Rather unusually, this episode sees "The X Files" getting political. Of course this show getting political means that it doesn't do it in an overt way, but there's enough clues laid out for us about the army's mistreatment of Haitian refugees in a detention camp to make us realise that we're being told something. Thankfully our lesson is couched in a tale of voodoo which is superficially interesting but which ultimately fails to make the grade as higher echelon X File material.
And why would that be? There's a certain lackadaisical quality to "Fresh Bones" that seems to be generated by the episode's openendedness. Writer Howard Gordon has tried to ensure that he has every aspect covered – hell, he even manages to come up with a scientific explanation for zombification – but no X File can ever be so neatly summarised. There's also an air of familiarity that such gimmicks as the appearance of X can't quite disguise. The whole aspect of troubled US army personnel taking it out on their families harks right back to the second episode ever made, "Deep Throat". And the addition of the cheeky boy Chester who actually turns out to be a ghost is just a little bit too contrived. As in, how come nobody else in the entire camp remarked on the fact that this supposedly dead boy is running around at large?
Still, there's enough here to keep our interest fuelled, and this is largely down to the efforts of director Rob Bowman. Mindful of how big the show is getting in terms of scope and iconography, Bowman like the director of the previous episode, Kim Manners, has pulled out the stops to give the series a big feel. Some of his cinematic close-ups of Mulder and Scully are poster material. But Bowman can also tell a good story. His opening teaser very neatly captures the tension of a household with its telling observation. As it transpires, the theme of the episode – that the brutalised Haitians are fighting back against their aggressors with the only weapon they have, in the form of voodoo – actually turns out to be more interesting than the story itself. The episode's highpoint is when Scully comes face to face with the reality of voodoo with a horrific sequence in her car parked outside a cemetery when her hand bursts open. Scully is able to avert disaster by reaching for a talisman, but does this experience make her acknowledge the power of voodoo? Absolutely not, and it's this lack of attention to detail that makes this episode ultimately a largely unsatisfying experience. Though there's no denying the horror of Colonel Wharton's fate at the end.