“These people are invisible. You look at them and you don’t see them. They’re just workers – cheap labor to pick crops and clean houses. To most people they are aliens in the true sense of the word.” – Conrad Lozano
Mulder and Scully head out to California’s San Joaquin Valley to investigate the strange death of an illegal immigrant, and have to contend with the superstition of El Chupacabra.
Max: “El Mundo Gira,” is not as bad as last season’s god-awful misfire “Teso Dos Bichos,” but it comes pretty damn close. Ostensibly about the pursuit of the legendary creature known as El Chupacabra, the episode is perhaps the clunkiest and most ham-fisted of the MOTWs to tackle social issues of the day, namely illegal immigrants and migrant workers from Mexico.
The deceased immigrant that brought our heroes across the country, Maria Dorantes, was a woman being pursued by two brothers, both of whom loved her and wanted her to be theirs. Her face ravaged and seemingly eaten away, it is up to Mulder and Scully to determine the cause of her unusual demise. Meanwhile, the migrant population lay the blame on El Chupacabra. Mulder, never meeting a cryptozoological theory he didn’t like, sets his sights on capturing this elusive creature.
Scully, on the other hand, determines that Maria was felled by a lethal fungal growth. Unknown to her at the time but something she would discover later, one of the brothers, Eladio is a carrier of an enzyme that promotes abnormal rapid fungal growth, and that he must be contained before more people fall victim. It wouldn’t be The X-Files without more gruesome deaths and an increase in the body count, and that is just what happens to a truck drive, a construction foreman, and a poor woman at a grocery store.
A joint FBI/INS task force head by our heroes and INS Agent Conrad Lozano are assigned to track Eladio down, who has slowly become deformed, an El Chupacabra in his own right. Eventually things come to a head when Lozano attempts to use Eladio’s brother Soledad to kill Eladio, but brotherly love triumphs in this case, leaving Lozano dead, and both brothers escaping for Mexico, still carrying the fungus.
A constant piece of iconography in this episode is the fact that to the migrant workers, El Chupacabra looks suspiciously like the little green men that Mulder has dedicated his career proving the existence of. While playing with the dual meaning of the word “alien” (in both terrestrial and extraterrestrial contexts) is somewhat clever, the episode doesn’t really do much of anything with the concept, and what could have been at the very least an interesting take on the real world legend of El Chupacabra, just turns into a superficial rote exercise. The scene where the quote that started this post came from might as well come with a ticker along the bottom of the screen that said “THIS IS THE LESSON OF THE DAY.”
While the show never was and shouldn’t necessarily be a catalyst for social change, “El Mundo Gira” has extremely flat characters who were designed to fit into standard preconceptions, and at the end of the day the entire episode did nothing to complicate or illuminate the issues at hand. This is not the last episode of the series to tackle marginal groups or social issues, but you would think that after a while the writers would look at their batting average and take a hint.
Radhika: There isn’t much I can add beyond what Max said, but I’ll also slightly echo his sentiment by declaring that this episode isn’t half as bad as some others… and it’s also not even as hateful as I once found it upon this repeat viewing. It’s heavy-handed and it’s silly — and I’m pretty sure the writers were aware it was silly, because there are portions that are clearly intentionally funny. But I think that this is an instance where the show runners tried to be clever and they tried so hard that they wound up falling flat on their faces. So this ends up being an episode that lacks the silliness found in better episodes like “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.” And sadly, like a few other episodes that tried to handle social commentary, it falls into a few unfortunate traps.Max talks about the one-dimensional aspect of the characters. Some of this is purposeful, as the episode clearly tries to emulate aspects of the telenovela — the “Maria Maria!” lines said in seriousness and again in jest certainly reflect that. The scene where the INS agent is translating Eladio’s lines was one that actually made me laugh, albeit briefly. But is it all a little borderline offensive? Just a tad. Yes, there are Hispanic actors involved and clearly they were all willing to partake in the telenovela-ness of the episode, but it would be nice if we had more than just a silly stereotype of Mexican Americans to watch on this show. On one hand, as I’ve said before, at least The X-Files kind of tried to represent minorities from time to time in an era when TV was largely just black and white. But I can wholly admit that those representations were a little too flat all too often.
Ultimately, I think what undoes “El Mundo Gira” is that it’s simply not a very good or compelling plot. The gross-out moments do catch your eye, but the mystery is piss poor, the resolution even fainter than those of the other weird cases Mulder and Scully encounter, and frankly despite some half-decent banter moments… Mulder and Scully are really useless here. All these weaknesses coupled with the melodramatic soap opera and try-too-hard cleverness doom this episode, which becomes increasingly boring to watch as the minutes tick by.