Welcome to “Monster of the Week”-Week, 2020! In honor of Halloween Quarantine, we’re bringing you an entire week of episode reviews on a thoroughly binge-able, creepy show: The X-Files! You’ll meet some of our favorite monsters, the least competent conspiracies, and some of Mulder’s most ridiculous-yet-dead on theories! Feel free to break out the pumpkin ale or mulled cider, because we’ll have a running “Drink When…” list for the entire series!
A quick thanks to the podcast Fox Mulder is a Maniac and the web comic Monster of the Week. They are far funnier and more dedicated reviewers than I. If you love The X-Files but also love mocking The X-Files, check them out!
Our Town || Season 2, Episode 24
We open, once again, on a patch of woods with ambient moonlight shining through the trees and ambient fog. The title card reveals that we are in Dudley, Arkansas. Well done with that quaint small town name, script.
A couple drive up, having found a prime place for “necking” or “petting” or whatever small town people do in cars together. But there appears to be an uncomfortable age-difference between the older man and the much younger woman. In fact, the man says, “Hey, we can go somewhere else. You’re not in high school anymore.” HMM that’s a concerning comment to make, sir.
But the woman, Paula Gray, exits the car. She invites him to follow her and saunters into the woods.
The man, George Kearns, looks very down to clown, but he’s suddenly gripped by some sort of seizure. He takes some pills, and I don’t think they’re little blue pills…
Now, I would think that having a seizure would be a fair occasion for calling off naughty business in the woods. But no, George hears Paula calling to him seductively and he’s anxious to follow.
Paula briskly leads George. I’m sure she’s excited, but jogging to having sex in the woods is a bit much. George asks why they can’t get to ‘business time’ by any ol’ stump or log. Paula answers playfully, “You have to catch me first!” She dashes off into the forest. George’s expression is just “Fucking seriously…?”
George trudges into the brush, even though he seems unconvinced that any Paula on earth would be worth this bullshit. But Paula has vanished into the darkness.
We hear an exotic flute on the soundtrack, so you know this isn’t good. George sees torches approaching from the trees. Oh, very not good.
Suddenly, he’s confronted by someone wearing a mask that should’ve been left in the “inappropriate racial cosplay” section of the Halloween store.
The figure axes George what it’s like to be axed to death!
We open on our agents in Mulder’s X-Lair. This office has more posters than the average college dorm.
George Kearns, Mulder announces, has gone missing. Er, “gone missing.” This might be an X-File, Mulder says, because the night George went missing, a witness reported seeing a fire in a field. A scorch mark, 12 ft in diameter, was found in that field the next day.
OK, it’s rural Arkansas, they probably burn things in fields all the time. Or maybe it was ordinary murderers ordinarily burning their ordinary murder victim?
Nope! Must be foxfire or a will o’ the wisp, Mulder says. He goes on some ramble about historical sightings of supernatural fire in the Ozarks. It has nothing to do with the actual plot, so I’m skipping over it.
George Kearns was a federal poultry inspector, so technically the FBI can investigate his disappearance. Mulder couldn’t be more thrilled to have found yet another flimsy excuse to invade a small town.
Scully, in a rare move, dismisses this as a waste of their time. She calls it a wild goose chase.
Mulder, in a rare move, corrects her. It’s a chicken chase, he says, as Dudley, Arkansas is home to Chaco Chicken. Chaco Chicken was the poultry factory that George Kearns was investigating.
That’s right everyone, this episode’s plot centers around chicken. Buckle in.
Mulder reveals there is an X-File dating back to the 1960s where a man pulled off the road to take a nap right outside Dudley. That man vanished and was found three days later. He was in very bad shape and had to be committed to an insane asylum. Mulder helpfully has a film clip featuring that same man mumbling about fire demons after their pound of flesh.
You must be a real trip at parties, Mulder. We cut to Mulder and Scully observing the large scorch mark in a field. Mulder finds a discarded fork. Scully finds a multi-pronged wooden stake, which Mulder identifies as a ‘witch’s peg’. Oddly, only the fork is going to prove relevant.
The agents meet our Small Town Sheriff of the Week, Sheriff Arens. He doesn’t understand why two FBI agents have shown up to look for one missing adult, federal employee or not.
George Kearns never really fit in, so it’s reasonable that he’d just leave town. Plus, George cheated on his wife all the time (hence the surreptitious rendezvous with Paula we saw in the cold open).
Well gee, Sheriff, that sounds like a motive for killing him and burning him in a field, don’t you think?
Our Intrepid Agents accompany Sheriff Arens to interview Mrs. Kearns. She’s convinced that George went off with some woman.
Mulder asks for any files George left behind. Upon review, apparently George discovered several major health violations at the Chaco Chicken plant. So many, in fact, that he was going to ask for the plant to be shut down. Hmm, seems we have found another reason to murder George Kearns and burn him in the field for totally non-supernatural reasons.
Mulder leaves his number with Mrs. Kearns, and I’m praying that this isn’t how Mulder asks women out. “If you need anything. Like…anything. Especially if it involves aliens. Or my abducted sister.” *WINK*
The agents next head over to the Chaco Chicken plant. Chaco Chicken has a rip-off Colonel Sanders, Mr. Chaco, as its logo.
We see Paula, who is an employee at the plant, in the locker room. She’s looking a bit disheveled. Perhaps she’s feeling bad about seducing, luring, and helping to murder George? We see her take a medication just like George’s.
The agents get a tour of the plant. They are accompanied by Sheriff Arens and the floor manager, Jess Harold. We see lots and lots and lots and lots of dead chickens literally hanging around. This is not an episode for vegans …. or, perhaps, it is the ideal vegan episode (you’ll see why).
Paula joins assembly line of workers while the agents tour the floor. Floor Manager Harold claims that yes, he knew about the violations, but it was no biggie. Nope, not at all. Just like the Flint water crisis, move along, nothing to see here, definitely didn’t murder a guy to avoid shutting this plant down…
On the assembly line, Paula suffers a seizure—just like George Kearns. She watches a line of chicken bodies go by and sees George’s decapitated head on the line. She grabs the head, screaming, and throws it to the floor.
Of course, everyone else just sees a chicken. Paula, how many times? Chicken volleyball is over! This is how we get health and safety violations, Paula!
We cut back to the agents getting their tour. Harold keeps talking shit about George Kearns like it isn’t suspicious as all hell. George was just a problem person, his violations didn’t exist, he was cheating on his wife, he was suffering headaches and blaming his employer, etc. In other words: “Okay, so, hypothetically, if we murdered him and burned his body in a field, he totally deserved it, right? Am I right or am I right?”
Mulder’s half-listening, because he simply must know everything about the factory’s huge feed grinder. This feed grinder violently churns up any leftover chicken bits, rendering them into chicken feed. We get a shot of the resultant, bloody slurry. It must smell horrid.
Gee, “chickens eating chickens.” Do you think we might be hitting on a theme here?
…cannibals, guys. It’s a town full of cannibals.
A Chaco Chicken Community Cannibal Conspiracy. C5 for short.
Anyway, Scully remains skeptical that this case is worth their attention.
Really? Because I think this is the start of what could be the greatest true crime documentary series of all time. We have a missing victim, the victim’s highly flawed, there’s lots of motives to murder him, suspects are out the wazoo, there’s room for commentary on the agricultural industry and meat production, etc. That sounds awesome! Two seasons on Netflix at least!
Come on guys, can’t we investigate a plain ol’ mundane murder mystery for once?
Suddenly, there’s a scream! Paula has taken Floor Manager Harold hostage with a knife! The agents draw their guns. For once, it’s justified!
Paula is shot from behind by Sheriff Arens. She falls into the slurry of the feed grinder. Eeeeew it’s so gross as she sinks into the bloody mess.
Harold got cut by Paula’s knife, so he gets stitched up by the factory’s in-house doctor, Dr. Randolph.
Dr. Randolph tells Our Intrepid Agents that Paula came to him just last week with headaches, irritability, and other neurological issues.
Hmm…wasn’t George Kearns suffering headaches before he went missing? Dr. Randolph confirms that George Kearns was also a patient with similar symptoms.
Oh, and what did the good doctor prescribe for these problems? CODEINE. Yeah, let’s just throw opiates at any ol’ health problem. What could possibly go wrong?
Scully is ready to Do Her Thing and perform an autopsy on Paula Gray. But Dr. Randolph explains that they’ll need to get permission from Paula’s grandfather and legal guardian: Mr. Chaco himself!
…um, what is a fully functional adult like Paula doing with a legal guardian? Oh that’ll never be explained? Well okay, script.
Our Intrepid Agents head over to Mr. Chaco’s mansion, which looks like it was raided by the Union Army in 1864. The agents are shown to the backyard by a maid, whose uniform apparently hasn’t been updated since 1864.
Mr. Chaco wears a doofy Indiana Jones hat. You know that person in your life who is super-attached to a hat they really need to let go? That’s Mr. Chaco.
In the backyard, we see Mr. Chaco feeding his house chickens. It’s too many chickens, in way too small a pen. Is Mr. Chaco an animal hoarder?
Mr. Chaco waxes poetic about how chickens are perfect creatures. Alllllllll righty…..
The agents explain to Mr. Chaco that an autopsy could help to explain why Paula went berserk.
Mr. Chaco keeps his monologue going, talking about how he came here after the war and built Dudley up from nothing, how a long life is one of mixed blessings, etc. TLDR: Seems this man is chock full of hubris and it’s gonna bite him on the ass. …perhaps literally…
Point is: he allows the autopsy.
We cut to Scully observing a slice of Paula Gray’s brain through a microscope. She’s discovered that Paula Gray suffered from Creutzfeldt–Jakob’s disease (CJD). The number of ‘c’ words in this episode is TOO HIGH.
CJD is a prion disease—which is always bad. Prions are messed-up proteins that build up like a plaque in the brain, turning your brain into a sponge. You suffer mood swings, disorientation, hallucinations, delusions, etc. It’s fatal within a year of showing symptoms. Basically, it’s like getting fast-tracked dementia.
While CJD can occur spontaneously, it is extremely rare. But it can be transmitted. When people freak out about mad cow disease? This is why. Mad cow disease is a prion disease. If you eat an infected cow, you could contract those prions, and your brain goes to sponge. Same thing with game infected with wasting disease.
And you thought cannibals were going to be the scariest thing in this episode!
Mulder has something to share with Scully: Paula Gray’s personnel file. Although Paula Gray looked like she was in her mid-twenties, her birthdate is in 1948.
Pause. The C5 has been in place for decades. Surely, at some point, there was discussion of fudging HR records. Just as a precaution, in case someone, like the FBI, came along one day and noticed that the entire workforce was immortal? Maybe?
Mulder and Scully drive off to…somewhere unnamed (spoiler: it isn’t going to matter). Scully is stumped about the recurrence of this rare brain disease in two people of one small town. She breezes over that they might have eaten infected meat.
Pause. Again. Guys, there has never been a single case of mad cow disease in the US. If there was, it would be a disaster. There’s an entire West Wing episode dedicated to the crisis that would occur if that happened. There is a strong chain of evidence to suggest that these people consumed infected meat. This is an occasion where the FBI should be calling everyone. Like, EVERYONE.
But no time to muse on that further! The agents’ car is driven off the road by a swerving Chaco Chicken truck. The truck slams into a runoff pond. Chickens are thrown all about. There’s feathers and desperate clucking everywhere. We see the truck sinking into what must be a stinking, disgusting sludge of used chicken bits from the plant.
We later see that truck getting hauled out of the worst chicken soup. Scully has just called Dr. Randolph, who confirms that the driver (deceased) was a patient with CJD symptoms. GUYS. You need to make some calls! Immediately! This is BAD BAD VERY BAD!
Scully privately tells Mulder that she just had a “sick thought.”
Mulder, just like I would in this situation, leans in with big eyes and is all, “Tell me more!” He’s practically biting his tongue to not scream “Is it cannibals? It’s totally cannibals! I knew it!”
Scully’s theory finally semi-connects to a problem in the local food chain. Maybe George Kearns had this rare brain disease spontaneously, was murdered, and his body was ground up into chicken feed. The chickens eat the food, the people eat the chickens, and the prion disease spreads.
….. well fuck me, that sounds like a pretty reasonable explanation.
But STILL: you have transmissible brain disease in the food supply chain. Where else is Chaco Chicken sending these chickens? How many other people are possible exposed? How many chicken nuggets, chicken wings, rotisserie chickens, sesame chicken, etc. could be infested? You guys REALLY need to call in, like, the entire US Department of Agriculture. Scully, you’re a doctor, you know basic epidemiology!
Mulder tells Sheriff Aren that he wants the runoff canal drained and dragged. The sheriff is all “why would you wanna do that?” Well I don’t know, Sheriff, maybe because a man is still missing and probably murdered in your jurisdiction?
Mulder’s response is incredible: “To see what’s in there.”
I think Mulder approaches most search warrant requests with that exact statement. “Yes, I want to exhume yet another corpse. Why? To see what’s in there!”
We cut to the canal being dredged, and oh boy do they find some things. Have they found the remains of George Kearns? Well perhaps, but not just his. They’ve found heaps and heaps and heaps of bones. Just so many bones, guys. So many.
Later, forensic anthropology is at work as authorities try to piece different distinct skeletons together.
In not-so-good news, Scully has determined that they’ve recovered at least nine bodies. Some of them have been in the pond for at least 20 years. The sort-of-good news, she has identified George Kearns’ remains thanks to a surgical pin in his femur.
There are two extra weird findings: all the bodies are missing heads and all of the ends of the bones have been buffed and smoothed. Hmm…..
Meanwhile, Mrs. Kearns confronts Sheriff Aren at his office. She demands to know if it’s true that George’s remains have been recovered.
Sheriff Aren replies “We found quite a few remains today…” That part doesn’t disturb Mrs. Kearns at all. Hmm, that’s a red flag.
When Sheriff Aren confirms that George’s remains were among those recovered, Mrs. Kearns starts to sob. The sheriff tries to comfort her, but it’s just not working.
After all, it’s hard to comfort a woman who unknowingly ate her husband for dinner… and thereby has caught his fatal brain disease.
This is why you can’t just eat people willy nilly!
Back at the Chaco Chicken plant, C5 members Harold and Dr. Randolph are having a little cannibal conspiracy chat.
Dr. Randolph is frustrated that more and more townspeople are coming down with disease symptoms, but Mr. Chaco is doing nothing about it. To be fair, what could he do exactly? They’re all completely and royally fucked.
Moving on! Scully meets up with Mulder at the local morgue. She has a giant tub of Chaco chicken under her arm. Uh….Scully, why do you have that? Please don’t tell me this is your lunch. With everything you’ve seen here, why the fuck would you even think of ordering Chaco chicken?
Anyway, Mulder has discovered that 87 people have disappeared from this area over the last 50 years. How the hell has that not picked up on anyone’s radar yet? How did Mulder pluck old film footage of a man in an insane asylum out of the archives but not records of 87 missing people?
Mulder finally lets himself ejaculate his theory of the episode: “The people of Dudley have been eating more than just chicken!” Ah, but I bet it’s still finger-lickin’ good!
Scully isn’t that against the idea. She explains that the polishing effect they’ve seen on the victims’ bones could mean that they were boiled.
Mulder is determined to keep this a supernatural occurrence. See, cannibalism could explain the youthful appearance of Paula, possibly all the townspeople. There are ancient beliefs around the world that eating human flesh will prolong life.
Mulder literally doesn’t even finish that sentence before Scully is turning around and shaking her head.
…isn’t this when you start making some phone calls, asking for back up? “We have evidence that this entire town is murdering and eating people, also they’ve introduced prion disease into the agricultural system—we might need some help!”
Mulder suggests that they go to the courthouse to look up even more birth records to confirm his theory. There are much higher priorities right now! You have skeletons to put together! A town of cannibals to flee! A tub of chicken to throw out! But Scully apparently has nothing better to do, so they’re off.
We cut to the Chaco Mansion. Harold is confronting Mr. Chaco about how the townspeople are terrified—what with, you know, being infected with a fatal brain-eating disease.
Mr. Chaco says he’ll ‘handle’ it. Well how the fuck is he gonna do that? Is there a special cannibal spell for curing prion disease?
They’re interrupted by the arrival of a very upset Mrs. Kearns. She says she can’t keep lying to the FBI. Ironically, she’s being eaten up by guilt.
Mr. Chaco tries to console her by saying that the dead husband she was tricked into eating was “no good and had no values.” I mean, if a guy doesn’t fit in, you’re obligated to murder and consume him, right?
“You should go home and get some rest,” he encourages, “You’ve got a funeral tomorrow.” He says it like she has some kind of bland obligation, rather than the memorial for her murdered, devoured husband.
Mrs. Kearns departs, and if she said “fuck these people” on the way out, I wouldn’t blame her.
As soon as she’s gone, Harold says he’s convinced that Mrs. Kearns is a liability. She should be taken out, not taken care of.
But Mr. Chaco insists that the townspeople cannot turn on each other. Well, Mr. Chaco, I’m afraid the townspeople are about to turn on each other.
Mr. Chaco insists that their only real problem is the outsider FBI agents. No, I’m pretty sure the problem is the fatal disease turning everyone’s brains into sponges?
But much like the stupid small town conspiracy in our last episode, the C5 ‘s logic is “we’ll get the FBI off our backs by murdering FBI agents.”
Remember: killing 1 federal poultry inspector brought 2 FBI agents to their door. What do they think will show up if they disappear 2 FBI agents? Maybe that’s just the brain disease talking.
Our Intrepid Agents arrive at the local courthouse, only to find that all the records have been burnt in a fire…that was just put out by itself, I guess.
Suddenly, Mulder gets a call from Mrs. Kearns. She says she has to speak with Mulder right away—she’s afraid for her life. Thankfully, Mulder does not assume that this woman is flirting with him.
After Mrs. Kearns says she’s afraid of Mr. Chaco, the agents decide that it is once again time to split the party. Mulder will go arrest Chaco, Scully will go secure Mrs. Kearns.
However, we see Mrs. Kearns turn a corner in her house and get AXED by Uncle Inappropriate Cosplay.
Scully arrives at the Kearns home, finding it dark and quiet. She takes out her gun, which is a sure sign that she’s about to lose that gun.
Mulder arrives at the Chaco mansion. The maid looks thoroughly sick of opening the door for all these people popping by the mansion. The maid lets Mulder in and goes to fetch Mr. Chaco.
In the foyer, Mulder spots some old photos of Mr. Chaco. Looks like decades ago, Mr. Chaco spent some time with tribes in New Guinea…where actual cannibalistic practices have indeed led to the spread of CJD in certain peoples.
It’s kinda amusing to see these photos of a swaggering white guy among a bunch of native peoples looking thoroughly annoyed, like “Who even is this guy? We were having a nice game of volleyball and then this asshole showed up.”
Mulder’s gaze settles on a large ornate wardrobe. It screams “this definitely is not where all my deep dark secrets are!” Mulder just starts busting into the wardrobe.
The maid arrives to say that Mr. Chaco is indisposed, just in time to see this guest destroy her employer’s private property. She demands “What are you doing?!”
Hey Mulder, this would also be a great opportunity for the ol’ “to see what’s in there” line.
Mulder cracks open the wardrobe and finds all those missing heads they were wondering about. Seems that, for once, Mulder is fully within his rights to arrest the fuck out of a suspect.
The maid, by the way, is gone. She has noped-out into thin air.
We cut back to Scully at the Kearns home. Mulder calls Scully to report his findings.
Meanwhile, we see Mr. Chaco himself lurking in the shadows of the Kearns’ home, sneaking up on Scully. Ugh. Seriously dude? Now is not the time for beating up FBI agents. Now is the time to be getting the hell out of dodge.
Yeah, we’ve got less than 10 minutes left in the episode, so once again it’s time for a Scully abduction. (Drink!) She’s knocked out by an octogenarian without a single fuss. I love Scully, but she is a terrible FBI agent.
We cut to an open field where the townspeople are standing in line with paper plates around a big bonfire. Yeah, I don’t think they’re here to sing Kumbaya. None other than Dr. Randolph is ladling out their servings of Mrs. Kearns Surprise.
Suddenly, Mr. Chaco interrupts the gathering with a bound and gagged Scully in tow. He’s shouting, “What have you done here!”
Well, it looks like they’re doing what they’ve been doing for the last 50 years, buddy. Mr. Chaco is very disappointed that they’re eating Mrs. Kearns, one of their own.
Harold approaches Mr. Chaco to confront him. But first, he chillingly yet hilariously dabs at his mouth with a napkin. Seems the Chaco Chicken Community Cannibal Conspiracy has become a Chaco Chicken Community Cannibal Conspiracy Coup! C6!
“Look what you’ve become!” Mr. Chaco decries.
Dude, you’re the one who made them cannibals in the first place. Also, if they’re acting odd even for a group of cannibals, maybe it’s because they’re all suffering a degenerative brain disease?
“You’ve turned this into an abomination!” Mr. Chaco bemoans. Oh no, it seems his dream of a utopian cannibalistic community has been ruined. How sad.
We see Uncle Inappropriate Cosplay emerge from the crowd, axe in hand. Mr. Chaco is seized by townspeople. He is bound to a stake in the ground and Uncle Inappropriate Cosplay beheads him.
Say it with me: “I knew the leopards literally are faces, but I never thought they would eat my face!” (Drink!)
Do you think they’ll deep fry him? Serve with honey sauce? That’s probably what he would’ve wanted.
We cut to Mulder driving down the road. He sees the giant bonfire in the distance. Seems shenanigans are afoot! Mulder to the rescue!
Unfortunately, even with all the ruckus, Scully has not been forgotten by the C6. She’s dragged to the stake.
Uncle Inappropriate Cosplay raises the axe. Is this the end of Scully????
Nope, Mulder shoots the axe man dead. The townspeople scatter like rats. Mulder just stands there, vaguely pointing his gun, like he can’t decide which one to shoot.
You know what? How about all of them, Mulder? Just let loose, go ahead. It’s a town of cannibals. They were going to behead and eat your partner. An autopsy on any one of them will show people-parts in their bellies. If there was any time for you to rampage, Mulder, it’s now!
Mulder frees Scully. “Are you hurt?” No, Mulder, just horrifically traumatized for the hundredth time.
Surely, Scully, the adventure where you almost get eaten is the one where you hang up your hat? None of Mulder’s bullshit is worth this. None of it.
Mulder quickly unmasks Uncle Inappropriate Cosplay. It’s the sheriff. Le Gasp! …not really. I mean, we knew he was in on the C5 this whole time, so why bother with the subterfuge, script?
Later, we see authorities swarming the Chaco Chicken plant. Because for once, Mulder and Scully have discovered crimes they can actually do something about!
For some reason, in the middle of the raid, one of the Chaco workers is allowed to mosey out back to a chicken pen with some feed grind slurry. He pulls out some suspicious looking hair from the slop.
This isn’t just a jaunt to feed the chickens, but an opportunity to get rid of some murder evidence.
Great job, FBI!
In her end-of-episode voiceover, Scully emphasizes that Mr. Chaco’s remains have yet to be found…
DUN DUN DUN!
Never eating chicken nuggets again.
I love this episode because it’s so rare to be introduced to so many characters that you have zero sympathy for and who get their just desserts. And the potential for puns! *chef’s kiss*
It may be a little too stomach churning for some, but I think for folks like me, the grisly nature of the episode makes it irresistible.
Now if you’ll excuse me… I have a week’s worth of vegetarian meals to prep.