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The X-Files – Alone (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.

In a way, the entire final third of the eighth season is an extended finalé for The X-Files – or, at the very least, an extended finalé for a version of The X-Files starring Mulder and Scully.

This seems quite ironic, considering the confusion that existed towards the end of the seventh season, when it seemed like the production team were unsure whether they could (or should) commit to the idea of The X-Files coming to an end. The seventh season was never entirely sure what (if anything) was going to come next, and so it did not have the opportunity to gracefully set up all of its plot points. As a result, the eighth season had to retroactively incorporate elements like Mulder’s brain illness or Scully’s fertility treatment.

Cue cliché marriage jokes.

Cue cliché marriage jokes.

In contrast, the eighth season seemed quite conscious of the end. The entire eighth season is structured as a strange hybrid; it feels like it could serve as both the final season of the show as it aired for seven years, while also serving as a launching pad to something new and exciting. The final eight episodes of the eighth season are largely about tidying away the character arcs and dangling plot thread associated with Mulder and Scully so that their journey might finally end. If the ratings are strong enough, then Doggett might get to launch his own show.

As such, Alone is positioned very much like Je Souhaite had been and like Sunshine Days would be. It is potentially the “one last monster of the week” story marking the end of an era. While Je Souhaite had marked the end of the Mulder and Scully era of the show, Alone seems to mark the end of the transitional period between Mulder and Scully and whatever is supposed to come next. It is a very light episode, no less effective for that. As with a lot of the late eighth season, its biggest problem is the way that the nineth season creative decisions retroactively undercut it.

Leyla... L-E-Y-L-A... Leyla.

Leyla… L-E-Y-L-A… Leyla.

According to writer and director Frank Spotnitz, Alone was largely prepped before Fox greenlit a ninth season of the show. While the show had been successful enough in the ratings to make a ninth season possible – and maybe even probable – it was quite clear that the eighth season would still represent the end of a certain phase of the show:

At the end of Season Eight, we thought it might be the end of the show, so I very self-consciously designed Alone, the show that I wrote and directed, to be a farewell to the stand-alone episodes. I knew that even if the show didn’t end it would be the end of the Mulder-Scully era, so I wanted the Leyla Harrison character to look back on all the Mulder-Scully cases. I wanted that affectionate look back.

Alone is very much written with that in mind. It is an episode that finds Mulder and Scully cast in the role of concerned parents watching Doggett take over the family business; their lives are moving on, but there is still a chance for one last go-round.

"It's the middle set of a trilogy, I suspect..."

“It’s the middle set of a trilogy, I suspect…”

The eighth season is very clearly easing away from Mulder and Scully. The twenty-one episodes in the season are very much reconciled to the idea that Mulder and Scully have one last adventure in theme before they ride off into the metaphorical sunset, passing their work to another generation so they can enjoy some of the benefits of adult life. Of course, the show seems to have very heteronormative “settle down and have some kids” approach to the concept of “adult life”, but there is a general sense that the show needs to release Mulder and Scully.

Of course, the truth is that the show needs to release David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. Anderson committed to eight seasons of twenty-odd episodes and a feature film. Duchovny offered seven-and-a-half seasons alongside the same feature film. Five of those seasons were spent in Vancouver, away from their outside lives. Without a broad ensemble to help carry the show, the bulk of the weight fell on those two leads. At this point in the run, Anderson and Duchovny have more than paid their dues. It seems appropriate to let them move on.

Attack of the lizard man!

Attack of the lizard man!

On the commentary to Alone, Frank Spotnitz elaborates on this sentiment by suggesting that the episode was largely intended to set up a new ninth season status quo for the series:

It was the eighteenth episode of the eighth season and so I  knew it would be the last standalone episode for Agents Mulder and Scully, that David Duchovny was leaving the series, and so I wanted it to be special. And I came upon the idea of having Scully leaving the X-Files office, because I knew if the show did go on for a ninth season she would not be assigned to the X-Files office, Agent Doggett and his new partner Agent Reyes would. And  it was a way to look back at the show and some of the fond memories that we as writers and you as viewers had of the show over the past eight years, the Mulder and Scully era.

All of this seems perfectly reasonable, and there is a great deal of optimism and affection running through Alone. Much like Je Souhaite, this is almost a celebratory episode of television.

"Rise!"

“Rise!”

In hindsight, it turns out to be a little preemptive. As hard as the eighth season works to bid farewell to Mulder and Scully, it turns out that the ninth season is reluctant to relinquish them. Mulder and Scully haunt the ninth season like spectres drifting in and out of view. Despite the fact that Duchovny wanted nothing more to do with the show, the ninth season insisted on making Mulder a pivotal character. Despite the fact that Scully was a constant reminder of Mulder’s absence, Gillian Anderson had signed a contract retaining her for the entirety of the season.

The ninth season would work very hard to invalidate a lot of the brave and clever decisions made over the course of the eighth season. It often seemed like the eighth season had careful walked The X-Files through a volatile and dangerous transition, only for the production team to panic at the last possible minute and desperately try to push back the clock. This can make rewatching the eighth season feel like a frustrating experience, knowing that all of this hard work will be squandered.

Hug it out.

Hug it out.

Alone suffers a great deal from this retroactive taint. Scully’s farewell to Doggett at the start of the episode, and the short scene of Doggett peering in at Mulder and Scully, would work a lot better if the show were willing to let Scully go. Robert Patrick and Gillian Anderson might never have reproduced the chemistry that Anderson shared with Duchovny, but there is something quite heartbreaking about the finality of the scene. “This pregnancy leave – it’s just a leave, right?” Doggett asks. “I mean, you are coming back eventually?” It’s surprisingly emotive.

The ninth season does maintain the illusion of distance between Scully and the X-files, but not so much that those scenes retain any power. In one particularly adorable moment, Doggett gets excited about the sound of footfalls coming back towards the office. “You’re not gone five minutes, Agent Scully, and already I’m starting to feel a stranger in my own office,” Doggett remarks, practically bounding towards the door, only to be disappointed when Scully’s not there. It feels anticlimactic when Doggett ends up seeing Scully almost every week.

The gloves are on...

The gloves are on…

Nevertheless, there is something celebratory and heartwarming about the scenes of Scully’s departure from the basement office. Spotnitz provides some gratuitous continuity porn as Scully clears her desk, referencing past adventures like Quagmire or Tempus Fugit or Dreamland I, but it feels entirely appropriate. If this is to be the end of an era, it is worth acknowledging as much. The seventh season did not have the luxury of having time to wrap up. The eighth does, and takes advantage of it.

(That said, it seems strange that Scully retains the conjoined coin from Dreamland I, given how thoroughly Dreamland II suggested that the two-parter never happened. Is this a simple continuity error from the usually fastidious Spotnitz? Is it a suggestion that Dreamland I is no less relevant just because the adventure didn’t actually happen in the continuity of the show? Or is it just a winking nod to fans who obsess over such things? Similarly, given Anderson’s relationship with the dog who played Queegqueg, the inclusion of his collar feels like an affectionate in-joke.)

To coin a reference...

To coin a reference…

Of course, the idea of Mulder and Scully’s departure is not the only example of the ninth season eroding the emotional weight of Alone. The episode introduces the character of Leyla Harrison, an affectionate homage to a fan who had passed away due to skin cancer. Harrison is portrayed as an X-Files superfan, an enthusiastic young woman with an incredible knowledge of the show’s history and continuity. Paired with Doggett as part of his investigation into the mysterious murders, she is a very endearing portrayal of typical X-Files fans.

After all, Harrison knows her episodes off by heart. When Doggett discovers slime, she immediately jumps to the events of Squeeze. “You know what that could be?” she asks. “It could be bile.” She elaborates, “From a liver-eating mutant. Mulder and Scully chased one into an escalator once. It died but…” It is a very nice little touch, perhaps channelling the inner continuity geek in most hardcore fans. It is also perhaps an acknowledgement – along with other eighth season episodes like Patience, Surekill and Badlaa – of how important Squeeze was to the show.

"Mm. Liver juice."

“Mm. Liver juice.”

When Doggett insists that it is not bile, Harrison has another idea about what it could be. “It could be an alien that shed its skin,” she suggests, helpfully. “According to Agent Mulder’s case reports they leave behind a mucus-like residue when they…” Harrison seems to be referring to the events of The Beginning. It is perhaps instructive that Harrison cites those two cases; they represent clear reinventions for the show. Squeeze was the original “monster of the week”, while The Beginning was the first episode produced in Los Angeles.

Harrison is a very lighthearted and affectionate character. It is clear that Spotnitz has a lot of affection for her, and for the fans she represents. To Harrison, the X-files are a means of escape and fascination from a more mundane world. “I was in accounting,” she tells Doggett. “I processed Agents Mulder and Scully’s travel expenses.” She certainly makes a nice change of pace from the guy in Requiem. It is very cute to have her ask Mulder and Scully about plotholes in The X-Files: Fight the Future.

"Well, whenever you notice something like that, a wizard did it."

“Well, whenever you notice something like that, a wizard did it.”

The problem is that the character of Leyla Harrison becomes retroactively tainted by her appearance in Scary Monsters in the ninth season. The love and affection shown towards the character in Alone becomes muted by the way that production team use her as a passive-aggressive commentary on certain vocal sections of fandom during Scary Monsters. It is a problem that should not logically affect a touching and enderaing introduction, but Harrison is nevertheless coloured by what will follow.

As with the third season of the show, the eighth season of The X-Files is a very meticulously and carefully structured season of television. This is most obvious in the way that the season is clearly and consciously mapped across a three-act structure, and the way that it is designed to serve as both a final season of the exisitng show and the debut season of a new show at the same time. The third season was structured so as to be roughly symmetrical; with two sets of two mythology episodes mirroring each other at points in the year. The eighth does something similar.

What do you want, Mulder? A medal?

What do you want, Mulder? A medal?

The eight season opens with a two-part mythology episode followed by a standalone monster of the week; it also closes with a two-part mythology episode preceded by a standalone monster of the week. Even the titles of Within and Without serve to parallel the titles of Essence and Existence. There is a nice symmetry to Patience and Alone, illustrating how far Doggett has come over the course of the eighth season. In Patience, Doggett was a rookie being introduced to the world of The X-Files; in Alone, Doggett is the veteran doing the introduction to The X-Files.

In Patience, Doggett found himself relying on Scully’s familiarity with the logic of the show to guide him through the case; in Alone, Doggett is confident enough that he doesn’t need Harrison dropping trivia to lead him along. While Doggett is still not entirely comfortable with the bizarre nature of his work, he has come a long way. Tellingly, he refers to the creature responsible for the murders as “it”; it seems that Doggett is willing to accept that there is some kind of monster at work here, even if he would never expressly articulate that theory.

Doggett hangs tough...

Doggett hangs tough…

Frank Spotnitz has arguably defined himself as the definitive Doggett writer for the seventh season, at least as far as integrating Doggett with the larger show goes. While Spotnitz is not credited on Doggett-centric episodes like Invocation and Empedocles, he is responsible for Via Negativa and The Gift. Those are both episodes that are essentially about Doggett’s relationship to Mulder and to The X-Files as a whole. They are stories about integrating a new lead into an existing (and possibly hostile) show.

Indeed, the climax of Alone revisits the central character anxiety of Via Negativa. In Via Negativa, John Doggett was haunted by a nightmare that he would effectively kill The X-Files; he had a horrific vision of himself standing over Scully’s bed carrying an axe. Via Negativa seemed to be an expression of Doggett’s anxieties about how he would engage with the show around him, worried that he might actually kill it. The climax of Alone revisits that nightmare, as Mulder asks Doggett to point a weapon at him and shoot.

"Look at it this way: if it doesn't work out, you're bumped up to lead."

“Look at it this way: if it doesn’t work out, you’re bumped up to lead.”

“Aim at the sound of my voice,” Mulder repeatedly urges Doggett after the latter is blinded by the lizard monster. This is a nightmare scenario for Doggett, who had been brought into the world of The X-Files to find and rescue Mulder. The climax of Alone puts him in a situation where he is asked to point a gun in the direction of Mulder and pull the trigger. It rather consciously mirrors the climax of Via Negativa, where Doggett imagined himself holding a large axe over the head of a sleeping Scully.

Ultimately, everything works out. Against his own better judgment, Doggett trusts Mulder enough to pull the trigger – and Mulder trusts Doggett enough to use himself as bait while Doggett literally fires blind. There is a sense that Doggett has been integrated successfully into the world of The X-Files, to the point that he can point a gun at one of his co-stars without running the risk of killing the show. Given how precarious things were when the eighth season began, the show has come a long way.

"Why can't mad scientists ever dust properly?"

“Why can’t mad scientists ever dust properly?”

Of course, at the same time that Doggett is getting used to his new role as lead character in The X-Files, Mulder and Scully find themselves struggling to adapt to their own new roles as former lead characters from The X-Files. In fact, Alone frequently plays like something approaching a retirement party for fictional characters. In keeping with his character arc from Three Words through to the end of the season, Mulder finds himself struggling to adapt to the role of parent; he is getting better, though, even if his relationship with the X-files team feels like practice.

Alone is more interested in the crisis facing Scully, who has largely been pushed into the background by everything that has happened since Mulder’s return. Scully is going through a lifestyle change as severe as any facing Mulder; the show just seems less focused on her transition because she holds herself together much better than Mulder. Alone suggests that it is tough for her. “Thank you for doing this with me,” she tells Mulder as he offers to accompany her to class.

"It's a trap! (Door!)"

“It’s a trap! (Door!)”

Scully confesses that she is having difficulty with the transition towards a nuclear family unit with Mulder and her child. “I don’t know,” she admits. “Maybe it’s hormones… or… it’s just… I’m just feeling so strange about all this.” Mulder clarifies, “This having-a-baby this?” Even ignoring all the suspense around the nature of the baby, Mulder and Scully are going through a fairly seismic transition. They were partners for seven years on the X-files, but now they find themselves transitioning to an entirely different sort of partnership.

In some respects, Alone parallels Scully’s difficulty transitioning in Patience. In Patience, Scully found herself forced to adapt to life without Mulder; she had to figure out what the X-files could be without Mulder around to guide and shape them. In Alone, Scully finds her forced to adapt to life with Mulder, albeit an entirely different life than she had ever imagined; she leaves Doggett to figure out what the X-files can be without either Mulder or Scully to guide and shape them.

Following the (slime) trail.

Following the (slime) trail.

There are some other parallels between Patience and Alone. The closing act of Patience features an old man in a small home attacked by a monstrous creature he had taken precautions to avoid; the teaser to Alone features an old man in a small home attacked by a monstrous creature he had taken precautions to avoid. Although this is more of an eighth season trend in general, the monsters at the heart of Patience and Alone both feel like they might have escaped from the pages of a comic book.

The bat creature from Patience feels like it owes a debt to the classic Batman villain “Man-Bat”, as created by writer Frank Robbins and artist Neal Adam. The lizard man from Alone, a mad scientist transformed by his own hubris, recalls the Lizard from the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man, as created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. However, these are not the only such examples. In Surekill, Doggett jokingly compares an assassin who can see through walls to Clark Kent. In Salvage, he describes a man made of metal as “more powerful than a speeding locomotive.”

I can hear your heart beat...

I can hear your heart beat…

It could be argued that the whole new mythology around the “super soldiers” is itself something that might have escaped from a superhero comic book. After all, Captain America is perhaps the most archetypal “super soldier” in popular culture. There is a very pulpy tone and mood to the eighth season as a whole, one that feels strange given the (literal and figurative) darkness running through the season. It is difficult to imagine an episode from much earlier in the run that would so casually introduce a two-dimensional mad scientist who turned himself into a lizard.

Alone is notable for being the first episode to be directed by Frank Spotnitz. Spotnitz is a veteran of The X-Files, and one of the longest-serving members of the production team. It makes sense for him to transition from writing episodes to both writing and directing episodes. Chris Carter had been writing and directing episodes since early in the second season, it seems surprising that his writing staff waited so long to follow in his footsteps; Frank Spotnitz is only the fourth writer to both write and direct an episode, after Chris Carter, David Duchovny and Vince Gilligan.

"And though we may not be alone in the universe, in our own separate ways on this planet, we are all... alone."

“And though we may not be alone in the universe, in our own separate ways on this planet, we are all… alone.”

Earlier in 2001, Vince Gilligan argued that the head writers on The Lone Gunmen (Vince Gilligan, Frank Spotnitz and John Shiban) were each hoping to write and direct an episode of the show’s hypothetical second season. In the ninth season, this auteur approach to episode production would really take off. Chris Carter, Vince Gilligan, Frank Spotnitz and John Shiban would all write and direct episodes of the ninth season, moving the show towards a model where particular episodes could be seen as the distinctive vision of one individual.

Since the turn of the millennium, there has been a tendency to treat the showrunner as a televisual auteur, as the defining and guiding creative influence on a television show to the same extent that directors are considered to be creatively responsible for their films. This model has become particularly popular in the era of HBO, with David Chase serving as an archetypal example on The Sopranos. However, the term might also be applied retroactively to creators like David Lynch on Twin Peaks or David E. Kelley and Aaron Sorkin.

"This guy hasn't got a (boot)leg to stand on..."

“This guy hasn’t got a (boot)leg to stand on…”

Perhaps befitting a show that has consciously emulated a “movie every week” approach to television, The X-Files does not fit entirely comfortably within that model of television. Chris Carter is undoubtedly responsible for The X-Files, carefully curating and maintaining the show across its nine seasons, but he allows his writing staff too much freedom and trust to really claim the status of auteur over the whole show. A Vince Gilligan episode sounds distinctly like Vince Gilligan. Darin Morgan seems to write his own pocket version of the show.

As such, it is not entirely accurate to argue that The X-Files is a singular monolithic example of Chris Carter’s creative vision. Instead, Carter tends to allow his staff to put their own distinctive marks on their episodes. Writers play to particular themes, and write their own slightly distinct versions of various characters. With that in mind, the closest thing to an auteur model for The X-Files would be based around individual episodes rather than the entire series. However, The X-Files has always been so strongly visual that a writer cannot claim complete authorship of an episode.

"That's not an ominous signature at all..."

“That’s not an ominous signature at all…”

It seems that an auteur model for The X-Files would feature the same individuals writing and directing their own episodes. Chris Carter has been doing this frequently since Duane Barry during the second season. Darin Morgan had done this with Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” and Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me on Millennium. David Duchovny wrote and directed The Unnatural and Hollywood A.D. Vince Gilligan did it with Je Souhaite. Frank Spotnitz does it with Alone here. John Shiban will do it with Underneath during the ninth season.

It is perhaps telling that the revival series will adopt a similar model of auteur episodes, with a team of writers directing their own scripts. Chris Carter, Glen Morgan, James Wong and Darin Morgan are all overseeing their own episodes in the roles of both writer and director. It affords them pretty much complete control over the story that they want to tell. It is an appropriate intersection of the modern auteur-driven model of contemporary television with the episodic sensibilities of The X-Files.

Scully had a dog. Now she has a Doggett.

Scully had a dog. Now she has a Doggett.

At the same time, it does serve to demonstrate just how much directorial talent the show has lost since its peak. A lot of the distinctive visual tone and style of The X-Files can be traced back to a core group of directors – R.W. Goodwin, Rob Bowman, David Nutter and Kim Manners. Those directors have largely moved on; Kim Manners and Chris Carter are the show’s longest-serving directors, having both made their directorial debuts during the second season. However, they are the only directors to stick around so long.

As the “showrunner-as-auteur” model would suggest, television has generally been considered a writers’ (or producers’) medium rather than a directors’ medium. While it is perhaps more nuanced than the “television is a writers’ medium” would suggest, there seems to be a grain of truth in it. However, this approach does tend to overlook the contributions made by directors to the medium. Part of what made The X-Files so unique in the context of nineties network television was the emphasis on visual storytelling.

Spinning the wheels...

Spinning the wheels…

Historically, the role of the television director has been somewhat downplayed for logistical reasons. Directors cannot claim the same level of authorship as writers and producers, due to the demands of a television production schedule:

Because of the highly compressed production schedule, any series will employ several different directors during a season. When the director arrives on the scene, the characterizations, themes and basic style of the show have already been established by previous episodes. In fact, such creative decisions were often made by the show’s producer in the development of the series, and they remain the province of the producer during the run of the show. The director, then, takes an existing, basic aesthetic set-up and works out the details for the episode at hand. When film directors – Steven Spielberg, Michael Mann, David Lynch – work in television, they generally act as producers because that from that position the more important creative choices are made.

This would appear to be changing, reflecting broader changes in models of television production and distribution. It has been suggested that Cary Fukunaga’s work on True Detective and Steven Soderbergh’s work on The Knick propose “innovative new models for director-driven television.”

There is no escape from the fortress of the lizard...

There is no escape from the fortress of the lizard…

The recent spate of entire short-order television seasons overseen by a single director are just the most obvious example of this broader cultural shift. The rise of prestige television on cable networks like HBO has seen more focus on television directors than even before. Directors like David Nutter and Michelle MaLaren garner a great deal of (deserved) attention for their work in the medium. Television directors like the Russo brothers and Alan Taylor are being elevated to big budget blockbusters directly from television.

The X-Files, particularly in its early years, deserves a lot of credit for allowing its directors to put their own stamp on the show and to help shape its visual identity as something unlike anything else on contemporary television. A lot of focus is given to the tremendous writing staff assembled by Carter, but it is too easy to overlook the contributions of people like R.W. Goodwin, David Nutter, Kim Manners and Rob Bowman the show’s unique style and aesthetic. Arguably the biggest issue with the show’s final years is a lack of many of those strong directorial voices.

Up on the roof...

Up on the roof…

The X-Files has had a number of very strong directors in its later years. Michael Watkins’ contributions to the show are somewhat underrated, as are those of Rod Hardy. However neither director remained around long enough to make truly lasting contributions to the visual language of The X-Files. The ninth season will see producer Michelle MacLaren making her directorial debut; she will go on to become one of the most distinctive and respected directors working in twentieth-century television. However, it does feel like there has been a directorial brain drain.

While encouraging writers to direct their own scripts is one way to counter this problem, it does draw attention to the fact that the show’s directorial bench is not as deep as it once was. Given how effective certain writer and director combinations were – Gilligan with Bowman on Pusher or Drive; Wong and Morgan with Nutter on Ice, Beyond the Sea or Tooms – it is tempting to wonder if there are any late-season episodes that missed out on genuine classic status because of that shallower bench.

The moon and back...

The moon and back…

Spotnitz has confessed that he was not particularly eager to direct an episode, and that he had to be convinced by other members of the production team to give it a go before the opportunity passed him by:

The directing was something I was kind of dragged into, kicking and screaming. I didn’t really have a great desire to do it. But I was convinced by a number of people, including David Duchovny, to do it before the chance went away. It was a bad time for me to do it in a way, because there was so much work to do as a writer and producer. We were still trying to figure out the season finale. My show went prep and I had no idea how it was going to end because I hadn’t finished the script. So I was extremely stressed. I had all the issues outside of being a director, plus the pressure of directing for the first time and not being entirely sure how that would go. But nobody told me how much fun it is to direct. You’ve got all these people who are trying to help you succeed. The actors were so good. I was thrilled with Robert and David and Gillian and also Jolie Jenkins, the guest actress who played Leyla Harrison. I was very proud of the show.

Spotnitz does very good work with Alone, even if it is not necessarily the strongest episode of the season. There are a number of nice ambitious shots throughout, even if it lacks the energy or focus of the show’s best directors.

A cold-blooded killer...

A cold-blooded killer…

Alone is unlikely to be remembered as one of the show’s most distinctive or compelling hours, but Spotnitz works hard to make sure that his direction is more than simply adequate or workman-like. There are a number of sequences in the script that are crafted to showcase complicated camera movements, most notably in the shots filmed from the perspective of the monster. The camera is frequently spinning and rotating, creating a sense of forward momentum through these action beats.

While Spotnitz handles his big showcase moments very well, he seems to struggle a bit with exposition and character scenes. He adopts a very matter-of-fact approach that consists of just filming the actors at work. It is not a bad approach by any account, but it does prevent Alone from maintaining or building a real sense of anxiety or tension. This isn’t a problem; after all, these are likable actors playing fun characters, so it is nice to spend time with them. It just means that Alone can feel a bit sedate in places.

"It's not quite a gothic mansion, but it'll do."

“It’s not quite a gothic mansion, but it’ll do.”

Of course, working on The X-Files for seven seasons has given Spotnitz an understanding of how episodes fit together. Writers typically oversee the production of their episodes, supervising the editing and the cutting of the broadcast show. Darin Morgan has described the editing of the episode as the “final rewrite.” According to the commentary, this provides Spotnitz with an efficient and utilitarian approach to directing the episode:

I had never directed before, as I said, so I really didn’t know how to prepare as a director for shooting my material. So I sat with my script in my office at home and I just went and literally designed every shot here in my head, and then when I came to the set I knew exactly what pieces I’d be shooting and how they’d cut together, and more or less I followed that plan perfectly through all the days of shooting for this episode, and really that’s what helped me the most in preparing to direct was that I’d spent so many years in editing rooms watching how film cuts together and problems you have if the director hasn’t anticipated the way film is supposed to go together properly.

It is a nice example of how television production works, and what makes it distinctive as compared to work in film. In television, the writer typically holds more power and influence due to the nature of the work and the medium, fulfilling a lot of the obligations that would typically fall to the director of a film. As such, the transition from television writer to director is not as great as it might be on film.

Tunnel vision...

Tunnel vision…

Alone feels like an affectionate way to begin properly winding down what has been a transitory period for the show. Essence and Existence are both blockbuster episodes of The X-Files, so it makes sense for the show to offer Mulder and Scully (and Doggett) one last “monster of the week” before this particular dynamic is retired. There is something quite heartwarming about the closing scene, as Doggett gracefully allows Mulder and Scully one last moment with Harrison before everything changes.

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5 Responses

  1. Great write-up. Remember when it was hip and edgy to have an audience surrogate?

    “The problem is that the character of Leyla Harrison becomes retroactively tainted by her appearance in Scary Monsters”

    Really? I don’t remember it that way at all. Should I rewatch it? I remember a fandom that basically vowed never accepted Patrick (he has not and will probably never get his due), apart from the most iconoclastic or casual viewers.

    Believe me, no one is quicker to call out the writers than I – but I brushed off Layla’s digs at Robert’s expense… it smelled too much of pandering at a time when the audience was demanding a lot (genuflecting, if I’m honest) from the writing team. I also appreciated how the show didn’t try to back away from Doggett or what made him tick; a lazier show would have retooled him, like the Twelth Doctor, into something more proven, prepackaged, and pre-loved, but that wasn’t the case here. By the same token Duchovny’s shadow would also eclipse the character he was never going to reach that level of acclaim even if the show ran to season 19 or 29, so what’s the use in even hiding it.

    • It’s a fair point, but I think that the fixation on Mulder/Duchovny was at least a co-dependency between the writers and the fans. The eighth season adopted the right approach to Doggett, I think. “He’s here, he’s not Mulder, but he’s a good character in his own right.” Not too confrontational but, as you said, not backing down. And the eighth season was patient. The character basically has no perspective for the first third of the eighth season; even his trauma and suffering in Invocation is internalised in contrast to Mulder’s mourning for Samantha in Conduit. The audience sees Doggett from the outside, rather than aligning with his perspective.

      The problem I think is that the ninth season does back away from Doggett. His history with Knowle Rohrer and Sharon McMahon creates and obvious way to make the ninth season mythology personal, but the show’s not interested. Doggett was an actual soldier, which should have some thematic resonance with the idea of super soldiers, but the ninth season tends to focus more on Mulder/Scully/William than Doggett/Reyes. While this is particularly true in the mythology, it also impacts standalones like Daemonicus or Lord of the Flies or Scary Monsters. Doggett and Reyes occasionally felt like guest stars. But at least the production team gave Robert Patrick Release. He is freakin’ phenomenal in that.

      • Well said. And now I show what a hypocrite I am: I watched seasons 8-9 on an irregular basis; I couldn’t stand Reyes and I thought Scully should headline the show without either of them!

        You’re right, the tail was wagging the dog a bit.

  2. The coin from dreamland stayed as it was as Scully took it back to the office and it was not present when time ‘snapping back’ occurred so stayed as it was, as did mulders water bed. The events of the episode still happened but Mulder Scully and the agents they met on the road don’t remember any of it.

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