Love Bugs: Reaper, X-Files Tackle The Weirdest Evil Insect Episodes In TV History

Posted by on August 13th, 2009

In this column, we look at two pop-cultural interpretations of ubiquitous Weird legends as portrayed by two narrative television programs… like how That ‘70s Show’s Donna and CSI: Miami’s Horatio Crane were both created by their respective networks in order to fulfill SAG-regulated ginger nut quotas. But with monsters. Enjoy.

Reaper, Episode 1×03, “All Mine”
X-Files, Episode 9×05, “Lord of the Flies”

Fleas provide a wily vector for the bubonic plague and wipe out a third of the world’s population.

Killer bees buzz up against America’s borders, causing a prolonged nationwide freakout.

All kinds of weird bugs terrify Willie Scott and Indiana Jones almost dies.

Spread out across every continent and driven by a simplistic nervous system that puppeteers their segmented bodies towards only the most primal satisfactions, insects have alternately fascinated and terrified humans since the first time some blundering caveman saw a beehive and went all My Girl on it. Their ubiquity and instinctual persistence postures them as an ever-moving imagined boundary between nature and civilization that, for every two steps it’s forced back by poisons and zappers, advances one step forward into kitchens and bedrooms. Insects have proved such an enduring fixture of human experience that they’ve infested language itself, swarming the vernacular with a bevy of bug-related clichés, euphemisms and metaphors, ranging from “the birds and the bees” to “mad as a hornet” to “patience, young grasshopper.” It’s no surprise, then, that these perceived pests, and the swarm of associations they evoke, occupy their own cavernous burrow in the pantheon of pop culture, eating their way into the very foundation of American narrative.

Even beyond their aforementioned presence in spoken rhetoric, insects’ universality and relative biological simplicity allow them to play the cipher for a variety of basic human circumstances, relationships and emotions. For instance, both the episodes examined in today’s column employ bugs in exploring different dimensions of love, from the ardor and stewardship that shape and fortify it, to the gnawing jealousy and guilt that can hollow it out from the inside. One episode uses the fundamental disgust that bugs can instill to channel the gross desperation and jealousy that the jilting wake of lust- gone-awry can inflict, while the other, in a failed attempt to portray a good kid gone bad in the name of both love and a genetic disease, ends up utilizing the simple, beautiful biology of insects as a microscope through which to examine the exact point of impact in a collision between feelings and actions.

In “All Mine,” the devil sends Sam after an escaped soul who seems to be using a variety of insects as agents in the murders of several women. Assuming that the culprit is a local man named Harold who, decades before, disappeared after being accused of murdering his wife, the boys discover the man’s current address and stake out his house, which is teeming with creepy-crawlies. Later, however, Sam encounters Harold, who tells him that the bugs are actually inhabited by the soul of his former mistress, Gloria, who, in life, murdered his wife and, in death, has gained the ability to transmit her soul into bugs, allowing her to covertly stalk him and, in her jealous rage, murder any women he encounters. The boys crush the bug lady.

In “Lord of the Flies,” the mysterious death of a teenager whose head appears to have been hollowed out by flies draws the attention of agents Dogget and Reyes, who come to suspect that a loner named Dylan may have the ability to control bugs and a motive for the murder – a long-term crush on the victim’s girlfriend, Natalie. After a series of other strange entomological incidents occur around Dylan, who insists that he’s simply misunderstood, the agents discover that Dylan is part skitched-20090813-150040.jpginsect, a trait he inherited from his mother, and uses pheromones to manipulate bug life. Dylan claims he only acted out against people who he viewed as a threat to Natalie, but when he finally professes his love to her and they kiss, her lip is torn open by his insectoid tongue and she rejects him. As he and his mother flee the town, the agents explore Dylan’s house and discover the corpses of people Dylan’s mother had killed over the years in her futile attempt to deny her mutation.

Both shows use the threat of bugs – their size, their numbers and their relentlessness – to endow the clumsy brute force of human emotion with an oppressive and pestilent physical form. The fundamental difference is that, in one case, a person is using insects as controllable vessels of his emotion, while in the other case, a person has physically transformed into a living natural force, which is now imbued with her rage.

The X-Files goes out of its way to belabor the point that Dylan is a teenager, even explaining his growing power over bugs and changing internal biology as results of the hormonal dissonance of puberty. Following in this vein, the bugs, of course, are meant to represent the unchecked power of his feelings as they are subjected to these hormones – his love and desire for Natalie transmuted into a focused, but misdirected, force of nature. It’s this characterization – human emotion personified as natural threat – that becomes integral to understanding the core similarities between the episodes, and the moral implications of directing a force, versus becoming that force. Both Gloria and Dylan commit despicable acts in the name of love, but whereas Dylan exploits a natural power he has over a boundless, amoral force to commit pre-mediated crimes, Gloria has, herself, transformed into a force, her consciousness hijacked and consumed long ago by her jealousy, such that she has simply become the lobotomized host to a boundlessly powerful parasite that has bestowed upon her the smiting might of nature, but taken away the free will she would require to voluntarily end her rampage. In short, she’s become a physical manifestation of the emotion itself.

skitched-20090813-150130.jpgIn terms of this comparison, it’s good that The X-Files is so desperate to harp on Dylan’s pubescence because it underscores the full impact of the comparison between him and Gloria – Gloria exists as jealousy embodied because of conscious moral decisions she made as a human, specifically, murdering Harold’s wife; Dylan is younger, and only just beginning to make those same decisions, turning his emotions into desperate, violent acts. At the same time, he is becoming physically more and more insect-like, a freakish chimera of his harmless, inevitable thoughts and ruthless, decisive actions – the transformation that befell Gloria. The show contends that Dylan is simply a victim of a biological mutation, unable to fit in with human society, regardless of his very real human emotions, because of his innate genetic incompatibility – his physical nature. The unfortunate truth is that Dylan’s condition is irrelevant. The point isn’t that he attacks people with bugs; the point is that he attacks people. It’s his psychological nature – his bad choices and inability to deal with emotions – that makes him, and Gloria, into monsters.

I accept that both shows make statements about human nature, but The X-Files is mistaken in portraying its message as one of unrequited love and cursed birth, with Dylan posed as a misunderstood object of pity, doomed to a solitary life (after all, Gloria was born a fully human girl and also became a horrific insectoid blight). The message is that, while every person feels, and then acts on those feelings, every person also chooses their method of action. It’s these decisions, and the deeds they beget, that shape what a person becomes. It’s a fundamental, almost biblical, moral. Reaper isn’t afraid to show Gloria as the monster she is. As for The X-Files, there’s no question that Dylan loves Natalie, but the way that he allows that love to manifest as physical acts of destruction – to take what’s in his brain and heart and twist it up as it moves through his hands into something monstrous and wholly antithetical to the shimmering light or the sonorous tone or whatever gloriously sublime manifestation that love took inside of him – to construct it an avatar from termites and roaches and death – is to turn himself into animal, mandibles poised and stinger at the ready, whether those organs are metaphorical or not.

One Response to “Love Bugs: Reaper, X-Files Tackle The Weirdest Evil Insect Episodes In TV History”

  1. Luv Bug Says:

    Hope I could get their series in DVD. 🙂