Written by Howard Gordon
Directed by Rob Bowman
Until the last quarter of the episode, Fresh Bones seems little more than a traditional Howard Gordon episode. Yes, it's another supernatural revenge story--- but what makes this story above average is the fact that we are misled as to who is seeking the revenge, and why.
For those who pay attention to such things, this episode originally aired a few week after a coup in Haiti. The X-Files doesn't usually try to rip its stories so obviously from the headlines, but I'm guessing the combination of time and setting was too much for Gordon to resist. With the added military element, it also meant that Gordon could point what might be an actual government conspiracy for a change, but it's rendered a bit stodgy by the fact that he can't seem to do much original with the voodoo element of the story.
At this point, the storyline of the zombie has been done (to make an appropriate pun) to death on both movies and TV, so it's interesting that Gordon chose to put Mulder and Scully face with what seems to be a very alive looking zombie when McAlpin comes back from the dead. There are interesting elements to the script--- the story of the toxin in the blood makes it seem a bit more realistic than some of the others. But eventually he gets tired of it, and finds himself setting back to cliché--- blood appearing in Col. Wharton's breakfast, Scully get poked with a voodoo charm (you gotta learn not take those "I'm fine's" so literally Mulder), and a corpse being found in the bathtub. Not even the surprise arrival of X nearly halfway through the episodes leads us to think that this story is particularly special.
It's not until the episode nearly over that Gordon turns the energy up to 11. It is revealed that the voodoo priest is not the Haitian who's been imprisoned for most of the episode, but the bald and rather menacing Colonel who's been abusing the prisoner, and apparently his soldiers. We find that he's trying to seal Bauvais off, Scully has a voodoo monster appear out of a wound inside her own hand (that moment gave me chills) and both agents are saved closer to blind luck and other forces than anything that they manage to do for themselves. Wharton is killed by Bauvais, who then appears to be still dead, and we finally learn that the really creepy Haitian kid Chester who seemed so friendly to our fellow FBI agents has actually been dead for six weeks. It doesn't explain how the people in the facility saw him, or why Private Dunham was so shocked to see him later than an episode. It's a little moment of frission that would be enough to end the episode on... but it doesn't.
These are such effective spooks and thrills that you don't realize until the episode over--- until you know the real fate of poor Colonel Wharton, of course--- that a lot of the plot twists don't make a heckuva lot of sense. There's the part about Chester, there's the reason that McAlpin came back from the dead, if Bauvais was a rival voodoo practioner, why was he not more prepared for Wharton--- frankly all of them make the episode, more than a little confusing. What basically helps save the episode beside the overall mood is the solid work from the guest cast, especially Daniel Benzali (who has made something of a career of playing menacing authority figures) and Matt Hill's work as the spooked Harry Dunham. It's also a note to see some very early performances in the careers of Callum Keith Rennie and Roger Cross in bit parts that don't add much to the story, but help establish the mood a little better.
It's not a great episode, and by this time, we're so used to Gordon's manipulations of story over character, that we almost seem used to the fact that plot has been sacrificed for cheap thrills. But it's a far better job than we usually get from Gordon, and the detail that he demonstrates, along with one hell of a kicker (done over the closing credits, no less) make this another well done episode in the string.
My score:3.25 stars.