Monday, December 14, 2015

The X-Files - S8:E7 "Via Negativa"

[ S8:E6 "Redrum" <<< Season 8 >>> S8:E8 "Surekill" ]

I am positively dumbfounded. But in the best possible way. It's enough to say that I never could have predicted that I'd like the Robert Patrick episodes as much as I have so far, but to like an episode that puts even Scully on the sidelines in order to focus on Agent Doggett (and a little more of Skinner than we usually get to see) as much as I enjoyed this one? Preposterous! And yet, there it is. Written by Frank Spotnitz (who rarely goes solo, and even rarer on a non-mythology episode - I think the only previous examples are Our Town and Detour), and directed by Tony Wharmby, this episode manages to construct an even more effectively Lynchian atmosphere than Field Trip did, with haunting and surreal dream sequences.

Getting herself out of the way through the majority of the episode, Scully checks herself into a hospital, recalling the period during which she was sick in the latter part of season 4 (especially Zero Sum, in which she didn't appear at all). Doggett (who may just be starting to get wind of Scully's big secret, revealed in the last moment of Requiem), then is left, along with Skinner, to investigate the mysterious deaths of two agents staking out a religious cult. The cultleader is a creepy guy who has allegedly reached a higher plane (preacher, keep on preachin') by walking "Via Negativa" - the path of darkness - and who bears a literal third-eye (which is one of those things that, superficially, could be considered cheesy, but that I honestly think is kind of awesome). Although it begs the question of why, if he has found God, he's going around killing people...

Anyway, his modus operandi apparently involves death by nightmare, drawing comparisons to Freddy Krueger, as well as previous episodes The Walk, and Sleepless. The latter is probably a more apt comparison (and not only because it's a better episode), as it involves government experiments. While that may not specifically be the case here, The Lone Gunmen (formally introducing themselves to Agent Doggett in this episode), reference MKUltra, a real world experiment in which the CIA attempted to effect mind control via the use of LSD. Everybody knows that acid makes you hallucinate, but imagine doping yourself up to the point that you can give other people hallucinations! Here's a tip, though: it's not a good idea to put a guy who can kill through dreams into a coma...

This episode further presses the dynamic introduced in the two-part season opener, in which Skinner decided to embrace the paranormal, with Doggett now being held liable for it under Kersh's command. The episode also hints at another personal connection Doggett has with a fellow agent, emphasizing that - unlike Mulder, the outcast - he is a real inside man. I know that Kersh most likely put him on the X-Files to discredit his reputation, but I wonder if his involvement could actually bring some legitimacy to the X-Files. Yet, here, Doggett actually begins to question his own skepticism, as he becomes lost inside the psychic hallucinations of this week's freak. (I'm kinda relieved he's not as bull-headed as Scully was. Unlike her, he seems to be of the "seeing is believing" persuasion). Robert Patrick's kept his character pretty straight so far, but in this episode we get to see Agent Doggett experience real uncertainty and fear. And it's as thrilling as witnessing Scully's range of emotions for the first time in Beyond The Sea. If I didn't know better (and I don't, really), I'd say that The X-Files has just caught its second wind.

Memorable quotes:

Doggett: This is damn weird.
Skinner: It gets weirder.

Doggett: If I'm workin' this case, I'd appreciate a heads-up before you tell the deputy director any more science-fiction stories.

Scully: I appreciate your discretion.
Doggett: Yeah, well, it's easy to be discreet when you don't know what's going on.

Kersh: It's over, Agent Doggett. I don't need every 'i' dotted or every 't' crossed to know that we've got our man.

(I'd expect this kind of unprofessionalism from the local P.D., but the Deputy Director of the FBI? More proof that this man is not good news).

Doggett: Last night, I dreamt Tipet was inside my house, holding an axe. I thought I woke up this morning. I thought I was awake, but...but then...
Skinner: What do you want me to do, pinch you?

(It's pretty thrilling to see the unshakeable pillar that is Agent Doggett moved almost to tears out of a combination of fear and confusion. And never has "go home and get some rest" ever sounded more like a death sentence).

Doggett: You just saved my life, Agent Scully.
Scully: I just woke you up, Agent Doggett.

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