The X-Files #76: Teliko

"There's a Michael Jackson joke in there somewhere, but I can't seem to find it."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: Mulder and Scully track an African melanin vampire.

REVIEW: Proposed jingle - Awkward Racist Episoooddddde! Stories dependent on ethnic folklore are always a little problematic on The X-Files, especially when they try to approximate a culture (as in some of the Native American episodes) and because they need to portray an ethnicity as superstitious and thus backward, even if it can hardly be called a superstition if it's TRUE. But Teliko is less about West African culture than it is about BLACKNESS. And therein lie the seeds of its complete and utter failure. Because fine, air spirits from Burkina Faso, hiding in drawers and killing people, that's a workable plot. That "spirit" is a melanin vampire that turns young black men into dead albinos so its skin doesn't "molt"... We're now treading choppy waters.

This is, after all, an episode where Scully argues with Mulder about whether or not a man is black because technically he's as white as a sheet. Except the casting isn't at all ambiguous. Awkward. Mulder makes the point that normally, urban black youths disappearing wouldn't be high on law enforcement's list, and as awkward as that is, he's probably right. But for some reason, police are VERY QUICK to respond to these disappearances, getting the FBI on the scene on one such vanishing maybe 12 hours after a guy didn't come home. If we were talking about murders, I'd buy it, but these are people who have simply been missing for less than 24 hours. TV cops don't even respond to such complaints until it's been, like, 48 hours. So the episode keeps swinging between racism and white guilt (for me too, just having to discuss it), right up to the end with Scully's report turning into a PSA about xenophobia that doesn't quite connect to the episode and is at once forced and confusing.

The direction tries its best to get tension out of scenes, with lots of anxious close-ups and a claustrophobic climax in building vents. Carl Lumbly is in this as a passionate immigration officer we can easily buy as the monster's misguided defender. Glad he doesn't die. The music goes for an international flavor, but it's all over the place, making me think the theme would be Japanese initially. Agent Pendrell has been appearing often, but it's been a while since he's shown his crush on Scully - fun to have it back and to see him cringe about Mulder's date joke. And there are a couple of good lines here and there, like Mulder's "Off to water the seeds of doubt". But the monster, eeech. There's just too much biological reasoning behind him modus operandi to make him believable as a spirit, and yet his folding into drain pipes and drawers remains unexplainable. But AS a biological mutation, part of a lost tribe or whatever, he's really just a less memorable version of Tooms who uses Janis thorns to immobilize victims he then drains of pigmentation.

Marita Covarrubias reappears here after her bit part in the season premiere and becomes Mulder's new informant. The new dynamic has HIM chasing HER, so either the dissident faction in the Syndicate are using a "hard to get" strategy, or it was never her plan to be his mole. He's just abusing what sympathetic feelings she displayed. And perhaps it doesn't cost her must to help him here, since this is hardly a case related to the Conspiracy. Is it exactly the kind of case she could prove her worth with, though, to better betray him later? In other words, is she in fact a dissident, or is she Mulder's "handler"?

REWATCHABILITY: Low - Wrong-headed and awkward, it'll make you queasy for all the wrong reasons. Best avoid it.


Madeley said...

When the X-Files was first on, I was red-hot burning fandom obsessed with it for the first 3 seasons. From the 4th, while I still watched and enjoyed it, it had lost some of its spark for me, and I didn't watch the last couple of seasons because apart from anything else was in University and didn't really have the time.

As a result of people bad-mouthing the last few seasons, it wasn't until the run-up to the second movie a few years ago that I ended up watching the whole thing over the course of six months or so, and I actually found myself really liking the whole thing, last seasons included. I think, as it turns out, it wasn't so much that the show lost its spark- in fact, it's one of the most consistently excellent shows to sustain its quality over almost ten years. It was more that around season 4, it wasn't quite the show that the first season suggested it would be- or, more likely, it didn't turn out to be quite the show that I expected it to become in my head. More my problem, than anything Chris Carter and team did. Hindsight, without that false expectation, really made me love it all over again. Even finding things to love about the poorly received I Want To Believe.

Regardless of the above, I do consider season 4 to be the weakest season, and I'm not surprised this was the season that tested my patience back during the original run. This episode in particular was one of the few that bored me rigid, and stands out as one that I could easily have switched off halfway through.

Siskoid said...

I'm interested to know where you would have wanted it to go/be. If you can express it without spoiling the actual show, of course.

Madeley said...

I should probably write a long post one day about it, because there's definitely a long version and a short version of my own sense of fan entitlement and how it changed my way of approaching things I like.

The shorter version: As a kid I was absolutely fascinated by UFOs and the paranormal, so the X-Files really felt tailor made for me. But what I found fascinating was the un-knowable nature of alien abductions, that sense of a mysterious universe beyond our experience, one we could barely grasp.

It's best summed up in season 1's EBE, one of my favourite episodes, in Deep Throat's story about executing an alien, who didn't seem to comprehend what was happening. It separated the conspiracy from the aliens, making them humans meddling in things they didn't understand, preserving a level of cosmic mystery.

Of course, by this season, even though I liked Colony/Endgame and the other arc episodes, it was clear that the story was simply yet another alien invasion one. It seems mean to call it banal, considering the quality of the show, but it did lose a sense of mystery when the aliens' motives were so run of the mill, and frankly, human.

Siskoid said...

Yep, I totally get where you're coming from.

On your earlier point about Season 4's weakness, I wonder how much of that was due to Chris Carter stepping away somewhat to develop Millennium?

LondonKdS said...

It's even worse than you thought, because albinos are actually very nastily persecuted in parts of Eastern Africa.

Siskoid said...

Working at a French-language university, I've met and worked with several people from Burkina Faso. The subject has never come up. As yet.


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