The X-Files Newbie Recap: Season 8
John Doggett and Monica Reyes are the heroes we deserve AND need right now.
Greetings, X-Philes! We’re onto the penultimate season of the show, and if I’m being honest, this was a tough one. A very tough one. So much of this season felt like trudging through muck in search of diamonds. There was a lot of solid character work, including two brand new and brilliant ones in the form of Monica Reyes and John Doggett, but so much rubbish. Sweet lord, so much rubbish. I know it’s hard to keep momentum going after eight years and one movie, but the writers were really pulling teeth with this one.
Without further ado, let’s dive in! I’m eschewing the mytharc/Monster-of-the-Week format this month because the mytharc (by necessity) underpinned most of the season. As such, I’ll recap the main events of the mytharc first and then dive into character developments. There’ll be a separate section for “Per Manum” and its very questionable depiction of pregnancy.
Episodes: “Within,” “Without,” “This Is Not Happening,” “Deadalive,” “Three Words,” “Vienen,” “Essence,” “Existence”
As we saw at the end of S7, Mulder has vanished. A task force has been set up to look for him, with Agent John Doggett, formerly of the NYPD and USMC, to head it. Scully and Skinner are involved in the search but, considering they know what actually happened to Mulder, are also running their own investigation on the side with the help of the Lone Gunmen. They’re monitoring reports of UFO activity. Shortly after the task force is set up, certain evidence goes missing from the lock-up. The thief uses Mulder’s keycard, leading agents to suspect that he’s somehow faked his own death. Scully soon discovers that the missing evidence pertains to Gibson Praise. Someone slips a file under Doggett’s door and alerts him to the same thing. Gibson’s in a school for the deaf in Arizona. By the time they get there, someone has already taken him. Doggett tracks them to a cliff edge and discovers it’s Mulder, or at least someone who looks like him. He releases Gibson, but then moonwalks off the cliff and vanishes.
In “Without,” Scully deduces that the guy posing as Mulder was a shapeshifting bounty hunter. They’re after Gibson because he’s living proof of the existence of aliens. She tells Doggett as much and he, wonderfully, barely blinks at the alien part and merely asks what the bounty’s on. The shapeshifter impersonates members of the investigation, making tracking him difficult. Scully finds Gibson in a bunker in the desert and he’s sent to hospital. However, the bounty hunter—posing first as Scully and then as one of Doggett’s agents—is in pursuit. He attacks Skinner and almost gets away with Gibson, but Scully finds them just in time. The bounty hunter attacks her but Doggett, on the ball as ever, has her back and fatally shoots him. At the end, Doggett attempts to explain everything to Director Kersh and ends up being assigned to the X-Files and ordered to find answers. Here we go again!
After fraught beginnings, Scully and Doggett forge a close partnership and continue solving X-Files while looking for Mulder. He doesn’t appear again until the middle of the season, in “This Is Not Happening.” A number of previous alien abductees are returned to a remote part of Montana. Jeremiah Smith, last seen in “Talitha Cumi” and “Herrenvolk”, seems to be living with a cult which believes aliens are about to usher in the apocalypse. He heals returned abductees, all of whom have severe injuries after the alien experiments. Scully and Doggett are alerted to the returned abductees and, hoping for a lead on Mulder, head over to investigate. Doggett reaches out to Agent Monica Reyes for help. The two worked together previously after Doggett’s son was killed. Reyes specializes in ritualistic murders and is the most darling, delightfully kooky person in the world. She helps them track down the cult’s compound. Scully recognizes Smith after she sees someone shapeshifting in a video of the members. She interviews him while agents scour the woods, eventually finding what appears to be Mulder’s body. Scully panics after seeing him and races back to the compound for Smith. However, an alien craft appears in the sky and hoovers him up, leaving her to fall to the ground and yell, most improbably, “this is not happening.”
It ain’t, of course, ‘cuz Mulder’s totally not dead. They bury him but he’s fine.
In “Deadalive,” Billy Miles is fished out of the water off the coast of North Carolina. Despite a moldy appearance and lack of visible signs of life, he turns out to be alive. Skinner is spooked enough to dig up Mulder. He too is alive, despite having been buried for three months. A general fracas ensues as everyone tries to figure out what the eff’s going on. Billy gets up, washes off his crusty decomposed skin and turns out to be a new man underneath. A brand new man—he’s an alien being now. Scully, who visited him in the hospital and noticed two heartbeats on the monitor, begins to put two and two together. Disney Prince Alex Krycek shows up and demands that Skinner kill Scully’s unborn child in exchange for a vaccine for Mulder. Our fallen hero is carrying a virus, explains Alex, and he’ll turn into an alien unless he gets the vaccine. Skinner understandably refuses to kill the Scully cub and instead tries to shut off Mulder’s life support. Doggett, who’s been speaking to one of the cult members about alien abductions, walks in on this, then chases Alex to the parking garage. A magnificent showdown ensues. Alex smashes a vial which totally does not contain the vaccine, because why would the idiot forfeit his only trump card? Besides, he totally gave Mulder the actual vaccine while he was sniffing around his room earlier. Mulder is rushed to the OR but seems to be fine. Scully explains to Doggett that the life support was incubating the virus, but he seems to be stabilising now. Mulder wakes up later to find Scully at his bedside. Our OTP reunite in a devastating cascade of sobs.
In “Three Words,” we’re re-introduced to Knowle Rohrer, an old friend of Doggett’s who works for military intelligence. I’m almost certain his name is actually Noel, but whatever. Adam Baldwin plays this guy and it’s always awesome to see Adam Baldwin if only for the 1.5 seconds it takes me to remember that he’s a scumbag. Anyhoo, he slips Doggett certain information and seems pretty legit until we see the alien chip in his neck and realize he’s some kind of plant.
In “Vienen,” Doggett and Mulder get trapped on an oil rig. Their working relationship has and continues to be extremely tense. Mulder came back from the grave with an impromptu case of extreme assholery, and treats Doggett terribly for no apparent reason. He insists on returning to the X-Files but instead of working with Doggett to get up to speed, he mainly acts all territorial and brutish and is completely dismissive of everything he’s done. This despite Scully’s assurances that Doggett is a good man (the best man, and Mulder deserves such a wallop for the way he’s acting) and has been a huge help to her. “Vienen” was—I guess—conceived so they could find a way to work together and respect each other, but none of that would be necessary if Mulder hadn’t needlessly turned into such a prick when he came back from the dead. Pointless drama and good writing are two circles, writers! No Venn diagram here. Anyway, the oil rig workers in this one are all infected with the black oil virus. Postcard from the good old days. All, that is, except for two indigenous Mexican workers who have a genetic immunity. They sabotage the rig’s comms to prevent the workers getting away, believing aliens are coming for them. The infected workers then start to attack Mulder and Doggett and proceed to blow up the entire rig, with our star-crossed heroes only narrowly escaping. Mulder is sacked for the 400th time.
Finally, we get the two-part season finale, “Essence” and “Existence”. The Scully cub arrives and the aliens are kind of thwarted? It’s a bit all over the place, but the last shot of the season makes up for it. Dana has taken maternity leave and her mum throws her a baby shower. She also moves in a nurse named Lizzy to help her prepare for the cub’s arrival. Lizzy, of course, isn’t all she seems. In “Per Manum”, which I’ll write about separately, we learned that Scully’s obstetrician was involved with a company called Zeus Laboratories. This company appeared to be experimenting on human women by implanting them with alien babies. The company’s lab burns down in “Essence”, after alien Billy Miles kills one of the doctors and torches the place. Doggett and Mulder investigate and discover the company’s links to Scully’s former obstetrician, Dr. Parenti, while Scully herself discovers Lizzy is up to something. Lizzy reveals that the company was attempting to create clones using alien DNA from Roswell. Scully’s baby is, she says, very special—it’s human but exhibits no human frailties. Alex pops up again to confirm as much and says the baby poses a threat to the aliens. Mulder and Doggett enlist Reyes to get Scully somewhere safe to give birth. Billy attacks them at FBI HQ, but with the help of Alex himself (no less) Scully and Reyes escape. Billy is supposedly mulched in a garbage truck but of course isn’t actually dead.
In “Existence,” Billy reforms like a Terminator (this is the only Terminator reference I’ll make, promise) and continues to seek out Scully. He attacks Alex and Skinner and puts the latter in the hospital. Alex all but leaves Skinner for dead when he sees Billy, high-tailing it to the lift in the most shameless display of zero fucks given I’ve ever seen. Doggett gets a visit from Knowle, who tells him Billy’s the result of Cold War experiments to create a supersoldier. Hail Hydra and all that. Scully’s baby is, he says, the first organic result of said experiments which I think might mean she’s giving birth to Bucky. Doggett updates Mulder on this at the hospital. Later, he sees Knowle meet with Director Kersh and another agent, Crane. Crane is also an alien plant. Sufficiently worried now, Doggett calls Mulder and is about to tell him where Scully is when Alex attacks Mulder. For no apparent reason. He holds a gun on Mulder and goes off on a poetic spiel about how he’s kept him safe all these years and really hoped he’d reach the truth but that the end is nigh. This scene is incredibly sad because Alex would never in a million years shoot the love of his life, but his waving a gun about like an imbecile ultimately leads to his own demise. Skinner, fresh out of hospital and sporting a grudge worthy of an elephant, shoots our tragic rat prince in the arm. Alex tries to reach for the gun with his prosthetic arm but can’t hold it. He then makes a doe-eyed attempt to bargain for his life but Walter, staring him down with the cold resolve of…a Terminator (I lied), shoots him right between the eyes. Goodnight, devilishly despicable sweet prince. May flights of alien bounty hunters sing thee to thy rest.
*dabs eyes with tissue*
Mulder manages to get away, despite Crane and Knowle’s best efforts. Doggett holds them off while Mulder gets a chopper to North Carolina. This whole time, Reyes and Scully have been prepping for the birth. Doggett sent them to the place he was born. It’s quiet and secluded, but of course a shifty local sheriff shows up and proves to be untrustworthy. Reyes spots a light hovering in the sky and professes to having a bad feeling about everything. Like Han Solo wondering what the eff he’s gotten himself into, or Patty Tolan declaring “nope, room full of nightmares,” Reyes knows when something’s up. When Scully goes into labour, she discovers the sheriff is ALSO an alien plant. I mean, obviously. Billy arrives with a fleet of others and poor Dana suffers one more indignity from the writers as she delivers her baby with a full audience of loopers apparently intent on snatching it off her as soon as it draws breath. For some reason though, they all leave without causing a fuss after the baby is born. Mulder shows up to find them all scarpering. He didn’t even know where Scully was supposed to be, he just followed a light in the sky. The same one Reyes saw earlier. It’s almost Biblical, y’all.
Back in DC, Reyes and Doggett hand in a case report. Kersh is outraged—he doesn’t have any other emotional setting—but pipes down when Doggett tells him he’s under investigation for a certain secret meeting with Knowle and Crane. They were presumed dead after the incident at the Bureau but they’ve now gone missing. Doggett pulls the door behind him and somehow resists dropping a mic.
Mulder, whom I should probably note is still unemployed, visits Scully at home. The Lone Gunmen drop off gifts for the little one. Scully shows Mulder the cub, a little boy named William. She says she named him after Mulder’s dad (and also her dad, and her brother, but whatever). They discuss the pregnancy, with Dana saying she feared the how and why and meaning of it all. Mulder says they may have feared what it meant, but they always knew the truth. THIS KID IS SO TOTALLY THEIRS. It is the only logical explanation, and I don’t even care how they want to explain it. Stuff your weird-ass cloning experiments, William is an X-FILES CUB and not just a Scully cub. Our heroes kiss and for once everything at season’s end is frigging wonderful.
Whew! Apologies. There was a lot to cover this season. Those are the main events, and they allow us to segue nicely into an exploration of the characters. My, but they’ve come far.
Dana Scully, MD, light of our collective lives. This season was not easy on her but Gillian Anderson carries her through with dignity and grace. Inasmuch as that’s possible when the writers insist on being terrible about your character’s much longed-for pregnancy. Scully is so many things this season. Tough, frail, vulnerable, desperate, driven, human. So profoundly human. She transforms into Mulder so quickly it’s stupefying, and it’d be irksome to watch were it not so painfully clear why she’s doing it. As the episodes roll on—”Patience” marking her first foray into the world of outlandish theories, with Doggett filling her skeptic shoes—and Mulder remains missing, her attempts to fill his absence become painfully recognizable. You could say it’s the Mulder baby (fnar) inside her driving her on, but I think Scully’s come to depend on her partner so much, and even define herself by their shared work, that his disappearance completely uproots her sense of self. So much so that she feels a need to represent him when he’s not there, so that she can still cling to some reminder of who she is.
This is conveyed in various moments throughout the season. Scully has repeated visions of Mulder being experimented on by aliens. In “Within,” she gets extremely tetchy when people start questioning Mulder’s reputation. Doggett makes the ill-advised decision to question the trust between them, claiming Mulder regularly confided in other women and thought she was out to undermine his work. (This approach is very gendered and, I think, uncharacteristic of Doggett as we later come to understand him. Almost as if he’s passing on notes from his dodgy superiors, no?) Scully, quite rightly, throws water in his face and all but tells him to suck it. When they meet later at Mulder’s apartment, having gone there separately to look for something, Scully is asked if she believes in extra-terrestrials. She replies that she has seen things which, as a scientist, she can’t explain, and no sane person would dismiss these experiences out of hand without a logical explanation. That was a monumental shift for her and something to behold. In “Patience,” she hovers protectively around Mulder’s desk after Doggett goes to take up residence. She plants his name plate firmly on the desk and later puts it in a drawer for safekeeping. It all comes to a poignant head in “Badlaa,” when Scully shoots a being masquerading as a small boy. She later says it’s what Mulder would have done, and admits she’s trying to hold on to him. She says Mulder “acted without judgement and prejudice and with an open mind I’m just not capable of,” almost berating herself for not being more like him.
In a particularly gorgeous moment in “This Is Not Happening,” Scully steps outside with Skinner and stares up at the stars. She reflects on that soberly beautiful exchange between herself and Mulder last season, in which he spoke about starlight being billions of years old by the time it reaches them. She says, “it won’t die, that light. Maybe it’s the only thing that never does.” (Amusing from a Catholic—but I digress.) “[Mulder] said that’s where souls reside. I hope he’s right.” She breaks down and turns to Walter for comfort. It marks a culmination in Scully’s arc this season, as she exposes inner fears and uncertainties in a way we haven’t really seen before. She’s so reticent with her emotions and so reluctant to ever let anyone in that watching her turn to Skinner for reassurance, one of several times she does so this season, is really telling. After last season and particularly the developments of “all things”, in which she began to accept her feelings for Mulder and trust in fate (to a certain extent), her loneliness here is palpable. Even with Skinner (and Doggett)’s support, she’s put her trust in something which may never return, and at one of the most emotional and demanding times in her life.
A necessary shout out at this point for Walter Sergei Skinner, brilliant man and king of my heart. He has Scully’s back throughout this season. He covers for her when she needs personal time, fends off probing questions, and reassures her whenever she needs it. He is a hero and deserves recognition, despite rather minimal screentime. I can’t even dislike him for shooting Krycek, because Krycek was using that weird nano-virus to torture him and generally being a bit of a pest. As they say in Chicago, he had it coming.
John fuckin’ Doggett. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Among other things, this man:
- sports the dottiest fake NYC twang ever
- spends the entire weekend before his first week on the X-Files reading every file in the joint
- says things like “you painted me a picture, now put it in a frame” when applying theories of extra-terrestrials to the facts
- refers to Scully as “the boss”
- despite all orders to the contrary, insists on crossing every t and dotting every i
- directly questions the supremely shady Kersh within days of his appointment
- listens to and trusts Scully’s judgement, while respectfully offering dissenting opinions
- is 200% committed to the truth, almost ironically given his aversion to the idea of paranormal/alien forces
- in a nice piece of character development, said aversion stems partially from the loss of his son and his need to feel that he did everything he could to save him.
What a guy. I loved him pretty much instantly because he’s played by Robert Patrick and Robert Patrick is the bomb, but the character is just brilliant. Even when he’s first assigned to the X-Files and his skepticism is at its height, he’s never short of professional and courteous. Scully is wary of him at first but the swiftness with which he proves himself a moral and righteous man and uncompromising detective wins her gratitude and respect. He’s a breath of fresh air for the show—an old-fashioned cop more given to stakeouts and dogged police work, but one willing to trust the instincts of colleagues if it’ll get them their villain. Much of this is established early on—in “Within”, he’s horrified to hear someone may be spying on Scully (she suspects him, of course) and goes straight to Kersh to ask what’s going on. He helps her defeat the bounty hunter and rescue Gibson, and brings her a full formal report in hospital to ensure she’s up to date. He even requests special police protection for Gibson, noting it’s what she would have done in the circumstances.
In common with most agents in this show, Doggett takes a while to accept the idea of alien involvement in their cases. He’s determined to find Mulder (or “Muhl-da”, as he calls him) on terra firma. However, in “Patience,” he notes that the solution to many X-Files begins with a “leap”. By “Via Negativa,” he’s become sufficiently wrapped up in the strangeness of their cases to worry about them “taking over” him. It all seems to come to a head in “The Gift,” in which a strange creature with the ability to absorb diseases and give sufferers new life saves him from a gunshot wound. Doggett finds himself lying underground with no conceivable explanation as to how he survived a bullet in the gut.
I like that he seeks Reyes’ help in “This Is Not Happening,” acknowledging her expertise on the subject at hand. I like that he’s never short of loyal to Scully, watching her back in everything from “Roadrunners” to “Medusa” and asking after both her and the “little J Edgar” when he finds out about the pregnancy. And I LOVE that he never once loses sight of his actual assignment: to find Mulder. In “Per Manum,” Scully says she didn’t tell him about her pregnancy because she didn’t want to be taken off the X-Files and lose her chance of finding her former partner. Doggett’s almost aghast because, he says, he promised to help her find him and that’s exactly what they’ll do – together. My heart broke into two and then four when I saw this part, so.
Continued next page.
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