The X-Files: The Calusari

Case: A little boy is killed by a train at an amusement park and Mulder and Scully suspect a poltergeist. Well, Mulder does.

Destination: Murray, VA

A great thing I’ve always appreciated about The X-Files being a wacky procedural is that each episode has a concise logline. Except in the case of The X-Files it sounds creepy and supernatural and insane.

Case in point: in ‘The Calusari,’ members of the Holvey family drop like flies when Michael, the dead twin of the family’s firstborn son, Charlie, continues to haunt them. No. Seriously. (Three out of the five family members are dead after all is said and done. It’s really quite grim. Even for The X-Files.)

Of course, Mulder and Scully are designed for this like no other. Well, Mulder is. And though it’s not explicit, this case that appears on Mulder’s radar through personal channels, is one that he pursues because of interest not one assigned to them by the FBI. These such cases incidentally gave the police work/procedure in the episode a pass. A good thing here considering the problem was only going to be solved with a good old-fashioned exorcism.

From time to time, The X-Files was fond of the bait and switch storytelling technique. As in here’s one possibility that looks really really plausible but really what is happening is something else that’s much less plausible because it lies in the paranormal! ‘The Calusari’ wisely relies on this formula to tell this story of a family with one foot in the ‘old world’ and the other in our modern one. (Maggie’s mother, Golda, is from Romania and hopefully that statement says everything it needs to as far as 90s TV stereotypes are concerned.) Once things start going so fully off the rails with the Holveys (the body count alone!), Golda calls in a group of Romanian holy people who are tasked to carry out the practices and rituals for the health and well-being of their community. (Esoteric ritual practices? YES PLEASE.) But this crew looks creepy at best and look to be the cause of the drama. While Scully (and a reluctant Mulder) are pursuing Munchausen by proxy as the medical reason this family is in turmoil, the Calusari keep trying to perform the aforementioned exorcism to ritualistically separate Charlie from Michael’s spirit once and for all (at the time of Michael and Charlie's birth, Michael was stillborn). Add a social worker, called in because of concern that Charlie is in harm’s way, roosters and ash that has no organic or inorganic chemical compound and there are loads of old world otherworld shenanigans.

My favorite moment is Mulder’s reaction when the Calusari recruits him to assist in the exorcism. His face screams, “YOU’VE NEVER SEEN SOMEONE MORE INTO THIS THAN ME.”

Across town, Scully bears witness to an exorcism, sort of, she’s thrown around the room. It doesn’t do much to change her approach to their future cases, but it’s something unexplainable.

Also of note, Scully spends much of the episode smoothly massaging Mulder into a ‘scientific’ explanation and for the most part manages to. (There is not nearly as much friction between these two as is normally written when they both believe two wildly different explanations.) I mean, he's not ever NOT sold on his own ideas but he goes with it more than usual. Honestly though, it totally works because it’s decidedly feminine, thank you, ‘The Calusari’ writer, Sara Charno.

Other Thoughts

Sara Charno was a staff writer during season 2 and wrote ‘Aubrey’ as well ‘The Calusari.’ But her legacy lived on, so to speak, in the episode ‘Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,’ her real-life husband, Stu Charno, plays the killer!

Also, I really liked both of her additions to season 2. She was one of a very small group of women who wrote for the show, and a part of an even smaller number of women who were staffed writers for a whole season. Anyway, both of her scripts were very well written and had a strong female point of view.

And here’s Dr. Charles Burk (Chuck!), who’s also grossly misspending someone else’s dollars (here academia not taxpayer) to pursue his own interests. It’s immediately clear why and how he and Mulder relate. Their dialogue is often some of the funniest.

Charno mined her previous life as a doctor of Eastern medicine for the script, whereas Chris Carter wanted to build a premise around someone hanging from a garage door opener. Because it’s The X-Files, they both won!

The teaser traumatized the producers because a toddler is killed at a theme park. The scene had to be worked and re-worked and re-worked again. Even by today’s standards, it’s pretty intense. Also Standards and Practices made the production team re-work the garage-hanging scene because it, too, was too gritty.

Mark Snow, The X-Files music composer, scored the hell out of this one with some of the most memorable and haunting music I can recall. In fact, when Snow’s collection ‘The Truth and The Light’ came out, it made the cut.

There was a book back in the 1990s that I wish to god I had written because it’s just so excellent. It was called Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Watching The X-Files. Lots of shows had their own version of the book or at minimum an entire blog dedicated to this idea (Star Trek, Star Wars, Xena, Doctor Who). At the moment, I cannot for the life of me find any evidence that this book existed but I swear it did and I totally read it. Anyway, thanks to ‘The Calusari,’ Munchausen by proxy totally falls under that category.

Welcome back, Karen Kosseff, LCSW. The social worker Scully saw during ‘Irresistible’ makes another appearance when she’s called in to help with the Holvey family.

Theme parks are awful. Thank you for reiterating that.


Mulder: “…the County Medical Examiner called me afterwards. He was disturbed by this case and by this photograph and I think with good reason. You see, this is a helium balloon here and the one thing I did learn in Kindergarten is when you let them go, they float up, up and away. But you see this is moving away from him, horizontally."
Scully: “Did you learn about wind in Kindergarten?”

Scully: “So you’re saying that, uh, a ghost killed Teddy Holvey?”
(a moment later)
Scully: “This information is the same reason you’ll see a newspaper photo with Jesus’ face appearing in the foliage of an elm tree. It’s the chance occurrence of light and shadow.”
Mulder: (pulling out an evidence bag with a child’s holster in it) “In order to get on those tracks, Teddy Holvey had to escape a child-proof halter that his mother had tied to the bathroom sink.”
Scully: “I’ve seen some pretty slippery two year-olds.”
Mulder: “The C.M.E. took it home and put it on his own two year-old and found it was physically impossible for the kid to reach around and free himself, so unless Teddy Holvey was the reincarnation of Houdini… and that would be an X-file in itself.” (Mulder and Chuck exchange looks. It’s pretty classic.)

Chuck: “It’s called vibuti. Holy ash. Technically, it’s known as an apport. Something that materializes out of thin air.”
Scully: “Wait a second, nothing just materializes out of thin air.”
Chuck: “You’ve read the Bible? You remember a story about Jesus creating the loaves and fishes.”
Scully: “Yeah, but that was a parable.”
Chuck: “In 1979, I witnessed a guru named Sai Baba create an entire feast out of thin air.”
Scully: “Too bad you didn’t take a picture. You could have run it through your computer and seen the entire Last Supper.”

Final Analysis: It's not my favorite but there are memorable moments, the pacing is fantastic and a female voice gives it an edge.


Jess Lynde said...

Thanks for joining the X-Files review team, Heather! And thank you very much for taking this episode off my hands. It’s not a favorite. It is such a weird blend of creepy and overly dramatic. Some of the tropes of the story are just so familiar that they come across as very cheesy. And then at other times, the episode is genuinely unsettling. Certainly that opening with Teddy getting killed by the train is disturbing, and that final sequence with the Exorcist style de-possession was fairly tense. I sort of wish they had just ended the episode with Mulder and Scully standing in the hallway shaken, exchanging glances, and then walking away. The final voice over undercut some of the impact.

The Holveys come across as terrible parents in that cold open. Leaving your two-year-old chained up outside the bathroom stall is completely unacceptable. My mouth dropped open when Mrs. Holvey did that. Just take him in there with you. Trust me, there’s room for you and a very small person in even the tightest bathroom stall, and you want your child within your reach. Anyone could have walked in, unharnessed that kid, and taken him! It didn’t have to be supernatural for that scenario to turn out very, very badly.

Other recurring guest stars this week: the creepy boy from ‘Conduit’ returns as Charlie. He’s still very creepy. And Bill Dow returns after a bit part in ‘The Jersey Devil.’ Dr. Chuck Burk is much more fun and Bill Dow like.

Heather said...
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ChrisB said...

Although this is not a favorite, it is creepy. The exorcism at the end always gives me shivers. If only all the evil within us could be gotten rid of in such a fashion…

Great review, Heather. I love all the details you provide in your Other Thoughts section. Welcome aboard (pun intended)!

M said...

Poor baby didn't even get to eat his ice cream.