Mulder and Scully are called in to investigate the unexplained deaths of several African-American people whose skin color has turned white as the result of either a rare medical disorder or a bizarre curse.
On a plane en route to the United States from Burkina Faso, one of the exhausted passengers goes to the lavatory to splash some water on his face. Above his head, a tiny cabinet opens, revealing a pair of eyes in a white face watching him. The man looks up, and screams. A few minutes later, a young African man, Samuel Aboah, emerges from the lavatory and wordlessly obeys the flight attendant's request to resume his seat.
After the plane lands, one of the attendants notes the absence of one of the passengers, and goes to the lavatory. Opening the door, she sees the man lying dead, his skin turned ghostly white, and screams.
Act One Edit
Scully is called into Skinner's office to meet with Dr. Simon Bruin of the Centers for Disease Control. Skinner explains that four African-American men have vanished off the streets of Philadelphia. A joint FBI/Philadelphia PD task force had no leads, until the body of the most recent victim was discovered, his skin turned pale white. The coroner having found no sign of violence, the CDC has concluded that some kind of disease is at work, rather than a criminal.
Agent Mulder, however, believes that more than a simple pathogen is involved. His investigations lead to a cover-up of the death of the man on the plane, and the presence in the body of a paralyzing drug, made from a plant native to West Africa. Meanwhile, Scully discovers that the victim's pituitary gland, which produces melanin (among other hormones), has somehow been destroyed.
While their investigation is under way, the killer strikes again. This time a young black student is stalked and kidnapped from a bus stop. The evidence leads Scully and Mulder to a recent West African immigrant, Samuel Aboah. They arrest him when he attempts to escape. Hospital tests reveal that, among other peculiar abnormalities, Aboah lacks a pituitary gland, which means he should not be capable of living at all.
A tip from his UN informant Marita Covarrubias sends Mulder to Minister Diabira, a diplomat on the staff of the Burkina Faso embassy. Reluctantly, Diabria admits he had ordered the cover-up of the first murder - because he knew the identity of the killer. It was one of the mythical Teliko: evil "spirits of the air," who emerge at night to suck the life and color out of their victims, and have the ability to hide in spaces too small for a human being. Diabira himself narrowly escaped a childhood encounter with a Teliko, which his father dismissed as a nightmare, until they found his cousin dead the next day, as pale as a ghost.
Who would have believed that a terrifying West African folktale could come to life in 20th century America? No one, except Mulder.
While Diabria narrates this story, Aboah escapes from the hospital, concealed in the tiny drawer of a hospital cart.
Mulder explains his theory to a skeptical Scully: the Teliko are not ghostly entities, but members of a lost African clan, who have survived over generations by hunting down other humans to steal what they lack - hormones from the pituitary gland.
When Aboah escapes the hospital, his next intended victim is his immigration counselor, Marcus Duff, who cheerfully offers him a ride in his car. A short while later, Duff is lying on the ground, paralyzed, and watching in horror as Aboah produces a needle-sharp wooden tube and inserts it into Duff's nostrils.
In the manhunt for Aboah, Mulder and Scully follow Duff's trail and find him, wounded but barely alive. They separate to search for him, and Aboah, lurking in a nearby vent, paralyzes Mulder with a blow dart. When Scully comes back, she finds Mulder frozen, and starts to call for an ambulance. Above her head, Aboah prepares to pounce, but Mulder has just enough movement to point his gaze over her shoulder, and she turns just as Aboah leaps, shooting him in the chest.
Scully types her final report, narrating that Duff is recovering from his injuries and will bring charges against Aboah, however, Aboah is slowly dying in hospital despite hormone therapy to replace the hormones his body lacks. He is not expected to last the month, and the truth about the Teliko is destined to die along with him.
- The tagline to this episode is "Deceive Inveigle Obfuscate." The three synonyms, two of which are not commonly used words, were referenced four separate times in this episode: (1) Replacing the usual tagline at the end of the opening credit sequence; (2) spoken by Scully; (3) spoken by Mulder; (4) written by Scully in her final report. "Inveigle" means to win over by guile or persuasion, and "Obfuscate" means to make dark or obscure, to confuse.
- This was the last episode to be broadcast in the show's original timeslot of Friday at 9:00 p.m.
- Carl Lumbly would, 5 years later, play another character with the first name Marcus and a last name starting with D. Here his character is 'Marcus Duff" and in 'Alias' his character was named 'Marcus Dixon'.
- Teliko is also a mythological African 'spirit of the air', sometimes thought to be an albino.
- Aboah's birthday is September 25, the same as Gillian Anderson's daughter Piper Maru.
- Teliko is Greek for 'final'.
- The time Scully arrive at work in the morning was 5:17am. 5/17 is the birthdate of producer/writer Frank Spotnitz's wife.
- Despite the episode's African theme, the soundtrack is more global. The women chanting -- particularly prominent in the bus stop scene -- is a sample from the Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Choir.
- Scully goes into the autopsy assuming she's dealing with an unknown disease. Then why isn't she in a hazmat suit? Or at least wearing a mask?
- When Scully is viewing Owen Sanders' eyes you can clearly see that the actor is wearing contact lenses in order to make his eyes appear red. When Mulder is looking at Owen's body, it cuts to Owen's face, and you can clearly see Owen swallow.
- When Marcus Duff visits Aboah at his apartment, he states that he is there to assist Aboah with his naturalization petition. However, to become naturalized as a United States citizen, a petitioner must have resided in the United States continuously for at least five years. Aboah arrived in Philadelphia only three months prior to Duff's visit.
- During Scully's final report scene, she types "but to deceive, inveigle and obfuscate. U..." which continues off the screen, but says "but to deceive, inveigle and obfuscate. To obscure the truth..." creating a conflict between what she types and what she says.
- Carl Lumbly as Marcus Duff
- Willie Amakye as Samuel Aboah
- Laurie Holden as Marita Covarrubias
- Brendan Beiser as Agent Pendrell
- Zakes Mokae as Alpha Diabria
- Danny Wattley as First Officer
- Maxine Guess as Flight Attendant
- Bill MacKenzie as Bus Driver
- Michael O'Shea as Lt. Madson
- Unknown Actor as Owen Sanders