CTP Episode of the Day - 07.25.06

Today's Cherished Episode: El Mundo Gira (4x11)
Original Air Date: January 12, 1997
Written By: John Shiban
Directed By: Tucker Gates

Fear, jealousy, superstition, and prejudice converge when a young female migrant worker is killed by a mysterious yellow rain.

MULDER: Witnesses described a bright flash about 30 degrees off the horizon, then a hot yellow rain fell from a cloudless sky. Fortean researchers call these "liquid falls." Black and red rains are the most common, but there have also been reported cases of blue, purple, and green rains.

SCULLY: Purple rain?

MULDER: Yeah. Great album. Deeply flawed movie, though.

Some "El Mundo Gira" Tidbits and Musings:

-- The episode title translates to "The World Rotates," probably a spin on the soap opera title, As the World Turns, since Scully describes this case as "a Mexican soap opera" -- two men, one woman, trouble.

-- "El Mundo Gira" had its genesis several years before when John Shiban was still an aspiring television writer and working as a computer programmer for a company based in Ventura County, a semi-rural area north of Los Angeles. "I'd look out my window and see the long lines of migrant workers in the strawberry fields, alongside the freeway," Shiban said. "It's a shame, but just about everybody, including myself, passed them every day on the way to work without noticing them at all."

-- Chris Carter pointed this out to Shiban when Shiban was pitching the story. He said, "These people are invisible. We see them, but we don't see them. They move through our world -- they clean our homes and tend our gardens and pick our food -- but we just don't think of them as people like us." And that became one of the central themes of the episode.

-- The migrant workers were the final ingredient to a contagious fungus story line that Shiban had been kicking around the months. His first idea was to have the fungus spread by a school kid, then an interstate trucker. Chris Carter was attracted to the over-the-top Mexican soap opera-like aspects of the plot, and to prevent the episode from becoming too solemn or self-important, emphasized those elements during story conferences and rewrites.

-- To research the episode, Shiban spent several days observing illegal aliens being processed at an INS facility in San Pedro, California. The detainees there did give the officers false names, but usually something like Juan Gonzalez. "We embellished that a little," said Shiban.

-- El Chupacabra is a folk myth that still circulates powerfully throughout the Spanish-speaking world. "I saw an article in the L.A. Times about a Chupacabra sighting in Northern California," Shiban said. "Somebody had claimed that one of them kidnapped a baby. So I started looking into it. I discovered there was even a song about El Chupacabra that played on Spanish radio stations."

-- Spanish-language music fans certainly noted the presence of Ruben Blades in the episode. The Panamanian artist was one of the hottest stars of salsa in the late 70s and early 80s, and his eclectically themed albums still sell briskly. He won a Grammy for his album, "Encenas." A political activist who ran for president of Panama after the U.S. invasion of his country in 1989, he had accomplished all this while appearing in films like The Milagro Beanfield War, The Two Jakes, and Dead Man Out. Somewhere along the line, he made the acquaintance of long-time fan Chris Carter who had been looking to place him in his show for quite a while. Blades currently serves as the Minister of Tourism in Panama.

-- The other guest stars, reported L.A. casting director Rick Milliken, were just as easy to find, mainly because there were many more talented young Latino actors in Los Angeles than there were good roles being written for them. Just prior to filming "El Mundo Gira," Raymond Cruz, who played Eladio Buente, had a successful run starring in Blade to the Heat, a controversial play at the Mark Taper Forum. Simi Mehta, who played Gabriella Buente, starred in HBO's Grand Avenue. The couple were living together at the time they were cast for this episode -- a fact that the producers found out only after production had started. They were married in March 1998. Cruz can currently be seen as Detective Sanchez in The Closer.

-- Jose Yenque (Soledad Buente) has gone on to appear in many TV series and films, but his appearance in "El Mundo Gira" was his first TV acting role.

-- Although not noticeably heavy in exotic locales or special effects, this episode had its share of production problems. The migrant workers' camp was built from scratch in the middle of a large waste ground near Vancouver's Boundary Bay Airport (which also served as the site of the plane crash in "Tempus Fugit").

-- Unfortunately, a freakish storm dumped several inches of snow onto the sunbaked "San Joaquin Valley" the night before filming was to start. Several panicky calls between Shiban, director Tucker Gates, and executive producer Bob Goodwin produced Plan B. Crew members scurried ahead of each camera set-up, melting the snow with hot water and blow dryers.

-- Tucker Gates also directed Season 3's "Hell Money." He had served as a director on 21 Jump Street, The Commish, and Space: Above and Beyond, all Morgan and Wong-related series. He has gone on to direct many TV series and became a regular director on Alias and Lost.

-- The art department's hardest task was finding an old-fashioned revolving "Gas" sign to put on the scratch-built truck stop. Assistant art director Vivian Nishi was in charge of the search; one was finally found in a local junkyard.

-- Before it was finally approved, the correct look of the single fungus-covered cashew held up in the supermarket was the subject of a lengthy and highly charged debate between the producers and the visual special-effects department.

-- The fungoid special-effects makeup for "El Mundo Gira" was provided by Toby Lindala -- but the stamp of approval was provided by Gillian Anderson's daughter Piper. The little girl, her mother recalled, was fascinated by many of the strange fuzzy individuals on the set that week. "Piper called them 'yucky guys'," said Anderson. "These are the people who are covered with blood or fungus or have an eyeball hanging down or whatever. Sometimes in our own lives we'll pass a dark place and she'll get very excited. She'll ask me, 'Is there a yucky guy in there?' Anyway, in one of the scenes in that episode the yucky guy was actually a mannequin. He obviously wasn't feeling very well, so Piper went up to it and said, 'You okay? You okay?' He didn't answer, so she started singing 'Itsy-Bitsy Spider' to him. It was hysterical. We got some wonderful video of her."

-- Mulder calls the yellow (and purple!) rain a "Fortean event." "Fortean" is sometimes used to describe various anomalous phenomenon and is so named for Charles Hoy Fort (August 6, 1874 - May 3, 1932), an American writer and researcher into anomalous phenomenon. Fort was essentially a satirist hugely skeptical of human beings' -- especially scientists' -- claims to ultimate knowledge. Fort felt that no matter how honest scientists think they are, they are still influenced by unconscious assumptions that prevent them from attaining true objectivity. In a sentence, Fort's principle goes something like this: People with a psychological need to believe in marvels are no more prejudiced and gullible than people with a psychological need not to believe in marvels.

-- Speaking of Purple Rain, (1984) by Prince and the Revolution, it was indeed a "great album." Released by Warner Brothers, it was Prince's sixth album, and sold 13 million units in the United States. It produced the #1 hits "When Doves Cry," "Let's Go Crazy," and "Purple Rain." According to Billboard Magazine, it spent an incredible 24 consecutive weeks at #1, becoming one of the top soundtracks ever. According to once source, the album sold more than a million copies on the day of its release. Rolling Stone named it the #2 album of the 1980s. Prince wrote all of the songs on the album, and some of the tracks or portions thereof were recorded live when Prince performed on August 3, 1983, at the First Avenue club in Minneapolis. The show was a benefit concert for the Minnesota Dance Theater. It was also the first appearance in Prince's band "The Revolution" by guitarist Wendy Melvoin, his guitarist in the Purple Rain film and for a few years afterward.

-- The album was nominated for three Grammy Awards and won for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and for Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special. It was also nominated for Album of the Year

-- The "deeply flawed movie" Purple Rain was a semi-autobiographical tale about a promising young singer "The Kid" (played by Prince) who finds that talent alone isn't all he needs. Prince supposedly developed the idea for the movie while on his Triple Threat tour. Initially with a darker and more coherent script, Prince had intended to play opposite his girlfriend, Vanity, until they fell out. Her role was offered to DD friend and Yale classmate Jennifer Beals (whom DD had suggested as a possibility for the role of Scully on the XF), before going to Apollonia. The film, which at times seemed more like a 1980s music video, met with good reviews and won a 1984 Oscar for Best Original Song Score.

(Oh, that lovely jaw clench!)

-- Oopsie! There's an awkward editing moment as Mulder and Scully walked away during their initial camp visit and the movement of Scully's lips didn't match the sound. Also, the actress playing Flakita smacks herself in the face as she gets out of the police car near the end of the episode.

-- "El Mundo Gira" was a milestone of sorts for Mark Snow -- it was the first time Chris Carter asked him to throw out his entire score and start over. "When Chris saw it [with my music], he said 'Listen, it's just too serious. You have to put in a little Spanish flavor, blah, blah, blah'," said Snow. "So I went for it -- rewriting the whole thing in one day. When I was finished, there was no non-Spanish music in the whole piece. I put in some flamenco guitar and did this whole tango thing when the migrant workers run away. And it worked!"

-- Once and Future Retreads: Susan Bain who played the coroner played Agent Sheherlis in "Grotesque." Robert Thurston (Dr. Larry Steen) played Jackson Toews in "Irresistible."

-- They both look pretty darn good throughout. There's something to be said for that! < g >

-- This episode aired the same day as The Simpsons episode "The Springfield Files," featuring the voices of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.

Please share your first impressions, favorite (or cringe-worthy) moments, classic lines, favorite fanfic, nagging questions, repeating viewing observations, etc., as today we celebrate "El Mundo Gira"!

(Thanks to chrisnu for today's episode pics.)