“The X-Files” was one of the biggest shows of the 1990s, and many still consider it neck and neck with “The Twilight Zone” as the best supernatural series in history. One episode in its run stood out from the rest. It was the only one to receive a TV-MA rating for its subject matter and gore. Unlike most “X-Files” episodes, “Home” isn’t about Mulder and Scully chasing a suspect, following clues, or waiting for a supernatural beastie to descend upon them. Instead, they know exactly where the problem is, and they are trying to provoke it themselves.
Three brothers are introduced in the dark. Inbred, with genetic malformations of their faces, you can’t really make out the details. The second time you see them it’s in sunlight, but you can only see the brothers from a distance. There’s something about the make-up that makes it feel like their skin has been torn off; they hang from their porch impatiently, like hyenas eyeing up their hunt. By the time we do see the brothers up close, the make-up design is horrifying. One of them has an eye half-fallen out of his face. In one disrobing scene, the make-up is seen across most of their bodies.
When the jockiest kid of them all hits a baseball onto the Peacock’s property, fenced off by barb wire, the dorky-looking one who stops before going in isn’t derided or challenged. In most horror stories, that kid is always challenged to go in and get the ball. It’s what establishes a place as being something terrifying. Instead, all the kids back off. They’re so terrified of that house, they won’t even dare the dorky kid to go get the ball. They fall silent, as if some unspoken knowledge exists between them all. Of course, moments later, they find the body of a baby buried right next to home plate.
He usually is to some extent, but this time around, Mulder is just a complete dick to everyone. He ignores Scully and her observations completely while tossing around a baseball. When Sheriff Taylor introduces himself by name, Mulder exclaims: “Really?” When the deputy is introduced as Barney, Mulder interjects: “Fife?” When analyzing how the brothers hunt and kill a person, Mulder literally just repeats what he saw on a nature documentary the night before. After Barney is killed, the agents try to distract the brothers by scattering their pigs. Of course, given the dire nature of the moment, Mulder makes a joke about screwing pigs. Mulder’s function in many episodes was to release just enough tension in the audience to justify cranking things up even more.
The pair is especially vulnerable to each other at points. Mulder talks about his childhood. Scully gets depressed when she sees a murdered baby, and for the first time on the show opens up to Mulder about her thoughts of one day wanting to be a mother. That mutual vulnerability makes the pair seem more exposed and more united all at once.
Later on, they protect each other. Scully is concerned when Mulder’s hotel doorknob won’t lock, and the two have each other’s back during the episode’s climactic fight.
The entire episode feels like Mulder and Scully have wandered into someone else’s horror story, as if they’re out of their depth. Before they set foot in the brothers’ home, their scenes are the only ones soaked in sunlight, as if they don’t fit with the dark underpinnings of this particular tale.
When they finally do find the woman they’ve been looking for, whom they believed the brothers had kidnapped, it turns out to be the brothers’ mother, kept under the bed with three of her limbs amputated. Nonetheless, she’s there willingly, breeding with them, and doesn’t want to leave. It’s one of the most horrific reveals in TV history.
Every single character who isn’t Mulder, Scully, or the villains suffers terribly. Combined with the amount of gore in the episode, tremendous for the 1990s, “Home” is vicious in its sense of hopelessness. Even Scully couldn’t come up with something optimistic to say to Mulder at the end. Despite the agents themselves remaining fairly aloof throughout the proceedings (as they often are), the events that unfold before them took no prisoners.
“Home” was considered so brutal that Fox banned the episode from re-airing after only one showing. Back in 1996, “The X-Files” was incredibly popular, but the Internet was still in its infancy. There was no on-demand option. If a network refused to re-air something, you’d never see it again.
Today, viewers can watch it whenever they wish; but such was the legend of “Home” that in college in 2001, when someone produced a copy of the episode on VHS, it immediately became the most sought-after thing on campus. Viewing parties would watch horrified.
“Home” isn’t necessarily the scariest “X-Files” episode on its face. Yet so much did its legend grow that no episode produced more willing horror in its viewers. Like any good piece of horror, the legend surrounding it contributes as much to its effect as the horror itself does. Even today, when the episode is available at the click of a mouse, there’s that childhood thrill of watching something you’re not supposed to. In that way, the act of watching “Home” itself becomes taboo.
Be prepared for a return to “Home.” One of the episodes in the 2016 continuation of the series is titled “Home Again.”