The X-Files #39: Fresh Bones

"There's a big difference between nasty looks and raising the dead."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: Haitian refugees appear to be causing U.S. Marines to kill themselves using voodoo.

REVIEW: Remember when the X-Files tried to do a Native American episode? And it didn't feel authentic? Well, I don't know what's real or not about their take on Haitian voodoo, but that's probably a good thing. It FEELS authentic. There's lot of Creole, zombies as they might have been "done", strange symbols and visions, and plenty of scares. And it's full of recognizable guest-stars, some having yet to do their defining work, giving the the episode a charismatic sheen. Daniel Benzali as Col. Wharton is the real star here; he was terrific on Murder One and I can't believe he hasn't had a bigger career; strong and sinister. In tiny roles, you might recognize Callum Keith Rennie from Due South and Battlestar Galactica, and Roger Cross from 24. And of course, let's not forget the little kid who sells protection magic in the camp, Chester Bonaparte, played by Jamil Walker Smith who would become a regular on Stargate Universe!

Fresh Bones sits at a perfect crossroads between the real (the practices, the zombie drug that only makes it SEEM like a person has died, induced hallucinations, etc.) and the magical (the truth about the boy, some of the sympathetic magic on show like the stab at the earth, who "killed" Wharton?), creating a veritable world I would love for a show to explore more fully (why doesn't someone turn GURPS' Shadow War supplement into a series?). The patented X-File twist (there always is one) is that the voodoo isn't coming from the Haitian rabblerousers, but rather from the camp commander himself, a man with an axe to grind since a troublesome military intervention in Haiti. He's killing those who would speak out against his human rights abuses, or alternatively, turning them into "zombie" slaves to do his killing for him. His fate, worse than death itself, is well earned, and a great final beat.

That ending is one of several great horror bits, but the best has to be Scully's crazy hallucination, when a small stigmatizing cut on her hand seems to rip as a DIFFERENT hand comes through her skin. I don't know whether that was writer Howard Gordon or director Rob Bowman's idea, but we need to ask them what they ate just before going to bed to generate such imagery. Cereal bowls full of maggots, bloody bathtubs... This isn't an episode for the faint-hearted.

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Why does X care about this? He's been in hiding for a long time, and comes down to North Carolina to advise Mulder that the camp will be closed to all non-military personnel. Wharton is powerful in Washington, that much seems true, but why risk coming out of hiding to foil his plans? X (and from his calling card, that seems to be a Roman 10, not the mutants' favorite letter) is normally more interested in UFOs and aliens, not magic. I'm thinking he needs to prove his worth to Mulder on low-risk things like this, where he isn't contravening the Conspiracy's plans, just to build trust.

REWATCHABILITY: High - A great horror episode based on real folklore, and incidentally star-studded.

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