The reviews of episodes of The X-Files done by both Max at Apt. 42 Revisited and Darren at The M0vie Blog are almost as good as watching the episode’s themselves, each for their own reason. Darren’s reviews are well researched thesis-like essays that are a pleasure to plunge into. I have to admit that my X-Files Facebook Project isn’t going as well as anticipated, and that I am stuck in the middle of Season 2; and so, because I want to feature episodes concomitantly on this blog with the project feature on my other blog, this month’s featured The M0vie Blog X-Files review is that for the episode “The Calusari”.
The Calusari is very heavily and very clearly influenced by classic horror cinema. With its demon child and dramatic ritual sequences, the episode seems constructed as a gigantic homage to The Omen and The Exorcist, two of most iconic horror films of the seventies. On paper, this isn’t a bad idea. The show hasn’t done a straight-up quasi-exploitation horror episode since Fresh Bones, and “scary kids” worked well enough for the show in Eve.
On the other hand, the show has historically had trouble doing straight-up classic horror stories – Shadows was a misfire of a ghost story, while Shapes was a questionable werewolf tale and 3 was a disaster of a vampire show. More than that, The Calusari pushes the show into fairly uncomfortable territory, dealing as it does with the religious beliefs of immigrant communities. The Calusari is not as bad as it could be, but it’s also not particularly good, either.
The Calusari is the second credit for writer Sara Charno, and her final writing credit for the show. Charno has the distinction of being the only woman on the show’s second season writing staff, although she would depart at the end of the second season. Kim Newton would join the writing staff in the third season, although she would also only write two episodes before departing. Marilyn Osborn had written Shapes in the first season, and would write three episodes for Glen Morgan and James Wong’s Space: Above & Beyond.
It’s interesting to note that The X-Files never really had any “big” female writers. The show’s defining writers – those mostly likely to be identified as strong and distinct voices over the course of the show’s run – were all male. Indeed, the female writers with the strongest voices on any of the related shows were Erin Maher and Kay Reindl, the writing team recruited by Wong and Morgan for the second season of Millennium. (The numbers suggest that Wong and Morgan seemed more willing to recruit and develop female writers than Carter.)
To be fair, the issue of lack gender representation on the writing staffs of genre television shows (or even television shows in general) is not unique to The X-Files and its sister shows. Still, it’s interesting in the context of Sara Charno, because her two scripts on the second season of The X-Files seem to hit on some of Chris Carter’s favourite big themes – the nature of good and evil as absolute forces in the world. Given that Irresistible had provided the impetus for Millennium, it seems weird that Charno would depart at the end of the season.
After all, Carter seemed to imagine Millennium as a show about the absolute forces of good and evil wrestling over mankind’s mortal souls. The first season of that show was hardly subtle in how it tackled the subject. Charno’s writing hits on a lot of those themes. In Aubrey, evil was treated as a genetic trait that can be passed down from grandfather to granddaughter – as if an aptitude towards serial killing were some undiscovered chromosome on a DNA strand and denying any role of nurture when resisting the pull of those urges.
The Calusari is even more straight-forward in its presentation of good and evil as forces at work in the world. “The evil that is here has always been,” one of the Calusari advises Mulder. “It has gone by different names through history – Cain, Lucifer, Hitler. It does not care if it kills one boy or a million men. If you try to stop us, the blood will be on your hands.” Apparently the demonic possession – or evil undead twin – of this young boy is all part of a tableau of evil.
It takes some ambition and commitment to explicitly connect a local haunting to the crimes of Adolf Hitler, but this proclamation feels like it fits with Carter’s worldview, at least as developed on Millennium – a show Carter himself described as “ultimately about good and evil.” According to this view, evil is one of the primal forces at work in the world, and it finds expression in any number of ways. Whatever form it may take, it remains evil. After all, Carter did have Donnie Pfaster manifest himself as a demon, just to underscore this point.
This is a very strong moral viewpoint, and one of several that helps to mark Carter as a very moral storyteller. However, this outlook leads to a tendency to draw the world in broad strokes. One of the problems with the first season of Millennium would be the sheer weight that Carter would give this idea, which is such a basic and easy-to-grasp idea that it doesn’t need repeating. Still, it’s fascinating that so much of Millennium seems to have manifested itself during the second season, with Carter setting up ideas that would become part of the DNA of his next show.
Still, as fascinating as it is to see The Calusari prefigure these themes, the episode remains deeply problematic on a number of levels. Quite a few of those problems come baked into the premise, as with Charno’s script for Aubrey, and the teleplay does its best to navigate them. It doesn’t always succeed, but at least The Calusari manages to come across less xenophobic than Excelsis Dei. That has to count for something.
Read the rest of the review here.