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Friday, June 8, 2012

TV Memories 14 | Donald Conrad

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I don't watch much TV. From Lost successfully masquerading as a smart show to the cancellation of Firefly, there are too many examples of how the medium has been circling the drain for me to bother engaging with it anymore. At this point, its main purpose is product placement for advertisers.Well, LOST didn't have much product placement, but Sawyer should have done some L'Oreal ads. That man had sexy hair.

The physical TV set is still important to me, but it takes six whistled notes to get me back to a time when I cared about the programming: the opening notes of Chris Carter's The X-Files. (After Mulder left, it became Magic Crap X-Files, but I like to focus on when it was really good.)Only a handful of TV shows moved me in any direction other than towards the remote, but The X-Files is forever infused into who I am. And one episode made me doubt whether I wanted to stay in my skin.

"Home" No matter how hard I try, I will never forget this episode. I sat with a blanket tucked under my nose while my eyes bulged from my face. A loud voice in the back of my head was not-so-gently telling me to turn off the TV, but I remained frozen in terror no matter how hard I tried to force myself to move.The pure horror contained in just the first few moments of this episode is enough to embarrass any Hollywood production. I will never forget its visceral impact, and now that I am a father I find it even more terrifying, twisted, and revolting.A newborn is found in a shallow grave, and the method of its discovery dares your body to not convulse in shivers. As the viewer, you know it was buried alive you were there when it was born.

The true nature of the forces at work remains hidden for most of the episode. As Mulder and Scully investigated the run-down farmhouse near the infants remains, a knot started forming in my stomach. Something was so wrong! Then, they showed an eye.

Not two eyes, just one. One very evil eye watching my favorite paranormal detectives from under the floor of the house. The agents intrusion does not sit well with the buildings occupants, and it leads to a second gut-wrenching twist in this oh-so-dark episode: the farmhouse residents get their old car running, put on some golden oldies, and drive into town to viciously murder the sheriff.

You don't directly see the violence just the terrified wife hiding under the bed, watching as her husband is beat to death with a baseball bat. The horror she experienced was shared with me.
Then, off camera, you also hear her brutal death.
I remember looking at my clock and wishing for the hour to be up. The madness had to stop.

The new deaths drove Mulder and Scully to action, and they headed to the farmhouse to find the people responsible for all three murders. They did just that, and the episode that couldn't possibly deal any more horror was quietly laughing at me.

The messed up part of this episode wasn't everything that I had just witnessed. It was what came next.
I don't know anything about rural Pennsylvania but after watching this, I knew I didn't want to visit there. The Peacocks are the family who own the farmhouse. Under the bed in the main room of the house, they find a woman with her arms cut off at the elbows and her legs cut off at the knees. Outside three males that look like deformed monsters are busy rounding up pigs as Mulder and Scully look around. As Scully looks over family photos hanging in dusty frames, you are presented with a fact. The father of two of the males outside is also their brother.

The Peacocks have been keeping it in the family for generations. This amplified the horror of everything. EVERYTHING! To make it worse, not only was the mother okay with all of this, but I had no clue if she was the sister to the three outside. My mind swirled with the implications of the reveal.

TV shows are generally careful about their depiction of gun violence. Not this episode. Two of the Peacocks end up in a physical fight with Mulder. It is a scene that had me inches from my TV screen. It wasn't lots of camera angles and flashy close ups. It was just Scully from behind as she tried to line up a shot. In the background, Mulder fought for his life. I am sure I knew that the main character of the show wouldn't die in the second episode of the new season, but there I was trying to process everything that was happening, watching Mulder get choked to death.

The gun shot was profound. There was no dramatic death moment for the Peacock boy. Just a pop, and he fell over. The survivor broke his attack on Mulder to chase Scully. This resulted in a death by his own design. They had the house booby trapped. A spiked hammer found it's way into his spine. It was unrelenting and refused to let me look away.The horror was done. All the loose ends could be tied up. Right? I needed them to be tied up. The Mother and youngest Peacock were gone. In a bid to finish in a way that could never be forgotten, they showed the Peacock's car sitting on the side of a dirt road. Mother Peacock is giving a voice over about starting the family over again, moving to a new home, going back to how it was. Then, the trunk opens. Youngest Peacock climbs out adjusting his pants. They drive off into the night.

It's over, but, it didn't matter. I had already seen it, and I couldn't undo that.

For all the things that made me want to turn off the TV and hide under my bed forever, I do realize that it is one of the best pieces of American television ever produced. It is the first time I ever felt that base-line kind of fear. Shows like "The River" tried to envoke it with sudden sounds and spooky found footage but failed to even touch a little bit of what made "Home" scary.

I spent years seeking out the thrill that the episode provided. I found it in a game called Dead Space and more recently Amnesia: The Dark Decent. After years of thinking, I can pinpoint what makes that X-Files episode amazing. It wasn't trying to be scary, horrible, or grotesque. It was made like any other X-Files episode. It's the human element that made it what it was. The way it slowly presented progressively twisted facts. It's use of camera placement to conceal the truth of what was being dealt with. Showing a living newborn being buried.

I now realize that this was not just a TV memory, but this was something that effected me on a deeper level. For all that "Home" visited on me, I do go back and watch it from time to time. Without fail I am taken back to that dark room in the basement of my parents' house, sitting in the flicker of my ancient TV as "Home" is experienced for the first time again.

Donald Conrad is an artist, writer, and blogger who writes about video games, family, and many other things. He is a devoted husband and loving father of four. You can find his hilarious and well written posts over at his website We live in the same town and rumor has it we may be staring up a podcast together, so he just might be my cohost as we talk video games, writing, books, movies, TV, and more. Stay tuned to both of our sites to find out when our first episode drops. Until then, Donald posts regularly on his site and his posts are great and you can follow him on twitter.


  1. This was so fun, thanks for asking me to do it. Your reading of it was top notch!

  2. Thanks man. It was a pleasure, thanks for writing up such a great post and contributing to my guest post series! This one turned out awesome.