"Damn, Dana, what're ya feedin' that kid!"

There are a lot of people who have taken some harsh shots at the “X-Files” this year. A lot of them took one look at the opening credits and, nose upturned, declared the season dead on arrival. The “X-Files”, they said, is nothing without Mulder. How can you have someone as the lead on this show, if he doesn’t believe?

This is how.

I have never been shy about my appreciation for the character of John Doggett. I think that once it was obvious that David Duchovny had no intention of continuing with the series in a full-time capacity, it was a masterstroke to create a character that was nothing like Mulder. Where Mulder was shunned, Doggett was one of the boys, rising to the top. Where Mulder would play a hunch, Doggett plays it straight. Where Mulder is rarely serious, Doggett is simply intense at every turn. And perhaps most importantly, where Mulder wants to believe, Doggett simply will not believe.

It’s no wonder, then, that so many Mulder fans were unwilling or unable to fully embrace John Doggett. In some respects, I understand completely. Why create a new skeptic when you already have Scully, who for seven long years had been in more denial than an OJ supporter? After all, then you would have two skeptics working on the X-Files, and how could that work?

And what the hell was with those ears, anyway?

But I believe in possibilities, and giving change a fair chance. In my opinion, last season largely met my expectations, and sometimes even exceeded them. Oh, there were problems...Scully’s self-deluding attempt to be Mulder was too underwritten, Mulder’s appearances were over-hyped, and the season finale was a huge mess. But there were also wonderful moments that were only possible because John Doggett was in the middle of it all, giving even the most pedestrian MOTW episodes a fresh and interesting spin.

Along the way, we learned that Doggett had lost a son. Mulder fans booed and hissed, calling it an obvious rip-off of Mulder’s search for Samantha. Part of that was a lack of patience on the part of the audience. But eventually, we saw that there was a big difference between Mulder and Doggett. Where Mulder was haunted by the need to find out where Samantha was taken, Doggett was haunted by the memory of his son Luke’s murder. Mulder had the hope of finding Samantha, but Doggett had only the memory of seeing his son’s dead body turn to ashes, a vision that led Doggett to deny anything remotely paranormal. Two men who couldn’t be more different, and yet are two sides of the same coin.

If the season premiere portrayed Doggett as following in Mulder’s footsteps by chasing down conspiracies, albeit for very different reasons, this episode takes a very different tactic. Over the course of the past seasons, there were several episodes that turned the tables of the status quo by painting Scully as the believer and Mulder as the skeptic. Invariably, those episodes dealt with issues of faith and spirit. Mulder never had any patience for the spiritual, seeing it as almost evasive compared to the more tangible results of his own investigations.

In this episode, Doggett finds himself in a very similar position when faced with the spiritual theories of Reyes and Scully. While Reyes and Scully work more out of intuition and the vague sense of evil that permeates the case, Doggett refuses to believe that there is anything more than mind games and twisted planning behind every staged murder and sign of possession.

It could have come off as a mimic of that older formula, except that once again, the character of John Doggett takes the conflict of faith and reason to a completely different level. Mulder didn’t believe in the idea of evil in the religious sense, but it was always clear that it was his choice. He could believe, if the evidence was strong enough. And when it came down to believing in the possibility of a spiritual reunion with Samantha, he did.

Doggett, on the other hand, cannot allow himself to believe. His experience during the discovery of his son’s body, and the later indications of a greater evil stalking him over the years, cannot allow himself to believe, because then he would have to admit that he might have let his family down. And as a man of integrity and honor, he cannot live with that kind of guilt.

And so as more and more evidence points to an otherworldly evil force behind the murders in this episode’s case, Doggett becomes more and more desperate, less and less stable. That process intensifies as his innermost thoughts and emotions are laid bare, along with his doubts, until it ends with Doggett shooting the man behind it all in the back.

The episode would have been well written if it were simply about Doggett’s slow descent out of control, but the best twist is that there is a rational explanation that also fits the facts, so long as one is willing to ignore certain details or attribute more than one might usually grant to Professor Kobold. In the end, Doggett outlines how everything could be just a well-executed escape from captivity. It even makes sense. But as Reyes points out to Scully, it also reeks of desperation. Doggett has sensed evil before, and faced with the possibility of facing it again, he goes just as far as he needs to convince himself that there is a rational explanation.

But there is just as much chance that Doggett is wrong, and if we believe 1013 when they say that this episode sets the stage for the new status quo, then there is still a lot of potential left in this series.

Besides giving the audience a powerful reminder of Doggett’s point of view, this episode also goes a long towards establishing the character of Monica Reyes. Reyes has been notoriously underwritten, perhaps even unwritten in many ways, and any attempt to take the character and develop something substantial is quite welcome. Thankfully, it is largely consistent with what we have seen before. Reyes is someone who believes, but she is also very selective about what she accepts. Unlike Mulder, it’s not a matter of evidence as much as a matter of gut instinct, some latent ability very similar to what Doggett possesses. But where Doggett denies that ability to a fault, Reyes embraces it.

Again, we see the two sides of the same coin...two people with apparently psychic ability and a belief in the proven methods of investigation, with opposite ways of dealing with that combination. And in the middle there is Scully, the voice of experience, someone who can understand both the burden of scientific proof and the utility of “extreme possibilities”.

All in all, a very nice beginning to the new order. I look forward to seeing how this combination of personalities will progress over the course of the season, and hopefully, there will be opportunities to see how Doggett and Reyes interact on their own.

Some other thoughts:

- Scrabble passes for late night fun in West Virginia? It’s almost too easy...especially when the pressure is so intense that cheating is required!

- I think Frank Spotnitz needs to learn how to write a classroom scene. They tend to work much better when they do not include stupid questions, or have the class end with dialogue clearly meant to underline the theme of the episode.

- Not once did William make an appearance. I count that as a good thing.

- Oh, and while I’m on the subject of Scully...yum!

- There were a lot of nice homages to “Twin Peaks” in this episode...the use of the ceiling fan, the shifting cloud and sudden storms, the chessboard analogies.

- That said, if there was one aspect of the episode that took away from the realistic mood, it was the extremely obvious digital insertion of those damned clouds.

- Doggett as an agnostic or atheist fits his ability to believe in something other than the concrete, material reality. It is very consistent, which is in and of itself a sign of deeply-rooted denial.

- There were some wonderful transitions in this episode...very reminiscent of the segues in “Beyond the Sea” and other past episodes.

- The “speaking in tongues” effect was very well done, especially when Kobold’s voice was mixed with the cacophony.

- Interesting that Reyes claims that every single case of satanic abuse or possession resulted in the claims being refuted...it actually makes it more believable that she can tell when some evil entity is present, given that she is aware when it is not.

- It is also another interesting parallel between Doggett and Reyes. While Reyes tend to debunk false paranormal claims through the full use of her abilities, Doggett tends to prove true claims by refusing to acknowledge his abilities.

- Kobold’s observations regarding Doggett’s motivations probably didn’t upset Doggett so much because they were true, but rather, because they revealed many of Doggett’s deepest fears and doubts.

- Doggett getting splashed by the projectile vomit the first time is not hard to accept, but when Doggett stood there and let himself get hit for the fifth time? Come on, we get the point already!

- Though I was rather amused when Kobold slipped in the puddle of his own ectoplasm...

- Speaking of which, for an expert in the paranormal, Mulder had no frickin’ clue about the origin of ectoplasm!

- Doggett’s intensity is really driven home in this episode, and it is a joy to behold. They should continue to unleash the Keeper of the Jar!

- And the Ghostbusters comment was a classic!

- Syringed to death...pretty nasty way to go...

- The “Ronin” reference to “Pusher” on the guard’s magazine was also a nice touch. I guess maybe 1013 figured out how to be self-referential without going to extremes.

- You are the unwed and single mother of a very young child. You are alone in the dark, intending to pin down a suspect who might have planned the murder of several people. So what do you do? You drive onto the rickety planks of the pier in plain sight, rather than park on solid ground, and then you get out of your car and make yourself the most convenient victim possible!

- Did Frank really think that we would think, even for a moment, that Scully had been shot?

- Some might find Doggett’s decision to shoot the fleeing suspect in the back to be a bit wrong and cowardly, but I think that it fits the notion that the case was pushing Doggett very close to his limits.

- If this is where the season begins to pick up the threads left after “Empedocles”, there is hope that Doggett’s connection to evil will be well and truly explored by the time this season is over.

- Then again, this is 1013 we’re talking about!

Overall, this was a strong episode to begin the meat of the season with, and while there were still some moments that were not as well written as they might have been in past seasons, this episode compares very well to those efforts. If anything, my greatest disappointment might be that there are so many out there unwilling to give this season a chance.

I give it an 8/10.

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