X-Files Flashback: ‘Chinga’

Season 5, Episode 10
Director: Kim Manners
Writer: Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King), Chris Carter

The X-Files‘ “Chinga” has a mostly negative reputation among television critics and those who have evaluated it in the context of the series at large. And I’m not really sure why. Coming off of the dreadful “Schizogeny,” this episode succeeds, in my opinion, on many fronts including the gentle parody of Mulder, the world-weariness and dedication of Scully, and the terrifying child/doll combo at the center of it all. Perhaps some of the episode’s production lore has colored its reception, but who knows? All I can tell you is, you can do a lot worse than “Chinga.”

The episode begins (in Maine, of course) with a nervous mother taking her daughter into a grocery store. Immediately, we’re definitely in Stephen King land as one of his biggest themes – the everyday horror of the family – comes into play. Inside the grocery store, Polly, the daughter, begins to whine about wanting to go home, and the mother sees a gruesome image in a reflection of a man with a knife through his eye. Terrified, the mother tries to leave the store as quickly as possible, but it becomes too late as the doll – Chinga – opens her eyes independently and influences the patrons of the grocery store to nearly scratch their eyes out. The butcher, later revealed to be the mother’s boyfriend, sees Chinga in a reflection, and he is forced to drive a butcher’s knife through his eye, mirroring the image the mother saw in the reflection. On vacation, Scully hears of the commotion and dances between wanting to be involved and wanting an actual vacation. Over the course of the episode, she tries to work with local law enforcement and then retreats into vacation mode. Her sense of duty finally pulls her into the case.

Meanwhile, Polly and her mother barricade themselves inside the house to avoid any further deaths, but many do occur in gruesome style, all accompanied by Polly’s (the doll’s?) favorite record. By the end of the episode, Chinga has grown suspicious of Polly’s mother and attempts to influence her to stab herself in the head with a hammer. Scully and the local sheriff arrive on the scene just as Polly’s mother attempts to burn the house down. Multiple struggles ensue before Scully is finally able to take the doll and nuke her in the microwave. In the end, a fisherman discovers a doll in one of his fishing traps – the same way that Polly’s father found Chinga.

The backstory of “Chinga” details a phone-based relationship between Stephen King and Chris Carter. Stephen King wanted to write a script for the series and did so, but Chris Carter did not approve of how King used Scully and Mulder. He effectively re-wrote a significant portion of the story which, by all accounts, resembled King’s original script only in the most general sense. And perhaps that’s why critics don’t appreciate the episode. To me, regardless of its authorship, it’s an above-average outing that features some effective scares – basically that doll is just creepy as hell. It gets a lot of mileage by that simple fact. I mean, Polly’s father pulled the doll out of the ocean and gave it to his daughter… That is, after he stabbed himself through the mouth with a hook.

Aside from the chills, I really enjoyed the Mulder / Scully banter, particularly in the scene where it is insinuated that Mulder is watching pornography (Mulder is a bit of a perv) when he’s really watching a documentary about killer bees, or something like that. There are a few scenes like this sprinkled through the episode, and the humor works well. Finally, this is another very strong Scully outing, centered by a solid Gillian Anderson performance. The rest of the cast acquits themselves nicely, but Anderson continues to find nuances within the character. This series would not be as half as successful as it is without her presence.

And it’s just the doll. That doll is ridiculously scary. That’s really what I responded to in “Chinga.”

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