by Sarah Stegall
Copyright © 1996 by Sarah Stegall
Writer: Howard Gordon
Director: James Charleston
Editor: Michael Stern
“You can get the next mutant.“—Mulder to Scully, “Tooms”
It looks as if the time has come for Agent Mulder to pay off on his promise to Agent Scully, as “Teliko” returns us to the tunnel-crawling, mutant-chasing days of yesteryear. “Squeeze” meets “2Shy” meets “Ghost in the Machine” etcetera. It’s not the first time The X-Files has revisited the scene of the crime; “Firewalker” recast the essential elements of “Ice“, and “Wetwired” was an updated episode of “Blood“. What’s interesting is that in all these cases, the seed from which the later story sprang was sown by Glen Morgan and James Wong. In this episode, writer Howard Gordon takes us on a routine tour of a landscape we’ve seen before. Perhaps viewers new to the show would be surprised to hear an episode about a cannibalistic mutant who bleaches his victims by sucking their pituitaries out through their noses called routine, but that’s how this one struck me. I am never bored by an X-File, but this one just did not engage me very much.
A cabin attendant on a plane from Africa discovers the body of a black African man in the restroom. Only this corpse has turned an altogether lighter shade of pale. When another man of African descent turns up in a similar condition, medical authorities call on Dr. Scully. [The eminent Dr. Scully has not, so far as we know, published any research or journal articles, but the Centers for Disease Control call her in. Okay, I’ll suspend my disbelief this far.] Mulder butts in with absolutely no excuse whatsoever other than ingrown paranoia, and is soon issuing dark warnings about conspiracies. He even runs off to Deep Blonde, his new informant at the UN, to finagle some botanical information out of her. [Why she would know anything about this case is beyond me, but I’ll suspend my disbelief this far.] The case progresses as the agents track down a passenger on the ill-fated flight from Burkina-Faso, one Samuel Aboah (Willie Amakye), who may or may not be either an air spirit or an evolutionary cul-de-sac. It doesn’t really matter, since either way he’s presented in a way that makes it clear he’s not one of us. He can squeeze into narrow pipes, and in one particularly hair-raising sequence, he peers out from a drawer no more than six inches deep. He carries a deadly thorn with him everywhere to immobilize his victims, and suffers from an albinism that comes and goes.
Which brings me to my main sticking point: why was Samuel Aboah preying on black men? Okay, males I can understand, if he didn’t want to deal with the side effects of feminizing hormones (can we say “Genderbender“?). But why black men? Granted, he needed melanin among other secretions, but white men and Asian men produce melanin, too. Was it sheer habit? Taste? A hunting strategy? Like Tooms, Aboah spoke in a monosyllabic monotone, revealing nothing about the inner man to us. Amakye’s performance was devoid of the sheer animal presence and vitality that Doug Hutchison brought to Eugene Tooms. Tooms exuded implacable menace; Aboah looks like a lost tourist. I understand that the concept of a stretchy mutant who preys on human bodily secretions is too good not to revisit, but couldn’t Mulder or Scully have mentioned Eugene Tooms at least once?
Director Jim Charleston (“Avatar“) seemed to miss the point on a regular basis: after hearing Aboah chasing Scully through the ventilation shafts, we see her eyes widening in horror, get a glimpse of Aboah’s face, and see Scully firing. We don’t see enough of Aboah to even guess at what horror she is reacting to. We at least got the incredible shot in “Squeeze” of Eugene Tooms’ arm stretching beyond all human ability down a chimney shaft. Other than the creepy Drawer Shot, we saw nothing of Aboah’s supposed ability to “hide in a coffee can”. For once, we saw too little of this X-Files monster of the week.
Howard Gordon has written some good Scully (“Dod Kalm“) and some great Mulder (“Grotesque“), and here he gives us wonderful Pendrell. The lovelorn Agent Pendrell (Brendan Beiser) waiting hopefully for Agent Scully, then sagging in despair when Mulder teases him that “she has a date”, outdoes even David Duchovny in the wounded puppy-dog look department. Only Mulder drooling on himself could top it. The interaction between the leads, however, was uneven. In the first half, Mulder seemed distant and pre-occupied (and incredibly stupid–only a fool eats in a lab where a corpse is being dissected, much less one where the victim may have died of an unknown disease). Scully fared a bit better: she was cold and analytical in the first half, as females with intelligence are universally portrayed on television, but stalwart and compassionate in the second half, where she gets to rescue her partner. The uber-Scully strikes again, tracking him through ventilation ducts, manhandling him into Aboah’s lair, and shooting Aboah literally out of the air with one well-placed shot.
Mulder was a mess. No motivation for his involvement, an unwarranted reliance on Deep Blonde, Marita Covarrubias (Laurie Holden) for information he could have looked up, a frankly unbelievable leap of intuition, bordering on the psychic, that leads him to drive by the one asbestos-laden construction site in Philadelphia where Aboah is hiding out. The thin thread of my suspended disbelief snapped at this point. At least Duchovny achieves the apotheosis of his deadpan expression with a case of facial paralysis.
Gordon has done better work than this, and will do it again. I looked forward to a great script from the writer who gave us “Grotesque“, “Conduit”, and “Fallen Angel”. While there were plot flaws in this piece, they could have been buried under great acting, great dialogue, or even great special effects. None of these elements went beyond average, however, and thus “Teliko” goes into the books as a mediocre episode. If Ten Thirteen was going to bring back Eugene Tooms, I wish they’d do it (with Doug Hutchison!). I’d buy a front row seat for that. But this disappointing, warmed-over leftover gets two out of five sunflower seeds.