Ever since the debacle at the end of the seventh season, when David Duchovny was publicly using his lawsuit against FOX as leverage to distance himself from an eighth season of the “X-Files”, the man has gotten a lot of unfair criticism. Granted, he’s also received some very fair criticism, especially from this very voice. I personally felt that his dissatisfaction with the writing and direction of the series affected his performance in the seventh season, leading to a bland depiction of Mulder and an overall lackluster product. At the same time, I understood his desire to break out into new horizons. It was never my interpretation that he was abandoning the “X-Files” or forgetting how much the series had done for his career.
When it was announced that he was returning to direct this episode, and then add his own contributions to the script, my personal reaction was one of guarded optimism. For all that David has spoken out against the writing woes of the past few years, his efforts on the series have always added an extra “something” that I have appreciated. His contributions during the early years of the mythology are well-known, especially the fact that the “alien bounty hunter” was something he suggested. The later obtuse use of the concept cannot be laid at his feet.
Originally asked to appear in this episode, I think letting him co-write and direct was a far better option. There are touches to this episode…visual cues, lines of dialogue…that are clearly his influence. He understands the value of subtle continuity, something that a number of very competent directors sometimes miss. This episode hits all of the right beats, and even more, the score by Mark Snow incorporates an amazing number of themes from the history of the series, giving this episode the sweeping flavor that it needed.
The plot is only slightly complex, depending on how you wish to interpret it. A mysterious, disfigured man attempts to steal files from the basement office, only to be apprehended by Agent Doggett. The man claims to be the victim of biological experiments run by the same men behind the eugenics program responsible for the “super-soldiers”…and he has been sent by Mulder to retrieve certain information on similar experiments referenced in past X-Files.
As it turns out, after some medical tests, there is evidence suggesting that the man is Mulder himself, enough evidence that Doggett is convinced. Scully is sure that it is not Mulder, because before Mulder left, he convinced Scully to retrieve the aforementioned files and hide them in her apartment. Not the most secure place in the world, certainly, since it would be among the first places anyone truly dedicated to finding them would look. But at the same time, Mulder ought to know that they are there, and the man does not.
When the DNA tests match with Mulder’s DNA, Doggett and Reyes are convinced that the man is Mulder. Scully, of course, knows that it cannot be. In the deepest depth of her soul, she knows that it is not the man she loves. Scully’s heartfelt explanation to this effect was a nice bit of subtlety, especially when compared to the poor dialogue in “Trustno1”. Soon enough, it is clear that the disfigured man has other objectives when he injects something into William.
When William appears to be unharmed, with nothing more than an elevated iron level in his blood, Scully figures out what is really happening. The disfigured man matches Mulder’s DNA because he is really Jeffrey Spender. He survived being shot by the Cancer Man, his own father, and he became a part of the ongoing eugenics experiments. It left his body ravaged and his soul dedicated to destroying the legacy of his father’s Syndicate. To that effect, he injected William with a magnetite compound, which “deactivated” William and made him more or less normal…thus ending whatever plans the eugenicists might have had for him.
Having failed yet again to keep William safe, and perhaps knowing that many of the safeguards Mulder had put into place were now no longer viable, Scully makes the heart-wrenching decision to place William in the care of adoptive parents.
Given that this episode could be the final appearance of William on the series, therefore wrapping up a major portion of the post-Syndicate mythology, it’s not surprising that there is a feeling of “missing” information. The rumors are that this episode ran an incredible 17 minutes long, which is likely the fault of the original writers, Carter and Spotnitz. This would have been better served as a two-parter in that case, but perhaps wisely, that decision was not made. I say wisely, because there is not enough plot to justify a two-part episode, at least as offered here.
As with so many mythology episodes, one has to remember not to take the events portrayed at face value. Spender’s motivations are based solidly in the belief system of the eugenics program, which may not be all that accurate or objective. William’s “identity”, at least in terms of being the first organic version of the super-soldiers, has always been in doubt. Spender believes that he is the product of those experiments, however, and injects him with a special magnetite compound that supposedly disrupts whatever part of him is “alien”.
I’m not convinced, however, that this is the case. I don’t think that William was ever really a product of those experiments, and that’s why he has literally no biological reaction to the injection. It is interesting that he seems to lose his abilities after the injection, as seen in the mobile scene at the end of the episode. But if he is the product of a kind of spiritual “miracle”, rather than eugenics, it could make sense. After all, it is part of Celtic and Native folklore that “magical” abilities are disrupted and even eliminated by the presence of cold iron…perhaps symbolized here by the magnetite injection.
Some people have already commented that the adoption would not have the protective benefits that Scully seems to think it would. However, I disagree. Consider that the adoption was settled in a matter of days, something that is unheard of in the modern world. Also, consider the constant references to the white buffalo. Beyond the more ominous symbolism (which I will address shortly), there is a connection between Mulder’s old ally, Albert Holsteen, and those who revere the symbol of the white buffalo. It could be said, then, that this was another contingency plan…to relocate William into a community that understood the dangers, and had a certain degree of protection because of the secrets they kept (as referenced in “Paper Clip”).
There are also interesting and tantalizing connections between the experiments conducted on Spender and the fact that he managed to acquire this supposed cure for William. It is obvious that Spender was pulled in the eugenics experiments, but what if he was held by a different group afterwards, one that experimented on him to find a weapon against the inorganic version of the super-soldiers? The idea that he was injected with something that caused some kind of internally generated burn effect sounds remarkably similar to the effects of the weapons used by the Faceless Rebels several seasons ago. If the eugenics program is related to colonization, the Rebels (or someone with similar goals) could have developed a “vaccine” utilizing magnetite.
In any event, there are a ton of questions answered in this episode. Perhaps the most pleasing revelation is the definitive statement on Mulder’s origins. He is indeed Cancer Man’s son, and this episode gives us this answer with stunning finality. Not only that, but Spender’s involvement ties the older mythology into the new mythology with relative ease. We also get an explanation for why Doggett and Reyes were unable to find much information to back up their investigation at the beginning of the season. As suggested in the premiere, Mulder took measures to limit Doggett’s ability to “make waves”, based on the personal cost to himself and his loved ones.
The most welcome connection to the previous mythology must be the use of the white buffalo, tying this episode and the entire William storyline into the symbolism introduced during the definitive mythology of early third season. Just as Albert Holsteen tied the events of the “Biogenesis” trilogy to the “Anasazi” trilogy, the symbol of the white buffalo appears to bring these events even closer together. I truly believe that the mythology is coming together very well, perhaps as well as could ever be expected after nine years of poor development.
One thing to keep in mind is the symbol of the white buffalo as explained in “Paper Clip”. As we saw there, the white buffalo was born as a symbol of hope and a brighter future. But at the same time, the mother buffalo died, showing that there is always a price to be paid. With William now saved and the future apparently secured, we must remember that the “aliens” do not know that they have apparently lost. Thus, a sacrifice may still be necessary to eliminate that threat…and it is foreshadowed very heavily in this episode. William is the white buffalo…so who, I wonder, will be the sacrifice in return?
I really love the attention to detail in this episode. Most importantly, I would like to think that David was responsible for the spot-on characterization in this issue. Rather than harbor some silly resentment towards Robert Patrick and the character of Doggett, there is a real care taken here to show Doggett as highly sympathetic to “Mulder”, even after their confrontations. Scully is more consistently written here than in much of the past couple seasons. All in all, given the restraints and overwhelming demands of these final episodes, I was impressed at how lovingly this episode was crafted. I would have loved to have seen another solo effort by David, had there been the chance.
Unfortunately, this episode was not perfect. As mentioned previously, it is obvious that there were difficulties cutting down all of the material for this episode into 45 minutes (or whatever the current running time might be). Also, there was one scene that really bugged me. With all of the suspicion surrounding “Mulder”, it made no sense for both Doggett and Reyes to step into Scully’s room to explain the results of the DNA test, leaving “Mulder” free to run (or for that matter, steal William away). The same logic applies to the later scene, where the agents never think to keep watch over “Mulder” to make sure he stays put. That felt like the usual Carter/Spotnitz plot contrivances, where the needs of the plot override common sense.
Still, this was a solid episode with more than a few resolutions to long-standing plot threads. With William out of the picture, at least for a little while, the way is clear to address the remaining issues surrounding the colonization conspiracy and (perhaps less pressing) the mystery surrounding the murder of Doggett’s son.
Some other thoughts:
- Despite myself, I got more than a little choked up when Reyes was passing William to his new parents. After all those years of wanting a child, this had to rip Scully apart.
- Loved hearing Scully singing “Joy to the World” again! Very nice nod to past continuity.
- Doggett and his push-ups…man, that was funny as hell!
- What the hell was Scully’s little skip in the hallway all about?
- I liked how they made it clear that after “Trustno1” and “Providence”, Scully has no idea where Mulder might be, or what condition he might be in. It speaks to how their various attempts to stave off their enemies have been slowly but methodically countered.
- Very nice shot of Mulder reflected in Scully’s eye…
- There is an interesting and subtle tension between Skinner and Doggett during their conversation. It’s very formal, and both of them seem on edge. Good continuity after “Providence”.
- Speaking of which, I suspect that Doggett only involved him because he had to forgive Skinner for holding back information once he learned that Scully was doing exactly the same thing.
- Oh, and I hope no one blinked during that scene, or once again, they would have missed Skinner entirely. Bastards.
- What was with that little stroke of Monica’s hair when Doggett sat back into Scully’s couch? What an odd gesture…
- You gotta love Doggett’s reaction to the incident with William…unless, of course, you’re Chris Owens!
- That whole injection scene really made me cringe…
- Loved those UFO PJ’s!
- What, do all the parents on this show own freaky mobiles?
Overall, this was an uneven yet highly enjoyable mythology episode, far better than the episode that appears to have spawned it (“Trustno1”). I look forward to whatever directorial/writing work David Duchovny might do in the future. And if this is indeed the last we see of William, well, I’m not going to complain! Still, by now, Carter and Spotnitz ought to know how to write an episode with the time constraints in mind.
I give it an 8/10.
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