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Recap / The X-Files S01 E19 "Shapes"

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Season 1, Episode 19:

"Mulder, this is so odd. It's almost like a snakeskin that's been shed."
Written by Marilyn Osborn
Directed by David Nutter

"The Tregoes, we realized that Watkins had been attacked by what the Algonquins called the manitou ... an evil spirit capable of changing a man into a beast. To be attacked by a manitou causes the victim to become one."

A Native American boy, Joe Goodensnake, is shot in what looks like a land dispute with local rancher Jim Parker (Donnelly Rhodes) and his son Lyle (Ty Miller). 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 (Michael Horse) 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?


  • Alone with the Psycho: During the climax, Scully is trapped in the ranch with a wolfed-out Lyle.
  • Alternate Identity Amnesia: Poor Lyle finds the experience quite humiliating, given he ends up lying naked face-down in a field.
  • 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.
  • Braids, Beads and Buckskins: There are a few "traditionalist" characters who include a varying amount of these in their clothing, and a shaman in full regalia performing funeral rites.
  • The End... Or Is It?: The Manitou is apparently dead, but as Mulder is leaving Ish says, "See you in another eight years." (Earlier in the episode, Mulder refers to a series of similar cases, usually about this much apart.) This isn't followed up however, so maybe they really did kill it.
  • Human-to-Werewolf Footprints: With all the Fridge Logic described in the trope entry, and perhaps some more.
  • Injun Country: Averted, at least in terms of appearance; definitely no big red rocks in the middle of a desert.
  • Magical Native American: Averted. The closest the episode gets to is Ish, but the rest of the reservation mostly just wants Mulder and Scully to leave them in peace.
  • 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...
  • New Old West: The episode certainly has a feel of it. The Parkers dress like stereotypical ranchers and are involved in a land dispute over grazing rights with a local tribe, and while the Trego aren't actively warring against the Parker ranch they are insular toward Mulder and Scully for being part of the government.
  • Nighttime Transformation: As Ish specifically states, the Manitou changes by night, not by the full moon.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Joe and Lyle turn back into humans after being killed. (Although Joe retains a bad case of inhumanly large fangs, and Mulder speculates there might be changes to internal organs as well.)
  • 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.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: Actually quite like the standard issue. The most plot-relevant difference is that full moon has nothing to do with them. (Though, even so, we get a gratuitous shot of the full moon near the end, just before Lyle begins to transform.)
  • 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.
    • From the implications, Gwen may be as well. Especially when Ish says that he'll see Mulder again in ten years...

Ish: FBI! See you in about... eight years.
Mulder: I hope not.