Mulder and Scully investigate the disappearance of a man in a town where the residents really are what they eat.
SummaryLate at night, in the woods near the town of Dudley, Arkansas, a middle-aged George Kearns and a much younger Paula Gray drive into the woods with amorous intentions. The man wonders why they cannot spring for a motel room, but she insists on leading him into the woods. She gets out of the car, but before he can follow her, he has a sudden, violent seizure, and hurriedly dry-swallows some pills from a bottle. Following her into the woods, before long, he starts to fall behind, and loses sight of her. When he calls for her, she does not answer. Too late, the man starts to sense something wrong, then sees a circle of strange lights closing in on him from the woods. Then a twig snaps and he turns to see a tall figure looming over him, wearing a tribal mask and raising a huge ceremonial axe. As Kearns screams, the axe comes down.
The man, George Kearns, was a poultry inspector for the Department of Agriculture, assigned to the famous Chaco Chicken Plant in Dudley. Scully feels the case is yet another "wild goose chase," but Mulder shows her documentary footage of a deranged man, Creighton Jones, in a mental hospital, talking about fire spirits, wanting their "pound of flesh" and how he would not let them get him. Jones was found wandering in the woods three days after pulling off Highway 10 to take a nap on the side ot the road, just outside Dudley when this occurred. Mulder theorizes a connection to foxfires.
In Dudley, Mulder and Scully investigate the place of the sighting, and finds a huge clearing made by a bonfire, and a "witches peg," which seems to confirm Mulder's theory. The local Sheriff, Tom Arens, drives up and tells them the fire may have been just the work of some locals burning trash illegally. He said that they made no note of the witches peg since they are commonly found in these fields. When asked about Kearns, the Sheriff says he was an outsider, who made himself unpopular around the town and never managed to fit in. Married to a local woman, Doris, George was a notorious philanderer.
Mulder and Scully interview Doris, who does not seem particularly upset that her husband has disappeared, though uneasy about something else. When Mulder asks if she knew that George was about to file a report about health violations at the chicken processing plant, Doris says her husband never discussed his work.The next morning, Paula Gray, the young woman from the forest, is preparing for her shift at the Chaco Chicken plant, but is nervous and irritable. She dry-swallows some pills before going onto the processing line. At the same time, Mulder and Scully are questioning the shift manager, Jess Harold, who says that three other inspectors gave the plant excellent ratings, and no one was worried about Kearns' report.
Harold adds that Kearns had a bone to pick with everyone, including the federal government he worked for, against whom Kearns filed a huge worker's compensation lawsuit, claiming that working at the plant was giving him terrible headaches. However, in the middle of their conversation, a commotion breaks out: Paula has begun to hallucinate, and sees George's severed head on a stake on the conveyor belt rather than a chicken carcass. She begins screaming, and as Harold tries to calm her, grabs a knife and puts it to his neck. Scully tries to calm her, and it seems to be working, but then Sheriff Arens shoots Paula dead, knocking her away from Harold and into a feed grinder.
While treating Jess's neck wound, the plant's doctor, Vance Randolph, tells Mulder and Scully that he treated both George Kearns and Paula Gray for headaches and insomnia, but was unqualified to diagnose their psychological problems as anything other than stress. Gray had a brain scan at the county hospital, which came back negative. When Scully mentions wanting to perform an autopsy on Paula's remains, Randolph says that permission will have to come from Walter Chaco, the town patriarch, company founder and Paula's grandfather and legal guardian. After an uncomfortable discussion, Chaco agrees to the autopsy.
Scully examines what is left of Paula and discovers that she was suffering from Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, also known as "Mad Cow disease," a hereditary brain disease that would have killed her within a few months. Mulder shocks Scully by telling her that, according to the company's personnel records, Paula was born in 1948, making her forty-seven years old. Scully insists that there must be a mistake since Paula appears no older than her mid-twenties and that they need to check Paula's birth certificate.
As they are driving down a country road, Mulder remarks that Paula Gray and George Kearns exhibited the same symptoms, and wonders if they could both have suffered from the same disease. Scully says that is virtually impossible: Creutzfeld-Jakob is hereditary, not communicable, and incredibly rare - the odds that two unrelated persons in the same small town would have it are astronomical. Just as she finishes saying this, a truck in the oncoming lane begins swerving wildly. Mulder jerks the car off the road to avoid a collision and the truck crashes into a small body of water. The driver, Scully learns, was exhibiting the same symptoms as Kearns and Gray.
Scully theorizes that Kearns discovered health violations at the chicken plant, the major source of employment for the whole town, and was killed to keep him silent. Creutzfeld-Jakob is ordinarily not communicable, but it can be transmitted by eating parts of a contaminated animal's nervous system, such as the spine - for that very reason, afflicted cattle in Great Britain are incinerated to prevent their bodies being used as carrion for other animals. If the townspeople disposed of George Kearns's body by dropping it into the plant's feed grinder, that would have contaminated the chickens, and the people who ate them. Mulder says that doesn't make sense - Chaco Chicken ships all over the country, and contaminated chickens would have caused a nationwide epidemic, instead of a few local cases.
Discussing their theory with the Sheriff, Mulder speculates about places where Kearns's body could have been hidden, and asks the Sheriff to drag the local river. When that is done, the net comes up with a huge pile of human bones.
At the chicken plant, Harold is pulled aside by Dr. Randolph, who warns him that the townspeople are growing uneasy. Harold says he already knows about the FBI finding the bones, but is shaken when Randolph tells him a second person (the driver) has come down with Paula's disease. Randolph says something has to be done, and Harold promises that he will speak to Chaco, who will listen to him.Among the bones, Scully identifies some, from a steel pin in a femur, as belonging to Kearns. She notes two odd details that all the bones have in common: all are missing their skulls, and the ends of several of the bones have been smoothed at the ends, as if polished. Scully speculates that this could be erosion from the water. Although this detail is shared by all of the skeletons, which range in age from several decades old to Kearns', which is only a few months old, Mulder points out that it's unlikely due to the slow flow of the water where they were recovered. Mulder has a different theory: pot polish, caused by boiling in water. A background search reveals that in the last fifty years, eighty-seven people have disappeared mysteriously in the Dudley area, all of them outsiders. He believes that the people were cannibalized. Scully says that if Mulder is right, then Paula and the driver did not contract Creutzfeld-Jakob from eating chickens that had eaten Kearns' body - they got it from eating Kearns himself!
Mulder expands on the theory, saying that cannibalism could also explain Paula's youthful appearance, as it is a belief shared across several different mythologies and religions that eating human flesh enhances the eater's powers and lengthens their lifespan. Scully has more trouble believing this, and says they still need to confirm Paula's actual age from her birth certificate.
In conference with Chaco, Harold says that many of the townspeople are growing uneasy. Chaco assures him that the F.B.I. are the only real problem; the rest he can handle. Then, Doris enters and says she cannot bear the guilt any longer, as she contributed to her husband's death. Chaco reassures her in a fatherly way, telling her to go home and rest.
At the courthouse, Mulder and Scully find that every townsperson's birth records have been burned. They get a call from Doris, who says she needs to speak to them right away. Scully agrees to go meet her, while Mulder goes to Chaco's house to confront him.
Before Scully can arrive, the axe man in the mask appears in Doris's home, and she screams.
Mulder knocks on the door of Chaco's house and is told by his maid that he is not there, but Mulder is invited to wait in the foyer. Looking at a display case, he sees a photo of Chaco in the cockpit of a World War II era fighter plane - oddly, looking not much younger than he is today. On another shelf below the photograph, he sees a number of tribal artifacts, including a human skull, with a label reading "JALE TRIBE, PAPUA NEW GUINEA." Noticing a large, locked cabinet, Mulder breaks it open and finds four preserved human heads inside, including George Kearns. Scully calls him from Doris' house, saying no one is there and that the power has gone out. Unknown to her, Chaco is lurking in the hallway and hefts a heavy stick. Suddenly, there are sounds of a scuffle, and Scully's voice disappears from the phone.
At a hideous "town meeting," a bonfire is burning in the clearing, while the townspeople queue up to receive portions of a stew ladled out from a cauldron. Chaco arrives with Scully as his captive, wide-eyed, handcuffed and tape-gagged. Chaco berates the townspeople for killing Doris, insisting that once they start turning on their own, their community is no longer worth saving. Harold, smirking, disarms Chaco of his gun and says that his day as the town's leader has passed. The townspeople seize Chaco and force his head into a metal harness, and the masked executioner cuts off his head.
Mulder drives along the county road at a breakneck speed, and pulls off the road when he sees the light of the bonfire.As two townspeople drag Chaco's headless body away, Scully is the next one to be placed into the harness. A second time, the axe comes up, and then gunshots ring out, and the executioner falls dead. Mulder has arrived. The townspeople flee the scene, but Mulder is too busy reaching Scully to arrest any of them. Harold aims his gun at Mulder, but he is knocked over and trampled by the fleeing mob, possibly to death.
Mulder frees Scully of her handcuffs and the tape, where they crawl over to the dead axe-man and remove his mask to reveal the Sheriff. Looking at the receding flashlights of the fleeing crowd, and the bonfire, Mulder and Scully grimly make the connection with the prior legends of foxfires, and Creighton Jones' deranged ramblings.
Scully’s closing narration is heard over scenes of the chicken plant being closed by Arkansas State Troopers:
- "Pending further investigation, the Chaco Chicken plant has been shut down by the U.S.D.A. Thus far, no evidence of tainted chicken has been found. While it is unknown how many citizens particpated in the ritual activity, twenty-seven have become fatally ill with Creutzfeld-Jakob."
Before the chicken plant is emptied, one worker scoops a bucket of feed from the trough and carries it outside to a coop of chickens.
- "What is known is that a transport plane carrying Walter Chaco was shot down over New Guinea in 1944. Chaco was the only survivor of that crash. He spent six months with the Jale, a tribe whose cannibalistic practices have long been suspected, but never proven. According to Naval records, Chaco was born in 1902, making him ninety-three years old at the time of his death."
Reaching into the bucket, the worker pauses when he finds a clump of gray hair in the feed, then shrugs and scoops the feed to the chickens, which peck hungrily.
- "As of this date, his remains have yet to be found."
SEMICOLON-SEPARATED LIST OF ITEMS/LOCATIONS REFERENCED IN EPISODE (BUT NOT LINKED TO IF ALREADY LINKED IN SUMMARY OR GUEST STARS SECTIONS)
Mulder: "If a fool would persist in his folly he would become wise." quoting William Blake.
- Chaco Chicken and Dudley, Arkansas are likely a spoof on Tyson Foods, a nationwide purveyor of poultry products likewise headquartered in Springdale, Arkansas.
- Walter Chaco's name is a reference to Chaco Canyon, a major cultural center of the ancient pueblo peoples. Mulder mentions that "pot polish" is a clue that has led several anthropologists to suspect the Anasazi tribe, who inhabited Chaco Canyon, of practicing cannibalism. The Anasazi are likewise mentioned in the subsequent episode of the same name.
- Sheriff Arens' name is likely a reference to William Arens, author of a 1979 work on anthropology purporting to debunk several cannibalism myths.
- The fictitious "Jale tribe" of Papua New Guinea may be partially based on the Korowai tribe of that country, who practiced cannibalism in the past, but are the subject of a modern controversy over whether these practices have continued.
Cast and Characters
- Robin Mossley (Dr. Vance Randolph) previously played Dr. Joe Ridley in The X-Files episode "Young at Heart".
- Hrothgar Mathews (Creighton Jones) previously played Jack in The X-Files episode "The Jersey Devil" and Man on Phone in "The Host".
- Caroline Kava as Doris Kearns
- John Milford as Walter Chaco
- Gary Grubbs as Sheriff Tom Arens
- Timothy Webber as Jess Harold