The X-Files: Fresh Bones

Case: Two marines die under mysterious circumstances. One of them comes back.

Destination: Folkstone, North Carolina

This was one of the many episodes where The X-Files’ comments on the politics of the United States, particularly the response to Haitian refugees fleeing the political and economic chaos in their country. The lack of sympathy for the refugees and their treatment while in detention was obviously an issue. It is interesting that all the detainees wanted to return home. This wasn’t what most Haitian refugees wanted, they wanted asylum, but the US policy was to return most of those requesting entrance to the US. Still it was obvious that the “bad guys” in this case were members of the US military while, as Mulder says the Haitians were fighting back with the only thing they had - voodoo.

One of the things that marks this episode as a ‘political’ one is the return of Mr. X who lets Mulder know that the government has allowed the atrocities against the refugees happen as retribution for the deaths of three marines and that by the next day the base and everyone in it will be made, for all intents and purposes, invisible. This and the discovery of Dunham send Mulder and Scully into Wharton's office where they discover evidence of his own voodoo practices. This was a nice twist with the white guy ending up being the evil practitioner. I’m not sure how they managed to get into the office of a Colonel on a secure base but I will suspend disbelief. Bauvais rises from the dead to give Wharton his just ending. Being buried alive is one of most people’s (including me) greatest fears. It would be a very horrible way to die.

How Scully can stay a non-believer after this? Bauvais said the voodoo sign was the ‘loco-mirroir’, basically a mirror of the soul. I’m not quite sure why Scully’s would be a Haitian guy crawling out of her hand to strangle her but that bit was uber creepy and Chester’s good luck charm certainly worked to protect her. How does she explain that in terms of low doses of poison? Holding on to her skepticism might be why Scully doesn't confide in Mulder. Still Mulder and Scully show obvious concern for each other in this episode and they work seamlessly together. I know that many people want them to be romantic but I’m glad they aren’t though they are excellent partners.

I’ve always been bothered by the popular representation of vodoo which is now referred to as Vodou by its Haitian practitioners. This religion has its roots in African spirituality but has been misunderstood as mere superstition. This episode at least shows that there are good and bad practitioners (as there are in most religions) and provides a little education about what Vodou is. Wade Davis, the anthropologist mentioned in this episode is actually a Canadian who studied at Harvard. He did investigate Vodou in Haiti, and continues to work with National Geographic exploring indigenous peoples around the world. He lives in British Columbia which might explain the connection (X-files was filmed in Vancouver for the first five seasons). Unfortunately, his work has been used as fodder for horror movies rather than understanding. At least this episode tried to balance that a bit.

While I am willing to suspend disbelief there were some obvious plot holes. First, if Chester is a ghost, you think that the Haitians would react rather badly to his appearance among them. When he disappeared on the pier I would have expected Mulder to check out the boxes and shipping containers that Chester could have easily hidden in. While that was a cute cat, I don’t believe it would have been that distracting. Why would they bury Wharton in the municipal cemetery? Would the military admit that a Colonel was practicing voodoo? I’m pretty sure they would make up some story and give him a military funeral. I also would have liked to hear what happened to McAlpin. Did his confession get withdrawn? Is he really alive? How did he get out of the morgue? Finally, there are a lot of people in Folkstone, North Carolina who are into voodoo?

Bits and Pieces

Was the black jockey lawn ornament at the beginning of the episode a sign that racism was going to be a theme?

That was some creepy dog skeleton in the morgue.

The name of the dog in the cemetery was Wong. What a great name. I liked his owner as well, a self-proclaimed protector of the peace of the dead.

This week there were frogs instead of toads.

The lighting in this episode was particularly effective. There was a lot of focus on people’s eyes.

Quotes

Mulder: “John McAlpin, one of the few, the proud, but dead”.

Mulder: “You should always carry protection.”

Scully: “This is no more magic than a pair of fuzzy dice.”

Scully: “Maybe I should kiss a few and find out if one is Guttierez”

Mr. X: “In case you haven’t noticed Agent Mulder, the Statue of Liberty is on vacation.”

Bauvais: “He who does evil, evil he will see.”

An intriguing episode with only a handful of plot holes - 3 out of 4 zombie marines.

4 comments:

Heather said...

Great review!
Yes, you nailed it that the episode has a political karma feel to it like a handful per season did for the show. I gave this episode the short shrift when I saw it originally but on a recent re-watch loved it for the story, theme and scope of what it wanted to say. And yes, S2 does a number on Scully's skepticism to be sure. Funny that many of the moments we witness where Scully is experiencing something beyond explanation, Mulder doesn't which puts the onus on Scully herself... an ultimately interesting choice the writers maximized, in my opinion!

Jess Lynde said...

I had a similar reaction to Heather, in that I don't remember really liking this one back in the day, but found it fairly engaging this time through. It had some good mystery, and I kind of liked the focus on the refugee issues. Funny how time can shift your perspective.

But I think my favorite part of this one was the cavalcade of familiar guest stars. Jamil Walker Smith (Greer, Stargate: Universe) as Chester, Callum Keith Rennie (Due South, BSG, many other things) as the cemetery keeper, Daniel Benzali (Murder One) as the Colonel, Roger Cross --- again --- as a different military guy, and Peter Kelamis (Brody, SGU) as the doctor who mispronounced McAlpin as dead. Little baby Jamil Walker Smith fairly blew my mind. I saw his name in the guest cast, but for some reason, it didn’t occur to me that he would be so young until he popped up on the screen and I went “Holy crap!” That tricky time factor again. It just doesn't seem like it's been 20 years. :)

Heather said...

Callum Keith Rennie. YESSSSSS.

ChrisB said...

This episode always, always creeps me out. I have to steel myself before I watch it. I think it's because the idea of bad voodoo, not to mention being buried alive, is the stuff of my nightmares.

I do like the fact that the religion is shown as just that. It is not solely something of evil. And, the twist at the end is fantastic.