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Recap / The X-Files S03 E14 "Grotesque"

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Season 3, Episode 14:

"For over 1200 years, this grotesque image has found its expression in stone, clay, wood, oil and charcoal."
Written by Howard Gordon
Directed by Kim Manners

"Yeah, Patterson had this thing about wanting to track a killer, to know an artist, you have to look at his art. It really meant, if you want to catch a monster, you have to become one yourself."
Fox Mulder

A serial killer (Levani Outchaneichvili) claims that he committed his crimes under a demonic influence. More murders are committed while he is in custody, and with the help of Mulder's old Investigative Support Unit mentor Bill Patterson (Kurtwood Smith), Mulder and Scully investigate. Has the gargoyle spirit found a new instrument, or is it the work of a more mundane copycat?


  • And I Must Scream: Mostow claims to be completely at the mercy of the presence while it goes out and kills. In the end, Patterson claims the same thing, and as detailed below, it is left deliberately ambiguous whether it was entirely mundane in nature or really did involve some diabolical actor.
  • Badass Bookworm: Mulder studies at the library and gets a lot of books around him.
  • Broken Pedestal: Agent Patterson who was Mulder's mentor at the Behavioral Sciences Unit.
  • Captain's Log: Mulder's reports.
  • Cat Scare: Poor Scully is on the receiving end of it yet again. The black cat proves helpful to the plot as well, leading Mulder and Scully to a secret room in the serial killer's apartment with more victims encased in gargoyles.
  • Criminal Mind Games: Possibly Patterson towards Mulder.
  • Dark Is Evil: Mostow's studio, his drawings and sketches.
  • Demonic Possession:
    • What Mostow claims to suffer from. As evidenced by Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane below, it is deliberately left ambiguous whether he had a murderous "alter" personality that he was aware of and personified as a demon, or if he really did have some kind of diabolical tormentor that liked to bodyjack him to go out and kill people, and would eventually infect other targets with its evil once it became aware of them.
    • According to Howard Gordon, his original draft was unambiguous that the Monster of the Week was an actual demon who possessed its victims, but he found it difficult to make the idea sufficiently scary. Chris Carter suggested that Gordon rewrite the episode as if the gargoyle was merely a Red Herring for a mundane serial killer. Gordon ultimately decided to combine the two approaches in his final script to allow viewers to make up their own minds what happened.
  • Fallen Hero: Agent Patterson, sadly.
  • Fighting from the Inside: Patterson knew what he was deep down and had Mulder assigned to the case in order to stop him.
  • He Who Fights Monsters:
    • Agent Patterson pays a terrible price for tracking the evil.
    • Mulder is slipping into darkness as well but he subverts the trope.
    • Heavily implied by Mostow to be how the presence finds its hosts: the more you know about it, the more it knows you.
  • Hollywood Darkness: Mostov's secret sculpture room is perpetually bathed in blue light.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: The opening scene has with the killer (who exclusively targets men for reasons that are never fully clear) gazing intently at a nude male model.
  • Insane Equals Violent: Scully thinks Mostow suffers from a dissociative disorder and Mulder informs us that he spent the better part of his twenties in an insane asylum.
  • The Killer in Me: Patterson seems to be horrified and distrustful when Mulder reveals to him that he is the copycat.
  • Man Bites Man: Agent Nemhauser was bitten by Mostow when the FBI were arresting him.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: John Mostow may have just been a severely mentally ill man with a homicidal "alter" personality that he was aware of and personified as a demon, or he may have genuinely been tormented by a demonic entity that would possess him and murder people. The second killer is eventually revealed to be a profiler who looked too long into the abyss of a particular serial killer and turned into him, or maybe that entity knew he was worn down and vulnerable enough to possess and saw a golden opportunity to acquire a new vessel once Mostow was no longer a viable option, and picked up right where it left off. It is left entirely up to the viewer to decide which explanation is the correct one.
  • Mundanger: Maybe, see the trope directly above.
  • The Profiler: Agent Patterson and his team. And of course Mulder.
  • Red Herring:
    • The killer bit Agent Nemhauser and it's frequently mentioned and shown.
    • Mulder's a bit of one, too, although they obviously realized that no one was going to believe he had become a serial killer, necessitating Nemhauser's presence.
  • Room Full of Crazy:
    • Mulder sinks deep into ugliness and madness of the case. At one point, there are sketches of gargoyles all over the walls in Mulder's apartment.
    • Mostow's studio.
  • Serial Killer: A very disturbing one who kills young men via blood loss due to facial mutilation, in an attempt to re-create the gargoyle-like evil face he claims to see.
  • Surpassed the Teacher: Agent Patterson has a strange but understandable attitude towards Mulder. He feels that he threw away his amazing talent and instead of profiling criminals he chose to chase aliens and the paranormal. Mulder thinks that Patterson never thought highly of him. However, Patterson is probably a bit envious of Mulder's abilities and according to his team, he starts telling "Mulder stories" about him being "some kind of crack genius" when he's drunk.
  • Tragic Villain: Patterson spent three years trying to track down and stop a serial killer, and in the process became one himself due to trying to slip inside the mind of the killer, or possession from a gargoyle-like demon.
  • Tuckerization: Agent Nemhauser is named after the executive producer Lori Jo Nemhauser.

"We are left alone staring into the abyss. Into the laughing face of madness."