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The X-Files – Empedocles (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.

Empedocles returns to one of the most enduring Ten Thirteen themes: the idea of evil as contagion.

Both The X-Files and Millennium have touched upon this theme. On The X-Files, episodes like Aubrey and Grotesque suggested that evil was something that could be passed from person to person. Despite the fact that Millennium was based around a forensic profiler, Chris Carter described it as a show about “the limits of psychology”; it seemed like evil could often be traced to sinister forces at work in the world. Looking at Ten Thirteen’s output as a whole, it seems that Carter believes wholeheartedly in the idea of evil as an external force.

Man on fire...

Man on fire…

Empedocles offers perhaps the most straightforward example of this recurring theme. Reyes describes the case as “a thread of evil… connecting through time, through men, through opportunity.” It is a narrative thread that connects from the murder of Luke Doggett in New York to a workplace shooting in New Orleans. Evil is at work in the world, in a way that is palpable and discernible. Empedocles is not a subtle episode of television, linking this contagion of evil images of hellfire and burning.

There is undoubtedly something just a little simplistic about all of this. One of the luxuries of conspiracy theory, as The X-Files has repeatedly suggested, is the way that it serves to impose a logical and linear narrative on trauma; to make sense of acts and events that would otherwise suggest a brutally random universe. The mythology running through the first six seasons of the show suggested a conspiracy of powerful men might provide such a nexus of causation, but Empedocles offers something a bit broader.

It burns...

Burn with me.

As with a lot of the eighth season mythology, Empedocles cuts out the middle-man. The eighth season largely eschews the blending of “self” and “other” that run through first seven seasons of the show, largely rejecting the narrative of collaboration and complicity implied by the Syndicate. The eighth season of The X-Files repeatedly suggests that evil is inhuman, presenting its antagonists as distinctly “other” forms that infiltrate and pervert the body in perhaps the purest distillation of the show’s many viral metaphors.

In its own way, Empedocles is just as much a mythology or conspiracy episode as Three Words or Vienen. Like those episodes, Empedocles posits a conspiracy theory based upon the subversion of human identity by something alien and external. Empedocles posits a conspiracy of evil.

Crispy...

Crispy…

The X-Files is fascinated with the idea of infection and corruption. The show repeatedly returns to viral metaphors, both within the mythology and in standalone episodes. According to The X-Files: Fight the Future, the colonists at the heart of the mythology are themselves nothing more than a virus themselves. “What is a virus, but a colonizing force that cannot be defeated?” the Well-Manicured Man pondered, rhetorically. This viral threat was literalised in the black oil, but it also informs the method of colonisation.

The mythology is based around the idea that the colonists have effectively infiltrated and perverted the American government. The black oil and the alien life cycle suggested a rather literal contamination and infection, but the conspirators themselves were arguably a symptom of an infection that had taken root in the structures of government. The systems meant to protect and serve the democratic system had instead become weaponised against it. In the context of the nineties, the infection metaphors are obvious.

"Did you know he still gets top billing?"

“Did you know he still gets top billing?”

The Cigarette-Smoking Man might have been known as “the Cancer Man” because of his habit, but Memento Mori explicitly tied his name to the show’s core metaphors, suggesting that he represented a cancer affecting the body politic in the same way that cancer affects the literal body. Scully suggested that cancer was “an invader” that “soon becomes one with the invaded.” It is one of the most effective recurring metaphors of The X-Files, and is frequently applied outside the context of the mythology itself.

This is particularly obvious in the show’s immigration stories, where comparisons are inevitably drawn to infections and epidemics. Episodes like Teliko and El Mundo Gira suggest that epidemics are sweeping through subcultures, only to tie those infections back to migrants. In some of the show’s more xenophobic moments, it seems to equate the migration of people across borders to viral propagation. When the body used by the anonymous beggar is recorded in Badlaa, the authorities’ first assumption is that he brought a disease back with him.

Sad Doggett.

Sad Doggett.

The X-Files is fascinated with these allegories of contamination and subversion. In Gilligan Unbound, Paul A. Cantor suggested that this fixation on infection and contagion metaphors reflected the mood of the nineties:

The X-Files portrays a kind of free-floating geopolitical anxiety that follows upon the collapse of the clear-cut ideological divisions of the Cold War. The world used to be divided into sharply demarcated armed camps, which was in its own way a frightening prospect, but one people learned to live with. The X-Files presents a post-Cold War world that, far from being polarised in terms of nation-states anymore, is interconnected in all sorts of clandestine and sinister ways that cut across national borders. That any point on the globe may be connected with any other point is of course a paranoiac’s fantasy – or rather nightmare. The central image of threat during the Cold War was a nuclear explosion – destruction that starts at a clear central point and spreads outward. The central image of threat in The X-Files is infection – a plague that may begin at any point on the globe and spread to any other – thanks to international air travel and all the other globalising forces at work today.

Empedocles takes this approach and applies it to the spread of evil, suggesting that evil is an infectious agent that is as deadly as an virus. Indeed, it could be argued that evil attacks not just the individual in this way, but society as a whole.

Sadder Doggett.

Sadder Doggett.

Mulder renders the metaphor explicit. “And I began to think about evil like, like a disease,” he recalls of his time profiling. “Most of us walk around thinking we’re incapable of any acts of evil and we are. You know, we can stifle that momentary urge to kill or to hurt. We have some kind of immunity to it. But I think it’s possible that there’s… an occurrence in somebody’s life, a tragedy or a loss that leaves them vulnerable, hurts their immunity to evil, and all of a sudden at that point in their lives when they’re weakened, they’re open to evil and they can become evil.”

It is a nice lyrical description of evil at work in the world, and one which seems consistent with the moral philosophy of The X-Files and Millennium. Mulder himself has experienced this first hand, while trying to get inside the head of Jonathan Mostow in Grotesque. It seems as though the monstrous evil inside that serial killer was able to escape into the mind of Bill Patterson. In Aubrey, it was suggested that evil could be passed down from generation to generation as an innate quality.

Yeah. You should probably not scratch that.

Yeah. You should probably not scratch that.

This is perhaps a simplistic depiction of evil. Reyes suggests that it is a depiction of evil alien to most North Americans and Europeans, explaining, “In India, in Africa, in Iran, in the Middle East, in the Far East. Most of the world, they take it as a given. They see evil in death the way other people see God in a rose.” This is just a little misleading. If anything, Empedocles offers a vision of evil that feels very rooted in certain schools of Christian thought. After all, Aubrey proposes a model quite similar to the concept of original sin.

The theologian John Calvin discussed the “contagion of sin” (peccati contagione nascimur infecti”) in his magnum opus, Institutes of the Christian Religion.  Although tied to the concept of original sin and suggesting that mankind was tainted by a susceptibility to temptation and corruption, some Christian philosophers have expanded that concept. Reverend Rousas John Rushdoony warned, “Evil is contagious. Man as a fallen creature has, at his best, enough sin in him to respond to evil if he allows himself too much contact with it.”

"I am the lord of hellfire!"

“I am the lord of hellfire!”

The X-Files exists in an explicitly moral universe. One of the big recurring themes of Carter’s writing is the idea that nothing good can come from compromise with evil. At the end of the fourth season, Walter Skinner compromised himself to protect Scully in Zero Sum; it was a decision with disastrous consequences and no appreciable gain. In contrast, the script for Redux II had Mulder rewarded for rejecting the same offer. In the absolutist universe of The X-Files, good cannot spring from negotiations with evil.

There is something quite innocent about that believe, the insistence that good and evil can be clearly delineated like that. For all that The X-Files is cynical about authority and power structures, it seems to believe that people are inherently good. Mulder’s theory supposes that the only reason that people succumb to evil is because of weakness and that – all things being equal – people are morally strong enough to resist their darker impulses. For a show as obsessed with monsters as The X-Files, that is positively upbeat.

You can see it in her eyes...

You can see it in her eyes…

The themes of Empedocles are perfectly in keeping with the broader concerns of the eighth season. The eighth season stressed the divide that exists between the self and the other. The human conspirators negotiating the divide between the colonists and the population are gone; the gulf is now clearly delineated. Empedocles suggests that a similar gap exists between mankind and the very concept of evil; evil is something external and separate from the self, it is something that has to be allowed in.

This is not the first time that Ten Thirteen have used this metaphor. The entire first season of Millennium was built around the idea of evil infiltrating the idealised middle-class home, whether through Frank’s mythologising of the “big yellow house” or the serial killers in Wide Open and Weeds or the abuse in The Well-Worn Lock. Even within the context of The X-Files, the idea of evil as an external force is nothing new or shocking. The show has frequently returned to the idea of externalised evil.

"We also found evidence he was planning something called 'mega death'."

“We also found evidence he was planning something called ‘mega death’.”

This is, after all, one of the more effective metaphorical uses of the black oil. The colonists’ early form represents the literal infection and corruption, a black substance that seeps into an individual and renders them puppets of some larger sinister power. Indeed, Grotesque aired only a week before the black oil made its first appearance in Piper Maru. In a nice bit of symmetry, Empedocles aired a week before the black oil made its last appearance in Vienen. Both sets of stories explore similar themes of external corruption.

In a way, it feels entirely appropriate that the late-season pairing of Empedocles and Vienen should mirror that of Grotesque and Piper Maru. The third and eighth seasons of The X-Files are the most thematically consistent stretches of the show. While the eighth is tied together by the overarching narratives of Mulder’s disappearance and Scully’s pregnancy, both the third and eighth seasons focus on particular themes within the larger context of The X-Files. As such, they feel more cohesive than many of the show’s other seasons.

Light 'em up...

Light ’em up…

In the third season, the legacy of the Second World War is pushed to the fore, with the mythology episodes tying American political and economic prosperity back to the compromised made at the end of that conflict; it felt particularly timely given that the third season aired during the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the conflict. In the eighth season, emphasis is put on the gulf that exists between the “self” and the “other”, between the internal and the external; between the human and the alien.

Much is made of the barriers that exist between the mythology and the standalones in terms of continuity. This makes sense; the production team went out of their way in D.P.O. to detaching the conspiracy from the “monster of the week” stories, with a few shocking exceptions like Leonard Betts. At its best, the show suggests an almost intangible connection between these two different versions of the show. As much as different writers occasionally seemed to be writing uncanny versions of the same show, the mythology was itself uncanny.

Evil costume switch!

Evil costume switch!

This was perhaps reflected in the third season when Hell Money played out its own allegory of the conspiracy, right down to casting James Hong as an anonymous cigarette-smoking Hard-Faced Man. The character’s closing meditations drew on the mythology episodes around him, referencing Scully’s reflections on ghosts in Apocrypha and the Cigarette-Smoking Man’s meditations on the importance of hope in Talitha Cumi. The X-Files could often feel like several competing shows, albeit one connected by themes threaded through.

One of the shrewder elements of Empedocles is the way that it echoes and mirrors various incidents around it. The flashback sequences charting the discover of Luke Doggett are framed in such a way as to mirror the discovery of Mulder’s body at the climax of This is Not Happening. Law enforcement officials stand around awkwardly in a circle in a wooded area while waiting for somebody close to the deceased (another law enforcement official) to identify the body. It is powerful imagery.

This is not happening.

This is not happening.

More than that, it offers a nice visual connection between Doggett’s efforts to find Mulder and the recovery of his own son. It was a connection to which Reyes alluded in This is Not Happening, and one that creates a nice retroactive sense of symmetry. The X-Files has always followed its leads searching for truth, but the eighth season has given more focus to that search, rendering it a literal search for concrete answers. It suggests that there is an implicit connection between what happened to Fox Mulder and what happened to Luke Doggett.

The connection is not literal, of course. Fox Mulder was abducted by aliens and experimented upon in an effort to create a “super soldier” that would play a part in the impending colonisation of the planet; Luke Doggett was kidnapped by a man who liked to hurt little boys. While there is no tangible plot thread that ties them together, there is a sense that they are bath reflections of the same primal evil in the world. After all the bodies returned in This is Not Happening were portrayed as the victims of literally inhuman abuse.

Busy bodies...

Busy bodies…

Empedocles suggests that it is all connected in a more abstract way, all intangible strands of an imperceptible web. It is, on many levels, completely ridiculous. It sounds ridiculous when Doggett actually articulates it towards the end of the episode. “If that were true, then what you’re saying is… is that this man we wheeled in here tonight is infected with evil, the same evil that killed my son?” It is not really a plot that works on any concrete level, but it has a very lyrical and poetic quality to it.

In many ways, Empedocles is the most Doggett-centric episode of the season. Early episodes like Via Negativa and The Gift focused on Doggett, but examined what it meant to inherit the X-files from Mulder and Scully. Although Invocation hinted at the trauma revealed in Empedocles, the script treated Doggett as something of a mystery. Now that Mulder is back, Doggett is not defined by his absence. Although many fans were clamouring for Mulder-centric episodes, there is something smart about telling a Doggett story at this point of the year.

All fired up...

All fired up…

In many ways, Empedocles seems to hint at a possible mythology for Doggett and Reyes to explore when Mulder and Scully eventually decamp to their happily ever after. Mulder spent the first seven years of the show investigating aliens, driven by a repressed memory of his sister’s abduction. Neither Doggett nor Reyes has so strong an emotional attachment to aliens, so any attempt to continue on the colonisation narrative without Mulder and Scully would seem fruitless; it would draw attention to Doggett and Reyes as pale imitations.

After all, This is Not Happening revealed that Reyes had no particular interest in alien abduction. She assured Scully, “I don’t not believe.” That is hardly a ringing endorsement; it seems unlikely to appear on a poster adorning the wall of the basement. Instead, Reyes comes from a background investigating “satanic ritual abuse.” That is a very nineties background to afford a character introduced in 2001, harking back to the “satanic panic” of the late eighties and nineties. But it does give Reyes an angle on the whole “evil” thing.

"Old man Mulder's getting up in my face again!"

“Old man Mulder’s getting up in my face again!”

More than that, Doggett is a character who seems particularly suited to these sorts of narratives about good and evil. The Doggett-centric stories in the eighth season seem to exist in a weird nether-land between The X-Files and MillenniumInvocation, Via Negativa and Empedocles could easily have incorporated Frank Black. The character of John Doggett feels almost like a reiteration of the character of Frank Black, the stoic and righteous man in a chaotic and unpredictable world. Robert Patrick’s performance balances certainty and vulnerability.

Watching Empedocles, it seems like the show is setting up something that could possibly serve as a future “mythology” for the show past the era of Mulder and Scully. It should be noted that the theme of “evil in the world” is of particular fascination to Frank Spotnitz, to the point that he identified it as one of the core themes of his short-lived Night Stalker series. What if Doggett and Reyes did not chase colonists or little green men, but instead pursued a web of evil spread across time and space?

"All this has happened before..."

“All this has happened before…”

It is certainly a bold idea, and one that seems a lot more daring and ambitious than anything the ninth season would do with the pair. Every time that Doggett and Reyes brushed up against aliens or conspiracy in the ninth season, it served as a reminder that David Duchovny was gone out the door and that Gillian Anderson was quite keen to join him at the first opportunity. For all that the eighth season sets up new possibilities for Doggett and Reyes, the ninth season steadfastly ignores them.

To be fair, it is hard to imagine how a mythology based around the concept of “evil in the world” might actually work. Mulder had joked about how difficult it was to arrest aliens, but at least the mythology had a concrete objective and existed in a tangible manner. By its nature, “evil” is an abstract concept; it seems hard to believe that such a broad thread could build a world as rich as the mythology had been during its peak. Indeed, it seems like it could easily give way to some of the excessive grimness that smothered certain sections of Millennium.

"... and will happen again."

“… and will happen again.”

Still, that’s part of the thrill of the eighth season. As the writers offer Mulder and Scully one last hurrah, there was also a sense of nervous energy in the air. What would the show look like without Mulder and Scully? How could Doggett and Scully make it their own? Could the show so dramatically reinvent itself after seven years on the air? The eighth season seems excited by all of these questions, making the ninth season’s firm rejection of them all the more disappointing.

Empedocles solidifies the sense that The X-Files is evolving into something resembling an ensemble drama, featuring all four of the show’s central agents in the same episode. This is Not Happening had featured all five characters to appear in the opening credits of The Truth, but one of them was dead at the time. Empedocles allows Mulder to serve as something of a mentor to Doggett and Reyes while working through his own issues. As Vienen makes clear, this stretch of the season is about passing the torch.

Reyes-ing the bar...

Reyes-ing the bar…

And it works surprisingly well. Although Scully is sidelined for most of the episode, the four characters are distinct enough that they play well off one another. Although Reyes is arguably too hazily-defined to support a promotion to lead actor at this point in time, her interactions with Mulder work surprisingly well; the contrast between Mulder’s willingness to believe and Reyes complete lack of skepticism illuminates both characters. Reyes arguably works better with Mulder than she does with Doggett.

Empedocles also emphasises the creative decision to anchor Doggett and Reyes’ partnership around a past trauma that forces Doggett to refuse to believe, in contrast to anchoring Mudler and Scully’s partnership around a past trauma that forced Mulder to have to believe. While this leaves Reyes slightly rudderless as a character, making her feel more like a plot device slotted into a soon-to-be-vacant “believer” role than a fully-formed individual, it does make Doggett an intriguing character in his own right.

Things come to a head...

Things come to a head…

When The X-Files began, it made sense for Scully to adopt the skeptic role because Scully’s position resembled common sense. Of course Scully could argue that liver-eating mutants didn’t exist or that ghosts were impossible, because they are. When The X-Files began, it departed from something approaching the real world, where Scully’s skepticism made a lot of sense; it took a lot more to justify why Mulder believed what he believed. However, as the series marched on, it made less and less sense for Scully to remain skeptical.

In the real world, skepticism is healthy. It is logical. It is rational. It seems unlikely that aliens or vampires are responsible for random ex-sanguination of cows, because aliens and vampires don’t actually exist. However, in the world of The X-Files, it is quite clear that aliens and vampires do exist. If a character hangs around The X-Files long enough, they seem liable to discover that everything exists. So eventually you end up with episodes like Kaddish or Synchrony, where it seems like Scully disagrees for the sake of disagreeing.

Guy talk.

Guy talk.

Anchoring Doggett’s skepticism in an emotional response to past trauma is a fairly clever twist on the set-up, even if the death of Luke Doggett seems a little too obviously a rehash of the abduction of Samantha Mulder or the murder of Melissa Hollis. While it is a little blunt in terms of character development, running the risk of reducing Doggett to a series of predictable inputs and outputs, it provides a much stronger hook for his role of skeptic than Scully had in the fourth through sixth seasons. (“Stubbornness” seems to be the word here.)

With the focus on Doggett and Reyes, Mulder is relegated to the role of mentor figure – a role he plays through the rest of the season. Indeed, Scully appeals to him to guide Doggett through his pain. “Are you able to help him at all?” she asks. Mulder seems skeptical, “You can’t help a man who can’t help himself.” Scully urges him, as much as those fans still reluctant to embrace Doggett, “He’s worth the effort, Mulder.” It is almost as if Mulder is practicing for his role as father, becoming a father figure within the narrative.

Midnight in the intensive care ward of good and evil.

Midnight in the intensive care ward of good and evil.

David Duchovny was not entirely happy with this shift in the way that Mulder was portrayed, confessing that it was part of the reason that he declined to return in any significant capacity for the ninth season:

I think the fans of the show understand and to a great extent applaud this. I think coming back in a cameo — like Obi-wan Kenobi in your head, or like I did this last year, or whatever — it doesn’t do a good service for the character. And I’m proprietary about Mulder. I feel like if Mulder’s gonna be on that show, his quest is the show, and Mulder and Scully are the show. And really, there’s 180 hours of Mulder and Scully out there. I know in my heart that I gave a lot.

Appropriately enough for a fan of Joseph Campbell with an obvious affection for Star Wars, Duchovny seemed quite taken with the “Obi-Wan Kenobi” metaphor to describe the character’s eighth season arc, alluding to it in another exit interview.

"Just checking in."

“Just checking in.”

At the same time, it does feel like Duchovny is being a little unfair here. The changes to the show were entirely in response to his absence. Doggett and Reyes were introduced because Duchovny and Anderson had made it clear that they wanted to leave. The final stretch of the eighth season is driven by those external factors. A larger part of Mulder’s arc in these episodes is manoeuvring him to a point where it makes sense to leave the character. A large part of the final third of the eighth season is about Mulder learning to grow up.

Admittedly, the scenes between Mulder and Scully (and the pizza man) are awkward and uncomfortable, an extended and unfunny joke that goes on far too long. However, that would seem to be the point. The last stretch of the eighth season suggests that Mulder and Scully are on the cusp of forming a family unit, of becoming mature adults with a life that extends beyond the X-files. The sixth and seventh seasons effectively removed a lot of the burdens imposed on Mulder; the eighth offers Mulder and Scully a chance to “settle down.”

A bump in the road.

A bump in the road.

Of course, there is an uncomfortable heteronormative thread running through this storytelling. It would seem to imply that part of being “grown-up” is starting a family unit and that things like the X-files are childish. This is a perfectly valid criticism, but The X-Files has always been rather old-fashioned when it comes to notions like this; look at how awkward the show gets when it comes to talking about sex, for example. At least the show is finally giving Mulder an arc paralleling Scully’s maternal anxieties in the fourth and fifth seasons.

Indeed, for all that the show forces Mulder and Scully into a conventional family unit at the end of the eighth season, it deserves credit for refusing to have them get married or conform to other social expectations. It might have been bolder to completely avoid any romantic relationship between the two leads, but that particular horse at bolted during the production of Fight the Future at the absolute latest. If Mulder and Scully were to be together, it made sense for them to finally be together openly.

A pizza the action...

A pizza the action…

And it makes sense for Mulder and Scully to embrace their feelings when William is born. After all, Mulder’s troubled relationship with his own father is an essential part of his character; having him involved in the life of his son is a vitally important character arc, which the ninth season never quite understands. Mulder and Scully living together, raising a child; it might be the most cliché and stock image of “growing up” that the show could ever produce, but it feels entirely appropriate at this point in time.

Even then, the show seems to suggest that Mulder and Scully aren’t quite a conventional couple. Scully is pregnant and gives birth without a husband. Even when Existence makes it clear that Mulder and Scully plan to raise the child together, there is no suggestion that their love needs to be validated by a marriage certificate or legal documentation. Existence suggests that Mulder intends to be as much of a father to William as Scully will be a mother, suggesting that they might eschew outdated gender roles when it came to work and home lives.

Red eyes at night...

Red eyes at night…

After all, the model of American families changed during the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries. As of December 2014, less than half of children in the United States were born to “traditional” married heterosexual couples. At the same time, it was suggested that half of children will live with their mother alone before turning eighteen. By 2011 and 2013, the number of children born to unmarried cohabiting couples had more than doubled from where those figures had been a decade earlier.

While Mulder and Scully (and William) do form something resembling a traditional family unit at the end of the eighth season, it is a nice touch that the production team didn’t feel the need to smooth out all the rough edges. The X-Files is perhaps too traditional a show to offer any real surprises in the dynamic between the pair, it doesn’t make them too stock or too stereotypical. Indeed, when Mulder and Scully go into hiding for The X-Files: I Want to Believe, it is worth noting that Scully is the member of the pair who works.

"Daddy's home."

“Daddy’s home.”

Empedocles hints at the idea that Mulder is not quite ready for the responsibility coming his way, much like Three Words and Vienen suggest that Mulder has to learn to relinquish the X-files. The eighth season has been frustratingly coy about the identity of the father of Scully’s child. In Three Words, Langly suggested that even the Lone Gunmen were kept in the dark. In Empedocles, Mulder jokes that “the pizza man is not above suspicion.” Viewers watching the show at the time might for forgiven for assuming Mulder does not know he is the father.

After all, Chris Carter and his production team knew that speculation about the identity of the father would lure in viewers. When Carter was pressed on the identity of the baby’s father before the start of the season, he quipped, “I’m his father and its mother.” Even in the run up to the finalé, all that Carter could concede on the subject was to jokingly rule out some suspects, “I would rule out the Lone Gunmen, that’s for sure.” The decision to keep that air of ambiguity around the identity of the father was undoubtedly cynical.

Phone booth on a deserted road at night? This'll end well.

Phone booth on a deserted road at night? This’ll end well.

While this is quite frustrating, in the way that so much of the show’s attempts to draw out the mythology could be frustrating, it does connect with the deeper emotional arcs of the season. It seems quite likely that Mulder knows that he is the father; he is just not processing it. Indeed, much of Empedocles seems to play around Scully trying to gently get Mulder to accept that he will soon become a father. Of course, being Scully, she doesn’t confront Mulder directly about it, instead respecting his need to come to terms with it himself.

“I feel like I’m stuck in an episode of Mad About You,” Scully reflects when Mulder does his cringe-inducing routine about the pizza man. Mulder immediately catches the none-too-subtle implication of that comparison, informing Scully, “Small technicality. Mad About You was about a married couple and we just work together.” At the hospital, Mulder is prevented from accompanying Scully because he will not acknowledge their relationship. When the nurse asks if he’s the husband, he does not tell her that he’s the father.

All it takes for evil to triumph... is some good old-fashioned body-hoping.

All it takes for evil to triumph… is some good old-fashioned body-hopping.

Later, Scully seems to attempt thank Mulder for her pregnancy in a way that would make him feel uncomfortable. When Mulder offers her an adorable (if slightly improbable) little doll, Scully seems to broach the subject of her pregnancy with him. “But then that’s the other gift that you gave me, Mulder.” There is an awkward pause, as if neither character wants to say what is hanging in the air. Like the “three words” in Three Words, they hang in the air – a pause as pregnant as Scully. Eventually, she flubs, “Courage… to believe. And I hope that’s a gift I can pass on.”

Indeed, there is a sense that Scully’s urging of Mulder to help Doggett and Reyes is a gentle attempt to coax him into the role of father figure; to accept some of the same responsibilities that will fall on him as a father. In The Truth About Season Eight, Frank Spotnitz referred to Doggett and Reyes as “another generation” of the show, and that makes Mulder something of a wisened old mentor. (Even if Robert Patrick is technically a year older than David Duchovny.) Empedocles seems to accept and embrace this.

"His evil levels are WAY over normal."

“His evil levels are WAY over normal.”

In a way, the goofy awkwardness of those “Mad About You” interactions is kind of the point. This is about Mulder and Scully transitioning from a madcap conspiracy thriller lifestyle into a quirky domestic sitcom; after all, one of the key revelations of Existence is that the most exceptional thing about William is that he is perfectly normal. Mulder and Scully’s interactions are strange and alien in the context of The X-Files, but that only serves to suggest that perhaps the pair have moved beyond the comfort zone of The X-Files.

Of course, the episode stresses that they are still Mulder and Scully. It turns out that Mulder is still as notoriously stingy as he was in Bad Blood or Dreamland I, when he objects to paying for the pizza at Scully’s apartment. “Twenty-nine-oh-eight?” he repeats incredulously. “What’d she get on it, a tank of gas?” There is no mention of a two-cent tip for the poor delivery man. Mulder and Scully are still the same characters, it is simply that the show they are starring in has changed. One can almost imagine a half-hour sitcom spin-off starring the family.

A crying shame...

A crying shame…

Empedocles is very much of a piece with the rest of this tale section of the eighth season, an attempt to ensure an orderly transition of power. Of course, that orderly transition of power will ultimately be thrown into chaos by Nothing Important Happened Today I. But that’s still in the future.

You might be interested in our reviews of the eighth season of The X-Files:

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