CTP Episode of the Day - 11.21.06 - Teso Dos Bichos

Today's Cherished Episode: Teso Dos Bichos (3x18)
Original Air Date: March 8, 1996
Written By: John Shiban
Directed By: Kim Manners

The unearthing of an ancient Ecuadorian artifact resulted in a series of deaths potentially linked to a shaman spirit.

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"Personally, if someone digs me up in a thousand years, I hope there's a curse on them too."

Some "Teso Dos Bichos" Tidbits & Musings:

-- The episode title prompted considerable speculation, since there were other more creative -- and lascivious -- translations than the one writer John Shiban intended. "Teso," he explained, in archaic Portuguese referred to "burial mound," and "bichos" referred to "small animals." Shiban named the episode after an actual chant. "Apparently, in some countries there is some euphemism involved with it that I found out about after," he said.

-- In Colombia and Venezuela, for example, "bichos" is slang for "balls," as in "You have big bichos," Shiban noted with a laugh. "The network came back later and said, 'We hear rumors this means something.' Then, coming back from Vancouver, the driver of the limousine was from Colombia and he said, 'Aw, I know what that means.' I figured it was good for ratings."

-- No matter what the official title, fans usually called it the "Killer Kitty Kat Episode."

-- "The story had to do with a jaguar spirit," said Shiban. "But when I was working on the story, Chris had the idea that it would be scarier if it involved domestic animals. It would bring it home to people's houses -- that your house cat was against you. And so the idea turned into hundreds of cats living underground attacking people."

-- Director Kim Manners (who, in characteristically blunt fashion, referred to the episode as "Teso dos Bitches") was not happy with the episode's premise. "When I read that script I said, 'Guys, pussycats are not scary,'" he said. "An interesting thing happened, because I voted for the jaguar to reappear in the steam tunnel in Act IV. The jaguar was scary. Cats weren't, and they are also stupid. Cockroaches are smarter than cats," he added, having some experience with the former in "War of the Coprophages." "Cats are so fluffy and pretty. You don't make a cat a killer."

-- Inclement weather wound up changing the venue of the teaser sequence, at least in terms of the legend that appeared. "The weather could cooperate as well as be difficult," said producer Joseph Patrick Finn, noting that it started to snow during the excavation scene -- shot at a gravel pit in a regional park -- and thus "really added to the scene." The scripted setting, however, had to be abruptly shifted from the Amazon rain forest -- which never gets cold enough to snow -- to the Ecuadorian highlands, where snow does fall.

-- Costumer designer Jenni Gullett did considerable research on Native American tribes to outfit the cast for the teaser sequence, going to "all the ethnic stores in Vancouver" to buy clothes and accessories. The outfits were then "dirtied down and sandpapered," she said, to produce a worn and weathered look.

-- Much of the episode took place at the Boston Museum of Natural History. Standing in for the museum was Riverview Hospital, exterior shots of which were used quite frequently in X-Files episodes. The Hospital was also used as the State Psychiatric Hospital in the "Pilot"; Druid Hill Sanitarium in "Squeeze"; the sanitarium in "Eve"; a research hospital in "Lazarus"; the courthouse and jail in "Miracle Man"; the psychiatric hospital in "Born Again"; the convalescent home in "Excelsius Dei"; St. Matthew's Medical Center in "The Calusari"; Florida State Prison in "The List"; and the facility where Jeremiah Smith was held in "Talitha Cumi."

-- Dr. Lewton was so-named for Val Lewton, producer of the original Cat People movie (1942). Lewton worked for David O. Selznick in the 1930s. He served as a story editor on Gone With the Wind and wrote several scenes for the film.

-- Graduate student Mona Wustner was named for writer John Shiban's mother.

-- Yaje is a vision-inducing drink made from a psychoactive jungle vine ("vine of the soul," as Dr. Bilac called it in the episode) mixed with various other psychoactive plants. Yaje has been used shamanically by Native practitioners to find lost objects, seek out game and fish, wage psychic warfare, influence the weather, and foresee the future. Yaje has also been used by Native shamans and curanderos (healers) to identify the hidden spiritual causes of illnesses and to treat the source of illness through direct intervention.

-- In terms of X-Files continuity, there was a line about Dr. Lewton having sunflower seeds in his intestine. "A man of taste," said Mulder, referring to his own expressed fondness for that snack.

-- The show's animal wrangler, Debbie Coe, came up with a creative way to prevent any rats from being injured during filming of the scene where hundreds shimmy out of toilets, putting little ladders inside the bowls so the rodents could clamber up them rather than have to climb over each other.

-- "So, what are we talking here, Mulder, a possessed rat? The return of Ben?" Ben was a 1972 movie which was considered a sequel to another horror film about a rat, Willard. In Ben, a lonely boy, played by Lee H. Montgomery, becomes good friends with Ben, a rat. Ben is also the leader of a pack of vicious killer rats, killings lots of people. The authorities succeed in destroying the rats, leaving the boy in desperate tears ... until he discovers his friend Ben is still alive! The film's title song was recorded by and was a big hit for Michael Jackson and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. It didn't win the Oscar, but did win a Golden Globe in the same category.

-- Speaking of music, the episode featured bits of "Piano Sonata #8 Op. 13" by Ludwig van Beethoven.

-- Remarkably, an actor named Frank Welker -- who had created voices and sound effects for innumerable animated and science fiction movies, including Who Framed Roger Rabbit -- provided all the animal sounds heard in this episode. "We didn't use a single animal voice," said co-producer Paul Rabwin, who also wrote and performed the chant that was featured.

-- David Duchovny added the ungallant line "Ladies first" when Mulder and Scully began to crawl into the tunnel under the museum. The line was in the original script, but was not in the shooting script. "I thought it was funny," Duchovny said, "and that's why I put it back in." One of those unhappy with how the episode turned out, Duchovny added that he "preferred not to remember anything else about that episode," considering it one of the season's least memorable as well as a headache from a production standpoint.

-- "To get the cats to attack, we had miles of footage of Kim setting up a real shot in this underground tunnel, and then there were the cats in the shadows," recalled John Shiban. "So Kim would yell 'go!', and the cats just stood there. They didn't move. The trainer would be off screen calling to them and nothing would happen. They tried spraying water on them, they tried bringing a dog in to scare them. Finally, they ended up taking individual cats and shooting them against a blue screen, then multiplying them digitally so they would appear to be ganging up and attacking."

-- "After all that, I figured what else could go wrong?" Shiban said. "And then I found out. In the middle of shooting the episode, I found out that Gillian Anderson was severely allergic to cats. I didn't know that when the whole process started, and there was a scene in the script where a cat jumped out onto Scully. So they built a puppet cat out of some kind of fur with articulated arms and it had a little mouth that went 'grr.' We ended up with a lot of really hilarious footage of this thing, because out of context, it just looked ridiculous." (The footage was quite prominently featured in the show's Season 3 gag reel.)

-- "There was a guy under this puppet holding a stick," remembered Kim Manners. "And Gillian was trying to act like it was killing her. Then Duchovny tried to pull it off, and then David started boxing with it. I just felt my life coming apart at that moment. We finally got that scene done and then the script called for Mulder and Scully to go running out, to slam the door, look back through the grate, and see all these cats -- vicious cats -- sitting there. So we put the cats outside the door, and they all sat there looking very, very pretty and going 'meow, meow,' and I was watching through the monitor thinking, 'This is it. I'll never work again.'"

-- For her part, Gillian Anderson admitted that the scene in which she wrestled with the stuffed cat was one of her season lowlights.

-- In addition to Duchovny and Anderson, Kim Manners was also one of those involved with this episode that came away disappointed with the finished product. For that reason, he awarded all the crew members with "Teso Dos Bichos Survivor" tee-shirts after production was completed. The shirts had the words "Second Salmon" on the back -- a reference to the script, which changed color with each revision. In this case, the script underwent so many changes (a dozen different drafts) that they ended up with a salmon-colored version twice.

-- Once & Future Retreads: Ron Sauve (Mr. Decker) was Ray, the sewage plant manager, in "The Host." Alan Robertson (Roosevelt) was the Gray-Haired Man in "Fire." Tom McBeath (Dr. Lewton) was Detective Munson in "3."

-- Though generally considered by X-Files fans to be one of the worst episodes of Season 3 (and perhaps one of the worst episodes ever), "Teso Dos Bichos" was one of the higher rated episodes of Season 3, attracting more viewers than the episode that immediately preceded it -- "Pusher."

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(Thanks to chrisnu for today's pics.)

Please share your first impressions, favorite (or cringe-worthy) moments, classic lines, favorite fanfic, nagging questions, repeated viewing observations, etc., as today we celebrate "Teso Dos Bichos."

Polly