The ninth season of The X-Files is not well regarded by fans. It’s the season where Mulder is wholly absent – at least until the finale (and Duchovny only came back because it was the original end to the show). It was in many ways supposed to be The X-Files: The Next Generation, with Doggett and (promoted-season regular) Reyes investigating supernatural cases of the week. But it was also bogged down by the ghost of Mulder and the mythology of the ninth season was some of the most dull, frustrating and poorly-written of the show’s entire run.
It is a season that both deserve and don’t deserve it’s harsh reputation. When the show focuses on Doggett and Reyes and their cases of the week, it is surprisingly good at times; there might not be any all time classics (though one on the list below comes close), but there is an interesting dynamic between these two agents.
The trouble is, The X-Files would not allow Doggett and Reyes to take centre stage. David Duchovny might have quit the show, but the season still attempted to weave the mystery behind Mulder’s disappearance without having a guaranteed Mulder return. It made for a gripping narrative in season eight; here it is tired and worn out, just like poor Scully. The Emmy-award Gillian Anderson is reduced to crying for her son William for most of the season and grieving for Mulder. Anderson was only here because she was contractually obliged and never given anything decent to work with.
Had this been the end, The X-Files would have died with a whimper; fortunately there was more to come and there is hope that season 11 will bring the return to form the series so richly deserves…
So without further ado, let’s look at the top five episodes…
In other seasons, this episode probably wouldn’t make the top five episodes. But that isn’t to mean it is bad either, rather that it doesn’t have a ‘classic status’ feel to its storytelling. It’s a rare instance of The X-Files tackling the idea of alternate realities, while exploring the Doggett and Reyes dynamic, even if the romance angle feels forced at this early stage.
It opens with Reye’s shocking death and Doggett shot and near death after encountering a killer that cuts out people’s tongues. What transpires is a killer that can cross realities, and Reyes is forced to save her Doggett by killing his critically injured doppelganger from an alternate world. There are some inventing plot points and some strong character development in the first decent entry of the season.
If there was ever an argument for why season nine should exist, ‘John Doe’ would be it. Doggett wakes up in Mexico with no memory of who he is and must uncover his identity while navigating his way around the dangerous drug cartels that control the town. It’s a gripping mystery and possibly Robert Patrick’s finest performance, particularly the moment he regains his memory and relives his son’s death all over again.
It also gives Reyes more grit in her Mexico-raised backstory as she goes all out to save her partner and Skinner a heroic turn when he saves the day last minute, as the two agents find themselves under siege from corrupt cops. With a sinister villain in Zitto Kazann’s mind-wiping Caballero and the harsh light and taught direction of Michelle MacLaren, this is one of the best episodes in the show’s final three seasons.
This is a real grizzly affair that harks back to the darker tales of the early years. ‘Hellbound’ showed that a Doggett and Reyes-led-The X-Files could work with a story involving victim’s skinned alive, and an intriguing ‘Squeeze’-like mystery of similar murders harking back to 1960, 1909 and 1868. Anyone wondering if season nine could be as dark and gruesome as earlier seasons, need only look at the attack on Pruit (Don Swayze), strung up and skinned, the camera cutting away amid his screams. This if followed by the chilling moment that Doggett’s examines Pruit’s body and he opens his eyes, still alive, despite every part of his body being skinned.
This sickening, gut-wrenching moment is the reason for ‘Hellbound’s’ unsavoury reputation. It also has the recurring theme of the two agents being part of the X-Files rather than outside investigators, as Reyes learns that she is part of a number of reincarnated souls, fighting to stop one taking revenge of the people that skinned him alive back in 1868. It is Annabeth Gish’s best performance in the series as she becomes emotionally invested in this ghastly tale and well worth a look.
Another Reyes-centric tale, proving that while she is no Mulder, Scully or Doggett, the best episodes are ones that focused on the new era rather than the old. It’s an episode that feels heavily influenced by The Twilight Zone, as Reyes ends up in a coma after a car crash and wakes up in a floating hospital floating in the ether in a dream world.
It’s an episode full of atmosphere and mystery, with a powerful performance by Tracey Ellis as the titular Audrey Pauley, who has trapped the spirits of comatose victims in her hospital ‘doll house’ to protect them from an angel of death Doctor. It also builds on the Doggett-Reyes dynamic as he fights to keep her alive (though Scully continues to hang around for a scene because she is ‘contractually obliged’). Of all the episodes in season nine, ‘Audrey Pauley’ is most the most interesting if not as strong as ‘John Doe’ or the next entry…
This is a joyous episode and one that probably felt a little odd, given that The X-Files was ending at this point. A man obsessed with the Brady Bunch? It certainly feels silly for the final case of the week, but it actually is a great story, anchored by the performance of guest star (and future Lost alum) Michael Emerson as Oliver. What ‘Sunshine Days’ does is celebrate the supernatural mysteries Mulder and Scully, and now Doggett and Reyes, have spent years studying, offering up definitive proof in the form of a Oliver’s abilities.
There is a lot of humour and heart in this story, with a man with telekinetic abilities, who just doesn’t to be alone and finds comfort by recreating his favourite show. From Doggett flying about the house as he investigates Oliver’s story to Scully’s joy as her dream of winning a Nobel Prize as Oliver spins Skinner around his office illicit huge smiles. Of course it is all snatched away at the last possible moment, because the truth can never really be proven in a show like this…
As for the worst episode?
There are some lacklustre monster of the week entries, though they feel riveting compared to the tired mythology of season nine. ‘Nothing Important Happened Today’ is particularly unexciting, while ‘William’ ends with the terrible, nonsensical plot twist of Scully giving up her son. But there is one story that is worse than either of these entries…
For the first five minutes, it seems as if The X-Files is finally going to go out in style as Duchovny’s Mulder returns for a final hurrah, infiltrating a super solider facility in search of secrets. But this exciting opening is all we really get as Mulder is arrested and put on trial for the murder of a super solider that can’t really die. The original finale of The X-Files ends on a virtual clip show as old faces return to offer testimony as ‘the truth’ is out on trial. Yes, it is as hokey as it sounds.
Poor ‘main characters’ Doggett and Reyes are shoved aside in favour of Mulder and Scully in virtual guest roles, while the trial goes absolutely nowhere. Mulder and Scully go on the run, encounter a wizened old Cigarette Smoking Man in the Navaho desert and learn that aliens will invade in 2012 (except of course they don’t). It’s a utter waste of time and ends the show on a complete damp squib of finale. Thankfully the franchise would return years later for another movie and two more seasons…
Season Nine certainly has more slim pickings than most, but the five episodes above certainly show the promise that a Doggett and Reyes-led The X Files would have had, had they been allowed to have the show they were promised. Do you agree? Let us know in the comments below…