Recap / The X-Files S01 E19 "Shapes"

A Native American boy, Joe Goodensnake, is shot in what looks like a land dispute with local rancher Jim Parker and his son Lyle. Mulder and Scully are called in to the Trego Indian reservation in Montana to investigate, leading to clashes with the locals who distrust the federal government, including a sheriff who was at the Wounded Knee siege in 1973. Between the rancher's story that he mistook the boy for a wild animal, some strange tracks and shed skin found at the crime scene, and local legends about a beast that haunts the wilderness and mauls people, Mulder recognizes links to the original X-file. Could an old Indian legend have taken life again — a Manitou that transforms its host into a raging beast? And what person, human and ignorant by day, hides the Manitou now?

Tropes:

  • Alone with the Psycho: During the climax, Scully is trapped in the ranch with a wolfed-out Lyle.
  • Artistic License Religion: "Manitou" is an Algonquin term used to describe a spiritual life force that runs through the world; some tribes, upon conversion to Christianity, used the word to describe God. The "manitou" here has more in common with a werewolf or a wendigo; as The X-Files Book of the Unexplained states, using the term "manitou" to describe the monster in this episode is like using the word "God" to describe Charles Manson.
  • Mugging the Monster: Narrowly averted; Gwen admits that she'd gone to the ranch planning to attack Lyle in revenge for her brother's death, only to end up witnessing the Manitou's savage mauling of his father and completely freaking out. Given that Lyle turns out to have been the Manitou, it turns out that Gwen narrowly avoided falling victim to this trope...
  • No Ontological Inertia: Joe and Lyle turn back into humans after being killed.
  • Red Herring: After Parker is killed, Mulder, Scully, and Sheriff Tskany suspect Gwen, Joe's sister, as the manitou, due to her blood relations with Joe. It's actually Jim's son Lyle, who was badly scratched by the manitou during the first attack.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Sheriff Tskany isn't exactly filled with warm and cuddly feelings towards the federal government or to Mulder and Scully, and he refuses to allow an autopsy on Joe Goodensnake in deference to the tribal beliefs of the locals, but when it becomes clear that the Manitou actually is a thing he works with Mulder without hesitation to try and stop it.
  • Transformation Sequence: Lyle undergoes one during the climax.
  • Zombie Infectee: Lyle got mauled by Jim, and soon starts turning into a manitou himself.

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