The X-Files Newbie Recap: Season 8
John Doggett and Monica Reyes are the heroes we deserve AND need right now.
Monica Reyes is wonderful and I love her a lot. What are the odds of the writers producing two such fantastic characters in one season, especially when their previous attempts at bringing in new people went so horribly wrong? I jest, of course. The reason Spender and Diana didn’t work out is because they foolishly tried to link them to the existing mythos, instead of creating completely fresh faces. And Reyes, just like Doggett, is a breath of fresh air and one who helps revitalize the stuffy and insular world of the show. As a character, she’s beautifully idiosyncratic. When Scully straight up asks her what her thoughts are on aliens, she replies that she doesn’t believe but doesn’t not believe either. She’s worked in ritualistic and occult crimes before, so it makes sense that she’s seen enough spooky stuff to question the usual explanations (although she also says they’ve never found proof).
Reyes also says quite openly that she often gets “feelings” about things. This would seem to draw a pretty direct parallel with Mulder but Reyes is (dare I say) more reasoned in her approach. She acts on her instincts but does so calmly, assuredly, and with an implicit sense of empathy for anyone working with her. I love that she manages to be forthright and confident but also understanding enough to compromise with colleagues. Scully cheerfully says the two of them should “talk” after the aforementioned discussion on aliens, and it is quite wonderful to see two such admirable female characters forging an instant mutual respect. By the time Reyes arrives to take Scully somewhere safe for the birth of the baby, she’s an intrinsic and unquestioned part of the line-up. Kudos.
“Per Manum”, and TXF‘s issues with female bodily autonomy
Problematic fave. Why do you do us like this, X-Files? You’re so good and progressive in so many ways and yet, you take such wanton liberties in your portrayal of pregnancy. Let’s recap this episode, then talk about why it’s problematic.
In “Per Manum”, Scully goes for her first ultrasound and we meet her obstetrician, Dr. Parenti. In flashback, it’s revealed that Scully took the vial of ova Mulder found (way back in “Memento Mori”) and asked Parenti for a second opinion on whether or not they’re viable. Parenti assured her they were, and with Mulder agreeing to act as a donor Scully underwent an IVF procedure. At the Bureau, Doggett gets a visit from a guy named Haskell. He had previously been in touch with Mulder, claiming his wife was an alien abductee. The wife is now dead, supposedly after giving birth to an alien baby. This makes Scully uncomfortable, for obvious reasons, but she doesn’t say anything to Doggett about why. Instead, she simply says there’s no point investigating the case further. Later, she visits the hospital attended by Mrs Haskell. She finds jars of what appear to be alien fetuses and overhears a woman named Mary Hendershot arguing with her doctor. Later, she calls Dr Parenti and asks him to take a look at Mrs Haskell’s ultrasound and her own. It’s revealed that Parenti is working in the same hospital with all the alien fetuses.
Doggett visits Knowle Rohrer for the first time in this episode. He ran fingerprints on Haskell and discovered that the man supposedly died back in the 1970s. Rohrer doesn’t reveal much but implies that some kind of cover-up may be going on. Scully, meanwhile, takes a leave of absence from the FBI. Skinner helps to cover for her. She’s approached by Mary Hendershot and the two of them go to some kind of military hospital for monitoring. Dana has another ultrasound, but after the doctor leaves the room she realises it’s actually a recording with another woman’s name on it. Mary has been induced, but Scully gathers her up and together they attempt to flee.
Doggett goes to Skinner and asks to know where Scully is. He explains that he hasn’t been able to get much info on Haskell and suspects something is up. Skinner tells him the name of the hospital and Doggett hurries over. At the hospital, Scully and Mary are met by Knowle and a team of operatives whom he describes as field medics. They help them escape and deliver Mary’s baby in the car. Scully tries to help, but Knowle restrains and then sedates her. Right before she blacks out, Scully hears strange mewling from Mary’s baby.
When she wakes up, she’s in a hospital with Doggett by her side. He says Mary is fine and delivered a healthy boy. Scully claims they were tricked and that the team who rescued them switched Mary’s baby with another one. Doggett doesn’t dismiss her concerns, but says they have no proof of them. They discuss Scully’s pregnancy and her need to find Mulder (see above) and the episode ends with Scully thinking back on her first bout of IVF. It didn’t take and she came home to find Mulder waiting. He encouraged her to believe in miracles as she sobbed in his arms.
I’m sure none of this SOUNDS particularly objectionable, but watching it was a whole ‘nother experience. We’ve known for several seasons that Scully’s infertility is the result of experiments during her abduction, but this episode is the first to overtly imply that the pregnancy is also a result of external meddling. Contrasted with her own efforts to get pregnant in flashback, Scully and the other women’s lack of control is sobering. The first scene shows Mrs Haskell delivering what appears to be an alien baby, by C-section, with doctors all around working on her without informing her of anything. Similarly, Mary Hendershot is shown arguing with a male doctor who claims to know better, and finds herself coming to Scully for help. Scully attempts to help Mary deliver but is restrained by Rohrer and then sedated before she can intervene.
This takes almost all control over the pregnancies and births out of women’s hands. It implies their pregnancies have been done to them, showing little of their own feelings on the matter. Mrs Haskell dies and Mary Hendershot has little to do other than cower. The women featured tend to be voiceless, sometimes even faceless, with husbands and doctors speaking on their behalf. Scully is our window into that world and even she can’t do much. The doctors she trusts double-cross her. Wherever she turns for help, she finds people with shady intentions. The doctors’ motivations are deliberately obscured but the implication that these women’s bodies are being used for some kind of mass experiment without their knowledge or consent is really disturbing.
The show doesn’t attempt to delve into the impact on these women’s bodies or psyches. There’s no effort to explore the sense of loss, guilt or sadness felt by the women affected. Even Scully’s emotions are barely conveyed—she spends most of the episode reacting, rather than feeling, and is never fully sure she knows what’s going on. Conflating pregnancy with the overarching mythology could have been a fine allegory for the real-world threat to bodily and reproductive autonomy, but the show shifts women’s experiences off-screen. In order for this to be truly believable and effective, the lived experiences and stories behind the suffering has to be shown. Instead, pregnancies are treated as disposable plot devices; a narrative trope that can be deployed for shock value and then abandoned as quickly.
Curiously, considering how much she wanted to get pregnant, Scully doesn’t spend a lot of time this season dwelling on it. The vast majority of her arc this season is devoted to Mulder, with the pregnancy downgraded to an almost ancillary concern. This doesn’t ring true for me. It might be the overarching male gaze of the writers’ room, but I doubt that even in these circumstances Scully would spend little to no time reflecting on this hugely important life event. Pregnancy is emotionally and physically impactful and all the more so in this case, when the character in question didn’t even think she could get pregnant. Even in “Per Manum,” her flashbacks pertain more to Mulder than her attempts to conceive. At this stage of the season, it’s hardly necessary to show how forlorn she is at his absence. Rather, a character as acutely self-aware as Scully would turn inward, seeking comfort in this wonderful thing happening in her life. She’s reluctant to confide in very many people—even her mother—about the pregnancy, but I think it would greatly affect her sense of self. This is barely conveyed in the show. The pregnancy itself seems to pass with very little emotional weight. Doggett’s adjusting to work on the X-Files gets more onscreen development than Scully’s feelings over her pregnancy, and considering her presence on the show since its inception this seems extremely reductive.
Parting thought: Remember when the CSM claimed that Mulder was “biologically alien”? Couldn’t they just have used THAT as an excuse for how she became pregnant despite her supposed infertility? Or is it asking too much for the writers to observe some form of continuity in this messy-as-hell mytharc? Those Scully/Mulder IVF flashbacks would be much cuter if they didn’t reek of attempted retconning for their relationship.
Do better, show.
Who would have thought the little worm who showed up to spy on Mulder way back in S02 would become such a fave? I’m gonna miss this guy. His shameless duplicity. The way he never knew what was going on, though man did he try. The way he tried to double-cross everyone and only ever seemed to mess things up for himself. The heavy breathing in Mulder’s direction. THAT kiss on the cheek. That time Skinner locked him overnight on a balcony. When he got trapped underground with the black oil virus. The way he shot Missy and Mulder’s dad but always proclaimed his innocence. The way, even on his very first mission, the CSM tried to blow him up. That time he became a glorified chauffeur for the WMM. His cameo in The X-Files: Fight the Future. And above all things, those darling, delightful, lustrously thick lashes.
Adieu, you wee shite.
Quotes of the Season
“It’s too hot for this BS”
“You painted me a picture, now put it in a frame”
“You’re where the action’s at”
“Hey, if something tries to rip your throat out, I got you covered”
“That certainly sounds anomalous”
“Can I hotwire it! Gone in 60 seconds, Jack. We’re gonna strand these lunatics”
“I know what their relationship is now. They’re both dead”
“I hate to ruin your beautiful theory with ugly facts”
“SAYS THE BOSS”
[sees alien craft in distance; car sputters and dies] “OK, I won’t smoke the cigarette”
“Mad About You was about a married couple and we just work together”
“In my experience, dead men don’t tip, Agent Scully”
“I just came to feed the fish” (We’re all just feeding the fish, really)
Overall? Shabby. This season became less and less like The X-Files we know and love, and more like a standard procedural taking a funky detour. Scully’s semi-transformation into Mulder may make sense from a psychological perspective, but it also kept her from evolving in any meaningful way. And, considering she was pregnant for the entire season with a much longed-for baby, that feels like a massive missed opportunity. Mulder, similarly, was absent for too long to undergo any significant progression and his cause was not aided by the inexplicable case of dickishness which accompanied him back from the grave.
Agent Doggett to the rescue, then. His character was the most well-written and consistent throughout and the heft of the actor playing him obviously helped. His unique ability to look unflappable and perplexed all at once is an unwittingly perfect metaphor for everyone watching this mess unfold. Similarly, Reyes was a great addition, and the fresh perspective brought by each of these characters helped liven up some well-trodden turf. Season 8 was so unrelentingly grim and muggy that I found myself longing for the levity of a “Detour,” the quirkiness of a “Triangle,” or the doe-eyed escapism of a “Hollywood AD.” Barely any of these episodes were out-and-out humor and it’s an angle the show sorely lacked this season. The closest it seems to have come is “Alone,” which paired Doggett with a rookie agent named Leyla Harrison after Scully goes on maternity leave. I found this a little ridiculous at first but was advised by my Twitter X-Philes that Harrison was based on a fan who died from cancer. In that sense, the pseudo-meta moments take on new meaning—Harrison is an X-Files nerd who likens the case at hand to several of the earlier monsters (including Eugene Tooms, urgh) and straight up asks Mulder and Scully about what happened in Antarctica. It was almost a throwaway scene, but its comedic values are a reminder of what the show lacked.
Obviously, it’s difficult to keep things fresh and inventive after so long on the air. That said, there’s a clear sense of laziness seeping in here and I’m kind of glad the next season is the last one. (Excepting the recent revival series here, and the second movie.) All good things have to end at some point and I’m hoping the show will at least try to go out with a bang. Pretty please? I still love you, X-Files. Make me proud!
Stay spooky, y’all.
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