Season 2

2x15 Fresh Bones

Air date: 02-03-95
Writer: Howard Gordon
Director: Rob Bowman
Editor: Heather MacDougall
Director of Photography: John S. Bartley, C.S.C.
Documented Phenomenon: Voodoo

Episode summary / Points to consider / Production analysis

This eerie episode starts with the teaser scene in North Carolina. A young couple and their baby, at a routine breakfast, but it is soon clear this couple is having issues. The father is agitated, and the wife is upset and concerned. Everything seems pretty ordinary, if sad, until the man looks down at his bowl of cereal, and is obviously hallucinating, as he sees a bowl full of maggots. Understandably, he reacts violently, and storms out of the house. The camera angle cuts out to show stark, dark trees silhouetted against the sky, as he speeds down the road. He continues having hallucinations, seeing something that horrifies him enough to rip off his rear view mirror, and in his distraction, he t-bones a tree. There is a strange symbol painted on the back of the tree, and as dark, macabre music punctuates the scene, the opening credits begin.

The location is now specifically revealed as "Folkston Processing Center for Refuges." As Agent Fox Mulder and Dana Scully enter the scene, they are discussing this investigation. The man we saw die in the first scene was Private Jack McAlpin. It seems his death has been ruled a suicide, and he is the third soldier to commit suicide at this Marine base since a recent "incident" among the Haitian refugees that had resulted in the death of a young boy. Mulder and Scully first interview the widow of McAlpin, who knows very little, other than that her husband was under stress from working at the camp. She also indicates that there may have been some secrets at the base. Mulder and Scully then travel to the refugee camp, where they first encounter Chester Bonaparte, who intervenes when a man starts harassing Scully. This scrappy young kid is immediately appealing, and Mulder buys a Voodoo talisman from him, just to humor him.

They then go to speak with Colonel Jacob Wharton, who is more concerned with his breakfast than the actual problems going on at his camp, and he suggests they go talk to Pierre Bauvais, blaming him for everything, and labeling him a "trouble maker" who got the boy killed. They go to have a look at Private McAlpin's body, only to find it has vanished from the morgue, and was replaced with the body of a dead dog. They go to meet with Bauvais, who is as imposing as Wharton indicated, but his view of the situation is quite different. He claims great injustices are being acted out on the refugees. After this meeting, they are driving and find Jack, suddenly very much alive, walking down the middle of the road. His blood tests indicate he was poisoned with a certain herb that was once thought to be able to bring on "zombie-like" conditions.

Mulder and Scully go to the graveyard to exhume the other soldier who supposedly killed himself, but the body had already been stolen, supposedly by grave robbers, as they are told by the groundskeeper at the graveyard. There, they once again find Chester, apparently trying to rob a grave, yet when Mulder catches him, all he has are frogs, which he claims he gathers at the graveyard to sell. They take Chester to a fast food place for a bite of lunch, and encounter Private Harry Dunham as they are leaving, who seems overly suspicious of Chester. He confirms that the people at the camp are being horribly mistreated and tortured, and then tells a long story that sounds like an hurbon legend, about the daughter of someone who was once associated with Colonel Wharton, who died a horrible death on the night before her wedding, because her father has somehow displeased Wharton. When Scully expresses her skepticism of such a story, he reveals that this is not heresy, since the girl who died was his fiancée. As their conversation is drawing to a close, Chester bolts out of their car. Mulder gives chase, all the way out onto the docks, but Chester vanishes, leaving behind only a black cat. On their next meeting with Wharton, Scully confronts him about the abuse of the refugees. They are informed that Bauvais is now dead. When they leave, frustrated, Scully scratches herself on what looks like a long briar or bit of barbed wire, wrapped around her steering wheel.

Later, Mulder has a surprise meeting with Deep Throat’s replacement, Mr. X, who provides inside information, indicating a motive for Bauvais to be retaliating against the refugees, saying that several of his men had died during an incident in Haiti, supposedly due to Voodoo rituals. It is at about the same time that Scully discovers Harry Dunham in her bathtub, quite dead. Mulder catches Jack McAlpir outside. By this time, it is apparent that Scully is getting sicker and sicker, though no one knows why. They then go to Wharton's office to confront him, and find several dog tags in a drawer after speaking with Jack's wife again. Now, they have evidence that he is not only mistreating the refugees, but that he is responsible for his men's deaths, and seems to be practicing Voodoo. They go back to the graveyard in an effort to track him down and arrest him. She stays in the car, while Mulder goes in to try to find Wharton. Scully's hallucinations become much worse, and just as she is seemingly caught up in the multiple horrors that the spell has placed in her mind, Bauvais appears and recites something in Creole, followed by something in English. The Creole part translates “To the Saints, To the moon, To the stars". After that, he says "He who does evil, evil he will see!" and attacks the Colonel. The spell is broken, and Scully sees she is clutching the talisman that Chester gave her in her hand, and on the hood of her car is the black cat. She runs into the graveyard, finds Mulder, and finds the Colonel lying dead near the alter he had made.

In the closing scene, it is revealed that Chester is the boy who had died in the riot several weeks earlier. We finally see our friendly neighborhood graveyard keeper burying Wharton. His dog seems overly interested in the casket, and the camera pans to show the interior of the coffin, where we see Colonel Wharton, now very much alive, frantically screaming and beating on the lid of the coffin.

Episode Summary / Points to consider / Production analysis

  • Many people refer to "Fresh Bones" as the obligatory "Voodoo" episode that every sci-fi series has to come out with, along with a Vampire episode and a Werewolf episode. Perhaps it's just my own fascination with the culture, but I find the storyline and the atmosphere of this episode to be quite engaging. In addition, some very significant concerns were addressed, as the abuse of refugees from other countries was a significant occurrence at the time, which makes this an important "Date Stamp" episode. Also, the inclusion of a "ghost," not in the traditional ghost-like fashion that most entertainment media depicts, is a welcome twist in this very enjoyable, spooky X-Files episode.– Erin McRaven
  • A few observations about the characters: Private McAlpin - The unfortunate "red shirt" of the episode. A victim of the hotheadedness of his CO, in the extreme. Even if his wife contested the cause of death as suicide, I doubt that the insurance company would listen to her after her husband came back from the dead! Colonel Wharton - A Marine with a superiority complex, to the extreme. This man is a true sociopath, but finally meets with our old friend Karma, after he tries to torture others with the tools of the culture he is disgracing. I guess he thinks "When in Rome..." but forgot what happened to Rome in the end. Mrs. Robin McAlpin - Young mother, young widow, or maybe she's not, since her husband's back from the dead. One thing's for sure, she's going to need to see a shrink when this is all over. That is... a psychologist, not a head-shrink, and a babysitter. Private Harry Dunham - Poor Harry. His girlfriend's killed by voodoo, and he ends up dead in a bathtub. Maybe if he comes back from the dead, too, he should go for Robin. Chester Bonaparte - Without a doubt, the most likeable character in the whole episode (other than the cat). Amazingly, he died before the episode started, yet he was livelier than anyone else. Frog-diggin’ little charmer! and Pierre Bauvais - The great wizard of this episode. Mosis, who is fighting to free his people. His dark and melodic voice ripples with puffs of fog that stand out in sharp contrast against his skin. He is truly imposing, yet, like all great wizards, you can never count him out, even when you think he's dead! – Erin McRaven
  • The depiction of Voodoo rituals in Hollywood has always leaned to the sensationalistic, starting as far back as White Zombie with Bela Lugosi in 1931, up through Live and Let Die in 1973, and The Believers with Martin Sheen in 1987. Yet the episode manages to circumvent some of the standard clichés, you don’t have a heavy use of a Voodoo doll, chicken innards, or the obligatory autopsy scene of someone’s stomach being opened to find slithering snakes, although that is referenced with Harry Dunham’s dialogue. Yet the episode does propose that the power of suggestion might be the most important tool in the Voodoo ritual. – Matt Allair
  • As cited by Fox Mulder, the Canadian anthropologist, ethnobotanist, author and philosopher Wade Davis gained notoriety with his 1985 best-selling book, The Serpent and the Rainbow, which dealt with Haitian Voodoo rituals, and the folk preparations implicated in the creation of Zombies. Davis put forth the argument that Tetrodotoxin (TTX) could help explain their existence. Some skeptics have criticized his work citing scientific inaccuracies. One example cited was the suggestion that Haitian witchdoctors can keep zombies in a pharmacological-induced trance for many years. As part of his investigations, Davis commissioned a grave robbery of a recently buried child, as dead human tissue is supposed to be part of the “Zombie” powder, and this has been argued as a literary breach of ethics. There have been further questions about the chemical composition of the “Zombie” powder, it has been reported that insignificant traces of Tetrodotoxin had been found and that Davis’s arguments are without foundation, in spite of the defense from other scientists that conducted further analysis to support his claims. Yet, the question of “Zombie Tetrodotoxin” has been questioned on a physiological basis as well. Nevertheless, Davis’s story was told in the feature film directed by Wes Craven. – Matt Allair
  • The episode cites tetrodotoxin, a powerful paralytic found in Asian puffer fish, and a variant found in certain breeds of frogs, as the catalyst for the hallucinations and the waking death conditions with the victims. Yet how does tetrodotoxin work in low doses? Tetrodotoxin blocks action potentials in nerves, essentially preventing any affected nerve cells from firing by blocking the sodium channels used in the process, thus producing paralysis of the diaphragm, and through such mechanism, death from respiratory failure, when it is released in high doses. In near lethal doses, it can leave a person in a state of near death for several days, while the person remains conscious. It has been argued by some that tetrodotoxin is an hallucinogenic, but it is inconclusive as to whether there’s any basis to that argument. However, there is evidence that ciguatera toxin does trigger hallucinations. Although ciguatera toxin is found in fish, they are of a completely different type of species. Hypothetically, the Zombie Powder could have a mix of both tetrodotoxin and ciguatera, but there’s no evidence to support such a hypothesis. – Matt Allair
  • The origin of Haitian Voodoo, or Vodou in it’s proper name, has been mischaracterized to some degree. Practitioners are called “Vodouists” or “Servants of the spirits.” Such Vodouists believe in a distant and unknowable creator god named Bondye, and vodouists direct their worship towards spirits subservient to Bondye, called Ioa. Every Ioa is responsible for a certain aspect of life. In order to navigate daily life vodouists cultivate personal relationships with the Ioa through the presentation of offerings, personal altars, and devotional objects, as well as elaborate ceremonies. The Satanism, Voodoo Dolls, and Zombie rituals that have been referenced within rural Haitian Culture, are not part of the Vodou religion. Such manifestations fall under the auspices of the Bokor or sorcerer rather than the priests of the Loa. The sign painted on the tree is a “vever” a sign belonging to the loa spirits. Bauvais explains the vever as a loco-miroir, or ‘mirror of the soul’. – Matt Allair

Episode Summary / Points to consider / Production analysis

The origin of the episode came when Howard Gordon saw two articles about three suicides involving U.S. servicemen in Haiti. A great deal of credit must go to director Rob Bowman for establishing so much atmosphere, for a solid and interesting hour. One of assets of the episode is the fact that it doesn’t rely on elaborate visual effects, or mutant prosthetics, but relies on what is inferred, and thus follows the edict of Chris Carter’s vision, to make something that is scary, but plausible. It ended up that “Fresh Bones” was the highest rated episode of the first two seasons. At the time, the internment of Haitian refugees was very much in the news. It should be noted that Toby Lindala’s make-up from the brief scene of private Jack McAlpin’s grim vision of his demise, was highly effective. The Rottweiler dog of the cemetery groundskeeper is named Wong, a reference to the illustrious Executive Producer.

As recounted by location manager Louisa Gradnitzer, the Folkstone Processing setting was found at Versatile Shipyard, East Esplanade, North Vancouver. As a compromise to a outdoor setting, the partially covered building at Versatile offered the proper look. The makeshift camp set had to be completed before the Christmas hiatus to ensure it was ready for filming on the first day back in January, thus, necessitating twenty-four hour security during the holiday. Regarding the exterior cemetery, that was found at North Shore Cemetery, Lillooet Rd, North Vancouver, it was during the shooting of “Fresh Bones,” it was discovered that the rainy winter months were not the best time to dig graves. The grave was excavated while the January rains descended and special effects had to be called to location to deal with the influx of water. Sump pumps were in full force during shooting and crews were hand-bailing water. Director Rob Bowman expected the worst and got it. The water level rose between takes, making continuity almost impossible.

Writer Howard Gordon had observed on several occasions that the casting of guest star Daniel Benzali was “kind of a bold choice.” being that he didn’t look like a military man but “had that quality” that the producers were after*. Actor Daniel Benzali was originally born in Rio de Janerio, Brazil in 1950. He came to Hollywood in the mid-eighties following a successful stage career. He appeared in the 1985 James Bond film, A View To A Kill, and followed that with telefilms The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1987) and Roe Vs Wade (1989) with fellow actor Jerry Hardin. His most famous stage credit was playing general Juan Peron in the west end production of Evita, and later would originate the stage role of butler Max Von Mayerling in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical version of Sunset Boulevard in 1993, which was based on the famous film from 1950. Some of Mr. Benzali’s other film roles include White Nights, Murder at 1600, and The Grey Zone. His television appearances include Beauty and the Beast, Falcon Crest, Star Trek: The Next Generation, L.A. Law as Judge Donald Philips, The Outer Limits, The District, NYPD Blue as James Sinclair, Jericho, Nip Tuck, and Californication.

The other notable actor from the episode, who is simply listed as ‘groundskeeper’ is Callum Keith Rennie, who would go on to play Janke Dacyshyn in The X-Files: I Want To Believe feature. Chris Carter commented in 2008: “He was actually considered for the role of Krycek, and was considered for big roles in all of the series we did.”** Rennie was born in England, 1960, and raised in Alberta, Canada. He discovered theatre in Edmonton at the age of 25, starting out in university radio, and worked his way to the renowned Shaw Festival. After moving to Canada, he gained a lot of attention from producers and directors. He is also noted for playing the cylon Leoben Conoy in Ron Moore’s Battlestar: Galactica from 2004-2009. Some of his feature film roles include eXistenZ, Memento, The Butterfly Effect, Blade:Trinity, and Silk. Some other recurring television roles include Due South as Stanley Kowalski, Da Vinci’s Inquest as Detective Bob Marlowe, The L Word as Danny Wilson, Tin Man as Zero, 24 as Vladimir Laitanan, Shattered as Detective Ben Sullivan, and Californication as Lew Ashby. Additional television appearances include Lonesome Dove: The Series, The Commish, Timecop, The Outer Limits, Highlander, My Life As A Dog, La Femme Nikita, Dark Angel, Tru Calling, Supernatural, Smallville, Flash Forward, and CSI:Miami.

Actor Matt Hill who played Private Harry Dunham, is a native of North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and was born in 1968. Early in his career he was involved with doing voice work for video games. He appeared on 21 Jumpstreet, Neon Rider, Madison, Street Sharks, War Planets, Silverwing, Jake 2.0, X-Men: Evolution, Sabrina’s Secret Life, and Storm Hawks. Some of his feature film work includes Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture, Bordello of Blood, and Shanghai Nights.

* 'The Truth is Out There: The official guide to The X-Files' by Brian Lowry, published by Harper Prism, © 1995

** 'The Complete X-Files, Behind the series, the Myths and the Movies' by Matt Hurwirtz and Chris Knowles, published by Insight Editions, © 2008

Synopsis and Review: Erin McRaven
Additional Review and Production Notes: Matt Allair
Page Editor: XScribe

Please visit J.J. Lindl's Tumbler account, The X-Files Poster Project, to find out how to purchase his work: http://xfilesposterproject.tumblr.com/

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2x01 Little Green Men
2x02 The Host
2x03 Blood
2x04 Sleepless
2x05 Duane Barry
2x06 Ascension
2x07 3
2x08 One Breath
2x09 Firewalker
2x10 Red Museum
2x11 Excelsis Dei
2x12 Aubrey
2x13 Irresistible
2x14 Die Hand Die Verletzt
2x15 Fresh Bones
2x16 Colony
2x17 End Game
2x18 Fearful Symmetry
2x19 Død Kalm
2x20 Humbug
2x21 The Calusari
2x22 F. Emasculata
2x23 Soft Light
2x24 Our Town
2x25 Anasazi