“It’s a folktale, a myth.”
The Jersey Devil
Written by Chris Carter, directed by Joe Napolitano
Season 1, Episode 5
While driving down a wood enshrouded road in 1947, a family is surprised by a sudden flat tower. The father gets out to fix the tire — when something plunges out of the woods and drags him off into the dark.
The next day, a team with dogs searches through the woods for the missing man. They find him — partially eaten.
They also find something else, a creature said to be tall as a house. They begin shooting as it rushes toward them. A cacophony of gun fire.
In their office at FBI headquarters, Scully tells Mulder about a case involving a body found in the New Jersey woods. The body was missing an arm and a leg, which had been eaten off — by a human.
Mulder predictably pulls out an X-File about the Jersey Devil and relates the story from 1947 (presented in the intro). The creature that had been killed was actually a savage, naked man. An autopsy (the report of which was missing) revealed human flesh and bone inside his digestive system.
Scully is, as per usual, reluctant to buy it.
Scully: Mulder, it’s the same story I’ve heard since I was a kid. It’s a folktale, a myth.
Mulder: I heard the same story when I was a kid, too. Funny thing is, I believed it.
The agents head to New Jersey to investigate, beginning with a conversation with the doctor who had done the autopsy. She confirms that the bite marks indicate that it was a human who did the eating, likely a large, adult male.
Their conversation is interrupted when Detective Thompson enters, demanding that they leave. It’s not an FBI matter after all, the local police plan to handle it.
Mulder is irritated as they leave the building, says he plans to stay the night and do a little of his own digging. Scully, on the other hand, says she has to head back for her godson’s birthday. He tosses her the keys and leaves her to drive back alone.
Mulder meets up with Ranger Peter Brullet, who shows him the crime scene in the woods. He explains that the homeless don’t go wandering around the woods much, because they’re scared.
Mulder: Scared? Of what?
Brullet: I don’t know. The devil.
Mulder: People say that’s just a myth.
Brullet: Depends on who you talk to.
Brullet tells Mulder his own weird story of when he saw a naked man come out of the trees, sniffing the air like an animal. He’s never seen the man again, but he’s seen evidence of the man still being around. Brullet never goes out into the woods without his weapon anymore.
After hearing the story, Mulder elects to to walk through the woods back to his hotel. Along the way, he begins to get the feeling that he is being watched.
At her godson’s birthday, Scully helps manage a houseful of rowdy kids — chasing each other, screaming, knocking things over, making a mess. She chats with her friend about parenting and they joke about how hard it is to find a good man. The friend brings up Mulder as a possible option, but Scully knocks the idea down because he’s obsessed with his work.
One of the fathers, a handsome man, shows up to the party. Scully locks eyes with him and they smile.
Walking through the city, Mulder encounters a homeless encampment. He asks some of the people whether anyone knew the man who was murdered. A man claims he does and says he’ll show Mulder something in exchange for money. He pulls a piece of paper out of his makeshift shelter, revealing a drawing of a naked man. He says he’s seen the naked man around there, digging through the trash. Everyone is pretty freaked out.
Wanting to stake the place out, Mulder gives the man his room key in exchange for staying the night at the man’s shelter. Sitting there in the dark, he starts to nod off — when he hears rustling nearby. He jumps up and sees something human-like digging through the garbage.
The person begins sniffing the air, then runs off. Mulder gives chase and manages to see it climb a fence and run along a stairwell of a shuttered manufacturing plant, eventually making it to the roof of the building.
A flash of lights, and cops arriving on the scene. Mulder tries to tell them about the man on the roof, but gets locked upin the drunk tank for his trouble.
Detective Thompson confronts Mulder in the drunk tank. Thompson says he’s going to complain to the FBI for Mulder’s interference and impeding the investigation. Mulder argues that the detective is withholding evidence, more concerned about keeping the casinos full of tourists than about revealing the truth.
On Monday morning, Scully learns that Mulder has spent the night in the drunk tank and goes to bail him out. Over breakfast — during which Mulder shovels food into his face — he tells her what he saw, though he’s not willing to confirm what it might be.
He’d like Scully’s help, but she she’s not available. She has a date.
Mulder: Can you cancel?
Scully: Unlike you, Mulder, I would like to have a life.
Mulder: I have a life.
On the way home, Scully introduces him to Dr. Diamond, who discusses the wild man myth being universal across multiple cultures. He also talks about the territorial nature of humans and their affect on the natural world, which has been disastrous. Scully backs up the doc, noting that humans are top carnivores.
Mulder and Diamond banter back and forth about the possibility of something being higher up on the food chain, maybe a kind of carnivorous neanderthal or a human being being raise by animals. Although such an occurrence would be highly unlikely, the doc reluctantly agrees that it would be an amazing discovery.
Scully goes on her date with the dad from the party. She looks profoundly bored during the entire experience. By the time the conversation turns uncomfortably to the talk of kids, she’s almost relieved when Mulder interrupts the date with a phone call.
Mulder tells Scully that a body has been found, possibly the beast man. She agrees to join him for the autopsy.
When the two agents, along with Brullet and Dr. Diamond, get to the coroner’s office in New Jersey, however, they find that the body has been removed. Mulder is convinced that the local detective is trying to sweep the case under the rug.
Mulder also believes that that the wild man may have had a mate. He leads Scully, Brullet, and Dr. Diamond to the abandoned building to search for her. When the police arrive shortly after, the group quickly moves inside looking to find the wild woman before the police do.
The group splits up and spreads out through building, searching the shadows for any sign of the woman. Mulder and Scully overhear Detective Thompson, and they slip deeper into the abandoned building.
Mulder catches sight of the wild woman and rushes to follow her, with Scully close behind. Down a dark stairwell, he senses the woman in the dark but can’t see her. She rears up out of the shadows and knocks her to the ground. She hovers over him, curious — until Scully’s arrival scares the wild woman away.
Outside the building, an ambulance has been called to attend to the scratches Mulder received during his encounter with the wild woman. Meanwhile, Scully is on the phone, trying to get federal control of the situation, while Thompson insists that that the FBI agents are obstructing a murder investigation.
The confrontation with Thompson is cut short, however, when the police get the call that the woman has escaped into the woods.
Mulder and his group make their own own way into the woods, and Park Ranger Brullet tries to take her down using a tranquilizer dart. Even though she’s hit, she is able to stumble off.
Moments later, the sound of gunshots carries through the trees. Mulder is furious to find the woman dead, saying she could have been taken in alive. The two men face off, but Scully pulls Mulder away from the scene.
At the office, Mulder stows away the crime scene photos of the wild woman in an X-File. Scully brings information about the medical report, which showed human bones in the woman’s digestive tract. The woman’s physiology was otherwise normal, though there was the possibility of offspring.
Scully begs him to take some time off, but he declines. He’s too eager to head to the Smithsonian to discuss the case with an ethno-biologist. Though she has an opportunity to go on another date with the handsome dad, Scully opts instead to join Mulder on his trip to the Smithsonian.
While walking through the woods, a dad tells his son the story of the Jersey Devil. A small face pokes its head out from behind some rocks (clearly the wild man and woman’s child) and peers at the family as they walk past.
The legend continues.
What annoys me profoundly about this episode (perhaps more now than when I first saw it) is how it presents the most bland version of the Jersey Devil folklore ever. Taking a creature as interesting as a flying biped with leathery bat wings, a goat head, and hooves and turning it into a version of the wild man myth is just achingly dull.
Out of all of Mulder’s wild theories presented thus far — aliens, conspiracy theories, and genetic mutants — this one is the most plausible, especially considering that cases of humans being raised in the wild with no knowledge of civilization are common enough. Though it seems unlikely for such a thing to happen on the outskirts of a major city in the U.S., the level of Scully’s disbelief in this case rings false. Her argument doesn’t carry the same level of logical reasoning as in other episodes.
Another area where the episode doesn’t go far enough is in the exploration of its theme. Drawing on wild man/woman lore has the potential for some interesting discussions about the nature of humanity. However, here the discussions about humans being apex predators and having a true, wild, territorial nature (which at one point is compared to kids running around a child’s birthday party) falls flat. It never really hits on any points that are compelling or interesting.
It also doesn’t help that the attractiveness of the wild woman is emphasized by the show and Mulder’s attraction to her — especially since the episode starts with him reading a Playboy magazine. It’s just icky.
As with many of X-Files episodes, the ending scene is meant to be unsettling, indicating that the threat may still be out there. However, in this case, the little wild boy or girl is simply too adorable to give off any sense of menace. Again, it doesn’t work.
Nothing new is learned about either Mulder, Scully, or their relationship. Mulder remains dedicated to his work at unhealthy levels and Scully kind of tries to shape a life outside of work, but then elects to hang out with Mulder.
However, the one thing I do appreciate in this episode is Scully and her expressions of exasperated annoyance—the eye rolls and the death glares are a delight.
From This Episode: A new one this week, with Mulder getting arrested during the course of the investigation. It’s not a hugely common stat, but definitely comes up from time to time. It occurs to me that this could also be applied to the episode “Deep Throat,” so I’m going to retroactively count that as well.
From the Series as a Whole:
Mulder is Called Spooky: 3
Mulder Eats Sunflower Seeds: 2
Mulder or Scully Gets Detained/Arrested: 2
Dana Does an Autopsy: 1
Appearance of Cigarette Smoking Man: 1