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Mulder and Scully investigate a closed community called the Kindred, who appear to have the ability to switch gender.
In a dance club, a young man is picked up by a young woman for an anonymous sexual encounter. The young man retches and dies in a post-coital fit. The young woman disrobes and dresses in the man's clothes, transforming into a man in the process.
FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are called to the scene by Detective Horton, and Mulder later explains that this is one in a series of similar murders, with cause of death attributed to an overdose of incredibly powerful pheromones. There is also ambiguity in the other murders as to the sex of the killer. Evidence from the crime scene leads the duo to an Amish-type community in Massachusetts which Mulder calls The Kindred.
Mulder approaches some of the Kindred as they shop near a local store, only to be rebuffed. Scully has better luck befriending Brother Andrew, a shy member who is left tending to the group's horse, Alice. He tells her they are not meant to talk outside. Whilst shaking hands, she experiences an intense feeling of what seems like pleasure.
The pair of FBI agents head up to the remote community and, whilst lost in the woods, are surrounded by a group of the Kindred who demand they give up their weapons before they will be allowed to enter the village. Mulder and Scully are invited to a community dinner. Scully is distracted during dinner by Brother Andrew, seated beside her. A sick man at the table is denied medical attention from Scully, as it is suggested that the Kindred "take care of our own."
In another club, a man convinces a reluctant young girl to dance with him by touching her hand in a similar experience to that of Scully earlier, and a young woman does the same thing to a man named Michel.
Mulder notices the lack of children in the community and states that he recognizes some of the same faces from photographs taken in the 1930s. Curious, he and Scully return to the village under the cover of night. A droning chant can be heard across the village as a lamp lit procession of the Kindred moves to a barn. They seem to be in a trance-like state. The sick man from earlier is being carried, naked, with a mark on his forehead. Mulder sneaks into the barn to see what is in the cellar, whilst Scully is met by Brother Andrew, who claims to be able to give her information about the murderer, apparently named "Brother Martin". Scully learns that Martin found some magazines and was entranced by the trappings of the outside world, eventually fleeing the Kindred community.
In the cellar, the group can be seen bathing the body in a fat-like substance which also coats the wall of the tunnels. Mulder is nearly caught but hides in a crevice, where he discovers the sick man has been buried alive. Meanwhile, Andrew uses his power to seduce Scully, who is eventually rescued by Mulder. While attempting to leave, they are confronted by the Kindred, who rebuke them for their prying but do not stop them.
Michel is fooling around with the girl in a parked car when a patrol office breaks them up. Michel begins to wretch and watches in shock as the woman attacks and beats up the officer. When she turns around, Michel sees a man instead. This is what he tells Mulder and Scully later, when they interview him.
A credit card belonging to one of the earlier victims is used at a hotel downtown, and Mulder and Scully move in. Marty (in female form) is shown in a hotel room talking to a dead body, claiming that "the day is coming and they won't leave without me." Mulder and Scully burst in, and Marty/Martin fights off both of them before trying to escape.
In a dark alley, Scully corners Martin, but a large group of the Kindred appear and capture him. Scully is confronted by Brother Andrew, who knocks her out as the Kindred take Martin away.
The local police raid the Kindred village and find it completely abandoned, the underground tunnels blocked off entirely. Horton calls Mulder's attention to something found out in the fields. There, Mulder and Scully discover what appears to be a large crop circle.
SEMICOLON-SEPARATED LIST OF ITEMS/LOCATIONS REFERENCED IN EPISODE (BUT NOT LINKED TO IF ALREADY LINKED IN SUMMARY OR GUEST STARS SECTIONS)
- This installment's development began when the writing staff of The X-Files decided they wanted to feature "an episode with more of a sexy edge," in Co-Executive Producer Glen Morgan's words. However, the creative team struggled with devising such a plot. "It was difficult to find a story that shows sex as scary," Morgan recalled. (X-Files Confidential, p. 61)
- During the writing process, this episode went through many conceptual changes, due to both the sensitivity of its subject matter and the Fox network. (The X-Files Magazine Volume 1, Issue 14, p. 31) Some of these alterations to the plot were done by brothers Larry and Paul Barber. Though they co-produced "Eve" and "Beyond the Sea", this is the only episode of The X-Files written by them. "[They] came up with the idea of gender-shifting characters," recollected Executive Producer Chris Carter, "in a sort of Amish setting." (X-Files Confidential, p. 61) Glen Morgan remembered that, because the writing staff found it difficult to formulate a story which portrayed sex as scary, the episode's evolution "kind of veered off to, What if there are people like the Amish who are from another planet?" (X-Files Confidential, p. 62)
- This installment was written as a freelance spec script by the Barber brothers. (The X-Files Magazine Volume 1, Issue 14, p. 31) Reflected Rob Bowman, "The script I received was from outside writers who, in Chris's mind, hadn't fulfilled his wishes, whatever they were. The concept of the show was a low-tech episode where they didn't want to have any high-tech anything. They wanted mostly lantern light, and the only tech you would have would be the contrast between the city life and this very primitive farm life." (X-Files Confidential, pp. 61-62) Bowman clarified, "They didn't want any white light, they didn't want any electronics. It was going to be Amish lantern light, yellow light, fire light, anything that was non-electric." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 42)
- The teaser originally included a moment where a character's crotch started to rot away. The sequence was quickly toned down due to concerns regarding the content, with Co-Executive Producer R.W. Goodwin commenting, "If I was watching that episode with my kid, I'd turn it off." (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 133)
- Brother Martin's gender-switching ability was deliberately emphasised by the creative staff. "To really pay off the business about this person being able to change gender, we decided we'd have one shot where we would actually morph the female into the male," noted R.W. Goodwin. (X-Files Confidential, pp. 62-63)
- Three drafts of the episode's script were submitted. These were dated 29th and 30th November as well as 5th December 1993.
- Exteriors used for showing the Kindred commune were filmed on Rowlatt Historic Farm, at Campbell Valley Park, Langley. The production involved a clapboard farmhouse and weathered outbuildings. The "Lithia General Store & Feedstore" made use of Marine Grocery, at 3680 Moncton Street, Steveston. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), pp. 42 & 43)
- Director Rob Bowman made his debut on The X-Files with this episode. He noted, "It was a very bizarre story, especially for me, because it was my first episode." (X-Files Confidential, p. 62) Bowman found he was permitted a lot of free reign to shoot this installment. "At that point Chris [Carter] wasn't that specific about the show. He just said, 'Dark and creepy.' And I said, 'I'm your man!' There were sequences that he wrote that seemed to me at the time [...] like they were done stream-of-conscious. I'd say, 'Because this is so complicated I have to break this down into a series of shots that can only be cut together the way I shoot it. You can't change it. I'm going to storyboard this the way I interpret it and I hope you like it.' He said, 'Go for it.'" (The X-Files Magazine Yearbook 2002, p. 51)
- In the first scene of Act One, Mulder and Scully inspect the crime scene with Detective Horton, whose first line of dialogue is, "New York businessman calls his wife to say good night, then goes out and picks up some chippy." While filming the scene, Mitchell Kosterman knowingly made the ridiculous mistake of saying "chum chippy" instead of "some chippy." David Duchovny joshed him about the line for the rest of their time filming the scene together. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 133)
- For the scene involving a horse-drawn wagon, the production crew rented an old buckboard. The crew encountered a problem with the wagon while filming at the Marine Grocery. Location Manager Todd Pittson later cast his mind back to the incident; "Near-disaster struck when the old buckboard [...] pulled around a corner and into the main street in front of the general store, at which time – and as if on cue – a rear wheel fell off, injuring one of our wranglers, who broke his nose after being thrown into the street." (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), pp. 42 & 43)
- Rob Bowman was initially apprehensive about how he and the rest of the production team would depict the Kindred commune. This was specifically due to the purposely low-tech nature of the scenes. "I thought this could be really boring unless we find the right locations, we build the right sets," he explained. "Ultimately [...] we went for the purposeful contrast of the lantern light and then slamming into the very steel-laden [...] light environment of the discotheque and the clashing of the two worlds." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 42) Regarding the nightclub scenes, Bowman elaborated, "There was a deliberate attempt to come up with swirling lights, multicolored things, people wearing shining clothes, lots of steel and shine and some Gigerisms with very sexual connotations." Bowman concluded, "I suppose the trick that I had to pull off was to draw the greatest contrasts between the two worlds." (X-Files Confidential, p. 62)
- At Rowlatt Historic Farm, Art Director Graeme Murray asked to have the Kindred's farmhouse painted white. However, the production crew were prevented from changing the appearance, for filming purposes, of either that building or the farm's outbuildings, because the site was an historic one (circa 1893). Scenes involving the interiors of the commune used sets constructed on The X-Files' soundstages. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 42)
- Several days of torrential rain hampered filming at Rowlatt Historic Farm. The production crew found conditions were made even worse because the area's water table was dangerously high in winter months. "This meant that even the plywood boardwalks we built to keep the crew dry sank into a muddy ooze," explained Todd Pittson, "making the grips and electrics especially miserable." (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 42)
- Rob Bowman specified that much of the scenes involving Mulder and Scully infiltrating the Kindred commune were among the footage that was filmed in an impressionist way. Clarified Bowman, "I think that was a lot of the stuff of Mulder and Scully sneaking up to the barn at night, seeing the horses and the Amish people through the side of the barn, slipping in and going downstairs and all that kind of stuff." (The X-Files Magazine Yearbook 2002, p. 51)
- The Kindred tunnels had to be specially constructed for the production. Rob Bowman found filming in the tunnels particularly cramped. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 133) The cave was so small the film crew had to crawl around certain parts of it. (X-Files Confidential, p. 62) Remembering the tunnels, Bowman stated, "They were built in such a way that they weren't very friendly to the camera or any of us [....] Very, very tight space [....] It was built for midgets, and certainly not for any of the camera equipment that we had." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 42)
- Another challenging aspect of shooting in the labyrinthine network of tunnels, which had to be completely self-illuminated, was trying to light them. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 42) Rob Bowman noted, "Production-wise, it was very difficult to get enough light in the cave." (X-Files Confidential, p. 62) Though Mulder was meant to carry a lantern therein, the production staffers were aware that a lantern flame would not provide sufficient illumination for the filming, so they came up with an alternative idea. "We thought we'll give Mulder an electric lantern," remembered Bowman. Problems with this plan were that the light might be too visibly cast from an electric bulb, even though the lantern was supposed to be a low-tech one, and that it would require David Duchovny to drag a wire behind him. Measures were consequently taken to obscure the bulb. Bowman concluded, "We just turned the flame up very, very bright and we put in faster film stock and it worked OK." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 42)
- Due to the tight logistics and close quarters involved in the Kindred tunnel system, an extra day of filming was required. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 133) Explained Rob Bowman, "I had to go back with a second unit, a smaller crew, shoot for 12 hours just to finish the tunnel work [....] Ultimately it ended up being the best way to go with it." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 42) Bowman added, "I'd say that seventy-five percent of the stuff with Mulder down in the caves was shot another day with a smaller unit." (X-Files Confidential, p. 62)
- In the scene where Nicholas Lea's character of Michel witnesses Brother Martin attack a policeman, Lea suggested a crucial detail. "I said, 'Wouldn't it be great if the windows are all fogged up and I have to wipe away condensation on the window in order to see what's going on?'" recounted Lea. (The Complete X-Files: Behind the Series, the Myths and the Movies, p. 44)
- Music heard in the nightclub in this episode's teaser is an excerpt from Mark Snow's theme music for the 1992 television movie In the Line of Duty: Street War. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 133)
- An example of the artwork reminiscent of the works of H.R. Giger can be seen in this episode's teaser when, as the camera pulls away from the female half of the killer's eye to show her face, another face can be seen on the wall behind her; this design looks specifically like Giger's cover art for the 1992 computer game Dark Seed.
- In the first scene of Act One, Detective Horton mentions the time the victim entered the room with "a woman" was 10:13. This is a reference to the month and day on which Chris Carter was born – 13th October.
- The episode's setting of "Steveston" is a reference to a small community south of Vancouver, which was often used on The X-Files as a filming location. Considering the aforementioned Marine Grocery was in the real Steveston, the legend which appears in the same scene as the shop is therefore partly correct.
- Rob Bowman was proud of this outing. He admitted, "I liked 'Genderbender', though that's not everybody's favorite show." According to Bowman, reasons why he "loved" the episode were that the freedom he was allowed to film it caused him to think it was "a really fun show" and that it was the first of many he went on to direct. (The X-Files Magazine Yearbook 2002, p. 51) Additionally, Bowman particularly liked the way the episode repeatedly changes between the lantern light of the Kindred environments to the brighter discothesque scenes. "I thought it ended up being quite creepy," he commented, "very happy" with the installment. He also referred to the nightclub as a "thrilling" environment and remarked about the Kindred tunnels, "Of course they looked spectacular." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 42) He believed "the cave and the very phallic, lubricated cave walls" were an effective indication of the high importance which the Kindred gave to reproduction. (X-Files Confidential, p. 62)
- Although the fictional Kindred are similar to the actually existing Amish in several respects (as both groups dress alike, shun modern conveniences and separate themselves from mainstream society), Chris Carter was not concerned about the similarities, as the Amish do not watch television. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 133) In fact, Carter was very happy with this installment. "I think the idea is pretty good, and there are some interesting visual moments," he enthused. "Rob Bowman really rose to the occasion and showed us what he is capable of [....] A terrific episode given real style and passion by Rob." Carter also approved of the episode's conclusion, saying, "I thinks it's vague: Is it or isn't it? That ambiguity is a hallmark of some of our best episodes." (X-Files Confidential, p. 61)
- Co-Executive Producer James Wong disagreed with Chris Carter about this subject. "There were problems with the ending of the show," Wong criticized, "in that we pretty much wrapped it up relatively quickly and just threw in something [i.e. the circular burn marks in a field]. Those things always seem like a little trick. It's like we tried to play a trick on the audience to make them say, 'Ooh, what the heck was that?' But when it's not integral to the story, it lessens the impact. You don't get a sense of a cathartic moment, because we kind of blew it." (X-Files Confidential, p. 61)
- Glen Morgan was willing to entertain the possibility that the episode might have become too outlandish by its end. "Maybe we went too far," he conceded, though he then asked, "At what point do we become unbelievable?" (X-Files Confidential, p. 63)
- R.W. Goodwin was dissatisfied with the morph between the female version of Brother Martin and the male counterpart. "The two actors really looked so much alike that it didn't look like a morph," he observed. "It looked like this girl was just standing up. We were too good at casting, I think, and it zapped the energy out of the moment." (X-Files Confidential, p. 63)
- Graeme Murray was pleased with the settings used herein. "It has a nice feel to it," he said. "That kind of Amish culture is sort of alien anyway, and combining real alien on top of that was interesting." (X-Files Confidential, p. 63)
- This episode achieved a Nielsen household rating of 7.2, with an audience share of 12. This means that roughly 7.2 percent of all television-equipped households, and 12 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. It was viewed by 6.8 million households. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 248)
- This episode's ending has proven to be widely controversial. "A lot of people complained," noted Chris Carter. Glen Morgan acknowledged, "I think people have said that we overstepped the bounds on that one." (X-Files Confidential, p. 61)
- Cinefantastique (Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 42) scores this installment 3 out of 4 stars. The magazine comments, "Brent Hinkley is both shy and spooky as Andrew [....] He's an interesting character because we can't tell if he means to harm wilfully or not. The crop circle ending to 'Gender Bender' is something of a surprise, and seems initially to be a convenient plot device; make the antagonists aliens if you need a quick explanation for everything. But a rewatching reveals that the dialogue has prepared the way for the Kindred's imminent departure, and second time around, it works."
- The X-Files Magazine (The X-Files Magazine Volume 1, Issue 14, p. 31) characterized this as a "slight but effective episode."
- In his reference book Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium and The Lone Gunmen, writer Robert Shearman gave this episode 1 and a half out of 4 stars. He critiqued, "It looks great enough; Rob Bowman's directorial debut is visually striking [....] And it's interesting, too, to see an episode in which the decadent lifestyle of easy sex and loud music collides with a society which is all about restraint and denial. I love the way that the Kindred, with their religious orthodoxy, regard the errant Brother Martin as an alien – it's a clever twist on an ongoing theme, and on what we've come to expect from the series' most potent buzzword. Or almost, anyway. Because the episode then decides to reveal that the Kindred really are aliens [....] A story which begins as something different and subtle – if, to be honest, a little out of left field – finishes up instead entirely clichéd [...] [with] no resolution, no point. For an episode too which seems to prod at post-AIDS promiscuity, this is all very tame [....] The sequences in which Martin picks up his victims are about as sexy as an omelette [....] When Scully gets seduced she doesn't get turned on, she just gets sleepy. It's a fair indictment of a story which should have been too controversial to be boring – but which faithfully bores all the same."
- Chris Carter cited Rob Bowman's work on this outing as instrumental to his subsequent promotion to producer on The X-Files. (X-Files Confidential, p. 61) Following his work here, Bowman became one of the most prolific directors of the series, also directing the 1998 feature film The X-Files: Fight the Future.
Cast and CharactersEdit
- Wanting the morph between the female and male versions of Brother Martin to look as believable as possible, the creative team chose to cast the two performers in such a way that they looked highly alike. (X-Files Confidential, p. 63)
- Peter Stebbings as Marty (Male)
- Kate Twa as Marty (Female)
- Nicholas Lea as Michel
- Mitchell Kosterman as Detective Horton
- Paul Batten as Brother Wilson
- Doug Abrahams as Agent #2