The X-Files – Chinga (1998)

Television Show:The X-Files
Episode:Season 5; Episode 10: Chinga
Broadcast Date: 8 February 1998
Writer/s:Stephen King and Chris Carter
Director:Kim Manners

The X-Files is a science fiction and paranormal television show that ran between 1993 and 2018, and starred the incredibly talented Gillian Anderson as Dana Skully, and the charming David Duchovny as Agent Fox Mulder. The unlikely pair were recruited by the FBI to investigate cases that were a little strange, and almost impossible to explain. Skully is the skeptic who always preferred a scientific explanation, and Mulder just wanted to believe that there were extra-terrestrials and the existence of paranormal lifeforms. They are the quintessential tv duo whose on-screen chemistry had viewers gagging for them ‘to just kiss already’. Personally I kind of love the fact that they managed to keep this going for so many seasons – as a viewer it was an act of sheer willpower not to scream at the screen every time these two did not end up together. This however is not really the point of the show – it was a mere sideshow to the overall government conspiracy narrative that was stretched throughout the shows long run.

There are a couple of reasons why I chose this particular episode to discuss. The main reason was because it was co-written by one of my favorite authors to exist, Stephen King. Discovering this fact was a bit of a fluke, and upon re-watching the episode I was struck by how pivotal this episode really is.

In season 5, Chinga takes place during a very rare moment in which Skully is on vacation. She’s visiting a little town in Maine and has rented a convertible. Mulder calls her to discuss a case and she dismisses him with an exasperated plea that she is on vacation, and he mentions some weak excuse about the statistics of decapitation and its link with people who rent convertibles. She hangs up on Mulder. She will do this on numerous occasions. In fact with the limited research I did on this particular episode it seems fans were not pleased with the limited screen time Mulder (Duchovny) received, but I kind of disagree as it feels like a refreshing take on their usual modus operandi, but more on that later. Upon entering the town she comes across a man wandering out of a grocery store with blood pouring from his eyes. In fact the whole store is full of people stumbling around with bleeding eyes. A local police officer, Jack, asks Skully for her help.

The episode’s opening scene (before we meet up with Skully and her touristy Maine T-shirt underneath her usual dark blazer) was of a mother and her daughter making their way into the same supermarket. We learn later that this is Melissa Turner and her daughter Polly. Polly is clutching a creepy old-fashioned doll. Almost immediately the audience knows this doll is no good. As they wander up and down the aisles Polly whines about wanting to leave and the doll announces in a robotic voice: “Let’s have fun!” This is clearly not fun and its certainly not fun for Melissa Turner. In a refrigerator door she sees the ghostly reflection of a man with a knife in his eye. After everyone in the store starts bleeding Melissa and Polly race from the store and we see Dave the butcher stabbing himself in the eye with one of his own knives.

At the police station Skully calls Mulder for advice, and we hear the sounds of rather passionate ‘love-making’ going on in his office. Note to the audience: Mulder is watching porn. He mutters something about watching ‘The World’s Deadliest Swarms’.

Mulder: “Like maybe you don’t know what you’re looking for…”

Skully: “Like evidence of conjury or the black arts, or shamanism, divination, Wicca, or any kind of pagan or neo-Pagan practice; charms, cards, familiars, blood-stones or hex sign or any of the ritual tableau associated with the occult, Santeria, Voudoun, Makumba or any high or low magic?”

Mulder: “Skully?”

Skully: “Yes?”

Mulder: “Marry me?”

At the station whilst looking at camera footage they notice that Melissa and her daughter are the only people in the store not affected by the spontaneous eye-bleeding phenomenon. It also comes to light that Melissa and the the butcher who stabbed himself were having an affair.

Inside Melissa Turner’s home her daughter is obsessed with listening to old records – well one record in particular – this creepy version of the Hokey Pokey song. Let it be known that this is entirely my opinion of the song. The version itself is not necessarily creepy, but in my vast experience watching horror films and reading (surprise! surprise!) Stephen King novels, listening to old nursery rhymes almost never ends well. Polly has been playing this particular record on repeat and its hard not to be both annoyed and disturbed by its constant presence. At this point we know that Polly’s doll is manipulating the little girl, and in turn Melissa is afraid and on edge. Now the audience is nervous (or at least I was….). In the height of her hysteria a local policeman, Buddy, and friend of Melissa’s gives her the keys to his cabin in the woods (yeah I know…) and urges her to skip town. When the police and Skully arrive at her house all they find are the windows nailed shut. Are they trying to keep something in or keep something out?

Skully and Officer Jack attempt to interview Jane, a local woman who used to run a daycare center that Polly once attended, and after a particular incident was closed down. They quickly have the door slammed in their face.

“New England hospitality. Heard about it my whole life. Finally got to experience it for myself”

Note to the reader: Stephen King is from New England. Maine to be exact and I’m pretty sure the majority of his novels are based in and around this part of America. In fact the author John Irving of The World According to Garp fame is also a fan of setting a lot of his work in New Hampshire.

Not long after Melissa sees crotchety old Jane dead in the rear window of her car, the old lady upon hearing the Hokey Pokey playing in her house proceeds to slit her own throat with a broken record. {I think there’s an element of irony there but I’m not sure I have the patience to unpack that}. It also turns out that Melissa also saw her husband die before he in fact did…

Skully who is still trying to relax is called to the now deceased Jane’s house, and receives another call from Mulder whose boredom back at FBI quarters has now reached epic proportions. He suggests a ‘scientific reason’ which if you know Mulder is very unlike him. At this point Skully is not convinced and instead suggest ‘extreme possibilities’ which is also not characteristic of her at all. What is interesting and significant about all of this is that I don’t remember any other episode where the two FBI agents seem to reverse their roles as believer and skeptic. Perhaps King knew exactly what he was doing when he messed around with the audience’s complacent view that nothing could alter Mulder and Skully’s iconic dynamic.

Melissa has returned to her house and is trapped inside with her daughter and that evil doll who keeps taunting her. Buddy, the policeman friend arrives at the house and no longer feels that Melissa is innocent and accuses her of being responsible for Dave’s death.

Skully makes a trip to the harbor to question a fisherman who worked with Melissa’s husband and was there the night they pulled an old doll out of a lobster trap. That night her husband had been found dead with a grappling hook through his head. He’d wanted to give the doll to his daughter (whom it turns out is autistic) and never got the chance. Mulder calls again and suggests a ‘possible virus’ and Skully seems more and more convinced that Polly’s toy is possessed.

Meanwhile back at Melissa’s house Buddy is lying dead on the kitchen floor and Melissa is hysterically standing at the stove because her daughter is demanding she make popcorn. As demanding as Polly is we know its all the doll. We know its been the doll the whole time. People are dead and after Melissa sees her own image (that is not a reflection) in her kitchen window, she intends to burn the whole house down with the doll and her daughter in it.

This is when the police and Skully race to her home and discover the barricaded door and windows. When Skully eventually gets the door to break, she finds Melissa hitting herself on the head with a hammer, another doll manipulation. Skully of course wastes no time in snatching the doll away from Polly and throwing it into a microwave and watching it burst into flames.

Back in Mulder’s office Skully is standing behind his desk and asks him where he got his iconic poster (you know the one that says: I WANT TO BELIEVE).

“I think some things are better left unexplained”

On a boat somewhere out at sea a ragged looking fisherman has just pulled a lobster trap up onto his boat, and pulls out the remains of a severely burned and blackened doll. ‘The doll’.

What makes Chinga such a great episode is not necessarily the story line which, though typically Stephen King, is not a unique idea in terms of the horror narrative. It’s still a great story but I think it’s the mixing of two very important parts of nineties culture (King and The X-Files) that make it such a delight. I mean (and don’t get me wrong- I love Mulder) but who cares that we see less of him in this episode. It’s enough that we get to watch Skully for the first time take the supernatural initiative and its enough that Mulder runs out of pencils and its enough that a doll can cause such mayhem…Even in Maine.

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