The X Files Revisited: 5.10 Chinga
The X Files ran for nine seasons and two movies, charting the efforts of Agents Mulder and Scully in their search for the unexplained. And then in 2016, it returned for six new episodes, a mix of mythology and case of the week stories that brought Mulder and Scully back the FBI. From the brilliant Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster to the frantic mythology cliff-hanger in My Struggle II, it was largely viewed as a success and there are hopes that season 10 is just the first of more. In the lead up to the revival, The Digital Fix reviewed the best and most significant episodes of the first 100 episodes in the season's run, from the pilot episode all the way through to the 100th episode Unusual Suspects. Now we're going to continue that run, picking key episodes from the second half of the show - and two movies – and this time, we delve into Stephen King's entry into The X Files franchise...
Chinga should have been one of the most creepy, terrifying episodes of The X Files ever. But despite having Stephen King write the episode it ends up becoming one of the weaker standalone stories in season five, so much so that I almost skipped it in my rewatch. Afterall, there are so many strong episodes this season I already had plenty to cover in the 'revisited'. But it is Stephen King, the man who gave us The Shining and with its killer doll premise I thought it deserved one more look.
And it isn't as bad as I remember. In fact, its quite a good episode of The X Files; it just could have been so much more. The doll is suitably creepy and the daughter that clings to it like some kind of twisted symbiotic relationship is rather unnerving to watch (think the creepy twin girls in season one's excellent Eve for inspiration) and there are some rather nasty moments, starting with the supermarket full of people that start scratching their eyes out when the doll 'wants to have fun' and a butcher unwillingly taking a carving knife to his face. Naturally Scully wanders into the situation just as the terrified mother of the girl flees the scene (with the doll in tow) and finds her vacation to New England rudely interrupted.
Yes, poor Scully can't catch a break and an attempt to clear her head for a few days lands her smack back in an X Files case in all but name. In fact, this is where the episode actually shines; there are more creepy doll moments to come, but it is the weary exasperation as Scully is drawn into the investigation that is the most fun. Her calls to Mulder are frankly hilarious at times as he too finds that without an alien conspiracy of monster of the week to solve he is just as lost as her.
Scully: "No... I don't think it's witchcraft, Mulder, or sorcery. I've had a look around and I don't see any evidence of anything that warrants that kind of suspicion."
Mulder: "Well, maybe you don't know what you're looking for."
Scully: "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 signs, or any kind of the ritual tableau associated with the occult; Santeria, Voudom, Macumba or any high or low magic..."
Mulder: "Marry me."
The best moments of this season are the ones between the two agents that have become far more than just partners, if just not in the romantic sense yet. And this episode really shows just how consumed they are by their work - when we catch Mulder at home, he has nothing in his fridge but a bottle of orange juice that is long past its sell by date and spends most of his time back in the underground office, sharpening pencils and tossing them into the ceiling. Scully tries to take a break from work, wearing a welcome to Maine t shirt as if trying to prove that she can be more than an FBI agent and even succeeding in managing one bath while listening to classic music before the local sheriff coerces her into another murder case with what feels like very little arm twisting.
Apparently it was Chris Carter who wrote the scenes between Mulder and Scully, leaving King to focus on the creepy doll and her almost whimsical ability to force its victims to kill each other. He wisely doesn't go down the obvious Child's Play route and have it posessed; the strongest and most chilling element of the story is that no one knows where it was created and it can't be killed. We eventually learn that the child's dead father found it in a fish cage while out a sea and in a terrible case of parenting decided to clean it up an give it to his little girl. Not only do we have the possibility of rampant disease infecting his loved ones but he also unleashed a vicious killer and made himself the first victim.
Susannah Hoffmann plays the traumatised mother well, existing in a state of near panic as her daughter clings to her doll and demands cherries on her ice cream, popcorn late at night and be damned anyone who doesn't bow to her whims. A petulant waitress her refuses to give her another cherry unless she pays for it soon finds herself being scalped as her hair is caught in an incr cream dispenser while a batty old lady who tells everyone the mother is a witch eventually succumbs to the doll's whims and garotes herself with a broken record. Talk about the irony.
The nastiest elements of Chinga are the visions the mother sees of all the dolls victims, ending with her own bloody body; her forehead caved in with a self-inflicted hammer to to the face. The finale is frantic and creepy as Scully and the Sheriff desperately try to break into the house after the mother tries to keep the doll inside. Despite the mother trying to get at the doll with a kitchen knife she soon finds herself attacking herself in the face with the hammer. It is disturbing to watch and it is only thanks to Scull's heroics - grabbing the doll and shoving it in a microwave to burn - that the mother and daughter survive.
I think what keeps Chinga from being a great episode is that nothing really feels new. A killer doll is something audiences have seen many times before and after monsters like Tooms, the Flukeman and the Mothmen earlier this season it never feels scary enough. There is little atmosphere besides those chilling visions of the doll's victims and at times it all feels too tongue in cheek to be taken seriously. This episode should have been terrifying but it stops firmly at slightly creepy. But it certainly has its moments and some wonderful banter between Mulder and Scully and for that alone, Chinga is well worth another look...