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Recap / The X-Files S02 E20 "Humbug"

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Season 2, Episode 20:

"Imagine going through your whole life looking like this."
Written by Darin Morgan
Directed by Kim Manners

"You never know where the truth ends and the humbug begins."
Hepcat Helm

Mulder and Scully investigate a murder in a town where nearly everyone is a retired circus performer.


  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The Conundrum will eat anything: "Live animals, dead animals, rocks, light bulbs, corkscrews, battery cables, cranberries..."
  • Asshole Victim: Downplayed with Mr. Nutt the hotel manager. He's a belligerent, caustic jerk with a huge chip on his shoulder, but has a somewhat legitimate Freudian Excuse and certainly didn't deserve to die.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The episode opens with two boys playing in the water as something large and scaly approaches... and it turns out to be their father, who has ichthyosis and performs as an "alligator man". A few minutes later, after the boys leave, the Alligator Man gets attacked by the actual monster of the week.
  • Brick Joke: The Conundrum will eat anything. Even Lanny's villainous conjoined twin by the end!
  • Cannot Keep a Secret: Fortunately for Scully, Mulder just blurts out that they discovered Sheriff Hamilton used to be Jim-Jim the Dog-Faced Boy.
  • Circus Episode: Mulder and Scully investigate a series of disappearances in a small town that relies economically on the circus industry. Just about everyone they meet is a circus performer of some kind - even the local sheriff is a former "dog-faced boy".
  • Conjoined Twins: Lanny has a conjoined twin as his deformity. Unfortunately, that twin is also the bad guy of the episode. (Frankly, it's hard to pin down the Monster of the Week in trope terms. Fetus Terrible is probably the closest thing we got, since it's a separable conjoined twin with a childlike mind and evil intent, which also looks like an ugly misshapen infant.)
  • Designer Babies: Blockhead muses that genetic engineering may well eliminate freaks and all other 'imperfections' till humanity is just handsome suit-and-tie-wearing drones like Mulder.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: Scully, trying to explain.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: In-Universe response to Dr. Blockhead's performance at Glazebrook's funeral. None of the congregants were amused.
  • Dumb Muscle: Lanny. He also has a case of Simpleton Voice. Though this is mostly due to his heavy drinking.
  • Eating the Enemy: The monster is defeated when the Conundrum eats it. It was previously established that the Conundrum will eat anything.
  • Extreme Omnivore: The Conundrum is described as such, with a scene showing Mulder noticing him eating a fish with his bare hands.
  • The "Fun" in "Funeral": Glazebrook's funeral is so wacky that Mulder jokes that he can't wait for the wake.
  • Hall of Mirrors: Scully chases Leonard in the hall of mirrors at the funhouse. She fires at him but ends up breaking the mirror that reflected him. She walks down a hallway and bumps into a mirror. And then into Mulder so they decide to catch him outside.
  • Humans Are Special: A subtle aesop, using circus performers to highlight that in the end people are still people.
  • I Can Explain: "What are you doing?" "We're exhuming your... potato."
  • My Eyes Are Up Here: Played with in a scene where Scully and Lanny meet while wearing loose robes. She can't resist looking at his undeveloped conjoined twin; he can't resist looking at her cleavage.
  • Obliviously Evil: The Monster of the Week is speculated to murder people in an attempt to find a different brother, having grown disappointed with Lanny.
  • Red Herring: Sheriff used to be Jim-Jim the Dog-Faced Boy. The revelation that he used to be a circus performer appears to be very significant, but when Scully and Mulder talk to him about it, he's nonplussed and simply speaks about his past in a matter-of-fact manner. He even somewhat lampshades the trope:
    Sheriff: The investigation isn't going too well, is it?
  • Side Boob: When Lanny comes to wake Scully telling her another body had been found, the audience sees Lanny's gaze spotting her partially undressed underneath her robe. At the same time, Scully is looking down Lanny's robe to see his conjoined twin. They both realize what they're doing and immediately wrap their robes up tighter.
  • Sherlock Scan: Spoofed. The local motel is run by a little person and Mulder, rather innocuously, asks if he's done any circus work, as the whole town consists of circus performers. The clerk is naturally offended by this and attempts to make a point about stereotyping by performing a scan on Mulder. Unfortunately, he stereotypes Mulder as an FBI agent.
  • Thicker Than Water: Turns out Lanny knew well in advance his little brother was a killer (how else?), to the point of moving around the country whenever a string of unexplained deaths happening in one place became inconveniently long. He explains himself that well, it's his brother, it's not like he could turn him in. (The other part of the explanation is that he'd also have to turn himself in, and he had no guts for it.)
  • The Un-Reveal: Did Gillian Anderson really eat that cricket or not?
  • Wham Line: The last line of the episode, no less. When Mulder and Scully find the Conundrum while chasing Lanny's conjoined twin, they don't find the twin and notice that the Conundrum has a bigger stomach than before. The next morning, the two see the Conundrum having stomach pains while he is about to leave Gibsonton.
    Blockhead: I don't know what his problem is. Maybe it's the Florida heat.
    Scully: Hope it's nothing serious.
    Conundrum: Probably something I ate.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: Tom Reamy's 1977 short story "The Detweiler Boy".

"Nature abhors normality. It can't go very long without creating a mutant."


Video Example(s):


The X-Files S02 E20

While pursuing a detached, conjoined twin, Scully gets many good looks at herself in a special room.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / HallOfMirrors

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