“What if whatever killed these men entered and exited them of its own free will? I mean, something… small… with small hands living inside the victims as a stowaway of sorts?” — Dana Scully
“You know, I agree that having an open mind is important to crime solving, but this theory of yours requires an openness I’m just not comfortable with.” — John Doggett
Doggett and Scully investigate the case of an Indian mystic, known to fans as the butt genie.
Radhika: I was not a fan of “Badlaa” when it aired and I’m still not a fan of it now, even though I could handle the overall grossness a little better this time around. The X-Files has tackled all kinds of disgusting and taboo topics before, but something about this one feels like the toilet humor equivalent of the show (without the humor). I also find it more xenophobic than it needs to be, especially in the later and presumably more enlightened years of the show.
Our agents investigate when an American businessman who stopped in Washington, D.C. after leaving Mumbai, India (where he encountered a paraplegic beggar), is found dead, having bled out of his orifices. A small handprint at the scene leads Doggett to think a child could have been involved, but Scully’s not having it. Meanwhile, the audience gets to see the beggar from the teaser in disguise as a Caucasian man applying for a job as a janitor at a school. And Scully, while doing some delightful autopsy work, comes to the conclusion that there may have been a “passenger” inside the dead businessman, thanks to some weight discrepancies.
More deaths take place — the father of a boy at the aforementioned school dies in a similar fashion to the businessman, while the mother of a boy named Trevor dies after being tricked into jumping into a pool. The boys eventually come to the conclusion that the janitor is the bad guy. Toward the end, when Scully goes to the school, the beggar takes on Trevor’s appearance and Scully fires her weapon, wounding the villain who goes back to his normal form. Of course, as the episode ends, the mystical beggar is back to his old tricks, watching another American businessman at the Mumbai airport.
The X-Files has a tendency to focus on marginalized groups to tell scary stories. There are times where this is somewhat acceptable and there are times where it can be troubling. Now, I may be somewhat biased as a person of Indian descent, but here’s the thing: When the only portrayal of a particular minority group on a TV show is one that is a negative one hell-bent on highlighting the “otherness” of that group without the juxtaposition of diverse characters of that background, it can be a pretty frustrating thing to watch.
I remember perking up at the sight of the vintage black and yellow taxis in the teaser the first time I watched this episode, somewhat surprised at the setting. Then I was just disappointed. Yes, we are eventually given a theory by Scully that the mystic is seeking revenge after an American plant outside Mumbai released a fatal gas cloud responsible for his son’s death. But this is a character that solely exists to be wordlessly creepy — we don’t really learn anything of the monster’s perspective (which we at least got in episodes like “Theef,” featuring the oft-repeated hick stereotype). There is nothing to make this character interesting outside of,“Oh look, a wacky mystic who emerges from people’s butts after living inside them for a while.” Ultimately, this is a character that fans called the “butt genie” for ages after the episode aired, which is not a good thing.
I suppose I can be grateful that the businessman at the beginning of the episode is a terrible stereotype of an American — overweight, xenophobic with his “Not a moment too soon” remark about going back to the U.S., but since is the only perspective we get about an entire culture in the episode, I really am not very pleased with it at all. Similar problems can be seen in episodes like “Hell Money” or “Teliko,” but at least those episodes came earlier in the show’s run. And sadly, those episodes at least tried to be progressive in a way this episode failed to do so.
The one “positive” element of this episode is that we finally see Scully confronting the issue of losing Mulder again. There was no need for the show to beat a dead horse by having her declare how much she misses Mulder in each episode, and I’m grateful that the writers didn’t go that route. But after a couple of episodes that really tackled Scully’s emotional state, we’ve had a stretch where the pregnancy is barely addressed and Mulder may as well not exist. Here, as Scully freaks out over shooting at a child (even though it wasn’t really a child), she admits that she was just trying to do what Mulder would do — and she’s even willing to admit, that despite her bravado and what even I perceive as try-too-hard moments, she’s really no substitute for Mulder. It is this one moment of honest emotion that seems like the only shining light in an otherwise distasteful episode.
Max: I wanted to like this episode, or at least give some compelling exceptions, but after watching it again I can only really throw my hands up in the air. My recollections were that the beggar was a legitimately creepy adversary to Scully and Doggett, one of those chilling forces that lent the eighth season a continued sense of darkness and dread. I don’t remember the unfortunate “butt genie” pseudonym, but now I can’t shake that descriptor from my head, and the entire episode suffers from some of the worst kind of social marginalization in the history of The X-Files. It is telling just what a misfire “Badlaa” is when Scully is trying to relay her theory of what happened to the businessmen to her partner. When your own character is stunned by the events that have unfolded, maybe it is time to rethink things.
Indeed characterization of the MOTW is a big big thing, especially when it comes to groups that have far too often than not been a victim of “othering” by hegemonic forces. I understand where Radhika was coming from when she touched on how her Indian heritage informed her viewing of the episode. I was happy to rewatch “Kaddish,” for example, knowing how well the show pulled off an exploration of some of the more outre aspects of Jewish mysticism. That may have been the case because the writer of that episode was Jewish himself, but I don’t think that necessarily excuses John Shiban from turning in a story this bad and caricatured.
Hell, the episode opens up — charming taxis aside — with a suffocating scene of the so-called dregs of Indian society begging money from beleaguered Americans. It speaks to some of the worst stereotypes of Indians. Shiban penned some of the series highlights, but then again, he also wrote “El Mundo Gira,” which was as much of a character assassination of Mexicans as “Badlaa” is of Indians. And Radhika is right, this is the kind of material the show should’ve gotten out of its system by now.
My partner covered a lot of ground above, but as we move now into the second half of the season, I hope that we’ve moved passed this stretch of misfires and misfortunes and onto material that is worthy of being fondly discussed. Looking forward to moving the story along on both the pregnancy and abduction fronts, and a couple of terrific MOTW outings.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Deep Roy – Appearing here as the so-called butt genie, Roy has had an interesting career as an actor, stuntman and puppeteer. He has also played an Oompa Loompa in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and has also been on Eastbound & Down.
Michael Welch – A very young Michael Welch appears here as Trevor, but viewers may know him best for playing Luke Girardi on Joan of Arcadia and for his role as Mike Newton in the Twilight film series.