Season 3, Episode 19: “Hell Money”
People have a lot of problems with “Hell Money,” and those problems are quite understandable. It ushers in Chinese folklore and myth in a way that isn’t really impactful, just used as a device to maybe get a few scares and seems to only exist for the purpose of having a “Chinese” X-Files episode. Gotta be culturally diverse, don’t we?
But despite that, I’ve always found “Hell Money” underrated. I think there are some very good moments which are often forgotten in the midst of people worrying about the slightly careless handling of the episode’s “cultural” elements. The scenes with the dad and his sick daughter I found enormously effective, especially the lengths the father would go to get his daughter well. I always found that really touching.
“Hell Money” may not be one of the best episodes of Season 3 but it is certainly better than a lot of them. I’d watch it over “Oubliette” any day, and by all accounts “Oubliette” is technically a more well-thought out and solidly written episode. But “Hell Money” is, well, memorable. You don’t forget the imagery and the subject of the episode for a while, and even if Mulder and Scully’s roles are limited at best, the rest of the episode isn’t forgettable. “Oubliette” is.
One of the things I like about the way The X-Files portrays minorities or impoverished people is that it doesn’t brush by the relationship they have with the world around them, the relationship normal people have in normal society, I mean. The father’s daughter is sick and he can’t afford treatment. The refugees in “Fresh Bones” are starving while their military supervisor is eating breakfast. Even the horrible Season 1 episode “Shapes” acknowledged how Native Americans in reservations are ignored by the government. Do they always portray these cultures in the most accurate and considerate of lights? No, of course not. But they don’t make them into caricatures, either.
And that’s what I like about “Hell Money.” Instead of merely trying to creep us out with Chinese folklore, the episode acknowledges the reason why these people engage in these rituals. It doesn’t merely make all the characters out to be a creepy Chinese cult. They certainly didn’t have to add the sick-daughter storyline in there, but they did.
With that said, yeah. The episode still has enormous problems. The whole cult itself is rather ridiculous and obviously inaccurate. Mulder and Scully have basically nothing to do in this episode at all.
Perhaps “Hell Money” would have worked better on another show. Sadly, it really doesn’t need Mulder and Scully or The X-Files label. But to dismiss it completely, I feel, is not fair.
Final score for “Hell Money” is 7/10. I can’t pretend I don’t enjoy this one. Even beyond what I said in my review, I still find the ghost masks creepy and I also think burning alive is scary (call me old-fashioned). This one, for me at least, is a bit underrated.
- I really like the scene where Scully explains to Mulder how much the human body is worth and all that. It’s nice to see Scully telling Mulder something he doesn’t know, especially in an episode that involves ghosts and folklore and all that.
- Actually, Chao does most of the ghost/folklore explaining, so Mulder’s pretty ignorant in this one all around. That’s okay. It’s good for him.
- Is there an Asian Cigarette Smoking Man??!!