Drop in TV – in which I choose to watch a programme with which I have little of no experience, and try to make sense of it.
The random, newbie aspect of drop-in TV doesn’t really apply here. Primo, this is The X-Files. Everyone on Earth (and elsewhere) knows what the gist of The X-Files is. Secundo, this is a standalone episode, so story arc isn’t an issue. Three-oh, shut up.
Chinga is episode ten (10) of season five (5) of The X-Files. It’s co-written by Stephen King (King), who you may have heard of. Chinga, like a number of X-Files episodes, is very much of its time: It’s filthily 90s. At times this is to the show’s detriment, as to my 2011 eyes the 90s seems like…two decades ago. Some episodes are strong enough to hold up well, but others look hokey now. Chinga edges towards hoke.
This episode, unsurprisingly enough for a King story, is set in Maine. Either King wanted to represent his home state, or simply couldn’t write about anywhere else. The story revolves around a strange little girl and her even stranger doll. The comparisons to Child’s Play are inevitable, but at least the show has the decency to directly address this. Mulder, when told about the doll, responds “You mean like Chucky?”.
Melissa Turner is the mother of Laurie, the child in question. Looking stressed out, Melissa takes Laurie into a supermarket. Customers stop and stare. Something is up. The girl gets stressed, then boom, the doll’s eyes open. “Let’s have fun”, the doll says. And the customers do, if fun means trying to scratch your own eyes out. Maybe that’s how they do in New England. The butcher tries to hide. The doll appears to him. He kills himself. It later emerges that he was banging Melissa. That’ll learn him.
Scully, on vacation, turns up at the very same supermarket, mere minutes later. This being in the right place at the right time conceit is what I refer to as ‘geoconvenience’. It is of course regular and mostly unavoidable in fiction, but Chinga takes it really far here. I’ll probably address this at some point in the future, boring even myself.
Chinga is Scully-centric. Mulder does little more but dispense sarcastic advice from his office. Scully finds that there’s been a number of bizarre incidents involving Melissa and her child.
There’s an unnecessary scene where Mulder discusses the high fatality rates from driving in Maine. I assumed that this was a reference to King’s own incident when he was hit by a car while walking. But that happened after this episode aired. Maybe it’s a reference to his work, or King is a future-seller. If he can see the future, and that’s what he writes about, then The Stand might be real. And we’re all shafted. M-O-O-N spells pumped.
A woman with enormous glasses, whose appearance alone makes the entire episode feel aged, is convinced that there’s witchcraft involved. In the opening she scowled at Melissa before she entered the store. She’ll be dead soon, you can tell.
I’ve read little of King’s work, but a criticism I’ve heard of him is that he tries too hard to make the mundane seem horrifying. It happens here. Laurie gets angry at a waitress, the doll kicks in. We’re subjected to 30 seconds of faux-drama, as the waitress’ hair dangles in a milkshake machine, dangerously close to getting caught. Oh me oh my! Sure enough it catches and she screams. Her head bleeds as she’s pulled towards it. But it’s just a milkshake machine, so that’s probably the worst thing that can happen. Meh.
For some reason, visions of the soon to be dead are reflected in glass at various points throughout the episode. Melissa could see them, I assume everyone else could. I guess that’s just for entertainment value. We see the speccy woman from earlier. And it’s here I realise why King’s books triumph over film and TV adaptations of his work: You can let your imagination paint these images, but when they’re forced on you they just look disappointing.
At this juncture, I’m reminded that I used to find Gillian Anderson attractive. At least, I thought I did. I may have talked myself into it, as she was popular with FHM readers at the time. And at that age, I would’ve ridden a warthog if there was no one around.
The universe of The X-Files is ripe for fan fiction. And not just stories about Scully in interspecies love scenes. There’s a breadth of acceptable subject matter, and plenty of standalone episodes. No doubt there’s a fat load of unused X-Files scripts around somewhere.
Like any good fiction, you can learn sh*t from The X-Files. Mulder mentions choreia, a dancing disease. I’ve just googled it, it’s fascinating. I’d be too busy laughing to care when they died.
The differences between Americana, Stephen King, and the 90s, and Britain are obvious in this scene. To unnerve us, a piece of a song plays repeatedly plays. It’s the hokey-cokey/hokey-pokey thing. But if you’re British, that song should just remind you of crap discos and caravan parks. Thus, tension is not forthcoming.
Here I was going to make some hilarious comparison between X-Files and X-Factor. I didn’t manage it. Sorry.
With Scully becoming more and more convinced of a supernatural explanation, there’s a nice role reversal, as Mulder is being the sceptical and rational one.
No one, not even you, in your ignorance-cave, could watch this episode and not consider the repeated similarities to Child’s Play and Chucky. This, however, allows me a brief aside.
In the 90s, after Alien War finished in Glasgow, a replacement event took its place. I didn’t go, nor remember the name of it. It had a number of actors playing iconic film monsters. My friend went, and was at some point chased by Chucky. He said that was when he realised how guff and non-frightening Chucky would really be. He’s essentially a plastic midget, yet seen as deadly. You could hold him at arm’s length and kick the hell out of him. Okay, him having a knife might present a problem, but from a practical point of view, I’d take my chances with him over, say, Freddy or Maggie Thatcher.
Someone mentions New England having a history of witchcraft and strange events. I don’t know if this was a reference to the area’s history or to King himself. It’d be a bit self-involved if King wrote talk of himself into his own script. That’s the kind of thing Bill Simmons would probably do.
The doll has lost it now, it wants to kill everybody. It makes a police officer do himself in, and is now turning on Melissa. The doll stuck to one line (“I want to play”) before now, but now it’s breaking out catchphrases like they’re going out of style: “Let’s have fun”, “Don’t play with matches”, “Don’t play with knives”, “Let’s play with the hammer”. It’s as if the doll is doing a commentary on the show. I don’t even have to describe the scene. Not that I’ve managed that anyway.
The previous sentence has just made me realise that these posts would be pointless to anyone who hasn’t seen the episode. Not that anyone is reading this anyway. I’m like Garfield Minus Garfield; I’m Jon gibbering away to myself, a pile of nervousness, all alone as the world slowly dies, stuck in a pointless existence.
The best bit of this scene is Melissa being forced to hit herself with the hammer, and doing so with the claw end. I winced. And also the doll blowing out every match she lights (trying to burn the doll), and her still trying about 20 of them.
I didn’t mention earlier, cos I forgot, about the doll origin scene. Melissa has been about a bit, and her former boyfriend was a seaman (snigger). He loved Melissa and that little girl oh so much. So of course he had to die. He found the doll in the sea. Soon after it killed him. Presumably the other sailor brought it back to shore and gave it to Laurie. Damn him.
Back to the present. Scully has managed to get into the house. She convinces Laurie to give her the doll, and sticks it in the microwave. Bing, deid. This doesn’t really make sense to me, all things considered. If it was just a bit of plastic inhabited with evil, would heating it make any difference. And it’s right here that I called a twist ending.
Sure enough – we see another boat. A fisherman is pulling things out of the sea. He finds a doll mixed in with the fish. It’s eyes open. End. What sense does that make? Scully killed the thing, or at least thought that she did. So she just threw it in the sea? Wouldn’t incinerating it or something be better? Maybe she didn’t want to take her chances of having it around much, but that wasn’t very responsible. I report her to Skinner and switch the TV off.