Destination: Dudley, Arkansas
While one of the fun things about watching The X-Files is meeting the MotW, some of the truly terrifying episodes involve monsters that are all too human. The human monsters in this story are benign and even gentle on the surface, which makes what they do that much more creepy.
What they do is eat people and have done so for years. Not only do they eat the strangers who have the bad luck to wander into their town, Walter Chaco keeps their heads as trophies.
Cannibalism is one of the great taboos in any society, so it is important to the story that the result of this act be appropriately awful. The fact is, however, that until the town had the bad luck of eating someone with a disease that infected everyone, cannibalism was working. They were not caught and they were all living as young and beautiful far longer than the norm.
There is a wonderful section where Mulder tells Scully that “from vampirism to Catholicism, whether literally or symbolically, the reward for eating flesh is eternal life.” This is a fascinating idea, hearkening back to the taboo that rewards. It is an idea that deserves to be explored.
Which leads me to wonder why this episode isn’t as good as it could have been. There is something banal about it; it is a procedural playing by the rules. The people in the town are not as fleshed out (tee hee) as they may have been and even Chaco’s backstory is addressed far too quickly.
I mean, here is a man who managed to convince an entire town that eating people was not only a good idea, it was almost holy. His final speech in which he appeals to the town, to their inner decency, should have been much more ironic than it is.
There are several instances of lazy writing, perhaps the result of the fact that the season was coming to an end and people were tired. Scully manages to examine a piece of brain tissue without ever opening the skull; Mulder emerges from the lake after saving the truck driver and his clothes are bone dry. The biggest problem, however, is fundamental to the story. If Chaco is keeping people’s heads, how did a brain disease end up affecting the town?
The worst of these, however, is that once again we have Scully in danger. This is a fallback position the writers use a tad too often to ramp up tension, but it ends up being more annoying than frightening. First of all, the chances that one of the two leads is going to die is nil. Second of all, why does it always have to be Scully? For a smart, strong woman, I would have liked her to get herself out of this one.
There are some truly horrific images in this episode. Paula sinking into the vat of chicken parts, the bloody river, and the townsfolk standing around the fire at the end are all images that will stick with you long after the episode ends. They help to raise the level of horror, but unfortunately, it is the horror in the people that should have been better explored.
This episode always hits home for me (tee hee, again). I live in a small town in which one of the primary employers is a chicken factory. It is a vile place, well avoided if you enjoy eating chicken.
Foxfire, also called fairy fire, is a glow caused by some sorts of fungi as they react to their environment. It is usually very dim, but it can be bright enough to dig a tunnel by. At least it was for Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.
Witches pegs are unique to the Ozarks. Carved pieces of cedar with three prongs, they are used to keep witches away from the home.
George Kerns has been diagnosed with line hypnosis. I could not find out that it is an actual affliction. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, however, is very real. It is the human equivalent of mad cow. Luckily, it is extremely rare.
Mulder: “It gave me nightmares.”
Scully: “I didn’t think anything gave you nightmares.”
Mulder: “I was young.”
Sheriff Arens: “George Kerns was passing through town ever since he got here six months ago.”
Mulder: “A fool that persists in his folly will become wise.”
Just when I think Mulder can’t be any more cool, he quotes William Blake.
Mulder: “Chickens feed on chickens?”
Ah, foreshadowing, we hardly knew ye.
Chaco: “Not many people I know are as useful as these chickens.”
Scully: “I just came up with a sick theory, Mulder.”
Mulder: “Oooh, I’m listening.”
Final Analysis: Some good and some bad make this an episode that is hard to forget visually, but could have been so much more.
ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.