“Mulder, are there any references in occult literature to objects that have the power to direct human behavior?” — Dana Scully
“What types of objects?” — Fox Mulder
“Um, like a doll, for instance.” — Dana Scully
“You mean like Chucky?” — Fox Mulder
Scully can’t seem to learn her lesson and decides to go on vacation, which results in her coming across a case of a killer doll and a strange little girl.
Radhika: An episode penned by Stephen King should and could have been pretty great for The X-Files, aside from being a sign that the show was anything but small potatoes by season five. But somehow, “Chinga,” (a word with rude implications that neither King nor series creator Chris Carter were aware of) is not very good. Don’t get me wrong — it is at least creepy and rather gory, and there’s some funny dialogue. But it is also a hot mess.
Perhaps this is because while King wrote the episode, he allegedly wasn’t really used to writing for the characters amongst other things, resulting in Carter taking over parts of the script. Marrying two very different voices for a script that still felt true to the series was probably tough — and maybe not the best idea.
The teaser’s actually pretty fantastic — a harried mother rushes through a supermarket with her creepy child and her creepy doll, and when the kid starts getting whiny, the doll opens its eyes and declares, “Let’s have fun!” This results in folks in the supermarket going crazy and clawing their eyes out, while the butcher ends up using a knife on himself (fulfilling a vision the mother had of him with a knife in his eye). This is grotesque, this is in-your-face, and have I ever mentioned that I have a serious “things in eyes” phobia?
Aside from vanity causing me to use contact lenses, the thought of any type of object, especially sharp ones, going near an eye freaks me out. So congratulations, “Chinga,” your opening scene still makes me squirm big time thanks to bloody eyes, even though a talking doll should have been enough. (Disclaimer: I did have a doll that said “mama” a lot when I was a kid and apparently I loved it, but like most sane adults, I find talking dolls terrifying.)
Rest of the episode: Scully’s passing through this town in Maine, on vacation. Mulder is feeling useless back home and keeps calling her, bored. Scully comes across a bloody-eyed man after the supermarket incident. Harried mother Melissa keeps witnessing all sorts of deaths and mayhem (like an ice cream-shop employee’s hair getting caught in a machine — to which I say, I don’t think her ponytail lived up to health codes). It takes Melissa longer than I would have liked to figure out, “When my child is moody and the doll starts talking, bad things happen.” And Scully is weirdly the believer this time, getting advice about dolls from Mulder. In a final showdown that involves Melissa hitting herself in the head with a hammer and her kid looking on, slightly petrified for once, Scully just picks up the doll and nukes it in the microwave to make the madness stop. And then at the end, we get the reveal that the charred doll is still alive.
Evil kids and evil dolls are kind of stereotypical horror fare, so even though “Chinga” does freak me out at times, a stronger storyline would have made the episode a lot better. And actually, the child here is allegedly autistic, but she doesn’t seem remotely sympathetic or even interesting until maybe the end, when she seems a bit stunned by what’s happening to her mother. I would have just preferred a better portrayal here than “creepy, potentially demonic and unfeeling” — she almost feels like a useless character in the end.
But at least there’s some ridiculous dialogue between Mulder and Scully to laugh at and/or puzzle over (i.e.: Mulder claiming he’s watching “World’s Deadliest Swarms” when Scully questions the noises from the video he’s watching during a phone call. Or Mulder pretending construction workers are making a ton of noise, when he’s really just dribbling a basketball in his apartment while on the phone). I also, like many Philes, greatly enjoy the moment where we find out that Mulder has resorted to throwing pencils at his office ceiling, while bored.
Then again, this makes Mulder look like a codependent fool, so maybe none of this is a win.
Max: Max: I run very hot and cold with Stephen King. When he’s on, he has a marvelous way of injecting horror and the supernatural into particularly well drawn out characters and environments. Just look at how he took disparate individuals and hit them with biological cataclysm, turning their struggle into a battle between good and evil in The Stand. Or the epic metaphysical landscapes of The Dark Tower series. But just as often, King has a tendency to fall back on some of the worst tropes of genre storytelling. He may not sink to the hack level of someone like Dan Brown, but it can come pretty damn close.
Unfortunately for The X-Files, he went the latter route in designing the plot for “Chinga.” Evil or possessed dolls are a staple of horror yarns, in everything from Child’s Play to The Twilight Zone to Goosebumps and countless other properties. The problem lies in the fact that King does absolutely nothing original with the concept, and like Radhika notes, the episode falls flat as a result.
King was on the top of his game in 1998, his experiment in serial fiction The Green Mile was a smashing success and was fast-tracked for a film adaptation. This, coupled with The X-Files having broken into the mainstream, meant that King probably had his proverbial pick of the litter when it came to what kind of story he would bring to the program. The fact that he chose a possessed doll and then saddled it with this story is a massive disappointment. We could’ve had something truly singular, but instead we have an episode whose alternate title (due to the lascivious nature of the original) for television listings is “Bunghoney.” I mean, really people?
Thank god though for Mulder and Scully, and also for the production of the motion picture necessitating them being separated for the duration of the episode. Their exchanges on the phone are some of the funniest scenes in the history of the program, and fondly recall all the times Mulder bugged Scully to ask her questions in “War Of The Coprophages.” Here, though, the script is flipped, and like Radhika mentioned, even Scully is willing to believe in the more paranormal explanation of the bizarre events unfolding in Maine.
Tragically for her though, she never gets the vacation she deserves, drawn into (like in “Never Again“) another situation with a certain paranormal bouquet. It was an absolute joy to watch these exchanges, and I haven’t laughed this hard since all those wonderful freakout episodes in season three (especially Mulder’s deadpan marriage proposal). Everything comes back up to the surface here: Mulder’s porn obsession, his utter lack of a social life, and the tediousness of not working on a case. The pencils scene is truly the pièce de résistance, a moment of utter absurdity in an episode littered with them, and I’m sure David and Gillian had just as much fun filming it as we did watching it.
There is a common piece of received wisdom when it comes to television comedies that they get better as they age, primarily because a lot of the comedy comes from the wealth of information we know about the characters, their background, and what has happened previously on the show, and how all of that unspoken baggage informs the humor of the episode we are watching unfold. This is quite apt when talking about our beloved agents in this episode. Their banter wouldn’t be nearly as uproarious or classic had we not have had over one hundred episodes of backstory between them. I spoke of this when we reviewed “Detour,” earlier in the season, about how all this history made for a much richer story and experience.
I could continue to bemoan the fact that King didn’t come up with something better for the monster of the week, but maybe in this case (at least retrospectively) it isn’t the point, and that the real story is Mulder and Scully all along.