Rewatching 'The X-Files' Most Notorious Episode, "Home"
In my youth, I was a major X-Phile. I shipped Mulder and Scully before I knew the word for it. I listened to the show’s sort-of soundtrack while ravenously reading its unofficial guide by flashlight. Week after week, I’d sit in a dark room lit only by the television, awaiting its eerie theme with anticipation so great it threatened to burst my adolescent heart. So yeah, I saw “Home” when it premiered on October 11, 1996.
For those who weren’t forever scarred by this landmark ep, let me remind you of the particulars. When a deformed infant is found buried in a field in the small Pennsylvanian town of Home, Mulder and Scully cross paths with the Peacock family, whose chief traditions are inbreeding and keeping outsiders at bay at all costs.
“Home” was an ep that sparked a divide in the The X-Files fandom. Some thrilled over its grotesque “monster-of-the-week” plot that dealt in incest, deformity, and murder. Others felt it went too far, including congress members who reportedly used it in pro-V-chip arguments. Amid the outcry, Fox promised to never rerun the ep. Yet we’ve never forgotten it.
With a tendril of lingering terror, I still vividly remember the particularly disturbing reveal of Mama Peacock (Karin Konoval), limbless and screaming as she’s pulled out from beneath a soiled, son-seeded mattress. So, in honor of Halloween, I’m revisiting The X-Files episode that scared me most to see if it holds up.
First and foremost, I’m struck by all the things I forgot, like Sheriff Andy Taylor (Tucker Smallwood). Whose name is a none-too-sublte reference to the wholesome Andy Griffith Show and whose race may be a nod to Night of the Living Dead. A black sheriff stands out in a rural small town setting. Considering this kind-hearted community leader who doesn’t carry a gun or lock his doors is murdered by the very people he’d hoped to protect, I’m suspecting his casting was influenced by perhaps the most iconic Pennsylvania-set horror story.
Poor Sheriff Taylor laments on his back porch before bedtime how the world is changing, and he can’t stop it. Then the Peacock boys roll up in a pristine convertible, blasting Johnny Mathis’ “Wonderful, Wonderful.” The jaunty love song plays over a sequence of abject carnage as they slip into the unlocked home and beat the lawman to death inches away from his wife, mute in fear as she hides under the bed (foreshadowing!) But the brothers literally sniff her out, and she too falls prey to their animalistic violence.
It’s interesting what’s shown and not in this ep. “Home” has always stood out as one of The X-Files’ gorier outings. For instance, there’s a lingering pan shot on the blood and mud-covered, deformed baby corpse. Later, Mama Peacock’s big reveal gets a similar treatment punctuated with ghoulish close-ups of her amateurishly amputated limbs and her gnarled face. But much of the episode’s violence is obscured by shadows, just as the brothers are for most of their screentime.
Sure, there’s a glistening and viscous pool of blood when the sheriff is slaughtered. But the actual attack is hidden by night, and his wife’s death is entirely offscreen. Which is to say, this ep is not as graphic as I’d remembered/feared. However, it may be worth noting that the original broadcast might not have been so visually dark. I’ve found some Netflix streaming selections are rendered poorly, crushing contrast in dark scenes.
All the same, the eternal darkness that lives within the Peacock home—courtesy of boarded windows—immensely adds to the atmosphere of “Home.” For most of the episode, you’ll see the misshapened clan only by a flash of lightining, or a carefully lit close-up of a watery eye, twisted mouth, or pock-marked jowl. This is the stuff of great monster making, yet the script by Glen Morgan and James Wong threads in some earnest human emotion and even a comprehensible motivation.
When you hear a brother’s inhuman wail as they bury their still-breathing son/brother in the show’s cold open, your heart may well sting for his pain, even as you recognize his savagery. But once Mulder and Scully unleash the family’s pigs (with a once timely reference to Babe’s “Baa Ram Ewe” chant), the Brothers Peacock shirk their shadows and much of their scare appeal. In the harsh sunlight, their faces no longer looking like wickedly warped human mockeries, just rubbery prosthetics.
But Mama saves the day.
In her reveal, she’s just as chilling as I remember. My stomach churned as she schreeched for Mulder and Scully to “GET AWAY!” This gave way to goosebumps as Scully tried to have a heart-to-heart with her, hoping to urge Mama out of her home and away from her sons/lovers. But Mama delivers a speech about family pride, “the War of Northern Aggression,” and loyalty that’d make Norman Bates weep for joy, all before she’s carried off by her one surviving son.
The episode ends on a scene I didn’t fully comprehend at 13. The camera pushes in on the family car from behind. We don’t see anyone, but can hear Mama comforting her eldest son, promising he did right by his brother/sons, before declaring, “(We’ll) start a new family. One to be proud of. Find a new place to be ours. A new home. A brand new home.” Then the trunk opens. He crawls out, and a sick piece of the puzzle I’d missed before (or perhaps forgotten) fell into place. He was banging his Mama in the trunk. Make-up sex of a sort.
Yep. This episode is still solidly disturbing.
Bonus Fun Fact: “Home” was inspired by an anecdote from Charlie Chaplin’s vaudevillian days.
Kristy Puchko’s favorite track from “Songs In the Key of X” is Frank Black’s “Man of Steel.”
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