"El Mundo Gira"
Written by John Shiban
Directed by Tucker Gates
In which Mulder and Scully investigate the strange death of an illegal migrant worker, who might have been the victim of a struggle between two brothers and El Chupacabra...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
John Shiban garnered quite the reputation during his tenure on the “X-Files” writing staff. Most fans thought he was one of the worst writers in the entire series run, if not the worst overall. Episodes like this cemented that reputation, but it’s not necessarily Shiban’s fault. After all, he usually ends up writing the episodes that are cobbled together using disparate ideas rejected from other scripts. Add to that a rather bizarre mandate from Chris Carter himself, and it’s no wonder that this was one of the worst episodes of the fourth season.
Apparently Shiban was trying to find a way to incorporate migrant farm workers into a story, hoping to use the “illegal alien” metaphor in some bizarre context. The writing staff had also been trying to find an episode for a “killer fungus” concept, and Shiban found a way to mix the two together. Once the entire writing staff started adding more to it, the script was a bit of a mess. Enter Chris Carter, who once again tried to give a failed episode concept a “unifying theme”.
Carter pushed for the “Mexican soap opera” angle, right down to forcing Mark Snow to toss out his original score and replace it with the rather annoying music that ultimately wound up in the final cut. Carter also wanted to further emphasize the political angle. The final product, as a result, is a total nightmare, with layer upon layer of half-baked concepts and half-hearted political commentary.
Despite their popularity, Mexican soap operas are stereotyped by their shoddy production values and overly familiar plots. It’s always about a woman loved by two men and the trouble caused by the inevitable conflict. Granted, one could say the same thing about American soap operas, but there’s a stylistic difference that seems to set the imports apart. This episode begins with some of those clichés, right down to the two brothers vying for the love of the same woman.
The central mystery is almost impossible to understand. In the end, it seems as though the Buentes brothers have a particular resistance to some kind of chemical from outer space, which catalyzes fungal growth to the point of lethality. The idea is that the Buentes brothers, because of their resistance, can transfer the chemical to other objects and people, allowing normal fungi to proliferate.
There are several problems with this concept. The teaser itself highlights the most obvious problem. Fungus lives on just about everything. Every single person on the planet is covered with fungal spores and tons of bacteria. It’s the same for every living thing. It’s just a natural fact. So if this chemical enzyme (which comes out of nowhere and has no reasonable source) rains down on an entire region, that entire region would be covered in several feet of fungus within minutes. Not only would Maria and the goats be dead, but every other person, animal, and plant would be dead.
This enzyme would then naturally enter the groundwater and spread all over the place. Since it seems as though a minute amount of the enzyme is all it takes to catalyze the fungal growth, the effects would be widespread and devastating. Thousands, if not millions, would be dead within days. And that’s just the case if the chemical rain was merely an isolated incident.
Of course, that would have ended the episode rather abruptly, so that’s not how it works. Instead, the writers make it seem as though the chemical itself changed something within Eladio’s biology so that he himself produces the catalyzing enzyme. Sure, that’s not how Scully explains it at the end of the episode, but that’s how it’s treated in the story, so there’s not much to be done about it.
The entire episode is filled with the same lack of attention. When Mulder and Scully appear on the scene, Scully can barely tolerate the stench of the dead goat, and yet Mulder is snacking away on sunflower seeds. Mulder talks about Fortean events to establish that the hot yellow rain fell from the sky after what appears to be the disintegration/explosion of a meteor, and one can’t help but wonder why he can’t just say that instead of couching it in terms that make him sound insane. Surely Scully saw “The Andromeda Strain” and can get the concept without the pretentious Fortean terminology!
Almost as quickly, the political commentary begins. Mulder instantly links illegal immigration to migrant farm workers, as if there’s little or no distinction to be made. In terms of the writers’ message, there’s really no room for details. It’s true that many of the migrant farm workers are illegally in the United States, but there are also a lot of legal immigrants just trying to make a living. That’s inconvenient to the politics, of course, so the issue is framed in the “Hell Money” fashion: immigrant populations are rendered invisible by Anglo society.
For an episode devoted in spirit to making the plight of the “invisible” known, the writers seem to do everything to portray the migrant workers in stereotypes. All of them are afraid of INS. Many of them believe in cultural superstitions, exaggerated to the point of seeming absurd. The writers barely touch on one of the more obvious character opportunities by failing to draw a comparison between the belief in El Chupacabra and Mulder’s belief in aliens.
But the worst offense is the depiction of the migrant workers as characters in a Mexican soap opera. Just as American soap operas are hardly representative of true American relationships (or one would desperately hope so), Mexican soap operas are a massive exaggeration of Latino cultural mores. For all that the “macho” culture is alive and well, that doesn’t mean that every Latino male talks like he memorized the dialogue from every program on Telemundo.
It would be like assuming that romance in India follows the same logic as Bollywood films. Yes, those films are a reflection of cultural mores and ideals, but unless it’s kept very quiet, most relationships in India don’t involve musical numbers, magic fruit, and beating the crap out of the besotted male. Similarly, Chinese people don’t worry about being attacked by kung-fu demons when courting their beloved. Why, then, would Mexican migrant workers act like characters out of a Mexican soap opera?
Ruben Blades is typically a strong character actor, when given a role with meat to it. This is not such a role. INS Agent Lozano is merely a tool for the writers to use for exposition, to drive home the idea that the migrant workers are so marginalized that they have to concoct bizarre stories to give their world meaning. Once again, this idea could have been used to reflect more on Mulder’s character.
Like the majority of the less effective episodes of the series, the agents themselves do little to actually resolve the situation. Scully figures out the science behind the fungal outbreaks, and Mulder gets to have his paranormal theories, but in the end, they don’t drive the investigation. Lozano does more to track down Eladio than anyone. Despite the need to stop Eladio from spreading the enzyme around, the story becomes more and more rooted in the “Mexican soap opera” elements.
As if tossing all of those elements together wasn’t enough of a mistake, the episode lacks resolution. Three completely different endings are provided, all of which seem to reflect different points of view. None of them are satisfying. As if to cover up this utter lack of resolution, the writers try to end the episode with moralizing. It’s not that the writers screwed up; it’s that nobody cares about two deadly migrant workers, even if they might kill thousands of people in their wandering.
It would be easy to overlook the fact that the writers were trying for something different. Shiban clearly wanted to delve into social commentary, and that’s not entirely out of place. But it also seems that Carter understood that the fourth season had been much more serious than the third season, which had been dominated by rather successful attempts at self-parody. If that’s the case, then the two desires were mutually exclusive, and the result was the mess that made it on screen.
But it’s also possible that the more light-hearted approach, however unsuccessful, was meant to give Mulder and Scully a moment of relative calm before the proverbial storm. The rest of the season would be dominated by Scully’s illness and Mulder’s concurrent erosion of faith. The beginning of the season was all about getting Mulder and Scully comfortable with each other again, and to show how Mulder had come to rely on Scully for professional and emotional support.
It’s no surprise, then, that the best moments in the episode are between Mulder and Scully. Mulder is more open with her than he’s ever been, right down to being goofy when the chance arises. Scully, for her part, shows an enormous patience for Mulder’s propensity to run off on flights of fancy while she labors on the scientific angle. What’s important, however, is the mutual trust involved. Mulder trusts Scully to accept him, and Scully trusts Mulder to keep coming back. That’s the very thing that would be threatened during the rest of the season.
SCULLY: “Purple rain?”
MULDER: “Yeah. Great album. Deeply flawed movie, though…”
MULDER: “They think he’s El Chupacabra.”
LOZANO: “That may be, but I will tell you with a tremendous degree of certainty, this guy is not Erik Estrada…”
LOZANO: “This guy’s better than Erik Estada!”
SCULLY: “Did he tell you what happened?”
MULDER: “Flash of light, yellow rain…Maria! Maria!”
LOZANO: “So, you’ve got your own stories, too…”
SKINNER: “Frankly, I’m confused by this story.”
MULDER: “I don’t blame you.”
Overall, this episode is a disastrous combination of political commentary and stereotypical “Mexican soap opera” caricatures. Mulder and Scully have nothing to do with the resolution of the episode, and in fact, the writers fail to provide that resolution. There are some good character moments, but they are too far and few between.
Final Rating: 2/10
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