The X-Files and the Monsters of That Week: Teliko
Season four of The X-Files may be the most consistent single season in the show’s entire run. It has amazing highs, such as Paper Hearts, and the mythology is still exciting and cinematic in scope.
But consistency doesn’t necessarily add up to greatness, as the show’s fourth year, while containing no out-and-out stinkers, has its share of merely mediocre episodes. Sanguinarium, El Mundo Gira, Unrequited, and Synchrony are all solid, if unremarkable entries, but they all have strengths that keep them from the category of the worst that The X-Files has to offer. Teliko, like the episodes I just mentioned, isn’t an inherently bad episode, but it has some major flaws – flaws that are representative of some long-running issues The X-Files has never really been able to overcome.
Despite the best intentions, The X-Files was never very good at telling stories about race. Hell Money has great atmosphere and a terrific idea that just isn’t that well explored. El Mundo Gira uses the tone of telenovelas and rumour as an engine for it central story of love and monsters. , but they’re both borderline insulting in their simplistic and stereotypical depictions of Chinese and Mexican immigrant culture.
Teliko’s writer, Howard Gordon, clearly had the best intentions for Teliko. Out of all The X-Files writers, Gordon was the most interested in the immigrant experience: he wrote season two’s Fresh Bones about Voodoo forces in an internment camp, and the season four episode Kaddish about a Golem avenging the anti-Semitic murder of a Hasidic Jewish man. He clearly wants to present these stories in a sympathetic way, but these episodes, and Teliko especially, have not aged well.
Part of the reason is obvious: The X-Files was written and run almost exclusively by white men. That’s not a criticism that’s exclusive to this show – it was the nineties, and no-one batted an eyelid at the white male hegemony behind-the-scenes. Yet this is a limitation when telling stories outwith the white male experience.
Teliko is all very surface-level: the story of an African monster that feeds on its victim’s pituitary glands (he even has a ceremonial straw). The monster, who is both posing as, and actually also somehow is an African immigrant named Samuel Aboah, targets black people, specifically black men. In one of Gordon’s masterstrokes (yes, the episode does have some good ideas), Mulder and Scully are only brought on to the case because what Samuel does to his victims leaves them looking white. Black men die in America every day, Gordon is saying, but the FBI only comes in when some weird shit turns them white.
It’s there that the good ideas stop. It’s not that The X-Files isn’t the right show for this kind of story. It should be – after all this is a show that showcases and sympathizes with outsiders. But a story like Teliko lacks the understanding and depth that a black writer could bring to the aspects of the black experience it’s trying to depict. It’s a good idea: a monster that targets black people comes to America (land of plenty) and gorges himself silly. Yet, like a lot of Gordon’s scripts, it feels shallow: a meat-and-potatoes episode that, in the right hands, could have be one of the best of the season if it had .
Which brings me to the last major flaw with Teliko: it’s just a redo of Squeeze. Samuel is remarkably similar to the show’s first iconic monster, Eugene Victor Tombs. They both have a very specific diet, and they can both squeeze themselves into tiny spaces to hide, stalk their prey, and evade capture. It’s more than a redo, it’s a rip-off, another signal that this script never worked in the first place. It all feels cobbled together and tacked-on, when the weighty premise could have allowed for something far deeper and more interesting than what we got.
The X-Files is that rare genre show that comes once a generation. When Teliko came out, it was the biggest drama show on the planet, which means that it could have used that platform to get a story like Teliko right. And it’s that failure to capitalize on a great idea that lands this as the worst of the season.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via the M0vie blog)