"Teso Dos Bichos"
Written by John Shiban
Directed by Kim Manners
In which Mulder and Scully are called in to investigate a suspicious death at a museum where a Native artifact has come into custody under disputed circumstances...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
The previous episode was arguably one of the best of the series, and that came on the heels of one of the most important two-episode mythology arcs of the entire run. It’s rather perplexing, then, that this episode turn out so badly. From conception to execution, it seems that everyone dropped the ball on this effort, though the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of writer John Shiban, in the eyes of the fandom.
It’s hard to place this episode into perspective. If one looks at the episode as though the idea of an animalistic spirit set loose had been the driving creative thought behind the writing, then it’s an example of taking an interesting enough concept and simply failing to do anything with it. And when watching the episode, that’s the feeling that one has.
On the other hand, it’s just as easy to believe that the writing staff held a secret contest, not unlike the long-honored fanfic tradition of the “plot element potluck challenge”. Maybe the entire writing staff was sitting around the table, late one night, hopped up on yaje. And maybe they decided that someone should write an episode that had to include, in some way: rats, overflowing toilets, killer kitty cats, and yaje. Lots and lots of yaje.
There is something of a plot to be found in this episode. It just happens to be very badly executed. The ideas aren’t entirely bad, except that they are so very generic and cliché. How many times has a cursed artifact from a Native culture been the source of deadly peril? One could argue that a cliché plot doesn’t necessarily equal a terrible episode (look at the first couple seasons of “Buffy” or many, many episodes of “Stargate: SG-1”), but it all comes down to execution.
The teaser sets the tone, beginning with an interesting enough premise, only to fall into the cliché of showing some kind of animal attacking Dr. Roosevelt, all played out in shadow. This is standard horror movie fare, and nothing particularly special. It’s at this point that the episode immediately begins to rely on the anticipated strength of Mulder and Scully’s characterization. After all, when the characters are well written, any plot can be made interesting.
It’s rather clear, however, that Mulder and Scully are not inspired by the case. Or more correctly, Duchovny and Anderson are not inspired by the script. Even the guest stats seem to understand that they drew the short end of the casting straw, contributing to an episode that would never live itself down. It’s not hard to make exposition boring, to be sure, but the first act of this episode is about as enthusiastic as Dr. Bilac.
This didn’t have to be the case. The series mythology supports the idea of a non-corporeal intelligence exerting its will on the world, through animals or otherwise, and that could have been used as a means of exploring the validity of the Secona claim and the moral lesson therein. Instead, the focus is on a “jaguar spirit”, always in shadow. And by the end of the episode, it’s abundantly clear why.
Considering the fact that Mulder is well-versed in criminal psychology and Scully is a medical doctor, it’s hard to believe that neither of them would notice that Dr. Bilac is hopped up to the gills. He couldn’t be more obviously high if he were scarfing down a bag of Munchos while droning out his answers to their questions. How Scully could believe that Bilac could even generate enough willpower to leave the house, let alone kill, is beyond reason.
It’s not long before the episode becomes a series of schlock horror scares, from creaking doors to unseen creatures grabbing people and dragging them into the shadows. Every death becomes more messy and elaborate than the one before, which is all well and good when it’s a manifesting jaguar spirit engaging in a midnight snack. Lewton’s body is torn apart to the point that intestines are flung into trees (or ripped out and dragged there, which is also unlikely).
As the episode marches on, there are the inevitable plot conveniences, like Scully immediately identifying Lewton’s intestines based on what he supposedly had for lunch. Small problem with that: the remains of food at that point in the digestive system would have been from earlier than lunch, and should have been nearly impossible to identify at that stage. But they don’t have time for a DNA test, so the writers had to think of something, right?
So after all the build-up about “jaguar spirits” and the implication that Bilac is intentionally invoking the curse to bring it about, Mulder and Scully zero in on the sewer system, where rats are crawling through overflowing toilets to get away from something. Now, up to this point, the episode has the distinction of simply being boring. There’s a total lack of energy to the entire production.
If the episode had delivered on an actual jaguar spirit of some kind, that would have been one thing. It would have resulted, perhaps, in a disappointing if relatively harmless episode. And when Mulder and Scully step into the sewers with the smallest flashlights they can find, that’s what one expects them to encounter. But what do they find themselves locked in mortal peril with?
Killer kitty cats.
Not just killer kitties, but dozens of apparently mystically controlled feral kitties that are remarkably well-groomed. Oh, and when they attack? They suddenly take on the appearance of a really fake kitty cat with a stick shoved up its ass. And you know these cats have to be mystically controlled, because there’s simply no other way to get dozens of cats to run in the same direction at the same time!
So what the writers are expecting the audience to buy, in some twisted fashion, is the idea that dozens of small cats could gain the collective strength and malevolent will to drag a human being into a sewer against their will. And that said cats could manage to spread that much blood around more than one crime scene without tearing up the bodies in the process. And not get distracted by string or shiny things in the meantime.
The whole idea is so absurd that it could only have been an inside joke gone horribly, horribly wrong. Someone must have thought that it would be a hilarious twist to have a bunch of house cats go on a killing spree. And maybe, done right, it could have been a bizarre farce, easily dismissed. By trying to play the idea seriously, the writers actually make it more insulting to the audience.
While John Shiban gets the majority of the scorn from fandom for this episode, it’s not solely his fault. He may have his name stamped on the episode for all time, but when it comes to television, few episodes are written in a vacuum. A writer is usually assigned to flesh out a story concept developed by the entire writing staff. This is done to maintain a certain level of consistency, but also to avoid problems like episodes that deal with killer kitty cats.
Darin Morgan is also the story editor, and if anyone understands the bizarre, he does. He ought to have stopped this one right out of the gate. But even he must have been partaking of the yaje. How else to explain it? One doesn’t exactly think of sanity when describing Darin Morgan, but outright lunacy is another thing entirely.
With the writing staff completely lacking in common sense for this episode, it comes down to the cast and crew to pick up the slack. Well, Duchovny and Anderson look like they want to stop and apologize to the camera several times during the episode, and when Mulder says that he “hates this”, one gets the feeling it wasn’t written in the script!
Not even Kim Manners can do much for the episode, beyond make it look as good as possible with the help of the crew. It’s nothing fancy, that’s for sure. There’s nothing that stands out as visually stimulating at any point in the episode, even when the agents explore the steam tunnels. The episode looks like a typical offering for the “X-Files”, but by the end, the audience is more likely to sigh in relief than cry for more.
MULDER: “Personally, if someone digs me up in 1000 years, I hope there’s a curse on them, too…”
SCULLY: “It look like he’d been snacking on sunflower seeds all afternoon.”
MULDER: “A man of taste…”
MULDER: “It’s more like every toilet overflowed. Now, why would that happen?”
SCULLY: “There’s only one way to find out.”
MULDER: “I hate this…”
SCULLY: “The dog ate a cat.”
VET: “I also found what appears to be bits of rat fur. I think the rat ate the poison.”
SCULLY: “The cat ate a rat.”
MULDER: “And the dog ate the cat.”
SCULLY: “So, what are we talking here, Mulder, a possessed rat? The return of Ben?”
SCULLY: “Have you been drinking yaje, Mulder?”
MULDER: “Go with it, Scully…”
Overall, this has to be one of the worst episodes of the series. In nearly every possible way, the episode fails to live up to the usual expectations. Perhaps aware of how silly the whole thing sounds, the cast and crew seem weary of it all from beginning to end. Even some of the bad ideas in the later seasons don’t fall to this level of inadequacy.
Final Rating: 1/10
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