X-Files Flashback: ‘Teliko’


Season 4, Episode 3
Director: James Charleston
Writer: Howard Gordon

Let’s start with something nice. It’s great that The X-Files dedicated an episode to exploring characters, thereby employing actors, of a different ethnic background than what is typically presented on the show. “Teliko” has an undercurrent theme of African men seeking refuge and citizenship within the U.S. Granted, one man in particular appears supernatural in nature, but this is The X-Files and when in Rome… However, by going down this undoubtedly well-intended path, the show exposes some incredibly ill-defined and cringe-inducing racial politics that it is ill-equipped to address.

The prologue presents an inbound international flight into the U.S. where an African man goes to the bathroom just before landing. In the tight space, he is attacked by another man with red eyes and stark white albino skin. The first man’s dead body is discovered by the flight attendant just before landing. Several months later, Skinner brings in Scully on a serial missing persons case in Philadelphia where four African American men have gone missing. One body turns up and is found to be in a similar albino state, leading many to suspect a disease. As the episode progresses, Mulder and Scully try to track down the killer, an immigrant who attacks African American men and steals their pituitary gland using a hook inserted through the nose and hidden in a wooden tube stored in his throat. It’s a ghastly image watching him pull the thing out of his throat. Eventually, Mulder and Scully track the killer down to a local construction site where he hides out and stores his victims. He nearly kills Mulder, but Scully is able to overpower him. The man is hospitalized but may not live to stand trial.

“Teliko” isn’t a great episode. Even without the uncomfortable politics, it’s just a poorly written, poorly defined episode that warranted more time to identify with the African American characters. The title stems from an African urban legend about “spirits of the air,” causing Mulder to believe that the killer is one of these spirits. The origin of the killer is never fully explained, and he bears a too-close resemblance to “Squeeze’s” Eugene Tooms, right down to the ability to squeeze into inhumanly tight spaces. Also, Mulder and Scully have a weirdly antagonistic relationship in this episode, which completely comes out of left field and lacks the necessary precursor that would explain why this tight pair feels so at-odds for much of the episode. Aside from those minor complaints, the episode is mostly problematic because it begins to equate African immigrants with “aliens.” They are the “others,” those who hide and cause damage within the dominant U.S. culture. They are presented as having their own foreign ways and ideals that are to be feared and hunted down as much as any of the extraterrestrials that propagate the series from time to time. Additionally, it uses the idea of skin tone and albinism as a way of classifying and identifying dangerous men – something the writers clearly (hopefully) did not intend yet stepped into by design of the plot.

Despite a thrilling, genuinely tense climax, “Teliko” goes down as, at best, a mediocre episode of The X-Files. If you look closer, then it becomes something of a culturally dangerous outing, one that needs to be fully explored and discussed rather than brushed under the carpet. The writers try to voice some concern through the persona of Mulder, but that doesn’t really sell their case as Mulder is consistently seen as the paranoid lunatic in the world of The X-Files. That doesn’t really help their case in the long run. Nor does it guide the episode in any meaningful direction. The writers clearly wanted something unique to present after years of variations on the same theme, but, in attempting this, they have stepped into dangerous cultural implications the show cannot satisfactorily address.

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