Last we heard from writer John Shiban he gave us “The Walk” (3×7), a well-liked if not loved episode. This time around he doesn’t fare as well. Personally, John Shiban wouldn’t win me over as a solo writer until “Elegy” (4×22). When he, Frank Spotnitz and Vince Gilligan worked as a team it was usually to great results but his individual efforts aren’t among my top favorites, the glorious exception of “The Pine Bluff Variant” (5×18) not withstanding… not that I possess that much talent in a single strand of my DNA you understand.
Still, the sad truth remains that The X-Files hasn’t bombed this badly since Season 1. Even “3” (2×7) is better at least in terms of production value. By the end of the teaser the episode is already a non-starter. Not one thing about the opening is successful. The guys at 1013 had been sipping too much yajé if they thought this would work. From the second I see the mysterious shaman or whoever he is draped in red, ominously looking down from his lofty perch with his cane in hand, my eyes roll of their own accord.
This is The X-Files we’re watching so we already know the curse is real and even so, we’ve seen scarier. Before the episode even starts all chance at real tension is lost. As it continues, a cast of characters parade before us that range from annoying to boring. Not a one of them makes it all the way to “vaguely interesting.” And we need for them to be because the premise behind this episode is less then compelling and the typical “Western invasion of the sacred” politics are a bit of a turn off.
I have this theory I’ve mentioned before that The X-Files never really tackles “ethnic” myths and legends in a believable way. “Fresh Bones” (2×15) more or less succeeds but that’s only because Voodoo is already a familiar concept to the Western mind. The writer didn’t try and tie Voodoo to Hatian culture specifically so much as he created a regular mini-horror flick where explanations and motivations were rendered unnecessary. The thing is that it’s hard to make an audience care about something they don’t understand the significance of and that’s what usually happens in these “ethnic” X-Files. In case you think I’m relying on a fluke for evidence, my suspicion is about to be confirmed twice in a row. But we’ll discuss “Hell Money” (3×19) tomorrow.
Back to the plot, I had always assumed that the Jaguar spirit had stowed away on a plane or the like to finish up its revenge in North America and that the tabby cats were just its minions or something. I come to find out this rewatch that the killers are actually the stray cats; the last vestige of credibility this episode had in my mind is gone.
Even Kim Manners’ knack for directing horror episodes couldn’t save this one. Something about the Jaguar/Cat special effect is hokey, almost like something out of Season 1 except that Season 1 pulled off something similar much more successfully in “Fallen Angel” (1×9). And poor Gillian Anderson had to be stabbed at with fake cat paws on sticks to film the climax scene because of her cat allergy. It’s a metaphor for the entire episode, really.
After filming Kim Manners had shirts made up for the crew that read “Teso Dos Bichos Survivor” and “Second Salmon”, the second quote being a reference to the number of rewrites the script was subjected to; each rewrite was color coded and they made it to the color Salmon… twice. Says it all, doesn’t it?
Here’s what I think is the biggest problem: It isn’t a story worth telling in the first place. There are some funny lines and some scenes that are clearly aiming to give us an “iconic X-Files” moment. Yet it’s not enough to have the disparate elements without glue to bind them together, namely an interesting premise. The X-Files cannot live by flashlights alone.
Believe it or not, I was actually looking forward to reviewing “Teso Dos Bichos” more than “Pusher” (3×17) even because I believed that like most of the episodes I disliked previously, it would benefit from a fresh set of eyes this rewatch, that looking at from a more critical point of view would help me appreciate some of its finer points. Yeeeeaaah.
In a way though, I was right. I’ve discovered that this episode’s redeeming quality is that it’s hilarious, just not on purpose. “Teso Dos Bichos” may take itself too seriously, but don’t you as the audience make the same mistake. Mulder and Scully face off against killer sewer cats. For pete’s sake, laugh.
How did Dr. Bilac sneak yajé into the U.S.?
If the Native Indians of Ecuador are so paranoid about disturbing the rest of their dead, what are they doing working at an excavation site?
The way Dr. Bilac talks drives me nuts. I feel like scratching out my ear canals every time he comes on screen.
Everyone knows there’s something a little evil about cats.
Mulder: Personally, if someone digs me up in a thousand years, I hope there’s a curse on them, too.
Scully: So you think Bilac’s innocent? That the victim wasn’t even killed at all? That he was devoured by a mythological jaguar spirit?
Mulder: Go with it, Scully.
Scully: Label that.
Officer: As what?
Scully: Partial rat body part.
Mulder: Do we know for sure it’s Lewton?
Scully: Yeah, by what he had for lunch; corn chowder and it looks like he’d been snacking on sunflower seeds all afternoon.
Mulder: A man of taste.
Dr. Winters: When I dissected the dog’s stomach, I found an undigested fragment of intestine, which appears to be feline.
Scully: The dog ate a cat.
Dr. Winters: I also found what appears to be bits of rat fur. I think the rat ate the poison.
Scully: Cat ate a rat.
Mulder: And the dog ate the cat.
Scully: So what are we talking here, Mulder? A possessed rat? The return of Ben?