Tag Archives: Hell Money

El Mundo Gira 4×11: I just met a girl named Maria.


Remind anyone of their fridge?

This episode always brings back memories of El Chupacabra sightings that made the local news so often when I was in Junior High, sightings that no one outside the Latin American community seemed to take seriously. Funny, but despite its political grandstanding, this episode doesn’t take the legend seriously either.

Last time I watched “El Mundo Gira” I decided I enjoyed it. Maybe I was feeling nostalgic about the Spanish soap operas that I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. I never understood them, but you didn’t need to understand Spanish to pick up on the melodrama. Or maybe I just finally decided that the Chia Pet style fungus in this episode is more satisfying than I had originally thought.

But upon a fresh rewatch and coming off of the notable success that is “Paper Hearts” (4×8), its errors are harder to ignore.

First, and most obviously, Season 4 seems to be when the team at 1013 Productions decided that along with the great power of The X-Files’ success came the great responsibility of social commentary. We saw them try to sneak it in the back door with “Teliko” (4×4) and they’ll soon try to force it in the front in “Unrequited” (4×16). Unlike a movie where they would have a couple of hours to let the story speak for itself and therefore could allow the audience to slowly put the pieces of the message together, a 42 minute running time means that in order to make their point we get heavy-handed lines such as…

Scully: Nobody’s examined the body?
Mulder: Nobody cares, Scully. The victim and many of the witnesses are illegal immigrants, migrant farm workers.

And…

Skinner: You would think that with the resources we have we’d be able to find these men. I’m not hearing a good explanation why this hasn’t happened.
Scully: Well, sir, they have a way of being almost invisible.
Mulder: The truth is… nobody cares.

And…

Scully: Mulder, I know you don’t want to hear this but I think the only aliens in this story are not the villains. They’re the victims.

The only thing Illegal Immigrants and Little Green Men have in common is a word that ties them together by sound, no longer by connotation. Giving the Chupacabra an alien shaped head does not a parallel make, and so it’s hard to choke down what they’re trying to force feed us. On top of that, such a serious pathos undermines the pseudo-comical melodrama of a Spanish soap opera that the episode is trying to imitate, resulting in a haphazard tone a la “Syzygy” (3×13).

It’s already difficult enough to take a distinct cultural legend and translate it to an “alien” audience in a way so that it carries emotional force. That experiment is rarely effective as evidenced by episodes like “Teso Dos Bichos” (3×18) and “Hell Money” (3×19).  But combining serious political observations with the “Mexican soap opera” theme that many may find unfamiliar is a recipe for disconnect.

Conclusion:

I still enjoy this one though, despite itself. At the very least it gives us a few memorable lines. And one thing I’ve always loved about The X-Files is how it’s able to give the strange a scientific foothold. This is one of those episodes where neither Mulder nor Scully are correct but together they make a new scientific discovery.

By the end the story morphs yet again, this time into a Rashomon style fairy tale. I can’t help feeling that if they had taken that tone all the way through, it could have been more successful. But then again, “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’” (3×20) has already been done.

C

Randomness:

If this is a community of illegals, why report Maria’s death at all? Surely that would have brought the cops around long before Mulder and Scully came on the scene.

Best Quotes:

Mulder: Witnesses described a bright flash about 30 degrees off the horizon, then a hot yellow rain fell from a cloudless sky. Fortean researchers call these “liquid falls.” Black and red rains are the most common, but there have also been reported cases of blue, purple and green rains.
Scully: Purple rain?
Mulder: Yeah. Great album. Deeply flawed movie, though.

————————-

Agent Lozano: Let’s see… Okay. We have a Jose Feliciano. We have Juan Valdez. We have Cesar Chavez. We have Placido Domingo here. But I don’t see any “Eladio Buente.”

————————-

Mulder: They think he’s the Chupacabra.
Agent Lozano: That may be. But I will tell you with a tremendous degree of certainty this guy is not Erik Estrada.

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Agent Lozano: This guy is better than Erik Estrada.

————————-

Mulder: Scully, I’ve been thinking. I know that’s dangerous, but just bear with me.

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Hell Money 3×19: I’m more haunted by the size of my mortgage payment.


Boo.

I mentioned in the last episode the fact that The X-Files had nary a success with stories that relied on an ethnic/cultural myth. There will be others that fail similarly, “Teliko” (4×4) and “Alpha” (6×16) come to mind, but none is a better example than “Hell Money”. The reason is that “Hell Money” takes what would actually be a frightening premise for your typical police procedural and attempts to turn in into an X-File by clouding it in Chinese ghost stories only to present the whole thing to an audience who isn’t actually frightened by Chinese ghost stories.

There’s a cultural disconnect when it comes to the cursed remains of ancestors in “Teso Dos Bichos” (3×18) and fake money paid to ward off spirits here in “Hell Money”. Most often, someone who isn’t raised on these myths and legends has a hard time taking them seriously. So not only does the episode first have to educate and explain the significance of the myth, something that already takes away from it’s ability to frighten, but then it has to convince us why we should be scared. That’s a rather discouraging combination.

That’s all too bad because it takes away from an episode that could have worked wonderfully, just probably on a different show. This is one of the few X-Files episodes where absolutely nothing paranormal happens outside of a few anesthesia induced hallucinations. Like “Grotesque” (3×14) earlier in the season, the story is about human evil, except that in “Grotesque” evil possesses a man almost against his will while in “Hell Money” evil takes the form of men consciously preying on the desperate. I don’t have to tell you which picture of evil is more disturbing.

Which is why on a lot of levels this episode does work. Despite the overabundance of exposition there are moments that are frightening, just not in the paranormal sense. Certainly this idea of a lottery where kidneys and eyeballs are at stake is fabulous. (I can’t quite believe I just typed up that sentence.) And the corruption of authority, in this case, police corruption, is never too old a tale. Not to mention if the cruelty and callousness of the game doesn’t grab you there’s the whole burning men alive in the incinerator bit.

The Verdict:

This episode feels like a script from Law & Order was cut and pasted into an X-File with random lines about ghosts thrown in. With the possible exception of a frog crawling out of a corpse, there’s no moment where I say to myself, “This must be an X-File.” Why were Mulder and Scully called in to begin with? There was nothing supernatural/abnormal about the initial murders other than that they were gruesome serial killings so I don’t see why they would have peaked even Mulder’s interest. The ghost symbol wasn’t even known about till Mulder and Scully arrived on the scene.

It’s a good story and a scary story, it just suffers from being presented on the wrong platform and with an unnecessary excess of cultural baggage. I can’t say I don’t enjoy it more than a few other episodes this season.

I also have to give this episode credit for having one of the most horrific endings ever on The X-Files. It’s truly terrifying, more than enough to bump it up a grade.

B

The Comments:

This was writer Jeffrey Vlaming’s second and last episode on the show. His first was “2Shy” (3×6).

That a man being burned alive would be able to write anything at all, let alone anything legible, let alone that his last message would be some vague reference to Chinese lore…

Hsin’s motivations never completely make sense to me. Just from the nature of the game, it’s only a matter of time until you lose something more valuable than a spare kidney. Risk of death aside, if he loses both eyes, for instance, he could end up spending as much on his own care and rehabilitation as he needs for his daughter’s surgery. The same goes for everyone else in the game. But I don’t suppose we’re meant to ruin this whole schtick by imposing logic on it.

You can win a lot more than 2 million dollars in the Powerball and you don’t have to risk life and limb. I’m just sayin’.

I can’t let this episode pass without mentioning the appearances of a young Lucy Liu and a young B.D. Wong. Consider them mentioned.

The Questions:

Does Mulder purposefully skip days between shaves?

Detective Chao bled out all over the place when the “ghosts” kill Johnny Lo in the teaser, that’s why they had to replace the carpet. So why is it that he failed to replace the carpet padding? If you’re going to do it, do it right.

The Best Quotes:

Scully: His name was Johnny Lo. He moved here about six months ago from Canton, still in the INS application process. He was a dishwasher in Chinatown.
Mulder: How many dishes do you have to break before your boss tosses you in an oven?

——————-

Scully: So now we’re chasing ghosts?
Mulder: “Who you gonna call?” Ghosts or ancestral spirits have been central to Chinese spiritual life for centuries.
Scully: So you’re saying the ancestral spirits pushed Johnny Lo into the oven and turned on the gas?
Mulder: Well, it sure would teach him to respect his elders wouldn’t it?

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Scully: Do you know how much the human body is worth, Mulder?
Mulder: Depends on the body.