creeps down. Grasping the poker like a Lousiville Slugger she swipes at the unseen intruder. Mulder, who just entered the house, ducks under her impressive swing (Sidenote: Scully's quick wrists and explosive bat would serve her well in the majors).

The fact that Scully nearly impaled Mulder on a fireplace poker is irrelevant because both agents have important leads to discuss. After watching The Swamp Thing run through the Shroeder's yard, Mulder dug up a chunk of grass and noticed a channel running through the dirt. He found the same thing beneath his own front yard and he theorizes that the creature uses this system of tunnels to move around. Scully half-heartedly acknowledges his monster theory then produces her own evidence. Lab tests revealed that the gooey samples they submitted weren't made of blood and hair, they were a deft mix of garbage: Egg shells, coffee grounds, movie stars and swimmin' pools. The entire Arcadia complex was built over a landfill, so the plethora of garbage makes sense. All this talk of garbage gets Mulder's juices flowing and he suddenly realizes that the Klines' bodies may have been put out with the trash. He suggests they bring in an excavation team to dig up the yard, but there's a problem -- bringing in a team will blow their cover.

Or so it seems. Mulder scours the sacred Arcadia rulebook and finds a loophole. Swimming pools aren't allowed, but reflecting pools are, and if you want to install a reflecting pool you have to dig. A backhoe arrives the next day and Mulder watches with glee as mounds of soil and grass are ripped from his front yard. The neighbors stare in horror. For the rest of the day -- and a good part of the night -- Mulder digs through the giant hole, searching for clues. Just as he's about to give up he spots a wooden whirligig dangling from the claws of the backhoe. The label on the device reads "Pier 9 Imports." Mulder tells Scully to call in a forensic team while he questions Happy Mr. Gogolak.

Scully makes the call, but while on the phone she hears something downstairs. Hanging up, she opens her dresser drawer to grab her gun, but it's missing. Heavy steps rumble in the stairwell and Scully backs up. A dirty hand wraps around her mouth and Big Mike tells her to be quiet. The friendly vet somehow survived his encounter with the monster. He's been hiding in the sewer system -- he's bloody, dirty and probably smells like an overflowing cesspool on a hot August day. Scully asks what happened and Mikey says he was torn up by the "Ubermenscher." Speaking of Ubermenschers, one of them is walking up the stairs. Mike barricades the doorway while explaining that the original Arcadia homeowners requested this creature, hoping it would keep their neighborhood nice. Now they can't stop the beast. Before Scully can ask 1. What's an Ubermenscher and 2. How the hell did Mike fit in the sewer, the angry creature knocks at the bedroom door. Mike tosses Scully in a closet, blocking the doors with a dresser. She watches through the wooden slats as Mike valiantly riddles the creature with bullets. Unfortunately the Ubermenscher is immune to firepower, so it charges Mike and turns him into chop suey on the bedroom floor.

Mulder is in significantly less peril at the home of Gene Gogolak. He's placed Gogolak under arrest, accusing him of killing the Klines. Gogolak says there's no way of tying him to the Klines' disappearance. Mulder scans the room, resting his eyes on a Tibetan statue. Crawling into that cavernous X-files memory, he declares that Gogolak has created a Tulpa -- a Tibetan thought-form that can be willed into existence. The Tulpa keeps Arcadia's residents in check, but the beast has become uncontrollable. It's a nice theory, but Gogolak laughs it off saying his lawyers will make Mulder look like a stammering idiot.

Realizing Gogolak is probably right, Mulder hauls the Tulpa creator back to the house, presumably so Scully can slap him around and make him talk. Upon arriving, Mulder sees the house is dark and knows something is amiss. He handcuffs Gogolak to the backhoe and creeps inside. Dirty, moonboot-sized footsteps are ingrained in the carpeting and the upstairs bedroom is covered in blood. Scully calls out and Mulder starts ripping the closet down. As the agents tear at the wooden slats, nasty noises spring from outside. Mulder rushes off (leaving Scully to dig herself out of the closet) and watches as Gogolak is manhandled by the Tulpa/Ubermenscher on the front lawn. The creature twists Gogolak into a series of very uncomfortable positions and tosses him to the ground. Spotting Mulder, it plods toward him. Gogolak gasps for air and expires just as the monster reaches Mulder. Suddenly the creature turns into a mound of topsoil -- decaying just as its creator dies. Scully walks out to see Mulder standing in an enormous pile of dirt.

In the closing scene, the agents pack into the minivan as Scully's monologue ties up the loose ends. The residents of Arcadia have refused to answer questions about their strange community, secretly suggesting that Gogolak got what he deserved. Despite the host of murders, Scully reports that The Falls of Arcadia has been voted one of the top planned communities in California for the sixth year in a row.

Note: This review originally appeared at Ontap.com. It's reprinted here for archival purposes.



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