Thursday, December 17, 2015

The X-Files - S8:E11 "The Gift"

[ S8:E10 "Badlaa" <<< Season 8 >>> S8:E12 "Medusa" ]

Spoiler Warning: This really isn't a mythology episode, but it does deal with the continuing search for Mulder, and so the following discussion may contain some spoilers.

This isn't actually a terrible episode, it's just misguided. In the opener, some kind of assassin enters a house marked with a bloody symbol on the door, and kills someone (or something) as the residents fearfully (but helplessly) look on. It's shot in disjointed closeups, so as to obscure the fact (soon revealed) that the killer is none other than Fox Mulder. But I'm kinda pissed that this is the first we see of Mulder since Within/Without. His uncharacteristic behavior is adequately explained by the end of the episode, but even before that, you're thinking, this is probably just the Alien Bounty Hunter again, or else he's possessed or confused or something. Either way, the conclusion is that though it's him, it's not really him, which is the impression you get regardless, because this is not the Mulder we know and love. And that's the thing - if this is what David Duchovny's cameos on the show are going to consist of, then why bring Mulder back at all? Don't tease us if you're not going to deliver.

Now, it ultimately turns out to be a flashback - but I'm not sure that's any better. This would ostensibly appear to be a "mythology" episode, but it's myth-lite at best. Scully's not even in it - which is a sin for an episode that deals with the search for Mulder, even if it does turn out to be a big red herring. The episode is basically Agent Doggett putting together the pieces of Mulder's investigation of a case in a small town he returned to shortly before his disappearance - but investigating a prior investigation isn't by itself a strong premise for an episode. And if the mythology is going to concern itself now with filling in a bunch of backstory on events that allegedly happened concurrently with the seventh season - essentially retconning a whole storyline - well, that's kinda sucky.

Flashbacks are admittedly an easy way to give Mulder some screen time prior to bringing him back from that spaceship, but, in my opinion, the series was doing a fine enough job of ignoring Mulder's disappearance. Until such time as they are ready to commit to bringing Mulder back for real (or at least to seriously exploring his current whereabouts), I'd just as soon stick with the standalone freak-of-the-weeks, and not have to sit through any half-assed "Mulder's here but not really here" situations. Even the Scully angle is annoying. It's enough that she's conspicuously absent for a case in which she deserves to be at the forefront, but the explanation is that she signed off on a falsified case report to save Mulder's hide for trying to give mercy to a monster? I guess they learned something from Bad Blood, but it seems out of character for two agents dedicated to truth and justice. It's not the best excuse I've heard for giving Gillian Anderson some time off - I'd just as soon have Scully back in the hospital again.

Anyway, Skinner steps in again to take up the slack of Scully's absence (although Skinner/Doggett is no Mulder/Scully). But I must say I can't agree with him when he criticizes Doggett for investigating the case just to find a mundane explanation for Mulder's disappearance. It's a credit, I guess, to the integrity of his character (though he doesn't believe in the paranormal, he is legitimately concerned with finding the truth), that I trust him over Skinner's word just 11 episodes into his tenure on the show. The freak is creepy enough - a gross, miserable creature; some kind of mutated neanderthal involved in cannibalistic sex rituals (god it's fun, sometimes, trying to find words to describe the twisted premises The X-Files comes up with). Although, coming on the heels of Badlaa, the whole cavern vomiting scene feels a little much. The foggy, foresty atmosphere is almost enough to conjure the vibes of Vancouver - but atmosphere alone does not an episode make. As I said, it's not terrible, it's just misguided. Certainly nowhere near as superb as Frank Spotnitz' last episode, Via Negativa (which, interestingly, was another Doggett-centric, Scully-lite episode. Go figure).

Memorable quotes:

Doggett: Somethin' happened here. Just wasn't what we thought.

Skinner: You and I both know what happened out there, Agent Doggett. No one else needs to.

(I have mixed feelings about this. I understand that there are people out there - and in this case, in positions of direct authority in the FBI - who aren't in a position to properly understand the nuances of an X-File. But this smacks too much of sacrificing principles. One thing I always loved about Mulder was that his dedication to the truth came before any rational considerations for his job, his reputation, or even his life. I'm talking about the Mulder that caused Eugene Victor Tooms to be released because he insisted on rambling about hundred year old liver-eating mutants to the parole board in Tooms. "I don't care how it sounded, as long as it was the truth." Granted, Skinner's role was always to reign Mulder in, but here even Mulder is falsifying documents in order to cover his tracks. I don't know. It just doesn't feel right).

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