The eighth season saw a huge period of change for The X-Files, with series star David Duchovny reducing his role as Fox Mulder in the show and becoming absent for half a season. In his place stepped Robert Patrick as FBI special agent John Doggett, teaming up with Dana Scully to work on the X Files and investigate the disappearance of Mulder following his alien abduction in season seven final ‘Requiem’.
But like some of the show’s biggest storylines being borne out of external circumstances (Scully’s abduction in season two was the result of Gillian Anderson’s pregnancy), the absence of Mulder delivered a gripping season-long narrative that saw the loss, return and resurrection of Mulder and the birth of Scully’s son William. Suddenly The X-Files became more of an ensemble piece, with Walter Skinner having a more prominent role and by the end of the season, we had Mulder, Scully, Skinner and Doggett involved in the supersolider conspiracy, with new character Monica Reyes stepping up ahead of the season nine main character status.
What’s more, it brought a creative change, a return to the darker feel of the earlier Vancouver days, a nuanced, engaging performance by Patrick that beat the odds to become a fascinating character rather than a Mulder clone and a recurring narrative arc that was never seen at this level before or after. Not everything worked, but there was barely a dud in sight either, the energy back in The X-Files after the tired seventh season. The mytharc gained traction (only to be undone again in season nine) and it delivered the most satisfying ending the show could have ever produced. Sadly, the show wasn’t brave enough to end with ‘Existence’.
Here are five the best episodes in a surprisingly strong season…
The fourth episode of season eight had already established John Doggett as a character with integrity, but Dana Scully still had a way to go to trust him; after one case involving a flying bat in ‘Patience’ she decided she would go at it alone, investigating the bludgeoned body of a 22-year old backpacker whose spine was as degraded to that of a ninety-year old. Heading off to a backward town in Utah, she discovers a secret cult that worships a supernatural slug-like creature that invades and possesses its hosts.
This was certainly a return to the darker, more gruesome The X-Files of old. Trapped and alone, Scully finds herself cut off from outside society and possessed herself in a terrifying scene. Fortunately Doggett arrives to save her in a gripping finale, as the zombie-like cultists surround the bus Sully and Doggett are on as he attempts to forcibly remove the creature from her. The added tension of Scully’s then-secret pregnancy only adds to the terror she faces. What’s more its a bold choice to show Scully being disrespectful and impulsive and its a testament to how good Doggett is already that you are on his side when he calls her out on her actions. ‘Roadrunner’s is a gripping, uncomfortable and nasty episode and shows The X-Files could still return to the darker days it was borne from.
In the later seasons, The X-Files certainly became more experimental and ‘Redrum’ is a great example of the show switching up it’s format. Not only are Doggett and Scully bit players in the tale of Joe Morton’s Martin Wells (having a Terminator 2: Judgement Day reunion with Robert Patrick) but it also has Wells moving back through time; starting with his sentencing for the murder of his wife (and death by gunshot from his vengeful father in law) and moving back day by day to the night his wife died.
It all rests of Morton’s performance and he is excellent, piecing together the clues as he begins to realise what is happening, the desperation rising as he gets closer to that night. He reaches out to his old friend Doggett for help, trying to find out what needs to be done to save her. What’s really interesting is his complicity in the corruption as a DA that saw his wife killed out of revenge. When history is finally averted, he still makes the choice to go to prison. proving that even heroes are fallible too.
While Doggett and Scully made a good team (once her distrust of him had passed), season eight also gave us an intriguing partnership in Doggett and Skinner. Along with the equally strong episode ‘The Gift’, this sees the duo work on a case together while Scully is absent with private medical care for her pregnancy. Both episodes have powerful gruesome moments (victims being vomited in ‘The Gift’ being particularly repulsive) but ‘Via Negativa’ is the stronger of the two as they investigate a secretive cult leader Anthony Tipet (Keith Szarabajka), whose magical third eye can conjure some truly horrific deaths.
This episode has one of the show’s most horrific deaths as drug dealer Bormanis devoured by rats, while the tramp buried in the ‘liquid’ pavement and killed with an axe to the head by Tippett is shocking and cruel. The episode also makes great use of dream sequences, as Doggett experiences visions of trying to kill Scully with an axe and instead turns it on himself. A disturbing, brutal but fascinating episode, it continues the season’s return to darker themes in a powerful way.
‘This Is Not Happening’
The three-part story of ‘This Is Not Happening’, ‘Deadalive’ and ‘Three Words’ heralds Mulder’s return to The X-Files and kicks off the supersolider arc that dominated the mytharc of the show’s final run. This episode is the strongest of the three as it doesn’t get bogged down with exposition, but instead tells a thrilling, desperate tale of alien abductees being returned and healed by the mysterious shapeshifter Jeremiah Smith (Roy Thinnes).
It also introduces Monica Reyes and Doggett’s son’s fate, building the blocks for the remainder of original run. But mostly, this is about the frantic hunt for Mulder and that leads to a hugely dramatic climax as Mulder is returned – dead – and Scully witnesses a UFO abduct Smith and her one chance to heal her partner. Bringing Mulder back only to kill him off was one hell of a way to cap the episode and left fans desperate for the next one, while Gillian Anderson delivered a powerhouse performance from beginning to end.
Mulder’s return through to the finale is an incredibly tight run of episodes and ‘Vienen’ is the very best of them, bringing to a head the conflict between the two male leads Doggett and Mulder as they are forced to work together while trapped on an oil rig and facing the return of the deadly black oil.
It’s a great finale encore for this alien threat and the setting is perfect but it is also a strong showcase for Mulder and Doggett at their very best. Mulder’s passion, knowledge and skill is what gets them out and Doggett’s patience and knowledge of the X-Files puts him on a good footing to deal with the alien threat. Plus there’s also a classic mix of body snatchers meets the wilderness to ramp up the tension. And that final scene as Mulder officially hands the X-Files over to Doggett is one of the highlights of the season.
And the worst episode?
There aren’t any stinkers in season eight, certainly nothing on the level of ‘Teso Dos Bichos’ or ‘El Mundo Gira’, but there is one episode that fails to deliver a spark…
A man with X-ray vision? The intriguing supernatural element doesn’t offer up much of a tale as Doggett and Scully investigate a murder of Carlton Chase who was chased and shot through an air vent in the ceiling. It should be fascinating but the episode’s central characters – brothers Randall and Dwight and poor put upon Tammi – are dull and their story just a bit boring. It bogs the supernatural element in an uninspired love triangle. It’s not a terrible episode, just one that fails to be remembered once it is finished…
What is your favourite episode of The X-Files: Season 8? Let us know!