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The X-Files – Badlaa (Review)

This October/November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the eighth season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of The Lone Gunmen.

Badlaa is a disturbing and unsettling piece of television.

Perhaps the most unsettling thing about it might be the fact that this is the last truly memorable monster of the week.

"Well, this sure beats the way I got in."

“Well, this sure beats the way I got in.”

Badlaa is an infamous episode. It is also polarising. It is pretty much the single episode that most fans will point to when asked to explain what went horribly wrong during the final two seasons of The X-Files. The episode has become synonymous with the excess and gratuity of the eighth season’s body horror. After all, any episode that can be summed us as “immigrant stows away inside fat person” must be a jump the shark moment, right? It is an episode that tends to prompt the words “worst episode ever” from fans.

Tom Kessenich describe the episode as “the nadir” of the show in his book eXaminations. While offering a positive review, Christopher Knowles describes it as “the infamous ‘Butt Genie’ episode.” In LAX-Files, producer Paul Rabwin conceded that it was the only episode of the show that he wished they had never done, “I think the whole idea was distasteful to me.” It is hard to disagree with that assessment. If the graphic assaults upon Mulder and Scully in Within and Roadrunners crossed a line, Badlaa watched that line recede into the distance.

squeak squeak squeak squeak

squeak squeak
squeak squeak

However, this seems like a very extreme reaction to what is admittedly an extreme episode. That should not be misconstrued as a defense of the episode. Badlaa is a terrible piece of television on many different levels, from its racial subtext through to its basic plotting. In The Truth About Season Eight, John Shiban conceded that the episode might not have been his most densely plotted episode:

Badlaa came from… a little bit of desperation on my part, actually. I was working on an episode of The Lone Gunmen and I needed to have a script, very soon, on my next X-File. I remember walking through the Vancouver airport, and it just occurred to me: what if somebody who came up to me asking for money was actually a bad guy?

It is not a bad hook for an episode, but it feels like Badlaa could have used another few revisions before the production team were ready to throw it in front of the camera. Despite the fact that the “butt genie” tends to dominated discussions and reviews of the episode, the biggest problems with Badlaa are purely structural. Quite simply, Badlaa does not work as a piece of scripted television.

Beggar's belief...

Beggar’s belief…

What, for example, is the mysterious beggar up to? What is his plan here? The title of the episode translates as “revenge” in Hindu, and Scully seems to deduce that the mysterious figure is attempting to enact a terrible revenge tied to a fictionalised version of the Bhopal disaster. This certainly isn’t a bad theory. After all, The X-Files has always loved a good supernatural revenge story. When it comes to “monster of the week” episodes, it seems that “revenge” is generally as safe a bet as “biological imperative.”

There is just one minor (or not so minor) problem. As Chuck Burks inquires, “But if he’s out for revenge then why is he killing the people that he’s killing?” The episode never elaborates on a connection that exists between the various victims. Are they shareholders in the company responsible for the disaster? Was Hugh Potocki a target of convenience, or was he part of some grand plan? Why does the beggar need to take a job at the school? Surely he can just show up at his victims’ houses without having to worry about working hours?

"You will not believe the sh!t I had to go through to get here."

“You will not believe the sh!t I had to go through to get here.”

Quite simply, it doesn’t make any sense. Things get even more muddled in the final scene of the episode, when it is revealed that the mysterious beggar has found his way back to Mumbai after Scully has shot him and Doggett has seen the body. Is the mysterious beggar immortal? Can he teleport magically? If he can commute between America and India so easily, why did he need to hitch a ride inside Hugh Potocki? Is it just recreational? Does he find it a more comfortable way to travel?

As with El Mundo Gira, John Shiban tries to turn the obvious logical gaps into a plot point. In El Mundo Gira, Shiban clumsily grafted the framework of classic Mexican folk tales on to the story while evoking contemporary telenovelas. It had the effect of making the ending of El Mundo Gira feel like a shameless rip-off of the far superior (and smarter) Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space.” With Badlaa, Shiban tries to argue that the only reason that the episode doesn’t make sense is because Mulder’s not around to make sense of it.

I think we all have a little Indian fakir inside of us.

I think we all have a little Indian fakir inside of us.

When summoned to the basement, Chuck Burks finds it odd that Scully invited him. “I’m trying to see it the way that Mulder would,” Scully explains. At the climax of the episode, Scully takes a leap of faith and shoots what appears to be a kid because “it’s what Mulder would have seen or understood.” When Doggett points out that the episode doesn’t make an ounce of sense, Scully insists, “No… it did. In some way, it did.” Scully blames herself for not being able to make sense of it, implying that Mulder would have done so easily.

This feels like something of a mean-spirited cop-out. While Mulder had an unparalleled knowledge of obscure or arcane paranormal material, there was generally an internal logic that could be used to determine how or why something was happening. The mean might be supernatural, but the motive was usually quite human. Indeed, Badlaa does nothing to suggest that the beggar is not human; he seems to kill with more meticulous precision that Victor Eugene Tooms and is certainly more skilled at “passing” as normal.

Clouding the issue.

Clouding the issue.

It is a cheat, one that is designed to emphasise how lost and broken the show is without Mulder. This is a fair narrative and thematic point. Breaking the structure of The X-Files to demonstrate how essential Mulder is to the whole show is a valid approach to the eighth season. Via Negativa did a good job of this, with the Doggett having difficulty adapting to the classic structure and then suffering nightmares about how he might ultimately kill the show. Badlaa feels clumsy, opportunistically masking its flaws with an attempt at such commentary.

It doesn’t help matters that the climax of Badlaa essentially devolves to two teenagers trying to murder a disabled Indian mystic in a high school. Trevor and Quinton even bring along walkie-talkies to assist them in their plot to murder the mysterious figure. Naturally, it is not like they can go to the police and insist that a magical foreigner murdered their parents, but it seems like they get from “I think I know who did it” to “let’s literally drop some acid on the janitor” with remarkable speed.

I bet Scully never considered this when she applied to medical school.

I bet Scully never considered this when she applied to medical school.

Then again, their character motivations seem as linear and logical as that of the episode’s antagonist. There are several points in the episode where the character behaves inconsistently. He seems willing to murder Trevor and Quinton to protect himself, but he goes out of his way to avoid killing Scully by hiding himself from her in a storage closet. If he can make himself invisible, why not do that at Quinton’s house instead of crawling up inside the dead body of Quinton’s father?

The monster at the heart of Badlaa seems ridiculously over-qualified for the position of “monster of the week”, serving as the Swiss Army knife of X-Files monsters. He can turn himself invisible, he make others see him as a janitor, he can teleport magically, he can project an illusion across miles of city, he can fake his own death. However, he never uses any of these gifts consistently, to the point that it feels like he develops these skills as soon as the script realises that it has written him into a corner.

That is also the face that I make while watching the episode.

That is also the face that I make while watching the episode.

Of course, nobody really cares about any of that. Discussion of Badlaa rarely focuses on the plot holes or the sheer volume of magical powers afforded to the antagonist. After all, the most memorable aspect of Badlaa has nothing to do with the plotting or the ambiguity. Badlaa is not infamous for its logical gaps or its hazy motivations. To fans of The X-Files, it seems like Badlaa will always be known as “the creepy one with the Indian beggar who crawls up inside people through their rectal cavities.”

After all, it’s a hard image to get past. There really is nothing that Badlaa could do to top that. In fact, it could be argued that the Indian beggar has somehow managed to make the whole concept of “monster of the week” redundant. It is hard to imagine that the show could ever trump the sheer ickiness and discomfort of a man whose magic powers involve being able to climb inside of you. It is an incredibly visceral (not to mention complete tasteless) touch, one which overshadows everything else about the episode.

"No butts..."

“No butts…”

In The Complete X-Files, John Shiban explained that his first pitch for the episode was quite different from the version that made it to air:

My original idea was a beggar with no legs who can actually shrink himself and climb inside your ear, and Chris Carter — and this is why he’s Chris Carter — said ‘No, no, no! I know what’s better.’

Credit where credit is due, Shiban’s original idea sounds like it would have made for a somewhat generic episode. Whatever its flaws, Badlaa is not generic.

Body of proof...

Body of proof…

This is the thing about Badlaa: it is messy, it is flawed, it doesn’t work at all. However, it is instantly more memorable than Salvage. The monster might be ridiculous and grotesque, but it certainly elicits strong reactions. Nobody ever forgets Badlaa. Even fans who have yet to watch the episode know it by reputation. It is perhaps too much to describe the episode’s brazenness as endearing, but Badlaa certainly has an energy to it. There are no half-measures to be found here.

John Shiban is a writer with a very clear set of aesthetic preferences. He is perhaps the purest “horror” writer on the show’s staff. Frank Spotnitz and Vince Gilligan can churn out an unsettling and disturbing horror story, but Shiban seems to revel in the tasteless excess associated with the genre. This was obvious from his first script, when Shiban opted to kill a young child in The Walk just to scare the audience. His preference for classic horror tropes also explains the xenophobia that comes baked into Teso Dos Bichos, El Mundo Gira or Badlaa.

That's just swell...

That’s just swell…

One of the consequences of Shiban’s preference for classic trashy horror is his willingness to “go there”, as it were. In Danse Macabre, writer Stephen King argues that there are three forms of horror that a writer can employ:

I recognize terror as the finest emotion … and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find I cannot terrify him/her, I will try to horrify; and if I find I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.

John Shiban is not proud either. Badlaa certainly is not proud. The episode is tasteless and tacky, but unapologetically so. While it doesn’t work enough to save the episode around it, it makes the experience more interesting than some other eighth season episodes.

There are no tasteful jokes to be made about Badlaa.

There are no tasteful jokes to be made about Badlaa.

Whatever flaws exist with the rest of the episode – and there are lots – the beggar is certainly a memorable antagonist. In fact, it could reasonably be argued that the beggar at the heart of Badlaa is the last truly memorable “monster of the week” that the show ever produced. After all, the character can be summarised in two simple words. Just utter the phrase “butt genie” and any casual X-Files fan will know immediately which episode you are discussing. Episodes like Surekill, Salvage and Medusa do not stand out in similar terms.

Of course, this prompts the old debate about whether it is worse for a piece of entertainment to be terrible or to be boring. There is no single right answer to that question, and it likely varies from person to person. Nevertheless, Badlaa occupies a place of importance in the cultural memory of The X-Files. Even if Badlaa is remembered for the wrong reasons, it is still the most remembered episode of the eighth season. And given Mulder’s return is around the corner, that is no small accomplishment.

"Thank you for your interest in becoming an X-files monster. We typically recommend crawling up inside something. Do you have any ideas?"

“Thank you for your interest in becoming an X-files monster. We typically recommend crawling up inside something. Do you have any ideas?”

Indeed, the beggar frequently appears on many of the “best (or most memorable) monster of the week” lists that fans like to make about the show; he is typically the latest entry in the list. TV Guide cited the character, as did UGO:

One of the series’ more blatant allegories (the Third World East vs. the Fat Cat West), as a legless Indian Mystic (Deep Roy) literally climbs into his victims to travel where he will. He ends up in a small suburban American town, using his powers to procure a job as a school janitor. Scully and Doggett investigate the bloody goings-on (this one’s pretty heavy on the viscera, even if implied) and a gut-wrenching climax, though not entirely successful, still opens up some thorny issues over how we view weakness, deformity, race, and “otherness.”

It is hard to dismiss the character (and the episode around him) given this level of impact. This is particularly true given that The X-Files was considered to be a spent cultural force at this point in its life-cycle.

Something you don't want to believe...

Something you don’t want to believe…

In some respects, then, the beggar might be considered the limit case for the idea of the “monster” on The X-Files. The beggar seems to exist to draw a line in the sand, to say “this is how far you can push a monster on this show.” Whether the beggar draws that line inches in front of him or metres behind will depend entirely upon the subjective taste of the viewer. It seems like the beggar is really as far as the show as the show go. Even James Remar’s excessive vomiting in Dæmonicus will seem tame in comparison.

Given that the eighth season is nearing the point of Mulder’s return, at which point the series becomes more serialised than it ever had been before or would be again, it feels appropriate that the beggar should appear at this point in the season. If the eighth season is to be the last year of The X-Files as fans know and love it – something that was very possible at the time – it makes sense to have a monster who really pushes the concept of “monster of the week” to its logical limits. There is no way to “top” this, so why bother trying?

"Mulder made sure to leave me that mug. Of course he did."

“Mulder made sure to leave me that mug. Of course he did.”

However, there is also something quite telling in all of this. For all the magic powers of illusion held by the beggar, his most distinctive power still feels tied back to the original and quintessential X-Files monster. The level to which Squeeze defined the concept of “monster” on The X-Files is often overlooked, but Eugene Victor Tooms is an essential part of the show’s DNA. It seems like many of the show’s most memorable and distinctive monsters can trace their roots back to the monster who starred in the original “monster of the week.”

Tooms influences the show’s monsters in a number of ways, most obviously in the idea of a hyper-evolved human-like predator with specific needs. Leonard Betts features an evolution leap forward who feeds on cancer rather than livers, touching on the way that Tooms essentially combines vampirism and Darwinism. 2shy features an urban predator who consumes human fat to survive. Sometimes the links are more obvious, with Teliko featuring a mutant who can squeeze into impossible spaces and who feasts upon pituitary glands.

"Look, I know you miss Mulder. But if he'd been around for this, you know the quips would have been terrible."

“Look, I know you miss Mulder. But if he’d been around for this, you know the quips would have been terrible.”

Squeeze casts a particularly long shadow over the eighth season, perhaps owing to the fact that the eighth season feels like both a final season for the classic version of The X-Files and a first season for a new version of the show. Chris Carter borrowed a lot of Squeeze‘s structure in writing Patience, which was Doggett’s first “monster of the week” case. The mid-season run of “monster of the week” cases kicked off with an officer suggesting an assassin who could crawl through air vents in Surekill, complete with a point of view shot from inside the air vent.

In essence, the beggar from Badlaa is just a version of Eugene Victor Tooms updated for the aesthetics of the eighth season. Tooms could contort and warp himself so as to fit in impossible spaces; the beggar just does that with the human body rather than with buildings. For all his magic and mysticism, the beggar is simply Tooms taken to the most visceral and uncomfortable extreme. It is really hard to think of anywhere else for the Tooms template to go (literally and figuratively) from here.

A bump in the road...

A bump in the road…

Of course, the beggar integrates the basic Tooms template with the body horror themes of the eighth season. As with a lot of the episodes around it, Badlaa is surprisingly “on point” when it comes to thematic imagery, right down to the focus on the bloody and clouded eyes of the beggar’s victims. Most obviously, Badlaa plays as a grotesque parody of Scully’s pregnancy. As with RoadrunnersBadlaa is a story about one life nestled snugly inside another for the purpose of exploitation.

The episode features a monster that climbs up into the victim’s abdomen, causing a swelling not unlike that which Scully will soon experience; indeed, the scene where the beggar escapes from the abdomen of one of his victims plays like a horrific take on cesarean section. The sequence of a tiny hand extending out from a surgical incision is delightfully creepy, an effective visual encapsulation of many of the season’s core anxieties about Scully’s pregnancy. It’s not a very tasteful encapsulation, but neither was Roadrunners.

A bloody mess...

A bloody mess…

(It also feels like Badlaa nods towards the quintessential mainstream body horror film. Alien haunts the narrative of the eighth of the season, right down to the set dressing featured in Mulder’s cell in Within and Without. Given that the beggar chooses to nestle inside male bodies, the episode touches on many of the same themes; not to mention that the beggar’s choice of entry mechanism hits on many of the same rape anxieties. With the oral torture of Mulder in Within and the assault on Scully in Roadrunners, the eighth season hits these themes pretty hard.)

Unfortunately, the beggar encapsulates some of the eighth season’s themes a little too well. While the first seven seasons of the show were fixated upon the idea of hybridisation fusing human and alien together, the eighth season imposes more rigid boundaries between internal and external. Indeed, the most significant impact of Mulder’s undiagnosed brain disease is a firm rejection of the concept of hybridisation. This is the season where the colonists abandon the idea of integration and begin a process of subversion and replacement.

Free-wheelin' revenge.

Free-wheelin’ revenge.

This fits quite comfortably with the themes of the eighth season, which are more fixated on the intimate and personal than they ever have been before. After all, the season premieres with Within and Without and concludes with Essence and Existence; in both cases, a firm boundary is imposed between the familiar and the unknown. However, this theme is potential problematic in the way that Badlaa chooses to apply it. The boundary between “self” and “other” becomes uncomfortable when “other” is “handicapped Indian fakir.”

There is something quite uncomfortable about the way that Badlaa reduces its antagonist to a hostile alien with no discernible motivation for his malice and stereotypical mystical Eastern abilities. To be fair, this is not the first time that the show has run into trouble while exploring the idea of the foreign as alien. Episodes like Teso Dos Bichos, Teliko and El Mundo Gira were unlikely to wind awards for their sensitive portrayals of foreign groups. This is perhaps why the show moved away from such episodes in its later seasons. (Class became a bigger issue.)

"Skinner's gonna love this one."

“Skinner’s gonna love this one.”

In their first scene together, Doggett and Scully render this subtext explicit – they return to the idea of foreigner as alien through the use of an infectious metaphor. “Tox test ruled out hemorrhagic fever, Ebola, anything exotic,” Doggett suggests. “Something killed this man but it doesn’t seem to be any foreign disease.” In the show’s earlier seasons, anxieties about globalisation and integration were often expressed through biological metaphors – hybridisation in the mythology, but infection in standalones like Teliko or El Mundo Gira.

There is something discomforting in this metaphor, particularly in its application to standalone stories about immigration. In the first seven seasons, hybridisation was portrayed as humanity’s best chance of survival in the face of “Purity Control”, seemingly like a plea for diversity and integration in the face of uniformity. However, the standalone immigration episodes seemed more openly concerned about contamination or infection. It seemed that foreigners tended to bring evil and death to the United States.

Shiban's fingerprints are all over this.

Shiban’s fingerprints are all over this.

In some respects, Badlaa demonstrates that South Asian stereotypes in popular culture have not progressed much beyond Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in the mid-eighties. The mystic at the centre of Badlaa is completely mute, but is established as impoverished despite his considerable magical abilities. Scully suggests that the mystic might possibly have a logical justification for his actions, but the episode never bothers to confirms it one way or the other. He is alien, which is equated with his status as a foreign stereotype.

Indeed, the fictionalised “Vishi Disaster” seems like an ill-judged attempt to fictional the real-life Bhopal Disaster. It is, however, interesting that Badlaa reduces the death toll from almost four thousand to under two hundred. Apportioning the blame for the gas leak at a Union Carbide plant in 1984 has become a source of incredible controversy, with some blaming the company for using cheap labour and substandard materials in constructing the plant and others suggesting that the disaster might have been the result of sabotage.

The squeaking sound of justice.

The squeaking sound of justice.

Regardless of the precise allocation of blame between the United States corporation overseeing the plant and the Indian staff managing it on a day-to-day basis, it is worth noting that Union Carbide were notoriously cheap on the subject of compensation. Only $470m was set aside for the Indian victims of Bhopal. Families of the deceased received $2,200 each. A spokesperson for Dow Chemicals, which acquired Union Carbide in 2002, insisted that was “plenty good for an Indian.”

Badlaa is probably not the best forum to explore issues of American culpability for disasters like Bhopal; after all, the episode can’t be bothered to humanise its only Indian character, so it seems a little hypocritical for the script to critique attitudes other American towards South Asia. It might be possible to exploit a South Asian cliché to critique broader exploitation of South Asia, but Badlaa is not sharp enough to pull that off. Still, there is some interesting stuff happening underneath the hood.

A cutting piece of social commentary?

A cutting piece of social commentary?

Badlaa touches on the awkward relationship between the United States and the countries to which such multinationals locate. Hugh Potacki is hardly a major character, but it is interesting to note the contrast in how he behaves abroad as compared to how he behaves at home. “He carried two alimonies, one with child support,” Doggett reports. “Never missed a payment. In fact, he seems to have spoiled his wives and kids.” At the same time, he describes the beggar as a “poor bastard”, all he spares is fifty paise. (About one cent.)

When Quinton’s father sits down to watch the news, he finds himself listening to a debate over the United States’ debt policy. “No one’s dismissing American responsibilities, here or abroad,” one observer points out. “But Third World debt relief, in my view would be a positive step toward solving Third World issues and Third World problems.” At the risk of sounding cynical, it seems a tad convenient that the moral position adopted just happens to be the one that does not involve a significant financial expenditure.

Fifty piesa? Well, the beggar was looking for a giant asshole.

Fifty paise?
Well, the beggar was looking for a giant asshole.

Indeed, it even bubbles through to the American class structure, as the beggar finds himself posing as a janitor at a school. The precise reasons for this subterfuge are never revealed, but it does create a thematic connection between those affected by American capitalism overseas and those closer to home. The beggar is able to blend perfectly into the background as a low-level member of the cleaning staff; even the creepy squeaking of his wheels can be disguised as the creaking of a janitor’s mop and cart.

Once again, there is a sense that the beggar should be thankful for what little he receives, with his employer providing a grander narrative of his service role.  “The better the economy gets the harder it is to fill these kinds of jobs,” Misses Holt remarks. “And the problem is that people look at it as just a paycheck. They don’t realize that as maintenance engineer you are playing an important part in these kids’ lives.” There is a sense of self-serving disingenuous to Misses Holt’s argument.

"Y'know, he could just have made himself invisible in the closet, but no..."

“Y’know, he could just have made himself invisible in the closet, but no…”

In The Intimacies of Globalization, Emily S. Davis argues that Badlaa is essentially constructed as an economic horror story about third world retribution for first world exploitation:

The haunting spectre of Bhopal hints at the potential for Third World retribution for First World crimes by demonstrating that the distance separating the bodies of Third World workers from those who benefit from their labour and products can in fact be crossed. The invisible service labour force in the US underscores a similar point: the janitors, au pairs, housekeepers, gardeners, and other service workers, often immigrants, whose labour keeps US businesses and wealthiest households going are intimately involved in the day-to-day affairs of those they serve. The script’s representation of the evil mystic as a janitor plays on both the invisibility and the intimacy of low-wage service labor.

It does suggest that there is some interesting stuff happening beneath the hood. It is an intriguing reading of the episode, even if Badlaa doesn’t necessarily cohere enough to support it.

Good luck, Chuck...

Good luck, Chuck…

Still, the beggar’s disguise as a school janitor does an excellent job of literalising the strong thematic connection between the presentation of the foreign in the first five seasons of the show to portrayals of the lower classes in the later seasons. The first five seasons of the show positioned the foreign as metaphorically “alien”; the final four shift the emphasis to lower classes. Episodes like Fresh Bones and Hell Money give way to Theef and Je Souhaite. Like Trina Galvez in Redrum, the beggar is able to make himself invisible by posing as a servant.

There are other aspects of Badlaa that work reasonably well. Although the uncomfortable xenophobic subtext comes baked into the episode from the opening scene, Badlaa actually starts out reasonably strong. The first couple of acts have an endearingly pulpy vibe to them, with Shiban having a fairly solid grip on where Scully and Doggett are at this point in the scene. Their interplay in the opening act is perhaps the strongest Doggett/Scully dynamic of any of these mid-season monster of the week episodes.

"Don't worry. It's all uphill from here."

“Don’t worry. It’s all uphill from here.”

As with Patience, it is nice to get a sense that Scully has not magically transformed into Mulder and that Doggett is not just a gruffer male photocopy of Scully. It takes a lot of effort for Scully to occupy the narrative space vacated by Mulder, and it is interesting to watch her try to advocate for extreme possibilities. While the episode’s eventual conclusion that “Mulder would have solved it” feels like a cynical attempt to cover up glaring plot holes, Anderson does phenomenal work as a character reassessing her place in this world.

“It’s hard to believe in something when you can’t understand it,” Chuck tells Scully at one point in the episode. He is referring to Doggett’s skepticism, but he could just as easily be referring to Scully’s own crisis of faith. When The X-Files began, Mulder already understood; when Scully first ventured into the basement in The Pilot, Mulder had already completed his journey to believer. The seventh and eighth seasons find Scully making that journey herself. With Mulder’s disappearance in Requiem, Scully loses her guide and her frame of reference.

"He fit his whole cart in there?"

“He fit his whole cart in there?”

In the eighth season, Scully’s journey becomes an internal one. This is in keeping with the broader themes of the eighth season, which stresses the gulf that exists between inside and outside. (The beggar is portrayed as a monster specifically because he transverses that gulf in a very literal and visceral sense.) Anderson has always done phenomenal work on the show, but she carries a tremendous amount of weight in the eighth season. Robert Patrick takes as much of the load as he can, but Anderson has to create a sense of continuity.

Shiban has a good handle on Doggett, understanding that the character cannot be antagonistic towards Scully without seeming like an ass. Robert Patrick plays Doggett as a character completely bemused by the events of Badlaa. There is an absolutely beautiful shot of Doggett’s reaction to the entry/exit wound on Hugh Potacki, which makes it clear that he has never seen anything like this before. In some ways, the extreme nature of the case helps, because many fans are in the same boat as Doggett, having no idea what to make of all this.

Sizing each other up...

Sizing each other up…

There is something playful in the way that Doggett approaches the case. None of the stubbornness of Salvage. He actually seems legitimately interested in how Scully is going to explain this. “The things that land in your inbox, eh, Agent Scully?” he quips as he examines the scene. “So, what do you think, Agent Scully? Haunted hotel room? Alien invaders? Sloppy vampires?” It is a line that could easily seem sarcastic or smug; imagine Spender delivering it in season five or season six. Instead, Patrick plays it as something approach amused curiousity.

When Doggett does eventually draw the line, he draws it at “butt-dwelling Indian fakir.” That seems a fairly reasonable place to throw up your hands and just say, “Nope.” Based on some of the extreme fan reactions to the episode, it seems that a vocal section of the fanbase would agree with Doggett. Even within the paranormal framework of The X-Files, the internal logic of Badlaa defies any attempt at rational explanation. The horror of Badlaa is almost Lovecraftian in nature, although the script is not quite meticulous enough to pull it off.

I'm cracking up here.

I’m cracking up here.

Badlaa is a lightning rod positioned smack bang in the middle of the eighth season. It is not a good episode of television, but it seems to attract a disproportionate amount of hatred. It is offensive, it is clumsily constructed, it is ill-judged. At the same time, there is an almost endearing commitment to Badlaa; it certainly doesn’t believe in half-measures. Even when the episode misfires, it never hesitates. There is a boldness and confidence to Badlaa that cannot redeem the story’s fundamental flaws, but which mitigates them somewhat.

There is a vitality and energy to Badlaa that was missing from Salvage, suggesting that there is still some life left in the old “monster of the week” format. For all its problems, Badlaa does not feel as fatigued or exhausted as many of the “monster of the week” stories running through this stretch of the eighth season.

You might be interested in our reviews of the eighth season of The X-Files:

9 Responses

  1. I deeply loved Badlaa because of its intense political incorrection and its deep concern to the ulterior reality (in shape and spirit). Things are exactly like this episode shows. Prejudices are just misunderstood and forbidden perceptions, true perceptions of the spiritual reality.
    This episode is one of my favourites!!

  2. I think the essence of the episode is simple, the resentment in this beggar and deformed man activates a connection with daemonic realms. But that resentment in not a mere consequence of any exploitation, but the soul of that man was already degraded from before (accumulative from sucessive reincarnations) and that’s why his shape is so monstruous, and that degradation makes him a resentful being. that is his essence.
    We are taught to avoid telling things like that… but there are souls that are condemned from the beginning, and they manifest the evil itself.
    The occasion doesn’t make the thief, but the soul has to be essentially a thief to (first) fall in the position of the occasion (karma) and (second) to solve the occasion as a thief he is.
    Xfiles is based on a supernatural philosophy and cannot be flattened to a mere political alegory.

    • Well, maybe it can’t be flattened, but it cannot be divorced from it either. I mean, looking at the world as it is right now is a a warning about the dangers of “othering” foreigners.

      • Yep! The episode is racist. It has some pulpy charms that I kind of like but it is deeply uncomfortable in many ways.

  3. Quote: ” Is the mysterious beggar immortal? Can he teleport magically? If he can commute between America and India so easily, why did he need to hitch a ride inside Hugh Potocki? Is it just recreational? Does he find it a more comfortable way to travel?”
    Because he is using daemonic forces, and daemons only can operate from within people, sucking the vital force (that comes from God) as the daemons can’t create but only transform energy.
    So he needs to “incubate” inside a person to steal that person’s vital force and then he can connect the daemonic forces to the physical world. Otherwise the daemons can’t operate over the physical world.
    In an opposite way, the Virgin Mary incubates the Messiah to connect the higher realms in order to supernaturally operate on the physical world.
    While this beggar is not precisely the antichrist but only a degraded man, he doesn’t own the daemonic forces and only works with borrowed daemonic forces and needs to constantly reincubate to maintain the connection.

  4. My only question about this episode is why David Duchovny gets his name in the credits ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  5. A lot of people get mad when I say this episode is racist.

    It obviously is.

    And yet I kind of like it.

  6. The worst episode ever came a season earlier – Hollywood AD.

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