One of the most common frustrations while watching any season, at least from my perspective, is the glaring omission of important plot issues from the episodes that follow any major mythology offering. This season is certainly no exception. After everything that happened in “Providence”, regarding the fallout of William’s abduction, Doggett’s vision, Skinner’s apparent betrayals, etc…none of it is mentioned. In a sense, we get to see how some cracks are forming in Doggett’s stubborn refusal to believe in something more than the concrete and rational, but it doesn’t necessary come as a result of his vision during last episode.
If this episode is a follow-up to anything this season, it would be a sequel of sorts to “4D”. Like that episode, this is a Steven Maeda script. Automatically that introduces some problems, because Maeda has some typical weaknesses in his writing that practically scream for attention during this hour. As before, the idea behind the episode itself is interesting, but the dynamics are hardly explored. Not only that, but in this case, a somewhat pedestrian plot device is added to the mix, ostensibly to make the situation more tense as “time runs out”. As before, the characters act just slightly out of the norm to achieve the goals of the episode, but along the way, we get strong performances and nice character growth and interaction.
After a stop for a drink or two on a Friday night, Monica drops Doggett off at his house in Falls Church. After a heartfelt discussion between the two of them, during which it is obvious that Monica is close to making a move, she winds up getting nailed by a drunk driver and left near death. As the doctor in charge informs Doggett and Scully that Monica is effectively dead, Monica’s consciousness (or soul, take your pick) is trapped in a bizarre, twisted version of the hospital, surrounded by a swirling abyss.
It soon becomes clear that Monica (as well as a couple other patients), rather than dying per se, have been caught within a fantasy world created by a mentally challenged patient aide at the hospital, the titular “Audrey Pauley”. Not only that, but as the patients are taken off life support, they disappear and truly die…and its not a pleasant experience. With Monica left on her own within Audrey’s otherworld, Doggett fights to keep her from being taken off life support and her organs donated.
Of course, rather than spend all of this time exploring the growing desperation of Doggett to prove that Monica is still alive, especially once it becomes clear that Audrey can communicate with Monica through some mechanism, another aspect of the situation is thrown into the mix. It seems that the doctor for all of the patients in Audrey’s little world is some kind of psychopath, and Monica’s condition is a part of that. So it’s not just a matter of proving that Monica is alive. It’s also a matter of stopping the mad doctor, which of course, comes early enough to save Monica, but too late to save Audrey.
The scene at the beginning of the episode is one of those layered discussions that seems to be nothing more than heartfelt flirtation, but actually tells us more than that. We get to see a little bit of what’s happening in Doggett’s head, in terms of his emotional detachment and inability to reach out completely to others. Whereas Monica looks at John and sees a dependable, honorable man, more than worthy of someone’s love and devotion. Particularly, hers. On the other hand, Doggett alludes to his own weaknesses, his fears to commit to something that might require a total investment of himself.
As interesting as Monica’s situation was, in terms of the larger implications of what it might mean for her soul or consciousness to be disconnected so totally from her body, yet distinct…the meat of this episode is the journey that Doggett takes, the path he must tread, to prove that Monica is still alive. Unlike some other situations we’ve seen before, where the other character is alive but dying (“Redux”, for instance), science and medicine says that Monica is dead. There is nothing to fall back on, no hint of a possibility. Scully certainly comes to that conclusion, and it is only Doggett’s determination that drives him to deny that it could be so.
What lies behind that determination? Certainly the love he feels for a true friend, the one person in all of the world who he knows can understand his personal demons, but it’s also a struggle against fate, a fight with those higher powers that seek to take yet more from his life. But with no rationale or science to back up his claim that she is alive, it comes down to a matter of faith and belief.
The Doggett who stood next to Mulder’s body, trying to shield Scully from the pain of his apparent death, would not have fought this hard. I doubt that it would have happened earlier in this season, either. But perhaps the man that was willing to trust a vision to save another child’s life, a man still seeking redemption and searching for a way to embrace his gifts without drowning in guilt, perhaps that Doggett would have gone this far, accepted Audrey’s version of the truth.
With a little bit more time to work with, that journey might have seemed more convincing. As it was, a good chunk of time was wasted on the “doctor of death” plot. I would rather have seen more of Doggett’s growing trust in his own belief that Monica is alive, a bit more confrontation between Scully’s facts and his faith. It certainly would have given weight to Scully’s participation in this episode, which instead felt like a distraction.
Like “4D”, in which Monica is willing to place her trust in her belief that letting John die will ultimately save his life, Doggett allows himself to believe that something of Monica might lie within Audrey’s reach. It’s an understated yet enormous distance for him to leap, and given how easily it comes, it feels a little out of character. Still, the circumstances are as grave as they get, and Doggett has been seen to accept the improbable when there is no other explanation.
Another weakness of this episode, from my point of view, is the way that Monica is saved. It doesn’t completely track with what was shown previously, and even after having watched the scene more than once, I cannot figure out what happened between Audrey and Monica to allow her to survive. My best guess is that in some fashion, Audrey gave her life and strength of will to Monica, knowing that she was going to die anyway. If so, that fits a pattern that we have seen throughout the series, in episodes like “Tithonus” and “The Gift”. Like Scully and Doggett before her, Monica has now been given a new lease on life, thanks to the ultimate sacrifice of another.
Even with the weaknesses, there were a great many strengths, more than one might expect from a Steve Maeda episode. As usual, they lie within the realm of character interaction and the moments that we normally do not see. The highlight, without question, was the heartbreaking scene between John and Audrey, when he pleads with her to give Monica his message to keep fighting. Robert Patrick drives home every underlying emotion that Doggett might feel towards Monica with just the expression on his face, and when he does speak, it rips right through you. The man is truly talented.
But there were also some wonderful touches in the relationship between Doggett and Scully, subtly different in the wake of last episode. While I’m almost certain that there was no attempt to build on the scene in “Providence” where Scully prays for Doggett’s life, acknowledging his strength of spirit and the deep friendship between them, it works anyway. Simply the way she addresses him, as “John” instead of “Agent Doggett”, and with a sincerity that was lacking in earlier episodes, makes it feel as though the two characters have turned a corner. It may not last very long, due to the writing woes of 1013, but for now, it works wonderfully.
I do quibble a bit with the odd notion that Scully would resist Doggett’s claims that Monica is still alive, given the fact that the last few episodes have shown Monica and Scully to be friends, even confidantes. This is especially the case when you consider that she would have to know that Doggett would be highly unlikely to make that kind of impassioned leap of faith. It felt more like she was put in that position to make it clear that science would provide Doggett no answers, and that didn’t require Scully’s input.
The final scene leaves the situation wonderfully open. Some might argue that the episode would have ended better with Doggett expressing his own feelings for Monica, even kissing her, but that would have been a little too pat. The episode forces Doggett’s true feelings to the surface, but just as he was unable to fully reveal the depth of his pain and regret in front of Audrey, he is still unable to reveal himself to Monica. And perhaps that is an indication that he loves her, but not in the same way she loves him. It’s left unsaid, and if there is one lesson to be learned after the “resolution” of the Mulder/Scully sexual tension, it’s that this series is best served when we are permitted to draw our own conclusions.
I’d also like to point out the masterful direction of this episode by Kim Manners. While there were a few effects scenes that didn’t quite work as well as they might have, especially the scenes depicting the abyss surrounding the façade of the hospital within Audrey’s otherworld, the episode was full of powerful and evocative imagery. As usual, Kim Manners knows how to take a scene that is weak on paper and make it look stunning.
In a larger sense, what I’ve noticed this season is an ongoing exploration of the concrete versus the ephemeral, the questions of existence and consciousness and memory. Who are we, and what makes us the people that we are? What are the larger influences on our lives and destinies, and how far and long can we resist the roles we were meant to play? “Daemonicus”, “4D”, “Trustno1”, “John Doe”, “Hellbound”, “Provenance”, “Providence”, and now “Audrey Pauley”…an astounding eight out of the eleven episodes this season…touch on these questions in some respect or another.
I doubt that it’s a coincidence that the one episode that fits this pattern the least, “Lord of the Flies”, was easily the weakest episode of the season.
Some other thoughts:
- Microwave pizza and satellite TV? Doggett and I have more in common than I thought...
- Looks like the window in the front door is back from its vacation in “NIHT’!
- Monica wasn’t wearing her seatbelt until she dropped John off? Watch...she slips it on as he steps away from the SUV!
- Speaking of SUVs, they sure toss around easily, don’t they? (Speaking from personal experience with spinning vehicles...)
- Nice “washed out” makeup effect on Monica and the others in Audrey’s otherworld.
- I like Monica’s pants in this episode. Hell, love the wardrobe in general, but she’s got some nice pants this time. (And for those who complain...remember Scully’s unbuttoned silk blouses?)
- The effects for the abyss were a bit ordinary...I’ve seen better.
- “Did you just look outside? Yeah....don’t do that...”
- It might have been interesting to know where Monica thought she was, given her “spiritual notions”.
- I see the Ma Scully babysitting service is already back in style. Unless that’s where Skinner is during this episode? Either way, after the last two episodes, it’s jarring to have Scully away from home for so long.
- That doctor has to be the only one I’ve ever heard of to actually pay attention to a living will...so it makes sense that he was psychotic!
- It is often noted how those “mentally challenged” often show surprising acuity in matters of spirit...this is an interesting take on that premise.
- When Mulder comes back, I’d love to be a fly on the wall during the “so what happened to you when you were dead” conversation!
- On watching the episode again, they use the word “love” very vaguely, but it is clear that John loves Monica as a close friend...with potential. His “fantasy” of kissing her was an expression of regret, perhaps wondering what he might have felt if that had happened. In retrospect, something many of us have done, more than once in our lives, without being “in love” with the person in question.
- “I don’t see you disappointing anyone, John.” Just look at how he truly reacting, versus the reaction in his later thoughts. In reality, you can see how he’s thinking that he did disappoint people, and how it haunts him.
- Nice to hear a mention of Monica’s parents in Mexico City. Who wants to bet that’s the last we’ll hear about them?
- Wouldn’t Scully be the one person who would be most likely to believe John’s explanation, especially since he was willing to believe, for Monica’s sake? That still seems a little too convenient to me.
- “I know now...I know who told me to build it...” Now what do you think Audrey meant by that?
- Shouldn’t Scully’s reaction to Monica’s revival have been a little more animated?
- I’m surprised that the doctor didn’t try to get John with the syringe...he had more than enough chance while John was looking into Audrey’s room.
- The look they exchange at the end of the episode is such a wonderful piece of subtle communication. Who says these two don’t have chemistry?
Overall, this was a strong episode, with a lot of wonderful character exploration and an interesting concept. However, there were some weaknesses throughout, typical of Steve Maeda’s episodes, and that detracted from the episode in some places. Still, another winner in this underrated final season.
I give it an 8/10.
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