Over the course of nine seasons and 2 feature films, The X-Files transcended its cult status, becoming a phenomenon and cultural touchstone. With a new series on the way, special agent Rick Shingler has accepted the assignment to rewatch the entire series from the beginning and provide detailed reports about his findings.
Come with us now, as we explore the mysteries of the complete X-Files.
S9E14: “Scary Monsters” (w: Thomas Schnauz/d: Dwight Little)
It was time to start turning out the lights. During the filming of this episode, Chris Carter arrived on set to inform the cast and crew that Fox had officially cancelled The X-Files. The ratings had been in decline since the beginning of the ninth season, and the network had finally decided to pull the plug. It is perhaps ironic that one of the main points of this same episode was to make note of the sentiment of the show’s fans for Fox Mulder. The reintroduction of FBI accountant and X-Files division super-fan Leyla Harrison (last seen in season eight’s “Alone”) provided writer Schnauz an opportunity to reminisce over old cases and wistfully wonder what “Mulder and Scully would have done in this situation.” The episode feels like a tribute to the Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life,” which was in its own remade by Richard Matheson and Joe Dante into a segment of the 1983 Twilight Zone movie.
In central Pennsylvania, young Tommy Conlon calls for his dad, convinced he has seen a monster in his bedroom mirror. Jeffrey enters the room and performs what appears to be a cursory search to humor his son’s imagination. When he looks under the bed, he sees some sort of large bug-slash-crab-like creatures, but lies to Tommy about it and leaves the room. While Tommy screams inside, Jeffrey stands in the hallway, firmly holding the door closed.
Leyla Harrison approaches Scully with a case. A Pennsylvania woman (Tommy’s mother, incidentally) was found dead, having supposedly stabbed herself sixteen times in the stomach. Also, the family cat was dead. Harrison believes that both victims fell at the hands (or tentacles, whatever) of monsters which were reportedly seen by little Tommy. Scully looks at the files, but dismisses Agent Harrison. The next day, Doggett and Reyes call Scully for a consultation from John’s car. They are travelling with Agent Harrison to Pennsylvania to look into the case. Once they arrive at the Conlon house, they are met with resistance from Jeffrey. This activates Doggett’s certified New York Cop Gut, causing him to disbelieve the dad out of concern for the boy. But, lacking a warrant and anything to make a real case, they have no recourse but to leave. When Doggett tries to start his car, something bloody explodes from the car’s vents and the engine dies. They are trapped at the Conlon house until morning.
A friend of Leyla’s arrives unannounced at Scully’s apartment in the middle of the night. On Agent Harrison’s behalf, he is delivering the Conlon’s dead cat for her to autopsy. Using half of her kitchen utensils (hopefully her dishwasher has a “CDC Hazmat Decon” setting), Scully reluctantly examines the cat on her kitchen counter while Agent Gabe Rotter (the hapless delivery boy) watches. She determines that Spanky bit through her own stomach in a panicked attempt to get at whatever was inside. She connects this action to the multiple self-inflicted stab wounds on mother Conlon and realizes that Doggett and Reyes are in very real danger. Unfortunately, winter weather is preventing the local sheriff from getting up to the remote Conlon place, and her fellow agents’ cell phones don’t have service.
As Doggett, Reyes, and Harrison settle into the most awkward houseguest situation of all three of their lives, a commotion draws them upstairs to Tommy’s room. Doggett bursts in to see a couple of the giant bug critters skittering across the floor. He fires his weapon and hits one, but its exploded parts rapidly regenerate into two new and separate creatures. Downstairs, a knock at the door turns out to be the local sheriff — remember, the one that told Scully he couldn’t make it up the mountain to the Conlon place? Once inside, this “sheriff” attacks Doggett. The agent fights back, but his fist goes through the empty torso of what turns out to be a mere facsimile of the real thing. It was pretty convincing, except for the purple gooey filling and lack of internal organs. In Tommy’s room, the boy grants Reyes a gallery tour of his most recent artwork, including such pieces as “Scary Bug Creatures,” “Local Sheriff,” and “Agent Monica with Bug/Crab Creature Bursting from Stomach.” Dammit, Jeff, I told you you should never have let the boy watch Alien.
As the fake sheriff’s body suddenly vanishes, Monica stumbled down the steps doubled over in pain. Something is squirming around inside her belly. Leyla wants to help, but suddenly finds she is bleeding from her eyeballs. Doggett begins to guess at the crux of the matter and runs upstairs to confront Tommy. As he bursts into the boy’s bedroom he instead finds himself falling into a dark pit filled with the nasty crab things. You know, like a Kardash… Nah, I’m not gonna go there.
Doggett, however, is saved by his own lack of imagination. He just can’t bring himself to accept that what they’re experiencing is anything more than an elaborate illusion. And just like that, it goes away. He goes back downstairs and gets the other agents and Jeffrey outside to the car, then returns to the house and appears to douse the interior with gasoline. He lights a match and ignites the fire while Tommy stands in the living room watching him, begging him to stop. Except it wasn’t gasoline. It was water, and Tommy’s imagination manufactured the rest. The boy passes out, allowing Doggett to carry him out of the house and to the car, where Scully and a baffled Agent Rotter are just arriving, having braved the storm and the mountain road in a borrowed jeep.
Tommy is institutionalized, where the doctors help treat his rampant externalized imagination by placing him in front of a bank of television sets.
Despite the rapid-fire Doggett-ex-machina resolution and certifiably cute ending, this episode felt like the new team had finally truly hit a stride that could carry them forward. Sadly, by the time it was finished, everyone knew the show would not be renewed for a tenth season, so that’s bound to take the wind out of the sails. But for this one shining moment, the Doggett and Reyes era of the X-Files was in full swing. Even with a rushed script and somewhat gimmicky plot, they were able to work effectively and without the assistance or support of Scully.
S9E15: “Jump the Shark” (w: Vince Gilligan & John Shiban & Frank Spotnitz/d: Cliff Bole)
I almost don’t want to write about this episode. After the cancellation of their own spinoff series, The Lone Gunmen have been floating about the X-Files universe throughout season nine, but they just never really had a chance to shine. At least, until this episode, cleverly titled to reflect the failure of their own show as well as (possibly) project a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the state of the X-Files, having just entered the status of a lame duck series in the wake of its cancellation announcement during the filming of the previous episode.
First, a little background: Melvin Frohike, John Fitzgerald Byers, and Richard Ringo Langly were introduced all the way back in the first season episode “E.B.E.” These guys predate Walter Skinner on the series. Their role was really never intended to extend beyond that single episode, but the public latched onto them and they quickly became a recurring fixture of the series. They operate a tabloid-style newspaper called “The Lone Gunman,” in which they attempt to expose heavily-guarded conspiracies and government secrets. During the X-Files’ eighth season, the Gunmen were granted their own spinoff show. With a tone completely of its own and a sensibility closer to the later spy/comedy Chuck than its own parent show, the show garnered largely positive reviews. However, it struggled to find an audience and was unfortunately cancelled after airing only thirteen episodes. The first episode aired in May of 2001, and is rather notable (and somewhat chilling in retrospect) for its climactic scene during which a terrorist group overtakes a commercial airliner and tries to fly it directly into the World Trade Center.
Reportedly, this episode of the X-Files was the end result of a hard-won battle between the show’s creative staff and the studio. Fox had come to consider The Lone Gunmen a toxic property, unwilling to even allow them a proper sendoff by the show which spawned them. Eventually, an agreement must have been wrangled. What came of it was a tidy bow on the unresolved season finale of the spin-off. With The X-Files’ cancellation established by the time they made this episode, it’s not hard to imagine that most of the staff was feeling somewhat rebellious anyway. The most bittersweetly rewarding element of this episode was seeing the whole band back together. Lone Gunmen regular characters Yves Adele Harlow, Jimmy Bond, Kimmy the Geek… Even Michael McKean’s pain in the ass character of Morris Fletcher was a welcome visitor.
It begins with Morris Fletcher enjoying a rented yacht in the Bermuda Triangle with a bikini girl (WCW’s backstage girl and former bikini model Pamela Paulshock, no less). Fletcher, you’ll remember, is a sleazebag former man in black from Area 51, most prominently remembered for his retconned body-swap with Fox Mulder in season six’s two part “Dreamland” and “Dreamland II.” He claims to be searching for a downed UFO, but they are interrupted by pirates who steal the girl and blow up his boat. Fletcher jumps into the Atlantic to escape the explosion. After being rescued, his story garners the attention of Doggett and Reyes, which is exactly what he planned all along. He shows them a photo of someone he claims to be one of the Super Soldiers which have been plaguing them for the past year. He tells them that she goes by the name of Yves Adele Harlow and has been missing for nearly a year. He also informs the agents that she is a known associate/sometime rival of the Lone Gunmen. They approach the trio, but they are unwilling to accept Fletcher’s story as trustworthy. Doggett and Reyes continue to pursue the case anyway.
Meanwhile, at a college in New Jersey, Yves murders a professor and cuts something out of his chest before escaping. Former Gunmen sidekick Jimmy Bond makes his way to their office to reluctantly inform them of his perceived ladylove’s terrible act and his inability to catch her afterwards. Working together, they are able to ensnare Yves. She tells them that the professor had been working for her own arms-dealing father to develop a biological weapon and a mode of transporting it using shark cartilage grafted inside his own body. The piece she had cut from him had contained the deadly agent, which she had promptly destroyed in a furnace. Fletcher was also on her father’s payroll and tasked with stopping her from preventing the planned test of the bioweapon. She had found one of the hosts, but there was another she had yet to identify.
Fletcher comes to his senses once he hears her story and teams with the Gunmen to locate the second carrier. There is a healthy bit of running around before they locate the guy, only to trap themselves in a sealed room with him as the toxin is released. From outside the room, Jimmy has a Wrath of Khan moment at the window with the guys as the agent does its work on them. AD Skinner pulls some strings and arranges for the three men to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Scully has the last word at their service, commemorating their contribution to the search for the Truth.
I fall squarely in the same camp as episode co-writer Vince Gilligan on the topic of this episode. He felt that killing them in the end was probably the wrong choice. The thing about their spin-off show that was so rewarding was the stark difference in tonality from the X-Files. It was always light and spoofy with an even balance of humor and suspense. While their death in this episode is certainly heroic, it still felt like an unnecessary sock in the gut. Some of us were still reeling from the cancellation of the show, you know? And then they pull this? It would have been far preferable (in this writer’s humble opinion) to have granted Morris Fletcher a shot at heroic redemption and trapped him inside the sealed room with the bio-agent while the Gunmen watched helplessly from outside. Still heroic, still tragic, still poignant, but still with the possibility for a laugh at the end of the episode. Ah well, not really mine to say now, is it? It was an ending and possibly even a proper sendoff for these much-maligned misunderstood champions of the underdog, but it still feels like a raw wound when I think about that ending.
S9E16: “William” (w: David Duchovny & Frank Spotnitz & Chris Carter (story), Chris Carter (teleplay)/d: David Duchovny)
It may not have been the return the fans were hoping for, but Duchovny’s return to the X-Files was marked by the emotional (if not physical) presence of Fox Mulder. This episode had sprung from a story suggestion he had made during the eighth season about resurrecting a long thought dead character. In the end, this concept dovetailed nicely with Carter’s plans for the fate of baby William. Carter himself would pull all of the elements together into the final script, and Duchovny stepped forward to direct the pivotal episode. He even appears on screen for a split second as a reflection in Scully’s eye. The episode is an exercise in misdirection, and plays soundly as a high-stakes con performed by the grotesque, mysterious stranger. The episode’s resolution steps forward and resoundingly slaps us all in the collective face, and we are left with feeling bereft with a stinging cheek.
In another of those verdammt in media res openers, we witness the blessed arrival of the new addition to the Van de Camp family. His name is William, and their newly-adopted son looks oddly familiar. The Midwestern/possibly Great Plains couple fly a flag with a white buffalo outside their home. Remember when Albert Hosteen explained the significance of the arrival of the white buffalo in the third season? Great change and upheaval is certainly afoot.
A week earlier, a stranger skulks in an alleyway while Scully extracts baby William from his car seat. She’s singing Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” to him, reminiscent of another time and place when she cradled an injured Mulder in her arms and sang the same thing to keep (and herself) awake (season five’s “Detour,” remember?). Later, the same guy attacks Doggett in the X-Files office. They struggle, but Doggett is able to subdue the stranger, whose face is indiscernible because of extensive scarring. Scully is called to talk to the man, who informs her that he was sent by Mulder to take some files from the X-Files office. He explains that he was part of a failed experiment that was supposed to have transformed him into one of the alien hybrid super soldiers, but his body rejected the process. He claims to be a victim of a newly-formed Syndicate which exists within the federal government and is made up largely of alien colonists and super soldiers. At about this point, Doggett gets to thinking. It seems to him that this guy could be Fox Mulder. Scully doesn’t agree, and neither does Skinner. But that doubt doesn’t stop Doggett and Skinner from ordering a DNA test on the stranger who identifies himself as Daniel Miller.
Scully is extremely doubtful about this man, but brings him back to her apartment to show him the files he was sent to retrieve. She and Mulder had agreed that some of the X-Files should be pulled out of circulation before anyone new gained access to them. Among the files are the ones pertaining to the abduction of Samantha Mulder. As the man scans the files, William begins to fuss. Surprisingly, the baby calms down when the scarred man holds him. A flicker of indecision flickers in Scully as she watches this broken-down man hold her son. She suddenly thinks it’s possible that this stranger could actually be the father of her child. He tells her that William is the missing link between man and the extraterrestrial colonists. Baby William (along with anyone trying to protect him) faces a lifetime of danger and constant harassment from the forces who want to use him as the key to complete invasion. Dana is merely a tool being used by this conspiracy to nurture this Messianic child until he is needed.
As if that wasn’t enough to swallow, Doggett and Reyes arrive to inform Scully that initial DNA tests on the stranger show him to be a match with Fox Mulder. She still doesn’t buy it. Yes, she’s a forensic scientist and a medical doctor, but this time, the evidence just can’t trump her intuition. While the agents talk in the other room, Daniel Miller sneaks into William’s room and administers a syringe filled with an unknown substance into the baby’s head. Scully finds blood from the injection on the baby’s bedding and rushes her child to the hospital to be checked. Meanwhile, Doggett aggressively questions the scarred man. At the hospital, William is tested and revealed to be perfectly normal, save for an elevated level of iron in his blood.
Scully gets a chance to confront scarface in the FBI interrogation room. While Doggett, Reyes, and Skinner look on, she outs the man as Jeffrey Spender, long thought dead with his father the Cigarette Smoking Man’s bullet in his face. Instead, he was subjected to extensive testing and experimentation, leaving him the pathetic wretch before them now. He explains that he had injected a form of magnetite into William’s brain in order to deactivate the portion of his DNA which could be identified as alien. Her baby was now effectively all human. He cautions her that this development was unlikely to protect him from those forces that already know of his existence, but he would never be able to be used as a leader in their colonization efforts. He has not been in contact with Mulder, but is acting in defiance of his father’s legacy in stopping cold the efforts of the alien conspiracy by humanizing their Christ child.
Sure, the guy’s a total weasel, but Scully is able to recognize the problem she faces. The only way for William to have any sort of a normal life is as far away from her as possible. As long as she is protecting him, those who seek him will always be able to find him. Whether he’s the star-child or not. In the best interest of her baby, she gives him up for anonymous adoption to the kindly couple from the opening teaser of the episode.
Well, that sucked.
The episode was powerfully produced, emotionally acted and enticingly written, but the circumstances were nothing short of a sucker punch. The end comes rushing at you with seeming recklessness until you pause to realize that this sacrifice on Scully’s part has been becoming increasingly inevitable over the course of the past year. Ever since learning that her baby is alternately considered a component of and/or weapon against the coming alien colonization of the planet, it’s unlikely she wouldn’t be concerned about her ability to adequately protect him. Both Knowle Rohrer and Shannon McMahon spoke of the need to acquire William (see the eighth season closer “Existence,” and both parts of “Nothing Important Happened Today” which opened season nine). When he was captured by UFO cultists in “Providence” earlier this season, he had somehow survived a blast that incinerated everyone around him.
With the magnetite cure, having been so generously administered by weasel-boy Jeffrey Spender, was there any way Scully could count on the child’s physiology to protect him from such threats? Their enemies have access to the kid so long as she has him and remains accessible. But to go on the run with the one person most likely to help her protect the child would only serve to endanger Mulder. As tragic as it is, her only hope to protect William is to secure her baby in an untraceable, unlikely place in such a way that even she would be hard-pressed to locate him. As the Well-Manicured Man once told Fox Mulder, “survival is the ultimate ideology.”
S9E17: “Release” (w: John Shiban & David Amann (story), David Amann (teleplay)/d: Kim Manners)
With the end nigh, the time had come to tie up loose ends. Over the past couple of episodes we had witnessed the end of the Lone Gunmen, seen the resolution of the storyline surrounding Scully’s baby, and been reintroduced to Jeffrey Spender. This episode was able to rather deftly answer dangling questions about three separate characters. The major thread concerning John Doggett dominates the episode, but an intrigue concerning Monica Reyes ties smoothly into a heretofore unsuspected revelation regarding Assistant Director Follmer. This will constitute Cary Elwes’ final appearance on the show as Brad Follmer. In all, this is an example of The X-Files stretching beyond its typical fare and exploring the (possibly) darker realms of simple human indecency and graft. It’s a mystery crime story that could have easily aired on just about any procedural drama, but this played out with a distinctive X-Files flavor. As a side note, Robert Patrick’s real-life wife Barbara Patrick reprises her role of John Doggett’s ex-wife Barbara Doggett, last seen earlier this season in “John Doe.” They were married in 1990 and, as of this writing, have defied all Hollywood conventions by remaining happily married for over twenty-five years.
This episode is divided into four sections, each with its own title card. This first act is entitled “The Tip.” Doggett is pursuing an anonymous tip through an abandoned tenement building when he is attacked. His attacker gets away, but he is led to the sound of rats scrabbling inside a freshly-plastered wall. Scraping at the wet plaster, blood begins to stream through the wall. Back at Quantico, Scully autopsies the body from the wall as a learning exercise for a group of cadets. One of her students, Rudolph Hayes, steps forward with observations that are downright Holmesian in their accuracy. His astute findings help Scully connect this murder to another unsolved case she had encountered two weeks earlier. Doggett is befuddled at the reason he was singled out and given the tip which led to this surprisingly straightforward non-X-File case.
Scully tells him and Reyes not to question it but to investigate this case that has dropped squarely into their laps. They pay a visit to Cadet Hayes, who disdainfully corrects their profile of the culprit in this case. His suggestions lead them to New York parolee Nicholas Regali. Officially, he’s in the DC area looking for jobs. However, he has a history of mafia involvement and the two murders align with a bar he frequents and the time he has been in town. With nothing tangible to put on Regali, two frustrated agents leave him to drink in peace. Back in his barren studio apartment, Cadet Hayes adds a photo of the latest murder victim to his extensive murder victim photo collection. He sits and stares at the grotesque wallpaper.
The second act of this episode is called “Ashes.” Doggett is suffering insomnia. Something about this case has him twisted up in an uncomfortable way, but he can’t figure out what it is. He pulls a metal box containing his son’s ashes out of the closet and sits studying it. The next day, he privately visits Hayes to ask him to turn his adept’s mind to the unsolved case of Luke Doggett. Hayes is already aware of the case, and tells Doggett that he believes their chief suspect, a man named Robert Harvey, bore responsibility for Luke’s death, but that he is tied to Regali, the man he and Reyes had questioned about their current case. Doggett approaches Assistant Director Follmer for help in connecting Regali to the nearly decade old case of his murdered son. Follmer reluctantly agrees to dig around his former connections from when he worked in the New York field office.
John next visits his ex-wife Barbara in order to convince her to come look at a lineup including Regali to see if she recognizes the man from the day their son was abducted. Concerned that her ex-husband is sinking back into the mania that tore apart their marriage, she agrees but only with great reservations. She fails to recognize anyone in the lineup, but expresses her concerns about John to Scully. She also tells her that she thinks he and Monica would be good together. She’s a pretty cool lady. I can see what a good man like John Doggett would have seen in her. Scully tells the agents that there are similarities between the two murdered women and the forensics of Luke Doggett’s death, but not enough to definitively say they were committed by the same person. It’s not enough to deter Doggett, though.
Act three is entitled “A Message.” As they continue to collect data and evidence, Doggett begins to suspect that Regali had someone inside the FBI helping him all along. The man is too clean, especially considering his connection to the mafia is well-known. Reyes confronts AD Follmer, telling him that the reason she walked away from their relationship in New York three years earlier was because she saw him taking money from a known Mafioso. She didn’t want to ruin his career, but she couldn’t reconcile this activity enough to stick around. He rebuffs her accusation, telling her that it was part of a trust-building scenario with an informant, but she isn’t swayed. Instead, he counters with new information about Cadet Hayes, whose observations have been central to their pursuit of this case. Hayes is actually former mental patient and paranoid schizophrenic Stuart Mimms. He had bluffed his way into the FBI academy for unknown purposes. Additionally, he had lived in New York at the time of Luke Doggett’s death.
Doggett leads a SWAT team to arrest Mimms, and Barbara recognizes him in a line-up, even though she can’t precisely say how he is familiar. Follmer has a secret meeting with Regali to tell the criminal that he was done dealing with him. Regali, rebuts with a reminder that Follmer was the one who accepted bribes from him back in New York and that their relationship would be over when and if he decided to end it. Scully meets with her former student who explains that he had read about Luke’s abduction in the newspaper before developing a fixation on the details of the case. Mimms had taken a false name and bluffed his way into the FBI training program in an attempt to get close enough to Doggett to help solve the case. Doggett goes back to Regali, convinced that he was involved in Luke’s death. Regali indulges the agent with a “purely hypothetical” story of a “businessman” who had entered into a “business relationship” with another man who had turned out to be a pedophile.
Hypothetically, this “businessman” might have walked in on his “business partner” involved in an act with a child he had abducted without the “businessman’s” knowledge. When the boy sees the businessman’s face, it becomes clear to him that he might be associated with the crime if the boy were to be let loose. So this “businessman” had no other option than to kill the boy, as much as he would have liked to have had a better choice in the matter. Regali smugly gets up and leaves the bar. Doggett sits stunned for a minute before unholstering his weapon and following Regali out the door. As Doggett steps out, however, a gunshot rings out from his left and Regali falls dead to the ground. Follmer was waiting for the man to exit the bar so that he could end their relationship in the only way he was empowered to do so.
The episode’s epilogue is called “Release.” Doggett and his ex-wife, Luke’s mom and dad, empty the boy’s ashes from the metal box into the ocean. They are finally able to say goodbye to their tragedy and release their son. As the ashes float away on the coastal breeze, John and Barbara walk back to their separate cars. Monica is waiting at the car, and holds her partner in her arms.
Watching this episode again, I found that I was in agreement with the former Mrs. Doggett. It would have been interesting to see the relationship between Doggett and Reyes extended into another season of television. Their affection is considerably more of an open subject than Mulder and Scully’s was, even without them reaching anywhere near the level of intimacy that existed between their predecessors. It would have been rewarding to see Doggett’s dark corners exposed to Reyes’ warmth and light. Such a soapy turn would have very likely been deadly to the series, but the hopeless romantic in me would have endorsed such a direction. I guess at this point it’s mostly just fodder for fan fiction.
The only real flaw evident in this episode is the unlikely fall from grace of AD Follmer. It provides an explanation for the complicated dynamic between him and Reyes ever since the beginning of the season, but the subplot very nearly served as a distraction from the much more impactful narrative of Doggett’s emotional journey to the truth that has driven him for nearly a decade. This episode very nearly acts as a series finale for the X-Files’ second squad, and as such it was necessary to cap AD Follmer in the same way that Doggett’s and Reyes’ motivations needed to be clarified and tied up. I maintain that this is a strong episode, but it probably could have been just as successful without the Brad Follmer subplot.
S9E18: “Sunshine Days” (w: Vince Gilligan/d: Vince Gilligan)
For the penultimate episode of the X-Files, writer/director Gilligan was given the reins to produce the last “Monster of the Week” episode. In order to film, the interior of the house from the Brady Bunch was needed. Unfortunately, the set from the original show had long since been dismantled so the production team lovingly recreated (in minute detail) the iconic architectural wonder. Gillian Anderson reported at the time that people from all over Los Angeles were stopping by the set of the episode throughout filming just to have their picture taken on the set. To be fair, it was an incredible feat of scenery. Down to the shag carpeting in the upstairs hallway and the horse statue prominently displayed at the base of the steps, it was a remarkable feat of stage craftsmanship. An added bit of ironic meta-layering could be found in the casting of David Faustino as the character which would lead us (and the agents) into this case. As Bud Bundy on Married… With Children, Faustino had helped his show to provide the very antithesis of the Brady Bunch. Also notable in this episode is the guest appearance of Michael Emerson. It would be another four years before he would confound and infuriate us as Ben Linus (or was it Henry Gale?) on Lost and even longer before he would join the formulaic safety of Person of Interest as an Orwellian peeping Tom named Harold Finch.
Blake and his buddy Mike sneak into a house in their neighborhood in Van Nuys, California. According to Blake, this was the house where the Brady Bunch was filmed. Inside, they find that the interior is exactly as Blake said. It is the Brady house, down to the seventies deco artwork and horse statue. Mike gets spooked and leaves, but Blake stays inside to explore. While Mike sits at the wheel debating whether to drive away abandoning his friend entirely, Blake drops from the sky and lands on the roof of the car.
Doggett and Reyes are asked to investigate the case, as bodies don’t typically fall from the sky in quiet suburban neighborhoods. They speak with Mike, who tells them all about the Brady house. Agent Reyes points out that the Brady Bunch was shot on a soundstage in Burbank and not in an actual house. Still, the agents escort Mike to pay a visit to Oliver Martin, the owner of the house in question. They find the interior to be typical of the style of a suburban California bungalow, with no resemblance whatsoever to the iconic TV home. Outside, a puzzled Doggett finds a piece of a shingle on the collapsed roof of Mike’s car. Taking one more look at Oliver’s house, Doggett notices that a roughly human-sized hole has been recently repaired on the roof.
That night, Mike succumbs to his curiosity and returns to the house. Peeping through a window, he sees Alice pull a casserole out of the oven and bring it to the table where the entire Brady family is seated in the dining nook of the house’s front living room. He bursts into the house, where he finds it still looking like the Brady house, but all the people have vanished. Oliver confronts him, sending him flying through the roof to be embedded like Wile E. Coyote in the front yard.
Scully finds an old X-File about a powerfully psychokinetic boy named Anthony Fogelman who was discovered under the care of Dr. John Rietz. Fogelman had changed his name to Oliver Martin as an adult. In a meeting with Rietz, he explains to Scully that his charge’s power had faded as he grew older and they had lost touch after the study had run its course. He recalls how much the boy had loved The Brady Bunch, leading Reyes to conclude that his chosen name of Oliver Martin was deliberately taken from the Brady’s cousin Oliver, who appeared throughout the final season of the show. Cousin Oliver was often considered the element that jinxed the show into cancellation, and they think that taking that name was a statement (subconscious or otherwise) of his perception of himself.
They all go to meet with the now-grown Fogelman/Martin. It becomes clear that he’s not in complete control of his abilities, and he particularly loses control of them when experiencing intense emotions. Reyes and Scully join Doggett and Dr. Rietz in talking with him. Together, they convince him that his powers could be a benefit to society if he were able to gain control of them. Scully particularly wants to help him harness this ability. He reluctantly agrees to take a trip back to Washington, where he demonstrates how to make an Assistant Director of the FBI fly like Peter Pan. Scully has finally found the proof she and Mulder spent almost a decade pursuing. It is indisputable, inarguable evidence of things that exist outside the realm of known science. Doggett and Reyes have managed to produce something concrete out of an X-Files case. Then Fogelman/Martin collapses in a seizure outside of Skinner’s office.
After running tests, Scully determines that his power is consuming his body faster than it can heal itself. His psychokinesis will kill him unless he stops using it. Doggett is the one who figures it out. The boy’s powers had faded when Dr. Rietz was working closely with his younger self because he didn’t feel lonely any more. Having been orphaned at a young age, he had found a surrogate (albeit unaware) father in the doctor. When his powers faded and Dr. Rietz turned his attention elsewhere to eventually lose touch altogether, Anthony had felt abandoned which rekindled his powers. He had used his power to recreate his environment so that he could feel the presence of the only family to which he had ever felt he belonged: the Bradys. Dr. Rietz sits down at Anthony’s bedside, assuring him that he will make sure he never feels lonely enough to use his powers again. Scully notes that the loss of justification of her and Mulder’s work is a reasonable price to pay for “more important things.”
There’s an argument to be made that this episode was fashioned as a sly indictment of the X-Files fan base. Not all of us, mind you. Just the haters who couldn’t find it in their hearts to move beyond their displeasure at the absence of Fox Mulder from the show. It’s hardly a conspiracy to think that the Fox network would have renewed the show for a tenth season and beyond for as long as the ratings continued to hold. But that simply wasn’t the case. Season nine’s premiere showed the lowest rating of any of the show’s other season openers, and the viewers continued to drop away from that point. Chris Carter admitted that he recognized the departure of the audience, but somewhat stubbornly let the show stay its course, thinking that the stories they were producing were perfectly deserving of an audience. He and his team built it, but they just wouldn’t come.
By the time Vince Gilligan wrote and directed this episode, the show’s cancellation was a done deal, and it’s hard not to believe that just a few bitter pills were being swallowed. Was Gilligan comparing the fan’s treatment of Doggett and Reyes on The X-Files to reactions to the ill-conceived arrival of Cousin Oliver on the Brady Bunch? Let’s face it, Cousin Oliver was to the Brady Bunch what Scrappy Doo was to Mystery, Incorporated. If this season had happened a decade later, would Fogelman have taken the name “Jar-Jar” instead? This writer has often felt that Doggett and Reyes broadened the perspective of The X-Files in a way that Mulder and even Scully just couldn’t any more than they already had. In the end of the episode, Doggett states that he hopes people will turn off their TVs and “learn to love the real world.” It seems to me that this sentiment is most likely aimed at the 21st century’s single greatest threat to humanity: internet trolls.
S9E19: “The Truth” (w: Chris Carter/d: Kim Manners)
At long last, it was time for Chris Carter to lay all his cards on the table. He had been preparing the cast and crew for this eventuality for weeks, and the time had finally come to turn out the lights. Certainly he intended to proceed with the franchise if possible, but with the plunging ratings of the final season, the likelihood of a film deal seemed elusive. For all intents and purposes, this was the time to turn out all those elusive truths. Fortunately, he was able to assemble many of the actors who had propelled the series from its earliest days. The absence of Jerry Hardin (other than in flashback) was somewhat blaring, but seeing the blistering intensity of Stephen William’s “X” nearly made up for it.
So, just what has Mulder been doing for the past year? Well, if this episode’s opener is any indicator, he’s been sneaking into top-secret government and military installations to snoop around. This week’s travelogue has led him to Mount Weather in Virginia, known to be the central location of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). After spy-teching his way into a server room, he opens up a file on the computer detailing plans for December 22, 2012. Before he can read very far, though, he is interrupted by none other than the former Marine-turned alien hybrid super soldier, Knowle Rohrer.
Rohrer tosses ragdoll Mulder around for a bit before joining in a merry chase through the installation. The pursuit ends on a catwalk high in the upper reaches of the base’s central hub. Crafty Mulder manages to use Rohrer’s strength and size against him, flipping him off the catwalk and onto live electric wires. Rohrer is seemingly electrocuted, leaving Mulder to be arrested by armed security. Over the course of the next several days, the former agent is subjected to brainwashing techniques, the end result of which seems to be the acquisition of a full confession of guilt from Mulder for the murder of a US Marine. Through it all, Mulder sees and speaks with visions of Alex Krychek and X, both of whom have been killed over the course of the series. Both offer him advice and guidance during the brainwashing sessions.
As soon as AD Skinner hears of Mulder’s incarceration, he and Scully rush to visit. At first, Mulder appears to have succumbed to the conditioning, playing the part of a guilty man for anyone observing. Skinner and Scully don’t realize that throughout the entirety of their initial contact, Mulder is taking all of his cues from a Krychek which only he can see. When they meet again later in his cell, Mulder is more open with them, even going so far as to lay a kiss on Scully with enough gusto to make Skinner blush all the way to his parietal bone. The Assistant Director tries to arrange a release, but the best-case scenario is a military tribunal, in which Deputy Director Kersh will preside and Skinner will act as Mulder’s attorney. Mulder (and everyone else) realizes the trial is a sham gesture, but it would seem to be their only shot at gaining his freedom.
Attending the court proceedings are Kersh, the Toothpick Man (who we know to be a super soldier), and several other presumably high-ranking FBI and military people. The bureau has provided an agent from the Los Angeles field office who had formerly worked as a prosecuting attorney to face Skinner’s defense. Skinner tries to establish a narrative of the existence of a shadow government by calling witnesses Dana Scully, the unrecognizably-scarred Jeffrey Spender, and even Marita Covarrubias, who could only be found after X appeared in Mulder’s cell and provided an address for the former Attaché to the UN Secretary General. Despite their testimony and that of John Doggett and Monica Reyes in support of the truth about the sweeping conspiracy, the panel is non-plussed.
Admittedly, they give pause when Gibson Praise takes the stand and points out the decidedly non-human Toothpick Man sitting in their midst, but his efforts are ultimately futile. It is noted that Gibson has been helping Mulder to hide in New Mexico during much of his exile. Scully is able to present eleventh-hour forensic evidence that the corpse of the man Mulder has been accused of killing was not in fact the body of Knowle Rohrer, but Kersh is unwilling to admit her evidence. With Krychek and X’s phantoms looking on, Mulder’s trial comes to an abrupt end.
Sentencing comes through the next day. Mulder is to be killed by lethal injection. That night, Doggett and Skinner breach the facility where he’s being held and try to break him out. They narrowly avoid being caught because of the timely intervention of Deputy Director Kersh, who indulges his conscience (for once in his cowardly life) and leads them to the outer fence of the facility where Scully, Reyes and Gibson await them. Skinner advises Mulder and Scully to drive north toward Canada and board a flight that will get them off the continent within the next twenty-four hours. Of course, Mulder being Mulder, he immediately points the vehicle south. He informs Scully that they’ll be vacationing in sunny New Mexico.
Doggett and Reyes report to work the next day to find that the X-Files’ basement office has been emptied, leaving only a pile of trash with Mulder’s iconic “I Want to Believe” poster tossed unceremoniously on top. The X-Files have been closed. Again. Third time’s the charm, right? Doggett protectively collects the poster.
Along a desert highway, Mulder stops to pee along the side of the road where he is visited by the spirits of the Lone Gunmen. Langly, Byers, and Frohike all plead with him to turn around and follow the advice they were given to leave the country, but he stubbornly ignores their counsel just as he did that of Skinner and Doggett the day before. What’s with these ghosts, anyway? Are they manifestations of Mulder’s subconscious? Has Mulder grown schizophrenic in the past year? Did he share a snack with a roaming Kwakwaka’wakw Bakwas spirit while traveling through Western Canada, granting him the ability to interact with the spirit world? I digress…
The next day they finally arrive at their destination. Scully climbs out of the car and faces the ruins of an Anasazi pueblo built into a cliff wall. Smoke comes from one of the windows. Climbing up to the ancient apartment, they encounter the pueblo’s head of housekeeping and her cauldron of soup. Mulder explains to her that the document he read in Mount Weather mentioned a “wise man” living in these ruins. Deeper inside the chamber, the Cigarette Smoking Man sits placidly. Mulder believes him to be another of his hallucinatory visitations, but Scully confirms the old bastard’s physical presence. Smoking his Morleys through a rather steampunk-looking stoma cover in his throat, he tells them that the pueblo was built by the ancients because of an exceedingly high concentration of magnetite in the hillside. The aliens can’t stand the stuff, and it’s been proven to be the only thing that can kill the super soldiers. Always consult your doctor first.
Doggett and Reyes turn up at the pueblos, nearly at the same time as Knowle Rohrer, who seems to seek some sort of retribution against Mulder for the whole bug-zapper thing. Unfortunately (for him), he is exposed to the magnetite. It doesn’t agree with him at all. While Mulder and Scully make a run for it in Rohrer’s SUV and Doggett and Reyes take off for GOD KNOWS WHERE, black helicopters arrive and blast the chain-smoking son of a bitch to fiery Hell.
In Roswell, New Mexico (so fitting it’s almost precious, innit?), Mulder and Scully convene in a hotel room. Mulder believes that the spirits who have been visiting him are part of some sort of master plan. His belief, combined with Scully’s faith, has been the driving force that can lend them the strength to face the coming tribulations. From his singular need to understand the disappearance of his sister to the broader conspiracy they’ve only begun to fully understand, he knows that without Scully’s constant and insistent rationale all would have been lost.
There are many reasons I unabashedly admit to loving this show. Not the least of which is its (admittedly infuriating) unwillingness to spell everything out for the viewer. There are plot elements and subtexts to this show that I didn’t catch until the third or fourth or even fifth pass through its 201 episodes. And this finale was a microcosm of that same elusiveness. It’s easy sometimes to dismiss the show’s weirdness as self-indulgence or even poor writing, but upon repeat viewing it’s hard to stand by those judgments. In any finale, it’s common practice to revisit past plotlines and allow former supporting players to pay their respects.
In the case of the X-Files, unfortunately, a great many of those players were already dead. But did that really pose a problem? Not on the X-Files. As Chris Carter has so famously stated time and again: “No one’s ever really dead on the X-Files.” Except when they are. So what are these phantasms that are appearing, interacting, and providing Mulder with information? They can’t be a manifestation of his subconscious, seeing as the X ghost provides Mulder with an address for Marita Covarrubias, information he did not and could not have known. Krychek’s ghost seems to know exactly what the tribunal is thinking, enough to supply Mulder with a proper course of action to protect Covarrubias. And when Scully and Mulder run in the opposite direction than what they had been advised, the Lone Gunmen appear to plead with Mulder.
It occurred to me while watching this that Gibson Praise’s power has increased, just as had been predicted. He can not only read minds, but is now able to project images into the minds of people he connects with. When Krychek steers Mulder during the trial, it’s Gibson acting on knowledge gleaned from the minds of the men presiding over the room. When the Lone Gunmen plead with him to follow Kersh’s advice and get out of the country, it’s Gibson trying desperately to save his friend from his own impulses.
But the real crux of the series comes to bear in the last five minutes. In a blatant restaging of the scene which officially set this journey in motion when Mulder laid out his sister’s alien abduction and his own subsequent quest to find Samantha and uncover the truth surrounding her disappearance, Mulder once again bares his soul to his partner. But this time, their partnership is considerably more intimate and human than the tenuous suspicion of their first hotel room confessional. His quest has evolved and grown over the years, but even more importantly, it is no longer his lone crusade.
Nine years later, he might not have the bureau or the X-Files or even the status that comes of being a Federal Agent. But what he does have is something that supersedes any of those things. Dana Scully stands at his side. This powerful, willful, brilliant mind will follow him to the ends of the Earth. Over the years, her faith has been sorely tested, as has his. Scully’s Catholicism and her trust in science were always something of a dichotomy, as much as his need for evidence stacked against his willingness to put his faith in the supernatural and para-scientific. Over time, their individual faiths fractured and split, each allowing the others’ ideologies to seep into the cracks between. Mulder will never fully understand Scully’s religious beliefs, just as she will never quite reconcile his infuriating open-mindedness. But it’s their common ground, not the gulfs between them, they choose to focus upon and that makes all the difference.
We should all try to seek such middle ground with those we find ourselves in enmity against. All systems of faith are based around hope, and hope is the one thing that keeps us moving. Despite all the odds stacked against them, Mulder and Scully never quite gave up their hope. When one would waver, the other would flex his or her faith to keep them both afloat. In stark contrast is the unbroken zealotry of Cigarette Smoking Man, whose single-mindedness led him to a lonely subsistence in a dark cave and eventual fiery death. There is a future for Mulder and Scully, and as long as they can rely upon one another, they will find a way to navigate it. If this were truly the end of the X-Files, it would have been a bittersweet yet completely satisfying conclusion.