Finally, we’re here. We’ve arrived at Chris Carter’s answer to Chuckie. I say Chris Carter but I should, of course, say Chris Carter and Stephen King since the two teamed up to write this episode with Chris Carter handling the famous Mulder and Scully dialogue. I know what you’re thinking; Demonic Dolls have been done before. But they haven’t been done by The X-Files.
This is another one of those episodes that, until recently, I was blissfully unaware was disliked by many fans. All I knew was that my best friend from High School and I sure thought it was fabulous because we kept quoting it for the rest of the week after it aired, giggling like the schoolgirls we were. And when I say giggling, it may have sounded more like cackling.
Even though I now know the negativity is out there, and to each their own, I refuse to subject myself to detailed negative reviews on “Chinga” because I will not have the experience of watching it ruined for me. However, using my imagination, I’m going to try to guess at some of where this distaste comes from.
I suspect that the main source of malcontent is that some fans expected this episode to be an original Stephen King thriller, a masterstroke, a groundbreaking moment in television history when two titans, an iconic writer and an iconic television show, meet on the battlefield to dance.
I’ll be the first to say it: This is not a benchmark episode. “Chinga” isn’t even a Stephen King tale so much as it’s an X-Files episode that’s an homage to Stephen King tales. If you take it as such, you’ll be all right. If you were looking for a miniature version of Carrie or The Shining or Pet Sematary then I truly feel bad for you because your unfulfilled hopes will put a damper on this kitsch fest.
Because kitschy it is. And its kitschiness is its charm. After all, what is the thriller-horror genre if it isn’t kitschy, silly, and comfortingly predictable?
Not that I’m blaming anyone for anticipating the best, you understand. I just didn’t personally come to “Chinga” with any great expectations… well, no greater than my expectations for any other X-Files episode. When I watched this at 14 and Stephen King’s name popped up in the credits my mind went, “Cool! Stephen King!” But I didn’t really know what that meant since at 14 my Stephen King experience was limited to The Langoliers. (“Oh, Mr. Toooomey!”)
But if the story leaves something wanting, “Chinga” has enough to recommend itself on Mulder and Scully dialogue alone. One of the things I love most about “Chinga” is how it’s a reversal of roles for our two agents. What’s Mulder’s typical MO? Is it not to leave Scully hanging on the phone after he disconnects abruptly maybe after leaving her with some cryptic message? Go back in your minds to “War of the Coprophages” (3×12) for a moment and think if Scully’s character wasn’t owed an episode like this. “WotC” gave us a comical look at the way Mulder blows off Scully and “Chinga” is in a way an answer to that episode, giving Scully the telephonic upper hand for once.
Mulder’s antics while on the phone with Scully still make me laugh out loud to this day. That man has nothing going for him besides Scully. Nothing.
Not that Scully is exactly living it up without Mulder tying her down. Like in “The Jersey Devil” (1×4), all attempts by Scully to approach something akin to normalcy are eventually futile. It won’t happen. And despite her attempts to coyly play up her weekend with the mention of “Jack,” Scully is just as reluctant to admit that she can’t escape this gravitational pull, that she’s been investigating an X-File in her spare time, as Mulder is to admit that he’s bored with nothing to investigate and no Scully to investigate with.
The Sum Total:
I do love “Chinga”. I’ll say it loudly and proudly. There’s a whiff of campiness about the whole thing that saves it from the usual perils of too many clichés. And if I were to rate episodes purely based on the quality of Mulder and Scully’s banter “Chinga” could potentially take home the prize.
And even if I wouldn’t categorize it as a truly frightening X-File, it’s definitely a creepy one starting with that great opening teaser. I don’t know about you, but I find watching other people scratch their eyes out a little unsettling. Then there’s watching Miss Rapunzel nearly get scalped after getting her hair caught in the ice cream mixer. I don’t think there’s anything more quintessentially The X-Files than to take two things as mundane as a ponytail and soft serve ice cream and turn them into a match made in paranormal hell. The somewhat tongue in cheek choice to have the Hokey Pokey on repeat doesn’t hurt the atmosphere either, since I can believe in almost any kind of evil with that song in the background. It’s almost as bad as the Chicken Dance.
On a final note, who else thinks Mulder is half serious when he asks Scully to marry him? Show of hands? Because to me he has the look of a man who has just had a revelation. My Scully-Crushing theory still holds.
P.S. “Jack. Can I call you ‘Jack?’”
All I can think of when I see the actress who plays Melissa Turner, Susannah Hoffman, is the miniseries Anne of Avonlea. Anne of Green Gables – My first great love.
The wise old man who sensed the presence of evil in that doll should look familiar too. He’s the same wise old man who sensed the presence of evil in “Squeeze” (1×2) and “Tooms” (1×20) as Detective Frank Briggs.
Okay, why do we open with Scully wearing just a t-shirt when everyone who walked into the grocery store a few moments before had on heavy jackets?
I guess Scully didn’t know better in 1998 than to answer her cell phone at the gas pump.
The establishing shot of a coastal town in Maine looks suspiciously like the coastal town in Oregon used in the “Pilot” (1×79).
Speaking of the “Pilot”, I’m suddenly struck by how far the show and the characters have come. Think of Mulder and Scully’s first meeting and then look at them now, unable to properly spend a weekend apart.
Mulder: [On the phone] Yeah, well, maybe you don’t know what you’re looking for.
Scully: Like evidence of conjuring or the black arts or… shamanism, divination, Wicca or any kind of pagan or neo-pagan practice… charms, cards, familiars, blood stones or hex signs or any of the ritual tableau associated with the occult, sensory, abudan, mukamba or any kind of high or low magic…
Mulder: Marry me.
Scully: I was hoping for something a little more helpful.
Scully: [Answering phone] Scully.
Mulder: Well, hey! Uh… I thought you weren’t answering your cell phone.
Scully: Then why’d you call?
Mulder: I… uh… I had a new thought about this case you’re working on. There’s a viral infection that’s spread by simple touch…
Scully: Mulder, are there any references in occult literature to… objects that have the power to… direct human behavior?
Mulder: What… types of objects?
Scully: Um, like a doll for instance.
Mulder: You mean like Chuckie!?
Scully: Yeah, kind of like that.
Mulder: Well, yeah. The talking doll myth is well established in literature, especially in New England. The, uh, Fetish, or Juju, is believed to pass on magical powers onto its possessor. Some of the early witches were condemned for little more than proclaiming that these objects existed, the supposed witch having premonitory visions and things… Why do you ask?
Scully: I was just curious.
Mulder: You didn’t find a talking doll did you, Scully?
Scully: No, no… of course not, uh…
Mulder: I would suggest that you should check the back of the doll for a… a plastic ring with a string on it. That would be my first… [Scully hangs up] Hello?