**** If you read the first post, you can skip this preamble…and just jump down to the gif.
I’d been working on this list as one long post, but it was shaping up to be so long that I thought, there’s no way that anyone will devote the time to reading it through, so I’ve broken it down into instalments…
Warning: This series of posts is going to deal with religion, religious themes and imagery. I don’t want to upset you all, so if you ‘don’t do’ religion and have a problem with reading about religious stuff, then let’s save your time and mine and you can just skip over this. Straight up, I’m not going to get tangled up moderating negative comments and whinges about religion – so if you’re feeling the urge, just don’t.
The reason that I have always loved the X Files is primarily because of the dynamic between Mulder and Scully but also for the supernatural content, which unapologetically explored ever widening concepts and boundaries from week to week. I watched the series on network television religiously when it was fresh and new. It was something my mother and I did together every week. I’ll always love this show, like a handful of others, for that reason alone. As I’ve gotten older though, and come back to the X Files, I am surprised about how it has spoken to me as an adult, often for the way it depicts religious themes, thought and discovery. I’m one of those folks that enjoys the spiritual and the idea of ‘belief’ being a lifelong journey. Like Mulder, I want to Believe, no matter how long it takes and I’m open to a range of different ideas and endless possibilities. I’m also one of those people that has no issue with faith and science sharing in my belief structure, in fact I believe the two, rather than being the mutually exclusive, probably have a far greater connection than the human mind can rationalise. Who says we need to know the secrets of the universe? Isn’t it far more fun to ponder them? The X Files did that – for 9 seasons and two films. It never attempted to answer many of the questions it asked, and you know, I was okay with that. I am, of course, tickled by the news that a reboot is in the works, which is what prompted me to write this post in the first place. Before we get acquainted with the new Mulder and Scully though, let’s revisit the Mulder and Scully we first fell in love with all those years ago…
So here we are – the penultimate episode in this epic countdown…
(I’ll be starting at 10 and counting down to 1. Honourable mentions/ runners up will come at the end)
Fresh Bones (season two, episode fifteen)… I like to think of this as ‘the episode with the voodoo,’ and if ever there was a television series to which Haitian Voodoo as urban legend lends itself, it’s the X Files. First and foremost, I just want to clarify that I’m not writing this blind. Within my undergraduate and post graduate studies, I’ve done a lot of research on Haitian and New Orleans Voodoo and also New Orleans Hoodoo. I’ve been to New Orleans to study it, I’ve read every book I can get my hands on about it. It’s been an ongoing interest of mine for more than a decade, so I’m not just looking at the thematic concerns of the episode and thinking ‘cool! spells and frogs and curses – this must all the true!’ I’m not claiming to be an expert or practitioner either, but I do know enough to know that it’s impossible to know everything about Hoodoo and Voodoo and that, beneath the gloss of superstition that Hollywood has manifested, Voodoo is really complex and ritualistic. It’s not really like what you will ever see on television, it’s far more serious and in actuality is a valid religion, so (unsurprisingly) it does have a lot of religious and devotional elements that people who are not really religious might not ‘get.’ These same elements are often overlooked in television and cinema in favour of the more ‘out there’ rituals, like with chickens and other animals. There’s a lot about this episode, as it related to Voodoo, that the writers do very well with. Likewise, there are a few places where they’re close but not quite on point. Regardless, this is one of my favourite episodes (obviously) and no matter how many times I see it, I still really enjoy it from start to finish. Season Two was one of the strongest seasons in the entire series of the X Files. Really, by the back end, which is where we find this episode placed, they were just going to strength to strength. It is a tough season to pick favourite episodes from, so here are some of the reasons why I’ve picked this one.
Character development: All the characters in this episode, no matter how minor, are all superbly developed. From Pierre Bauvais to Chester – even the fellow in the cemetery with the dog – everyone gets a bit of a back story and every character has an important role to play in the progression and conclusion of the story. I imagine that, writing a 45 minute television serial, it is often difficult to really introduce and develop a secondary character while at the same time establishing a stand alone plot and devoting enough time to the primary cast. Here though, the writer (Howard Gordon) has done it amazingly well. From start to finish there are all the elements that give vintage X Files episodes their reputation as being genuinely scary. You’ve got nightmares, special effects, spooky symbols, murders, ghosts, car crashes, spells, dark music, strange languages, hex bags, cute but creepy kids, religious rituals, villains and heroes masquerading as villains… and a few unfortunate bystanders that don’t make it… in short, it’s all excellent… some might even say, spellbinding.
General spookiness: You can’t go past some good old hoodoo curse work when you’re looking for a genuine and quick scare. I love the scene with Mulder, Scully and Private Dunham where he recounts the story of the girl with the snakes in her belly. This is a familiar theme in hoodoo and, although it’s hardly the first time it’s been heard in movies or on television, it still seems fresh here – enough to give you a slight shiver down the spine. That Dunham is a New Orleans native (complete with accent) adds to the realism and the following scenes give his story an air of truth, even if you’re rolling your eyes as he is recounting his tale (like Scully). Of course the shiver down the spine might also be due to the fact that you’re so invested in the plot by that point that you’re just about ready to believe that someone could put a hoodoo curse on you and you’d never know it until it was too late. The zombification element is also not without its spookiness and Pierre Bauvais is an amazingly character – the strength and dignity he brings to the role is superb.
Scully: This is one of those excellent episodes where Scully, the perennial sceptic, almost gets sucked into coming around to Mulder’s side of thinking. From the initial scenes, where she is offered the hex bag (which she declines) and then gets stabbed in the palm by the rose thorns, she is in denial about the power of hoodoo. As the plot progresses though, and she starts to see a decline in her physical appearance, she really starts to wonder if this time her scepticism might be misplaced, it might even be working against her. I love that final scene where she is in the car and the wound in her hand is getting bigger and bigger until the spirit finally emerges from it (gross – but awesome) and it is only when she surrenders to her disbelief and reaches for the hex bag that Mulder has left hanging on the rear view mirror (bless him) that the curse is broken. It really frightens her silly. You don’t always see that in Scully, certainly not as much as you should or would if it was anyone else living through the life experiences she does.
The ending: I don’t want to give it away… but can you think of a worse way to go?
This is also one of these episodes where Mulder and Scully don’t really ‘solve’ what is going on. Neither one of them is proved wrong or right and, while they don’t speak it allowed, you get the impression that they’re both suitably freaked out enough to not get into a debate about whether the supernatural was really at play or whether it was something more simple. I also really like that for once Mulder doesn’t come in at the final moment and rescue everyone. He has a habit of doing that in a lot of these earlier episodes, which is all well and good, but you just don’t need to see it in EVERY episode. The use of music and symbolism (black cat, marks on the tree) are smaller elements that add to the richness of the episode overall as well. It’s just all brilliant really.
On a serious note, the sub-plot about the trials and tribulations of the Haitian refugees, their frustration and their desire to return home, is as applicable today, to any group of refugees, as it was when the episode was written and I think it does well in asking audiences to question the refugee plight from the refugee point of view. In this country in particular, refugees are all seen in a particular, often negative, light. In this story we, as an audience, see that the issues around refugees are not always as simple as our media might lead us to believe. Perhaps if we were in their situation we would feel differently about things, dare I say it, perhaps we would be frustrated and angry too. In any case, I won’t use this review as a soapbox, refugee depictions aside, it’s a great story and a great episode.
So, what could be better (in my mind) than the episode that has it all? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see… all will be revealed in the next and final instalment of my countdown.