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The X-Files – Patience (Review)

This October/November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the eighth season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of The Lone Gunmen.

Patience is necessary.

The eighth season of The X-Files is conservative. There are arguments to be made that this is true in a political sense, but it is certainly true in a narrative sense. The eighth season generally plays it quite safe when it comes to the structuring and plotting. The most structurally ambitious episode of the eighth season is perhaps Redrum, which feels a lot less “out there” than episodes like The Post-Modern Prometheus, Bad Blood, Triangle, X-Cops or First Person Shooter. Narratively, the eighth season plays it relatively “safe.”

Batsh!t crazy...

Batsh!t crazy…

There is a reason for this, of course. Losing David Duchovny for half the season and rotating in Robert Patrick represents perhaps the biggest risk that the show will ever take. Given how essential Duchovny had been to the show’s success, the eighth season is taking quite the gamble. With that in mind, it makes sense to play it safe. Without Mulder around, the show’s primary goal is to reassure fans that it is still The X-Files. This is not the time for experimental “event” episodes, because “Mulder is not in this episode” is an experimental event of itself.

As such, the eighth season feels largely like a return to a more traditional X-Files aesthetic, a “back to basics” approach. In that respect, Patience is essentially about kicking the tires and taking the show for a gentle test drive in its new configuration.

The show won't be caught with its pants down...

The show won’t be caught with its pants down…

In many respects, the eighth season of The X-Files is configured as both the first season of an entirely new show and the final season of the existing show. Naturally, it feels most like a first season towards the start of the year, and most like a final season at the end of the year. Indeed, the configuration of the first three episodes of the season are consciously designed to feel like the launch of a new show. Within, Without and Patience form a collective statement of intent from Chris Carter as regards to the show.

Most obviously, they mirror the “two establishing mythology episodes followed by a basic monster of the week” format that Carter used to define The X-Files during its first season, with The Pilot and Deep Throat forming a de facto two-parter before Squeeze offered an example of what the series would be doing on a weekly basis. That pattern holds here, with Within and Without existing to lay down the rules of the new mythology and introduce Doggett before Patience demonstrates how exactly The X-Files is going to work without Mulder.

It didn't take them long to start shipping boating Doggett and Scully...

It didn’t take them long to start shipping boating Doggett and Scully…

After all, Patience is the first episode of The X-Files not to feature a credit for David Duchovny. Mulder still appears at the climax of the show’s opening credit sequence, but Gillian Anderson and Robert Patrick are the only two lead actors credited on the episode. Although Mulder had not been a major player in Within and Without, a two-parter largely concerned with his absence, the production team spent two of Duchovny’s eleven appearances to help reassure fans that Mulder was not entirely absent.

Patience is the first pure “Doggett and Scully” episode of the show, quite divorced from the context of the season’s larger mythology. Mulder would always haunt the show, but the series did have to make some attempt to get past the character and to demonstrate that the production team could build a functioning episode in Duchovny’s absence. As such, Patience is largely about watching the show do many of the same things that it did during the seventh season, just without David Duchovny.

Casting a long shadow...

Casting a long shadow…

If Within and Without assured that audience that “this is what the show is now”, then Patience is largely about defining “this is how the show works now.” After all, Squeeze effectively established the very idea of the “monster of the week” story, to the point that the show frequently returned to that basic template in episodes as diverse as Teliko (Tooms… but African!) or Leonard Betts (Tooms… but with cancer!) or Detour (Tooms… but with the fountain of youth!). Squeeze defined the idea of “monster” for The X-Files.

Patience is rather consciously modeled on Squeeze, a candid acknowledgement of just how much The X-Files owes to writers Glen Morgan and James Wong. Squeeze made a point to emphasise how isolated Mulder was by drawing attention to Scully’s relationships with other agents. Early in Patience, Doggett arrives down to the basement with a bunch of buddies enjoying a coffee. It is a scene that serves to illustrate how Scully has isolated herself, but also to demonstrate that Doggett is coming from a similar place as she did.

"What? You don't bring your friends down here?"

“What? You don’t bring your friends down here?”

The final scene of Patience serves as a nice nod to Morgan and Wong’s final work on The X-Files. Trying to reach out to Doggett, Scully makes a very personal gesture. “I never had a desk in here, Agent Doggett,” she confesses. “But I’ll see that you get one.” This is a big deal for Scully. Never Again, the last episode written by Morgan and Wong, found Scully wrestling with her own insecurities around the X-files. “Why don’t I have a desk?” she wondered at the start of that episode, articulating her anxieties. Patience brings that a full circle.

Although the creature at the heart of Patience is markedly different from the monster at the heart of Squeeze, Carter’s script goes out of its way to mirror that vital early installment. “Five men died or disappeared and then the killing stops,” Doggett summarises the case. “Doesn’t say why. But forty-four years later it appears that it’s back and killing again.” This seems superficially similar to the murders in Squeeze, where Eugene Victor Tooms would kill multiple victims before going into a period of hibernation.

It can't all be in vane...

It can’t all be in vane…

Much like Squeeze, the solution to the mystery at the heart of Patience lies in the past, found in newspaper clippings and lonely old men. Ernie Stefaniuk is more important to Patience than Frank Briggs is to Squeeze, but the characters share some of the same plot functions. Both Stefaniuk and Briggs channel creepy exposition (and thematic observations) through the performance of a veteran character actor. At one point, Stefaniuk even seems to think he is in Squeeze, suspicious that the creature might sneak into his cabin through the chimney.

The structure of the opening three episodes of the eighth season mirrors more than just the opening three episodes of the first season of The X-Files. Chris Carter wrote each of the opening three episodes of the season, clearly establishing the tone and mood for the season ahead. Kim Manners directed Within and Without, with Carter taking the reigns to direct Patience personally. Carter also wrote each of the three opening episodes of Harsh Realm during the seventh season of the show, fashioning them into a loose three-part introduction to the show.

"You know, you'd think the national press would have picked up on this..."

“You know, you’d think the national press would have picked up on this…”

The start of the eighth season of The X-Files marks the first time that the television series had Chris Carter’s undivided attention since the third season of the show. It seems quite likely that this explains why the third and eighth seasons of the show are the most thematically consistent stretches of the run. During the fourth and sixth seasons, Carter’s attention was drawn to the first and third seasons of Millennium. During the fourth and fifth, he was overseeing The X-Files: Fight the Future. During the seventh, he was working on Harsh Realm.

The beginning of the eighth season marks the first time that Carter has been able to focus exclusively on The X-Files. Fox had greenlit The Pilot of The Lone Gunmen towards the end of the seventh season in early 2000, but the series proper would not enter production until early 2001. Even then, Carter would take a less active role in the production of The Lone Gunmen than he had in Millennium or Harsh Realm; the day-to-day running of the show would be delegated to Vince Gilligan, John Shiban and Frank Spotnitz.

He's finally gone batty...!

He’s finally gone batty…!

As such, Carter was able to take a more active hand in the day-to-day operations of The X-Files. He contended that he had a new-found enthusiasm for working on the series:

With the series’ sprawling conspiracy having wound down over the past couple of seasons and its declining Nielsens, Carter is taking a decidedly hands-on approach to season 8, having written or rewritten five of the season’s first seven episodes, and directed the aforementioned Patience. “This is the most involved I’ve ever been,” he claims, adding “I’ve been somewhat facetious about being a prisoner of [the show], but my feeling is, if I’m going to be doing it, I want it to be good, so I work hard.”

Carter’s increased hands-on approach and the tendency to shy away from high-concept episodes gave an indication of just how serious (and risky) this transition was.

"Okay, NOW I understand why local law enforcement aren't happy to see you."

“Okay, NOW I understand why local law enforcement aren’t happy to see you.”

Even though this is the first episode of The X-Files not to feature David Duchovny’s name in the opening credits, the character Mulder still haunts the narrative. One of the smarter things about the eighth season was a willingness to let the show miss to Duchovny, to take the time to acknowledge the fairly significant loss that had occurred. Although Patience is very much a traditional “monster of the week” episode, it refuses to pretend that this is business as usual. Mulder is always lurking; rather, the absence of Mulder.

When Doggett makes reference to “Occam’s Razor” in relation to the killing, Scully shuts him down quite quickly with reference to Mulder. “Agent Mulder used to refer to it as ‘Occam’s Principle of Limited Imagination’,” she reflects. This immediately kills the friendly speculative conversation they had been enjoying. As if Scully brought up an old boyfriend, Doggett immediately seems more defensive and uncomfortable. “I don’t know,” Doggett states, simply. “I’m trying to figure it out just like you are.”

"And we will stare at this silently for two minutes every episode!"

“And we will stare at this silently for two minutes every episode!”

Patience is quite candid in its handling of the relationship between Doggett and Scully. Neither can fill the gap left by Mulder, and it would be foolish of the production team to try to slot them into it. Scully awkwardly moves into the “believer” role in the show’s traditional “believer/skeptic” dynamic, a logical development given her character arc in the seventh season. However, the show never pretends that this is a comfortable fit for her. In the seventh season, Scully grew more comfortable with Mulder’s theories; that does not mean she became Mulder.

“I was sure of the facts as I had deduced them scientifically,” Scully confesses at one point. “Maybe I’m… I’m trying to force them into shape. Maybe I’m manufacturing a theory.” The demands of an X-Files narrative mean that somebody has to take the role that Mulder held for seven years. Scully is the logical heir, but that doesn’t mean that she can slip easily into his old shoes. When Doggett asks what happened to taking a leap, Scully concedes that this is not a natural fit for her. “Maybe I’m just trying too hard.”

"Is it my turn to crawl into the ceiling?"

“Is it my turn to crawl into the ceiling?”

Patience stresses that Scully is still fundamentally Scully. One sequence in the middle of the episode is designed to reaffirm the idea of Dana-Scully-as-Clarice-Starling, an acknowledgement of the character’s most obvious influence. When local law enforcement has difficulty dealing with Scully, Doggett engages in a whispered conversation that manages to procure exactly what the agents need. It is a scene that harks to the scene between Crawford and Starling in the West Virginia funeral home, in which Starling feels similarly marginalised.

It is something that Mulder would never do if local law enforcement took exception to Scully. Whenever Scully tried to ease tensions between Mulder and local law enforcement, she tended to adopt a more direct and open approach. The scene underscores the gulf that exists between Doggett and the two agents; Doggett is a pragmatic and traditional FBI agent, one who doesn’t necessarily understand why Scully might find his behaviour condescending or insulting. From his perspective, the objective is to get local law enforcement to cooperate, and he accomplishes that.

"Yep. I did it in Without."

“Yep. I did it in Without.”

Scully’s approach to the paranormal mystery as the heart of Patience is different from that of Mulder. She does not immediately jump to the craziest (and – per the show’s logic – correct) conclusion, instead slowly and methodically building a case. Unlike Mulder, who tended to make up his mind immediately on seeing something that could possibly be supernatural, Scully actually keeps an open mind when working through the case. Mulder would just have seized upon “giant bat” and refused to budge.

“I say that assumption is the problem here,” she reflects upon examining the evidence at the crime scene. “Maybe this print can help explain those bite marks.” Scully is also more professional (and quieter) in dealing with skepticism. “I think that post-mortem predation is definitely a consideration here,” she allows. She then politely, but firmly, rebukes the idea, “But I only see one print and if it were an animal there would be numerous prints all over here and in the yard.” Scully is still Scully, she is not Mulder.

"No monster's here, either," Doggett doesn't add, in the spirit of professionalism.

“No monster’s here, either,” Doggett doesn’t add, in the spirit of professionalism.

Similarly, the show is careful to reassure fans that Doggett will not be taking the role of Mulder. Scully spends a significant stretch of the eighth season being suspicious and mistrustful of Doggett. Even after she orders him a desk as a piece offering at the end of Patience, she declines to bring her along on her investigation in Roadrunners. Indeed, there are moments in Patience where Scully seems downright cold towards Doggett, despite his obvious deference to her abilities and willingness to let her do what she needs to do.

When Doggett confesses that he is not as comfortable taking leaps as Scully is, Scully chooses (understandably) to interpret this as a sleight rather than an expression of trust. As such, she responds with withering sarcasm, throwing his research back in his face. “I’d say that you’re taking a pretty big leap believing in that article… about a human bat.” Doggett might be assigned to the X-files, but it takes Scully a while to accept him as her partner. Doggett himself acknowledges as much in Patience, observing, “Well, I’m no Fox Mulder.”

Two-finger salute...

Two-finger salute…

Neither Scully nor Doggett is Mulder. And Patience accepts that. The dynamic is fundamentally different. Scully is a different sort of “believer” than Mulder was, and Doggett is a different form of “skeptic” than Mulder was. As Carter observed:

Unlike Scully, who really had science and an argument, Doggett comes at it as a kind of a knee-jerk skeptic. He’s a person who is doubting by nature, and he really is one of these people who needs to see it, touch it, smell it, taste it, feel it, in order to believe it, and that’s going to be the character. As simple as that sounds, hopefully, we can make him a nice, complex character.

This distinct helps reinforce the idea that the Doggett and Scully dynamic is not an attempt to replace or supplant the relationship between Mulder and Scully. In fact, one of the best things about Doggett is that he brings out different sides of both Mulder and Scully.

Just hanging out...

Just hanging out…

Although discussion of the eighth season inevitably focuses on how strange and weird the relationship between Doggett and Scully tends to feel, there is also a freshness in Doggett’s interactions with Mulder towards the end of the year. Mulder and Doggett have extended interactions with one another in the final stretch of the season – most notably in episodes like Vienan and Empedocles. Doggett’s unique brand of skepticism plays differently off Mulder. Doggett adds more to the show than fandom tends to acknowledge.

Part of the contrast between Doggett and the established leads is that Doggett is much more grounded. The X-Files has traditionally been a very middle-class show, but it has become increasingly class-conscious since the production team moved to Los Angeles. The decision to include a salt-of-the-earth regular character provides a clear contrast with Mulder and Scully. Mulder is a child of privilege who grew up in Martha’s Vineyard and is (Monday aside) hinted to be independently wealthy; Scully studied medicine at Stanford. Both are very comfortable, class-wise.

"Goodness, I hope it's not an endangered species. The EPA will not let me hear the end of it."

“Goodness, I hope it’s not an endangered species. The EPA will not let me hear the end of it.”

Robert Patrick gives John Doggett a very straightforward no-nonsense demeanour. This is a man who came to the FBI from the New York City Police Department. His working-class roots are important to Carter, who characterised him in interviews as “blue collar.” Robert Patrick summed him up as “an earthy, blue-collar kind of guy.” Even in Patience, he gets on better with local law enforcement than Mulder and Scully ever did. In fact, the script even draws attention his more grounded background. “You know, I’m not Oxford educated,” he pointedly tells Scully.

The substitution of Doggett for Mulder aside, Patience is a very traditional episode. There is an interesting tonal shift at the start of the eighth season, one that helps to differentiate the eighth season from the sixth and seventh seasons. Perhaps the return of Gibson Praise in Within was intended to hark back to the show’s Vancouver phase. A lot of the show’s “X-Files Lite” trappings have been stripped out. Put simply, the eighth season is noticeably darker than the show has been since it moved to Los Angeles. Quite literally.

A darker shade of "X"...

A darker shade of “X”…

The show’s visual aesthetic is somewhat desaturated during the show’s eighth season. This clear visual applies as much to the show’s interiors as it does to the exteriors. Between the seventh and eighth season, even the iconic basement gets a lot darker; at times it seems like the price of adding a third lead forced the show to dramatically cut its lighting budget. There is a clear visual contrast between the bright and colourful lighting used on the basement set in episodes like The Unnatural to the shadows on the set in Roadrunners.

This darkness also applies to exterior and location work. Whereas sixth season episodes like The Beginning and Drive tended to depict the desert in the harsh light of day, Without features an extended sequence of Scully wandering through the desert at night. The teaser to Patience takes it one step further, featuring an undertaker clad in black and driving a black Cadillac hearse who arrives home late at night. Even the choice of a bat as the antagonist draws attention to this stylistic choice.

Paint it black...

Paint it black…

The darker visual style reflects a clear shift in tone. The eighth season of The X-Files is more firmly committed to horror than the sixth or seventh seasons. According to Frank Spotnitz, this was a conscious choice:

“It’s really what we said our intention was from the beginning, which was to get back to the heart of what made the show successful in the first place,” explains executive producer Frank Spotnitz, who himself wrote this season’s spooky Via Negativa, and is penning an upcoming episode as well. “It just didn’t feel appropriate given the new character or the absence of Mulder to do anything but these scary, dark stories. We also felt we had something interesting to play with these scary, dark stories again, because we had a new character. We’d done it so many times with Mulder and Scully that it didn’t feel interesting to us. But it felt interesting again with Doggett, because it was a new set of eyes on these things, and he had something different to say than any character we’d had on the X-Files before.”

The seventh season had toyed with the idea of getting back to darker and scarier stories with episodes like Hungry and Orison. However, the show quickly skewed back towards goofier fare with The Goldberg Variation and The Amazing Maleeni. The eighth season sticks to its guns.

Home. Sweet gothic home.

Home. Sweet gothic home.

Much like the eighth season does not have any particularly bold structural or storytelling experiments, the eighth season does not have any comedy episodes. There are points where the show comes close; if Redrum is the season’s most experimental episode, than Alone is its most light-hearted. However, the eighth season mostly keeps a straight face across its twenty-one episodes. This is a very conscious tonal sift from the sixth and seventh seasons. Ironically, this return to core X-Files values had the effect of making the show seem new again.

That is not to suggest that the eighth season is entirely humourless. After all, the teaser does feature the murder of an undertaker who gets attacked while his pants are around his ankles. The footage might be desaturated and the violence might be amped up, but there is a very dark sense of humour to the whole set-up. More of a sardonic smirk than a winking laugh. The eighth season played its absurdity unsettlingly straight, with Roadrunners featuring a parasitic brain slug that might be the Second Coming.

Paws here...

Paws here…

It is worth noting that Patience is, in effect, “the Bat Boy episode.” The creature in the show bears a resemblance to the comic book character of Man-Bat, but the most famous human/bat hybrid in popular culture remains the monstrous Bat Boy. Bat Boy first appeared in popular culture in June 1992, when the character first graced the cover of the Weekly World News.  Bat Boy soon became a phenomenon, generating lots of follow-up stories and even launching his own comic strip and musical.

The Weekly World News was one of the most notorious supermarket tabloids published during the nineties, the sort of sleazy check-out counter journalism that the writers of The X-Files loved so much. Indeed, the Weekly World News is very much in the spirit of the papers that would occasionally pop up in episodes like Pusher, wondering where Flukeman had gone. It was very clearly news that was not news; obvious fantasy dressed up as journalism. It was a postmodern parody of a newspaper.

In the long grass...

In the long grass…

In some ways, the Weekly World News captured the spirit of the nineties as effectively as The X-Files. It represented the blurring of the line between fantasy and reality, with Peter Carlson comparing it as a glimpse into an alternate (and only marginally weirder) America:

The Weekly World News was not one of those sleazy tabloids that cover tawdry celebrity scandals. It was a sleazy tabloid that covered events that seemed to occur in a parallel universe, a fevered dream world where pop culture mixed with urban legends, conspiracy theories and hallucinations. Maybe WWN played fast and loose with the facts, but somehow it captured the spirit of the age – and did it in headlines as perfect as haiku.

As editor Neil McGuinness summarised the paper’s appeal, “The lines between real/unreal, sense/nonsense and belief/disbelief happen to be razor thin. We exist to make that line thinner.”

"I only signed a contract for two seasons. Should I be worried?"

“I only signed a contract for two seasons. Should I be worried?”

Given the obvious overlap between the subjects and themes of The X-Files and the Weekly World News, it makes sense that two should have enjoyed the peak of their popularity during the long nineties. After all, The X-Files and Weekly World News captured a paradoxical combination of innocence and skepticism – trusting nothing while wanting to believe. However, both institutions came to feel woefully out of touch as the shutters drew down on the twentieth-century. By this stage, fairly or not, they seemed like cultural artifacts.

Shortly after its move to Los Angeles, The X-Files began its steep decline; it seemed the show’s moment had faded. The eighth season would manage the impressive feat of arresting this decline, but both the seventh and ninth seasons hemorrhaged viewers. At the same time, the Weekly World News found its own base eroding. Circulation down dramatically between 2000 and 2001, prompting them to put a rant from columnist “Ed Anger” up on the website in 2002 asking readers to subscribe. The paper limped on until 2007.

A shot in the dark...

A shot in the dark…

Of course, the decline of both The X-Files and the Weekly World News was rooted in forces beyond a simple aesthetic shift. Both The X-Files and Weekly World News were victims of larger cultural forces. The X-Files was partially undermined by changes in the way that people watched television, as the marketplace grew more diverse and the show was unable to keep up. The Weekly World News was a victim of the erosion of print journalism in the internet age; it was not strong or clever enough to master the transition. (Although it was revived on-line.)

Bat Boy was perhaps the breakout creation of Weekly World News, the unlikely character whose likeness came to adorn t-shirts and novelty items. Bat Boy “broke out” just over a year before The X-Files made its début, and the character’s narrative arc frequently tapped into the popular consciousness in a way that overlapped with that of Mulder and Scully. It seemed like every other week that the government was trying to capture the winged wonder for some sinister secret purpose or other.

No small undertaking...

No small undertaking…

His creator, Dick Kulpa, credits the character’s enduring popularity to the way that Bat Boy seized upon the national mood:

The face just connects. People see themselves in him. I imagine millions of people who may feel the same way that I do. They see emotion in the face. When you look at Pixar movies, which are so wildly popular, you see the emotion. They really capitalize on characters. And Bat Boy does that with his face. It says, “Get me out of here!” Look at the shape the world is in. Maybe it needs Bat Boy to straighten it out. Maybe he reflects the deep-down feelings of millions, if not billions, of people on this planet. With everything, we’re slaves. I think it’s more true than it was then. I see these kids suffering, working these nickel-and-dime jobs with no insurance. In my day, we could move up. I see these kids working these same jobs five years later. I worked at restaurants too. I’m a caricature artist. I appear at restaurants.

Whatever the reason, Bat Boy became a cultural icon who resonated with an entire generation of people. The character still carries some cultural cache today.

Chewing over it...

Chewing over it…

As such, the idea of crossing The X-Files over with the Weekly World News seems like an ingenious idea; it feels like a premise that would lend itself to the strange heightened unreality of X-Cops or Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”, touching on the show’s recurring anxieties about the malleable nature of reality. Working from the basic premise of “Doggett investigates his first X-File and gets Bat Boy”, it seems like Patience should be written by Vince Gilligan or Darin Morgan. Patience feels like it should be lighter or funnier.

Then again, the lack of goofiness seems to be entirely the point of the exercise. Patience proves that the eighth season of The X-Files is so committed to horror that even their “Bat Boy” episode is a decidedly grim affair. After all, the introductory sequence features Scully presenting a power point to Doggett; in many ways, the case she is describing sounds a lot like Bad Blood – the episode that featured two comedic versions of Mulder presenting a slide show about vampire attacks. However, Patience quickly makes it clear that this is no laughing matter.

"Hey. This is my first day."

“Hey. This is my first day.”

Patience paints its man-bat as a fairly generic monster. The design evokes a classic horror movie, playing to Carter’s aesthetic sensibilities. The creature’s design does not seem too far removed from some of the prosthetics employed in Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Dracula, which prefigured other nineties horror movie adaptations like Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein. This makes sense, given Carter’s affection for classic horror cinema. Given the success of the CGI- (rather than prosthetics- ) driven Mummy in 1999, Patience feels a little outdated.

Then again, perhaps the monster is the weakest part of Patience. The episode never really fleshes out too much detail around the predatory flying mammal, beyond hinting at a possible motivation for the creature. There is never a sense of how intelligent it is, despite the dedication required to stalk its prey across half a century. It doesn’t help matters that the premise is completely absurd, with Stefaniuk offering a ridiculous one-liner explaining the creature. It is one thing to be coy about the monster of the week, it is another to offer a shrug.

Apt pupil...

Apt pupil…

To be fair, Stefaniuk’s dialogue does feel like it was ported over from a thirties horror film, delivered in suitably hammy style by Gene Dynarski. “I know on the evolutionary ladder bats are real close by the apes,” he relates. “And just as we came from the apes so might a man, sprung from a bat. To live and hunt like a bat but with the cold-blooded vengeance of a man.” It seems there’s a reason Stefaniuk became a hunter rather than an evolutionary biologist. The scene becomes even weirder when Scully humours him with an “even if that were true, sir…”

Then again, the internal logic of Patience is more than a little bit lax. When Ernie Stefaniuk panics about his brother, Scully and Doggett reassure him. They were watching him all day, it turns out. “Today?” Ernie protests. “Today, he might have been fine but this thing hunts likes a bat. It only attacks at night.” Stefaniuk offers this little nugget as if he just cracked the atom, even though it would seem to be the logical conclusion to “giant man-bat creature seeks revenge after waiting decades.”

Scully still can't make out the logic at work...

Scully still can’t make out the logic at work…

It seems weird that this should be a revelation to Scully. One of the big thematic points of Patience is that Scully is not as good at paranormal guess work as Mulder was, but that isn’t really guess work. Scully has made the biggest leap to “giant man-bat” already, so “bats hunt at night” really shouldn’t be so difficult. Even Doggett should be able to figure that out, and this is technically his first day. Patience is not particularly smooth when it comes to handling its man-bat character and the cast’s understanding of the man-bat character.

Still, Carter’s script does pick up on some of the big eighth season themes. In particular, Patience is a story that is as much about endings as it is about beginnings. The eighth season tends to link birth and death, an appropriate theme for a season that is constructed as both a first season and a last season. This is Doggett’s first case, and the first case with this new dynamic. However, the episode is also fascinated with death, in a very real and tangible manner. Death haunts the narrative, to the point that Patience opens with a hearse pulling to to a house.

"To be fair, maybe you shouldn't have stuffed his kids, Mister Stefaniuk."

“To be fair, maybe you shouldn’t have stuffed his kids, Mister Stefaniuk.”

The undertaker is murdered as soon as he gets undressed, once the “embalming fluid” no longer hides the scent of the dead body with which he was working. The man-bat stalks an entire generation of hunters and their families, adopting a patient and strategic approach  – like death itself. Ernie Stefaniuk sits alone on his little island, waiting to die. The episode ends with Stefaniuk dead; the fact that the episode avoids offering a “man-bat lives!” reveal implies that Doggett and Scully might have actually killed the creature as well.

More to the point, Stefaniuk shares a quiet little moment with Scully where he offers a none-too-subtle suggestion that this might be the end of the line for Scully. “How long can you wait, huh?” he asks, rhetorically. “A lifetime? To live in fear like this, a young woman – are you prepared to sacrifice family, children and spend your life terrorized by a monster?” Given that Scully is pregnant and has just lost her best friend and (life) partner, it makes sense that she would begin to contemplate the life that she wants.

"Is there any sign of --?" "Two small puncture wounds on the neck?" "I wasn't asking that." "Too bad. We got 'em."

“Is there any sign of –?”
“Two small puncture wounds on the neck?”
“I wasn’t asking that.”
“Too bad. We got ’em.”

Even if the eighth season were to succeed, it seems like the production team understood that it might be time to let Mulder and Scully go. This might be the end for those two characters, with the eighth season structured to bring them both to a point where they might retire into the sunset and hand the reigns over to a younger set of investigators. The eighth season might be the start of something new, but it is also the end of something old. Although The X-Files would have difficulty following through on that realisation, it is perfectly valid.

Patience is not the strongest episode of the eighth season. It has some significant flaws, mostly rooted in the monster at the centre of the story. However, it is an episode that is very necessary at this point in the show’s life. It is very much about demonstrating that it is possible to build a functioning X-Files episode with Doggett and Scully. This is prototype, but it works well enough for the show to begin refining the model.

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  1. Nothing meaningful to add here except to note the pretty obvious continuity error: when Scully and Doggett decide to go in search of Stefaniuk’s brother it’s about 1.15 am; when they eventually find him, it’s more than five hours later. Sure, they missed him at his house, but did they then spend another four hours driving round looking for him? Or did their initial urgency in going to track him down wear off immediately and they decided to get a semi-decent night’s sleep first? Then again, as you point out, if they can’t even reach the obvious conclusion that bats fly at night, maybe it really did take them four hours to realise that the man who dragged the body out of the river and who’s not at home may be, you know, down by the river…!

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