A kinky incest family. A deformed baby found dead and buried in a baseball pitch. A limbless woman who lives on a trolley beneath a bed.
If you’re an X Files fan, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about. ‘Home’, first broadcast in 1994, is widely regarded as the scariest ever episode of the iconic sci-fi TV series, which concluded in 2002 but returned for its belated 10th series in 2016 and a further 11th season last night. FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), he a believer in paranormal activity and she the sceptic meant to keep him in check, are returning for another round of alien-busting and heady sexual tension.
Yet the new series will had to go some way to outdo ‘Home’, the second episode of series four, so controversial it was banned for years and only once repeated on Fox, the network that made the landmark show. It appeared later on lesser-known channel FX, but Fox’s feelings were made clear when their sole repeat, a special airing on Halloween 1999, was advertised in TV Guide magazine as “an episode so controversial it’s been banned from television for three years”. (Nostalgia alert: imagine a TV channel taking out an ad in a magazine to advertise a repeat. Ah, the ‘90s.)
Anyway – the plot. Mulder and Scully are drafted in to investigate when local children find the aforementioned baby in a hick town called Mayberry. They ask the local sheriff (Tucker Smallwood) about the family that lives in the dilapidated house nearby and he gravely intones: “[The Peacock family] grow their own food, they raise their own pigs, they breed their own cows, raise and breed their own stock, if you get my meaning”. Three brothers live there and the agents conclude that they must have abducted and raped a woman, then disposed of the resulting baby. The truth, of course, is a whole other matter.
It turns out – spoilers coming – that the Peacock family is a deeply inbred clan of violent murderers, with one brother having fathered the other two. With whom? His own mother, who has sex with all three siblings because, like, there isn’t much to do in Mayberry. The brothers are deformed but Ma Peacock is much more disfigured, her limbless body secreted in a cart beneath a bed like a dirty magazine.
‘Home’ was the first episode of The X Files to receive a viewer discretion warning and the only one to carry a TV-MA rating, which is like an 18 certificate for American television. It’s claimed that a producer said the episode had “gone too far”, while a crew member apparently described it as “awful, even for us”. ‘Wonderful Wonderful’, a song popularised by ‘50s crooner Johnny Mathis, is played throughout but Mathis was so disturbed by the tale that he refused the rights to his version. Instead a ‘sound-alike’ cover by another singer, Kenny James, was used. The episode opens with the baby being buried, a shot that director Kim Manners called “the most awful shot of my career”.
The writers of the episode, James Wong and Glen Morgan, later worked on X Files creator Chris Carter’s other (quite lame) ’90s sci-fi show Millennium and considered writing in the Peacock clan to try and boost the disappointing ratings. They reportedly received a call from Fox: “Those characters never appear on television again”.