“2Shy” is another brilliantly-conceived and executed third season installment of the Chris Carter series The X-Files (1993 – 2002), one that considers 1990s social mores in terms of a then-new technological advance: the Internet.
Today, the term “internet predator” is a common one, and it defines a person who utilizes the world-wide web for purposes of unsavory or even illegal activities, usually involving sex.
“2Shy” imagines a literal predator of this sort: a genetic mutant, Virgil Incanto (Timothy Carhart) who talks female users of the net into unwarranted, dangerous intimacy. Then, when in close proximity with his victims, he exploits these "lonely hearts" to garner that which his biological can’t provide: fat cells. In fact, he digests their fat...
In other words -- and in the lingo of the episode itself -- Virgil Incanto is a “fat-sucking vampire.”
But perhaps more impressively than its imagination of a predator for the Internet Age, Jeffrey Vlaming’s “2Shy” imagines the nature of the hunted: the contemporary herd from which the killer selects the weakest numbers.
And indeed, it is these hunted, vulnerable characters that make this episode unforgettable. Because Incanto's prey are overweight and middle-aged women, they are not considered either attractive or desirable by society-at-large.
This fact -- in conjunction with the anonymity offered by by Internet chat-rooms and the like -- makes them the perfect victim of the 1990s. Even society’s “PC” descriptors like “big and beautiful” can't make them feel special...or loved. They are so lacking in self-confidence that they take risks to feel loved and attractive, and Incanto takes advantage of this trait.
Accordingly, the intelligent predator, a literate expert on Italian 16th century romantic poetry, uses the language of the day to enhance their vulnerability. He hides behind diffident Internet handles, like 2Shy or Timid. He is a spider spinning a web.
Meanwhile, the killer's real name -- Incanto -- means “to sing,” and the villainous predator’s song is aimed right at those who are most attuned to its deceitful melody.
Another definition for the name Incanto, deriving from the noun, is "spell," "charm" or "enchant." And truthfully, Incanto's carefully-measured words, sympathetic tone, and kind demeanor cast a spell on his would-be victims.
In Cleveland, Ohio, a serial killer selects his victims over the Internet, meeting them in a lonely heart chat room for “big and beautiful” woman.
But this is no ordinary stalker: he’s a genetic mutant who eats the fatty tissue from his victims. 2Shy, as the killer calls himself on the Internet, can’t produce adipose and other fatty materials, so he must ingest it from others to remain alive.
While Scully rejects the notion of “fat sucking vampires,” Mulder is convinced that the duo is dealing with a genetically different creature who kills not out of psychosis, but from a desperate physiological drive.
“2Shy is a sad episode in many ways, since it focuses on a group of loving, intelligent, caring women who --primarily because of their weight -- have been discarded by mainstream society. These women don’t adhere to society’s image of a "perfect" woman, and this episode gazes directly at the insensitive ways that society – largely male society -- prosecutes the values of the whole.
This notion is reflected in an important sub-plot. In particular, Scully encounters a police detective, Cross, who objects to the idea of a woman being involved in an investigation that concerns murder. For instance, he is shocked that Scully is “allowed” to conduct an official autopsy, and is capable of doing it for herself. He cloaks his prejudiced observations under the shroud of “truth.”
“I’m not being sexist here, just honest,” he declares, as if this comment is an exoneration for or vindication of his jaded point-of-view.
Judging a woman unworthy of being loved because of her weight is just the same sort of “honest” commentary that Cross also (proudly) shares with Scully. And such beliefs, overall, have destroyed the self-worth of an entire generation. The two-subplots, in this case, absolutely connect on a thematic level: Scully sees how both monsters and men can prey on the insecurities of the fairer sex in “2Shy.”
The detective can’t be bothered to temper his “honest” feelings about the proper behavior and role of women in society, while Incanto takes the opposite approach, playing the sensitive “evolved” man while using fang-less Internet handles like “Timid” and “2Shy” to lure the vulnerable to his murderous agenda. Although there are degrees of villainy here to be certain (one man is a sexist, while one is a murder), the focus of "2Shy" is on the psychological damage that women suffer when men make the rules of society for them, and they consent to live by them.
It's clear that "2Shy" is also about the way the Internet builds a false sense of "intimacy" between people. Those who talk with others on anonymous chat rooms believe they are seeing right into the soul of Virgil Incanto, unaware that he is a deceiver.
At one point in the episode, one of the victims (a woman of heart-breaking earnestness) says of Incanto -- before she has ever even cast eyes on him -- "it's not like he's some stranger."
She's been chatting with him every day for the "last few months," she assures a friend, as if this fact means that, somehow, she really knows what it is in his heart.
In the last few years we have learned about "catfishing" on the Internet, the act of pretending to be someone you are not, so as to make friends with objects, essentially, of personal desire. This is Incanto's game, and it's rather amazing (and prophetic) that The X-Files was able to chart this phenomenon in the pre-2000 age of the Internet. The X-Files universally impresses because it targets some crucial aspect of our 1990s culture, and then spins a horror story out of that cultural point of interest. "2Shy" is a brilliant case in point, utilizing then prominent-fears about the rise of Internet predators to tell a story about...loneliness, and desire.
I don't always discuss guest performances during these retrospectives, but I must make note here of Timothy Carhart's Incanto, and Catherine Paolone's Ellen Kaminsky.
In the case of the former actor, Carhart plays a man who is dead behind-the-eyes, as if he realizes fully that he can never achieve intimacy with another person... only achieve biological sustenance from them. There is no joy, no love, no humanity left in this man. Incanto's biological needs have made him, psychologically, into a monster. Accordingly, I find him the most disturbing X-Files "monster" since Donnie Pfister in "Irresistible."
Oppositely, Paolone's Ellen is the walking-wounded. She's been hurt before, and thus finds it difficult to trust anyone. Yet she wants more than anything to trust someone. It is nearly a tragedy that Ellen should hook-up with the predatory Incanto. Her desire to be loved -- a desire all humans share -- is the very thing that nearly brings her to an untimely end, and I find her character, and her sense of longing, to be haunting. There are moments, for me, of palpable, authentic terror in "2Shy," mainly because of Paolone's sympathetic performance, and Carhart's menacing one.
Next Week: “War of the Coprophages.”