Directed by Allen Coulter
The teaser to The Pest House fools you into thinking this is going to offer something cliched and derivative and that's the point because if anything The Pest House is actually about being cliched and derivative. Cleverly utilising their story to explore urban legends, Morgan and Wong, surprisingly contribute a stand alone tale that deals with violent murder and a straight forward investigation from our heroes as opposed to the mythology of the show and boasts a gothic atmosphere, copious amounts of violence and Frank and Peter still in investigative mode that we saw used very well in The Mikado. I know the mythology adds more drama to their relationship, but I love watching these two knuckle down and solve cases with a steady aim together.
I really want to say that I adore this one, that Morgan and Wong have hit a hole in one and delivered a classic, but it just falls short of it. It's all very enjoyable, with a great atmosphere, brilliant production design, grisly set pieces, and guest appearances from not one but two previous X Files guest stars, in this case Melinda McGraw (Melissa Scully) and Michael Massee (Ephesian from The Field Where I Died), but events are contrived, McGraw's character is annoyingly antagonistic, and for an episode that spends two thirds being Millennium in forensic horror procedural mode, it takes a turn towards the supernatural that could have worked on this show and its exploration of evil if it had been lying under the foundations of the story the whole time but as such feels like an X Files-esque twist shoehorned into the narrative at the last minute.
I better stop complaining because, despite all that, I'd be lying if I said The Pest House isn't enjoyable. Being a story about urban legends allows Millennium to have some fun with obvious set pieces that no matter how many times you see them can only be great fun in a horrific way. There is a gleeful energy to the hook man murder in the teaser, to the couple being murdered on a highway through to Dr Stoller being stalked from inside her car, the killer behind her seat, armed with a knife. You can argue about it being cliched, but that would be missing the point, The Pest House revels in being about the cliche, the unoriginal, the obvious. The psychiatric hospital straight from any horror movie or novel, the idiocy that any one would ever think to put these psychos under one roof and make it as informal as possible, the hero of the story, Frank Black, being casually dismissed while the body count rises. Dealing heavily with the mythology while their other writers deal with the stand alones, this is Morgan and Wong having a bit more fun away from the ongoing story arc they've created and they're clearly having fun with the set up.
Yet, it never quite gels for me. It's one thing to deliberately set out to use obvious story telling tropes and ideas, but it's sometimes a bit unclear whether or not it really is having fun with this, or if the writing is being uncharacteristically lazy of its authors. The set piece where Stoller is being stalked in her car and Frank saves her, only to let a gas station attendant buy the farm is all very suspenseful, but shows the characters of Frank and Stoller, who although antagonists for most of the episode are clearly intelligent individuals, fall foul of obvious horror movie behaviour that I usually thought this show was above and beyond and yet, one could read it as being obvious, as if Morgan and Wong have used an unoriginal method in which to kill someone off in a violent manner because it was there for taking.
Then there's the conclusion which pushes the show into an X File direction and yet given its theme of evil being consumed but unable to be managed, just about fits into Millennium. The twist that Edward is consuming the evil of his patients to rid the psychopaths he is in charge of of their sickening characteristics but in doing so becomes his patients themselves is clever, and yet like the rest of the episode is somewhat schizophrenic, I don't know if its nuts or wonderful that the twist that fuels the episode's storyline is one that can fit into both Chris Carter creations. It's as if Morgan and Wong had this idea for The X Files, but given Millennium's deeper explorations of evil, the idea at The Pest House's heart is one that Frank Black can confront also. My only issue is that there is no supernatural element for two thirds of the episode and then the final act explains it all away with something fantastic and to be honest, it's a little bit of a cheat. Like the rest of the episode, it's all good fun at the time, but it's only in deeper exploration afterwards that it starts to become problematic.
At the end of the day The Pest House is an episode that is all over the place and yet, for all it's issues, it is massively good fun. It's great to see Morgan and Wong keep the show's mythology in the background and allow Frank and Peter to be criminal investigators again (although the next two episodes will more than make up for that), whilst the guest cast does a sterling job, with special mention given to Michael Massee who is wonderful, McGraw who is wonderfully feisty, even if her character is quite annoying, and Justin Louis who does great with equal parts nice guy charm and violent psychopath. I just wish the whole thing was more focused.