9 December 2015

TV Review: X-files, Season 8

Image source: Wikipedia
If you're a fan of the X-files, then you're most likely taking part in 201 Days of X-files. It started on July 7th, when Fox dared us all to watch one episode a day, leading up the big premiere in January. The response has been massive, with fans publishing their fanart on Facebook and tweeting about the upcoming episodes.

I myself am not participating, because I've re-watched the first seven seasons a few years ago with my brother, and then binge-watched the last two sometime later. In fact, it took me over a decade after the show was cancelled to watch seasons eight and nine.

As you may remember, David Duchovny left the show after season seven, and would only have a recurring role in season eight. He was absent throughout the whole ninth season, appearing only in the not-so-grand finale, as well as directing one of the episodes.

Duchonvy's departure forever changed the show. It left the fans disappointed. Whoever Fox got to replace the male lead, had to count on a lot of hate, or at least some negative comments from the fangirls. That brave actor was Robert Patrick, the deadlier of the two Terminators. His character - special agent John Doggett - was Mulder's complete opposite. He was an ex-cop who served in the military. A no-bullshit kind of man, and a non-believer at that.

Patrick was not the only newest addition to the X-files family. Annabeth Gish was cast as Monica Reyes, Another FBI-agent who would become a main character in season nine.

When the season premiered on November 5th 2000, the reception was very mixed. The critics were fairly positive in their reviews, but the fans were not as easy to please.

In a few days, 201 Days of X-files will take us to the season seven finale. Are you going to keep on watching?

Today, I want to give my two cents about the season that I have sort of ambiguous feelings about. This is the longest review I've written, but there was so much about this season that needed to be covered.

X-files, season 8 - a fan review

Season eight opens with a double feature - Within (8x1) and Without (8x2). We pick up right where we left in the season seven finale. Mulder has been abducted by aliens, and Scully has learnt that she’s pregnant. These two episodes set the tone for the rest of the season, which focuses on Mulder’s abduction, Scully’s pregnancy and a new conspiracy that threatens not only the future of mankind but Scully’s unborn baby as well.

There is a lot to take in when you watch Within for the first time. Duchovny has left; the show has a different feel to it; the dynamic between the characters has changed. And on top of all that, we are forcibly introduced to special agent John Doggett, who has been assigned by the newly appointed Deputy Director Kersh (Mulder and Scully’s stern boss from season six), to lead the task force for Mulder’s manhunt.

From scene one, we meet what seems to be a very unsympathetic character. He lies to Scully, he’s being condescending and smug towards her, and he questions her relationship with Mulder, knowing perfectly well that he doesn’t know the first thing about the dynamic duo. Finding Mulder is his job. And he treats it like a job. The task has no personal significance to Doggett.
He’s an outsider, an alien. He’s not Mulder. When Scully splashes water in his face, after he has insulted her, we cheer and laugh because that’s exactly how we feel about John Doggett.

"Nice to meet you, agent Doggett."

Yes, it takes time to warm up to agent Doggett. He’s a non-believer, for one. Then there’s this whole trust issue we have to deal with. Can Scully trust him? He has been assigned by Kersh, whose main purpose is to get the truth about Mulder’s abduction from coming out. Whose side is Doggett on anyway?

By the end of episode two we start to understand what kind of a man Doggett really is. He comforts Scully when she is injured. He stands up to Kersh, questioning the Deputy Director’s motivations. And finally, he signs up for the X-files, determined to finish his job. 

He’s on the side of justice. Just like Mulder, he wants the truth, even though the “truth” means something else to him than to Mulder. The manhunt has proved unsuccessful. What’s worse, it has left a ton of unanswered questions. His own firm belief system has just had its first little shake. He has been challenged, and he will be challenged again. Because this is how it is on the X-files. As Mulder has put it in the Pilot episode 
"In my job, the laws of physics rarely apply."

Scully has no choice but to accept him as her new partner and we have to do the same. Because Mulder isn’t coming back – not permanently, anyway. And Doggett, after all, is a good man, who means well. And it’s time for us to realise that it wasn’t Doggett’s fault that Mulder got himself abducted. We have to deal with the truth.
The rest of season eight is a mixed bag. Overall, the writers did a good job, considering the major changes. The cases are not the same.The monster-of-the-week episodes feel recycled. Except for a few nail biters such as Roadrunners (8x4) and Medusa (8x12), there isn’t really much to remember. There are no memorable monsters.

The main mythology has become larger than life and overblown, with the original colonisation arc replaced with super-soldiers and resurrections. The mythology has lost touch with its roots. And there is no Cigarette Smoking Man to give weight to the Dark Side. Alex Krycek is now the only remaining villain who adds some thrills to the story.

Promo for season 8

Season eight is worth watching for the characters. This shows once again that the X-files is a character -driven show. It’s interesting to watch Scully and Doggett’s partnership evolve from mutual mistrust to loyal friendship. They learn to trust each other and they learn it the hard way. The dynamic between them is not at all what we’re used to. Before, Mulder was in charge of the X-files, and Scully was often seeking his approval. He was the believer, she was the skeptic.

Now, the roles are reversed. Scully is the boss and she lets Doggett know it from day one. She has nothing to prove but the truth about Mulder’s abduction. She is the believer now, albeit a reluctant one. Which makes Doggett the new Scully, only a really a thick-headed one.

When Mulder comes back in Deadlive (8x15), and cracks his first joke in six months, we immediately realise what has been missing from the show: humour. And not just because the overall tone of the show has become darker and more depressing. It’s because there is no Mulder to crack a joke at the most inappropriate time and liven up the situation. His John McClaine-like penchant to be funny and cocky in life-and-death situations has been one of the best parts of the show. Couple it with Scully’s sarcasm and witty remarks, and you get fireworks. Season eight is only funny when Mulder is on the screen. The scenes with the two of them are the highlights of the season. It’s when Mulder comes back and sticks around for a few episodes, is when Scully becomes her old self again. 

Because the new Scully loses something of her spunky, sarcastic self. This is what a lot of fans have angrily remarked, with one fan calling her a “crying ninny”. Her mood swings and tears are understandable. She’s pregnant and alone and she doesn’t know whether or not Mulder is still alive. But, yes, it is annoying watching the strong and witty Scully loose a large part of her personality for the likes of baby hormones. I find it a little sad that Doggett never gets to know the old Scully. The one who poked holes in Mulder’s theories with her razor sharp tongue.  

What’s so good about season eight is the evolution of Skinner. For seven seasons we watched him grow from the stern Assistant Director and the Cigarette Smoking Man’s lackey to Mulder and Scully’s friend and trusted ally. In season eight, he grows even further. He has witnessed Mulder’s abduction, and he is a believer now too. He is no longer Scully’s superior, but her close friend and confidant. It’s a beautiful thing to watch, especially if you are a Skinner fan, like me.

Annabeth Gish as agent Monica Reyes is a breath of fresh air, in an X-files Universe that has gotten so gloomy and depressing. Between “grumpy old man” Doggett and emo-Scully, Reyes is the one who keeps the viewers’ spirits up. Like Doggett, she has been assigned to assist in the search for Mulder. She specialises in ritualistic crimes and she believes in the paranormal, even more so than Mulder. 

Sometimes, I watch clips from season one and season eight back to back, just to compare them. And each time, I get the feeling that I’m watching two different shows. You can’t expect a TV-show to stay exactly the same after seven years’ run. Still, season eight (and consequently season nine) have the look and the feel of a spin-off. They're good in their own right, but as a part of the X-files they lack in scares, humour and originality.

What doesn't change is the writing and the acting. For instance, the writers did an excellent job fleshing out the character of Doggett, a man with a hard outer shell but with real emotional depth. And Robert Patrick deserves extra praise for giving such a subdued and nuanced performance. This particular X-phile was very disappointed when Robert Patrick said no to reprising his role in the revival.

Duchovny, Anderson and Pileggi are still great in their roles, and I never get the feeling like they're tired of playing the same people for almost a decade. Gish also gives a solid performance, and is a good addition to the cast.

Despite its flaws, season eight has got better with age. Judging by the amount of loyal Doggett and Reyes fans (myself included), and all the fanfiction written about them, it's safe to say that it was more successful than most people were counting on. 

If you're newbie X-phile and you haven't seen season eight yet, do yourself a favour and watch it.

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