Monday, December 21, 2015

The X-Files - S8:E17 "Empedocles"

[ S8:E16 "Three Words" <<< Season 8 >>> S8:E18 "Vienen" ]

Spoiler Warning: This isn't strictly a mythology episode, but it deals with some of Agent Doggett's back story, so keep that in mind, as this review will contain spoilers.

Yes, we finally get to explore Doggett's back story - specifically, some of the details involving the case of his lost son, Luke. The boy was killed, and Doggett and Reyes never caught the killer. But it's not the killer (who dies before the opening credits roll) so much as his spiritual legacy that this episode concerns itself with. In the opener, a man is fired from his job, and then literally gets fired when, after witnessing a car chase end in a fiery explosion, the burning victim gets up and walks through him, metaphorically infecting him (as Mulder explains it later in the episode) with evil. He then turns around and shoots the boss that fired him just moments before. A local detective thinks the killing involves a Satanic ritual, based on the fact that the prime suspect owned a Marilyn Manson CD. Which is funny, but it's a pretty specious excuse to get Agent Reyes involved in the case. (As an aside, we hardly know Reyes, and we're not invested in whether or not she quits smoking. So I can't help wondering what the point of those scenes with the nicotine gum is)...

Reyes makes a connection to the killing of Doggett's son via a psychic vision, but, not wanting to open old wounds, she calls Mulder for assistance, instead. Likely still bitter from being denied reinstatement on the X-Files, Mulder is at first uninterested - until Reyes mentions the connection to Doggett's past (then his ears perk right up). One can't help seeing the reluctant Mulder/Reyes pairing as a kind of counterpart to Scully/Doggett, especially when Mulder initially acts like the skeptic to Reyes' believer, paralleling the similar about-face that Scully performed while working with Doggett (though thankfully, this doesn't last). As we'll see, this episode is very much about the line between skepticism and belief, as it explores the reason behind Doggett's vehement opposition to the paranormal. When he flies off the handle and assaults Mulder after learning that he's working a case involving his past, it feels like an unreasonable reaction - even more so than Mulder's treatment of Doggett in the last episode. But Robert Patrick brings enough pathos to a later scene explaining Doggett's resistance that it justifies his intensity, saving that story thread.

For her part, Scully ends up back in the hospital in this episode. Which is a little bit disappointing, but it's not like she can be in the middle of the action anyway, given how far along her pregnancy is getting (though I don't imagine that story thread will be resolved until the season finale). There are some pleasant scenes between her and Mulder, at least, although they more remind than resurrect the mood of the great partnership that used to drive this show. Although Mulder and Doggett are still alternately at each other's throats - in what feels at times like a forced rivalry akin to that constructed between Mulder and Agent Spender (who could have been friends under different circumstances), albeit with more animation - they again find some level of reconciliation by episode's end. I don't buy Scully's claim to Mulder that she likes Agent Reyes, after their thorny interactions in This is Not Happening, but it's worth noting that Reyes ultimately gives Doggett the same explanation for them all being haunted by the specter of his son's disappearance that Scully gave him in Invocation. The real climax of the episode, however, is its thrilling and ultimately open-ended conclusion in the hospital.

Wish you were here...

Memorable quotes:

Scully: I was just about to jump in the shower, but I was waiting for the pizza man.
Mulder: You got something going on with the pizza man I should know about?

(It's nice to have Mulder's casual humor back - but he totally sells this exchange by reading his lines in complete seriousness - it's funny because it doesn't feel like a joke).

Mulder: The pizza man is not above suspicion.

Katha Dukes: I believe that we're all born good - uncorrupted - and life itself does the corrupting.

Doggett: You never believed in any of this stuff - this...paranormal whatever-you-call-it. So what changed your mind?
Scully: I realized it was me. That I was afraid - afraid to believe.

(This is consistent with her statement in Beyond The Sea. Although, clearly, realizing it then wasn't enough to change her habits).

Mulder (to Reyes): I think there's an opening coming up in this office soon, you might want to apply.

(I hope this isn't a prophecy).

Mulder: You can't help a man who can't help himself.

Mulder: I began to think about evil like a disease - you know, that it goes from man to man or age to age. Most of us walk around thinking that we're incapable of any acts of evil, and we are - we can stifle that momentary urge to kill, or to hurt. We have some kind of immunity to it. But I think it's possible that there' occurrence in somebody's life - a tragedy, or a loss - that leaves them vulnerable, hurts their immunity to evil, and all of a sudden, at that point in their lives, when they're weakened, they're open to evil. And they can become evil.

(That's when evil slips on in).

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