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The X-Files – Season 8 (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.

The eighth season of The X-Files would be the perfect last season of the show, and a pretty solid first season of a new show born from the ashes.

In many ways, television is a conservative medium – more in an artistic sense than a political one. Network television is largely built around churn, a conveyor belt model that is designed to generate product according to tight schedules and oppressive deadlines. Routine and familiarity make the production schedule easier to manage, particularly for shows with large season orders. More than that, if a show has figured out an approach that has worked, it makes no sense to deviate from that pattern.

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Why risk changing something that has been proven to work and to which the audience has responded? For all the (deserved) praise The X-Files gets for popularising (or repopularising) serialised storytelling in prime-time television, it was just as conservative as any other show. The production team were working under incredible pressure, so it makes sense they would not want to change a formula that made sense. As such, the really big changes to the show were largely driven by external factors.

The mythology largely developed from Scully’s abduction in Duane Barry and Ascension, an attempt by the writers to work around Scully’s abduction. The decision to film The X-Files: Fight the Future between the fourth and fifth seasons was at the behest of Fox rather than the production team. David Duchovny forces the move to Los Angeles in the sixth season. The eighth season represents the most seismic shift in the creative life of The X-Files, and – as with those other big decisions – it was largely driven by choices outside the production team.

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In hindsight, it seems obvious that the show could not continue forever. Duchovny and Anderson were headlining a show that filmed twenty-odd episodes a season. The show had begun diffusing its focus in the fourth and fifth seasons by focusing on members of the supporting cast, but it was still effectively a two-lead show. That is a tremendous strain. Something had to give. It turned out that something was Duchovny. At the end of the seventh season, with everything coming down to the wire, Duchovny made it clear he would not appear in a full eighth season.

This forced the show to change, but in a way that afforded some measure of stability. The idea of doing The X-Files without either Mulder or Scully was horrifying to the production team and horrifying to certain sections of fandom, but Duchovny’s willingness to stick around for half of the eighth season afforded some measure of compromise. The change did not need to be jarring. Easing David Duchovny out of the show would allow for a smoother transition. It would allow the show to say a proper (and extended) farewell to Mulder.

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This is perhaps the strongest aspect of the eighth season, the sense that it has a certainty and finality that the seventh season lacked. Even during the post-production of Requiem, the production team had no idea whether the seventh season would be the final season of the show. As a result, the seventh season is decidedly non-committal on the issue of closure. The eighth season is a lot more enthusiastic about the prospect of wrapping things up, once and for all. There is a sense that this is the final season of a version of the show, at the very least.

The eighth season finds itself in the impossible position of having to imagine The X-Files without Mulder. The only real issue is that it succeeds all too well. The biggest problem with the eighth season is that it is followed by a ninth season.

xfiles-without2aThe eighth season ends with a shot of Mulder and Scully together in Scully’s bedroom. Scully is cradling her child – their child. Mulder leans in. The two kiss. In a nice visual callback to his work on the teaser of Die Hand Die Verletzt, his first episode of the show, director Kim Manners decides to afford Mulder and Scully some privacy. The camera retreats, gently and softly pulling back so as to allow Mulder and Scully the chance of a life outside of the X-files – or even outside of The X-Files.

It turns out that William is not a hybrid. He is not a messiah. He is not a “Chosen One.” The aliens who show up at his birth leave disappointed, silently climbing back into their cars and driving off without saying a word. Scully is allowed to take William home and meditate on what all of that means. William is not a part of the conspiracy or the mythology. Mulder refers to William as a “miracle” at several points during the eighth season, most notably in the final scenes of Per Manum and Existence.

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The miracle is that William is a perfectly healthy baby born out of the love between a man and woman who care deeply from one another, and who are finally allowed to form the family that both of them have been pursuing for so long. Mulder is finally restoring the sense of structure that he lost following Samantha’s abduction, while Scully is miraculously able to reclaim the life she surrendered to work on The X-Files. In many respects, this is the happiest possible ending for Mulder and Scully. There is life beyond the X-files. (Sorry, The X-Files.)

What is remarkable about the eighth season, and what is not discussed enough, is how carefully the season is structured to reach this point. When examining the structure of The X-Files, it is traditional to complain about how the mythology became unfocused or how it seemed to slip through the fingers of the production team. While these criticisms are fair, they tend to gloss over the smaller and smarter structural decisions. The third season, for example, is structured so as to be roughly symmetrical. Themes typically bleed through seasons, rather than across the series.

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Admittedly, it occasionally gets a bit lost in translation. The fourth season is distorted by the confusion around the launch of Millennium, while the last-minute decision to press ahead with Memento Mori creates a gravity that distorts the season around it. The fifth season is trapped between telling the stories that the creative team want to tell, and having to circle back around to a feature film that was produced before the season went into production. But there are clear themes and ideas that run across seasons of The X-Files, both major and minor.

The eighth season has perhaps the clearest structure and most well defined themes, with only the third season coming close. The third season was structured to open with two mythology episodes, feature a two-parter nine episodes from the start of the season, another two-parter nine episodes from the end, and closed on two mythology episodes. At the same time, the writing staff repeatedly emphasised the themes of cultural memory and legacy, which echoed out of the mythology into standalones like Oubliette and Hell Money.

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(Indeed, despite the fact that the third season established a clear barrier between the mythology and the standalone episodes in D.P.O., it also suggested that everything was thematically connected. D.P.O. featured an angry young man with an absent father raging against the heavens, perhaps itself a reflection of Mulder. Hell Money featured James Hong as a cigarette-smoking villain espousing many of the ideas suggested in Piper Maru and Talitha Cumi. The idea of infectious evil in Grotesque leads to the black oil in Piper Maru.)

The eighth season has two long-form goals set up by the events of Requiem. While the decision for Scully to become pregnant was entirely down to the production team, Mulder’s absence was enforced by David Duchovny’s eleventh-hour contract. However, both factors shaped a clear arc for the eighth season. Mulder would have to disappear for the first stretch of the season, returning when David Duchovny was available. Scully would not only be motivated by a desire to find Mulder, but also driven by a curiosity about her own miraculous pregnancy.

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These two factors inform the structure and flow of the season. The inevitability of Mulder’s return and of the birth of William provide the show with two separate ticking clocks. Given how the mythology was actually extended by business decisions taken by the studio around the production of the feature film and the decision to produce a sixth season, it is nice to have two very clear (and fixed) story markers in a given season of television. Duchovny would return after the half-way mark, and it made sense to push the birth of William to the finalé.

This means that the eighth season already had a reasonably well-defined structure even before the television audience had actually seen Requiem. Of course, this was not a guarantee of success of itself. The fifth season was afforded a very clear objective with the production of Fight the Future; in theory, the production team knew where the fifth season was to end before it even began, but that didn’t stop the show from introducing a whole heap of new concepts into the final third of the season (Spender! rebels! Fowley! Gibson!) that ended up ignored by the movie.

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Perhaps the eighth season was given a tighter focus by outside factors. The logistics of David Duchovny’s appearances had to be very carefully managed, to the point where a double wearing a mask was used in This is Not Happening and that Vienen was filmed before Three Words. It seems likely that these constraints placed a firmer emphasis on coordination and organisation. Given all the limitations imposed on them, the production team had to have a very firm idea of what they were planning to do with David Duchovny before they booked him.

The result is a season that is very clearly structured and delineated. There is an impressive consistency to the eighth season. Starting with night shoots in Without, the eighth season commits to a much darker aesthetic – both literally and figuratively – than the surrounding Los Angeles seasons. In terms of mood, the eighth season harks back to the glory days of the show’s time in Vancouver. Old friends even pop by to visit; Gibson Praise turns up in Within and Without, Jeremiah Smith plays a role in This is Not Happening, while the black oil returns in Vienen.

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There is also a more ambitious storytelling style at work. The eighth season can be divided into clear thirds that serve to advance the arc and edge ever closer to that final image of Existence. In some ways, it could be as a classic three-act structure, with the first third setting everything up for the second third to appreciate the status quo and then resolving everything in the third act. This is the first time that a season of The X-Files has adopted so clear a structure, resembling the archetypal hero’s journey for Frank Black in the second season of Millennium.

The first third runs from Within through to Via Negativa – or, perhaps, Per Manum if the season is watched in production order. The first act is about setting everything up and establishing the new status quo. Doggett is introduced in Within and Without, while Scully tries to fit into Mulder’s shoes in Patience and learn to trust Doggett in Roadrunners. Depending on how the audience chooses to watch the season, this first third ends with Doggett solving his first X-file in Via Negativa or Scully trusting Doggett with knowledge of her pregnancy in Per Manum.

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There is something very clever about this first third. The eighth season never avoids Mulder’s absence. Indeed, the character even appears at the end of the opening credits in episodes that do not feature David Duchovny. Allowing a full third of the season to pass before the characters really come to terms with Mulder’s departure and Doggett’s arrival is a smart decision. Tellingly, this first act of the eighth season ran from November through to December, closing before the Christmas break.

The eighth season handles Mulder’s departure very well, but it also takes a great deal of care introducing Doggett. Although the production team (and the show) was always clear that Doggett was not a replacement for Mulder, the character was always going to face resistance from an engaged and energised internet fandom. The temptation on introducing Doggett would have been to ram the character down the audience’s throats, to engage with the novelty of a new lead after seven years of Mulder and Scully. Instead, the first third of the season waits to get to know him.

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The first third of the season largely keeps its distance from Doggett, with Invocation and Redrum teasing a glimpse at the new lead character without engaging with his internal perspective. Although Invocation alludes to the sad story of Luke Doggett, the full story is not revealed until the final stretch of the season. There is a lot of care taken in how the information is revealed to the audience; first through a psychic in Invocation, then through Reyes in This is Not Happening and finally through flashback in Empedocles. There is a clear escalation at work.

(The eighth season is great at build up and pay off. Per Manum might have made more sense airing right before Christmas at the end of the season’s first act, but it works just as well in the February Sweeps. Realising that nothing will excite audiences like the return of Fox Mulder, the production team aired a host of his appearances in the February Sweeps. The episodes were broadcast out of production order, teasing a mostly silent Mulder performance in The Gift before seguing to a larger flashback role in Per Manum before his return in This is Not Happening.)

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Doggett is very much a mystery to the audience, and to Scully. The production team work very hard to make sure that Doggett earns Scully’s trust, demonstrating that he has a long way to go. He is introduced receiving a glass of water to the face in Within, and Scully makes a point to run off to Utah without him in Roadrunners. Doggett literally does his homework to work on the X-files; Patience, Roadrunners, Vienen and Essence all take care to point out that Doggett read every X-file in the office. He is not showing up without putting the work in.

With that in mind, it makes sense that the first third of the season ends with Doggett opening up. In Via Negativa, the audience is literally invited inside Doggett’s head; the camera takes a trip into a nightmarish world where Doggett imagines himself effectively killing the X-files, a potent fear for the production team at the time. These anxieties are revisited over the course of The Gift and Alone, in which Doggett finds himself investigating X-files on his own terms and his own time.

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Of course, Per Manum provides a similarly satisfying close to the first third of the year. The episode ends with Scully finally deciding to trust Doggett with the details of her pregnancy, information that Scully fears could be used against the X-files. Allowing Doggett to receive that information is effectively welcoming him into a circle of trust that includes Mulder, Scully and Skinner. The episode ends with Doggett reaffirming his desire to find Mulder and to restore The X-Files.

It is worth noting that Robert Patrick is phenomenal in his work as Doggett. There is a machismo to the performance, but it is tempered by an incredible vulnerability. Doggett is perhaps more aggressive than Mulder or Scully, but he is also more open. Patrick nails all of this, playing Doggett as a character who is constantly wary of the world into which he has wandered. Patrick’s performance is very much on par with that of Gillian Anderson, crafting a nuanced and well-rounded character who feels like more than just the sum of their parts.

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Of course, this is one of the problems with the eighth season. Anderson is amazing; Robert Patrick is fantastic. However, the two performers simply do not share the same chemistry that Duchovny had with Anderson. That is entirely reasonable; the duo of Duchovny and Anderson is very much a “once-in-a-lifetime” find. Duchovny and Anderson play so perfectly off one another that no other combination could possibly compare. Doggett and Scully working brilliantly independently, but they work less well as a team.

To be fair, part of this is the show’s own fault. For extended stretches of the second and sixth seasons, the show insisted that the heart of The X-Files had nothing to do with paranormal investigation and everything to do with the chemistry between its two leads. When Mulder and Scully were taken off the X-files, The X-Files did not become “the Spender and Fowley show” – as much fun as one episode of that show might have been. Krycek’s introduction and immediate betrayal in Sleepless and the doppelgängers in Fight Club warned the audience to accept no substitutes.

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So the second third of the season struggles a bit. Having spent seven or eight episodes setting up the Doggett and Scully dynamic, it becomes immediately clear that they will never escape the shadow of Mulder and Scully. The mid-season “monster of the week” episodes feel rather lifeless, scripts that range for mediocre to terrible that would have been elevated by some cheeky banter or flirty dialogue like Rush or The Amazing Maleeni had been only a season earlier.

Instead, episodes like Surekill and Salvage feel bland and generic; they feel like a one-note rip-off of The X-Files airing on a rival network. Scully and Doggett work in relative silence, trading exposition rather than one-liners. Badlaa and Medusa fare a little better by allowing for some space between the two leads; Badlaa (half-heartedly and lazily) focuses on Scully trying to cope with the absence left by Mulder, while Medusa allows Doggett to play the hero one last time before Mulder returns.

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The middle stretch of the season is undoubtedly the weakest point. Trying to replace Mulder would have been foolhardy and reckless. The first and last thirds of the season acknowledge as much by arguing that Doggett occupies his own unique space in the mythos. The middle section suffers because it draws attention to Mulder’s absence without doing anything to resolve it. Surekill, Salvage and even Badlaa would all have been improved by Mulder’s presences. Imagine Mulder wisecracking (sorry!) about the method of transport in Badlaa.

If anything, the middle third of the eighth season argues for allowing Scully to retire with Mulder. The duo are so heavily linked that it is impossible to imagine one without the other. Every moment that Scully is on-screen during the Mulder-less stretches of the eighth season, the audience is reminded of what she has lost. This works fine in the context of episodes explicitly or implicitly about that loss, but it works less well in the context of “business as usual.” There can be no “business as usual” so long as Mulder and Scully are separated.

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This does not bode well for the ninth season, where the “Mulder-less stretches” effectively amount to every episode except The Truth. Scully’s presence in the ninth season is a constant reminder of Mulder’s absence, one half of a duo that only really works when they come together. The eighth season at least has the advantage of building towards Mulder’s eventual return and peppering Mulder cameos during the first two thirds of the year. The best the ninth season can rustle up is a half-hearted voice-over.

Even if the middle section of the year has its problems, it does an excellent job setting up the final third. Mulder’s return is handled superbly. This is Not Happening marks the perfect point of transition, ending on a brutal and effective cliffhanger that kept audiences on the edge of their seats for five whole weeks. One wonders if the muted response to The Lone Gunmen was rooted in the anxiety about that particular cliffhanger. Fans certainly weren’t ready to laugh at that point in the year.

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When Mulder does return, the show immediately begins transitioning towards a point where Mulder and Scully can retire gracefully from the show. Three Words is essentially about how Mulder’s choice of “fight the future” ahead of “I love you” will only get him killed. Empedocles, Vienen and Alone all feature Mulder growing more comfortable with Agent Doggett, so that Mulder might come to accept his fellow agent as a worthy custodian of the X-files. Existence suggests Mulder’s place is with Scully and William rather than chasing conspiracies.

Throughout the final third of the season, the show’s old-fashioned mythology plots to reassert itself, only to be cut down. The black oil resurfaces in Vienen. Ducky Haskell hatches plots around alien babies in Per Manum and Essence. Krycek shows up with the “vaccine” in DeadAlive. In each case, the attempt to reassert the conspiracy is brutally subverted. It would appear that some things belong in the past, including a lot of the show’s mythology. Perhaps Mulder and Scully should retire with it.

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Mulder’s emotional arc across that final act of the season is to learn to accept that William is his son and that he loves Scully. Although the show was incredibly cynical in its handling of Scully’s pregnancy, it feels entirely appropriate. Mulder’s off-colour jokes about the pizza man in Empedocles and the Lone Gunmen’s curiosity about the identity of the father in Three Words have nothing to do with conspiracies and aliens, instead tying back into Mulder’s doubts and insecurities.

Mulder’s absence at the start of the eighth season could arguably be conceptualised in terms of Scully’s pregnancy. Scully fears being abandoned by the man she loves, left to raise the child alone without support. The X-Files has always been fascinated with fathers and their children. Mulder has been searching for the truth, but his interactions with Deep Throat and the Cigarette-Smoking Man suggest that he is also looking for his father. William Mulder is a man who destroyed his family, whom his son only ever knew as a distant figure. Can Fox Mulder do any better?

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The eighth season could be seen as Mulder facing up his own troubled relationship with his father. As early as Roland and Aubrey, it was made clear that Mulder was scarred by an emotionally remote father figure. As Fox Mulder faces the possibility of becoming a father, can he become a better father figure than Bill Mulder was? Can Mulder be more than a father-shaped absence in the life of his young son? A lot of The X-Files is rooted in a sense of betrayal between generations, “a riff which has not healed” to quote Ghost in the Machine. Can Mulder heal it?

As such, the eighth season seems like the perfect place to leave Mulder and Scully, and it builds very carefully and very consciously towards that point. Everything else is really a distraction. The super soldiers seem very generic and very bland, but that is very much the point. They are not intended to occupy the audience’s attention; they are intended to provide visceral thrills as the real emotional drama plays out between Mulder and Scully. The eighth season is more intimate than the surrounding seasons; more deeply personal.

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In the first seven seasons of the show, the conspiracy mediated between the “human” and the “alien” – between the “self” and the “other.” It was suggested that mankind’s only hope of survival was to embrace the alien, to become a “hybrid” species. It was suggested that “purity” was the enemy. However, the eighth season roundly rejects that philosophy. Mulder’s transformation into a hybrid in The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati ultimately gave him a fatal “undiagnosed brain condition.” When Krycek suggests William is “more human than human”, it turns out to be untrue.

The eighth season firmly delineates between “self” and “other.” The enemy no longer comprises of rich old men who betrayed their countries and their families, the narrative is no longer one of liberal guilt. Instead, the enemy is quite literally alien as the colonists strip out the middle-men and take an active role themselves. The super soldiers are not hybrids or clones; they are aliens that have learned to disguise themselves as human. The eighth season is a narrative of enemy infiltration.

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This is just one respect in which the eighth season seems to foreshadow the War on Terror. Much has been made about The Pilot of The Lone Gunmen, but the parent show itself touches upon some very timely themes. This is Not Happening explores the culture of fear and surveillance. Three Words opens with an attack upon the White House. Vienen fixates upon oil supply and foreign relations. Existence hints at a military-industrial complex that has grown too far out of control. In some respects, the eighth season responds better to the War on Terror than the ninth.

At the same time, it does feel like the eighth season has become a little more conservative than the seasons that came before. Stories of human weakness and collaboration have been replaced with a narrative about secret invaders infiltrating and corrupting the structures of government. It is very much the paranoid narrative that many of the more extreme voices would push in the wake of 9/11, suggesting that the country was being “infiltrated” by outsiders. It is almost a 24 narrative a season before 24 arrived.

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This is a result of the season’s clear and conscious delineation between “human” and “alien”, between “self” and “other.” In Two Fathers and One Son, the only hope of standing against colonisation was to create a hybrid. In Vienen, the only resistance to “purity” is racial purity – undiluted genes prove immune to the noxious influence of the black oil. At the end of Existence, Mulder and Scully come together with their normal, healthy, (seemingly) one-hundred percent human baby. The nuclear family triumphs.

To be fair, it is perhaps a little too easy to define the show as “liberal” or “conservative.” As with most people, The X-Files exists on a spectrum where it cannot definitively be said to line up with one position or the other. After all, the show has been pushing Mulder and (particularly) Scully towards that image of heteronormative family life since the fourth season. As much as the first seven seasons of the show explored the twentieth-century through a prism of liberal social consciousness, they were also prone to romanticising unquestioning belief.

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If anything, the eighth season seems a little less unquestioning in its faith. The season borrows quite liberally from both the nativity and the passion; Mulder’s death and resurrection represents the fourth and final time that the show casts him as Jesus Christ, while the birth of William is framed to evoke the birth of Christ with a guiding star and three wise (Gun)men. However, there is something ever-so-slightly “off” about these homages, suggesting a slightly more secular (or at least low-key) take on religious metaphor than the show usually enjoys.

DeadAlive offers a version of Mulder who is resurrected after three months rather than three days, but the series builds towards the idea of Mulder retiring with the woman that he loves rather than continuing his quest before ascending to a higher plane. Indeed, if Mulder’s eighth season arc is intended to mirror that of Jesus Christ, it is a secularised version of the religious figure. Mulder’s story recalls those controversial theories about Jesus Christ retiring with Mary Magdalene.

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In a way, this conclusion to Mulder’s arc seems quite clever. After all, Mulder’s pursuit of the truth has been repeatedly likened to the grail quest – explicitly in scripts like Anasazi or En Ami. Even in the eighth season, The Gift seems to position Mulder as the Fisher King and guardian of the grail. So there is something quite cheeky in the resolution that the eighth season proposes to Mulder’s quest. The “holy grail” becomes not an object to be pursued, but the continuing bloodline. A very literal humanising of a mythic journey.

Similarly, the birth of William also trades on imagery associated with the nativity, with Mulder guided to by a star to the place of the birth. However, the big twist at the end of the eighth season is that William is not special in the grand scheme of things. The colonists fear the cosmic significance of the child, but the conclusion suggests that there is nothing cosmically significant about William. He is a smaller sort of miracle. Indeed, the nativity is further subverted when Mulder accepts his place as the child’s father; it was not an immaculate conception.

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At the same time, the eighth season suggests that organised belief systems are inherently untrustworthy. Failed doomsday cults pop up in Via Negativa and This is Not Happening. In DeadAlive, the reborn Billy Miles praises the colonists in terms that hark back to Red Museum or Fearful Symmetry, with with a much more sinister undertone. It makes for quite a contrast with the vision of faith presented in episodes like Revelations or All Souls or Signs and Wonders. Then again, the eight season suggests that perhaps divinity is not found without, but within.

The biggest underlying issues with the eighth season come from the seasons around it. The seventh season’s weird undead status meant that the eighth season had to rely on a lot of heavy-handed retroactive continuity for its story beats. Within adds a retroactive detail about Mulder suffering from an “undiagnosed brain condition” following The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati and across the entirety of the seventh season, which is a terrible plot and character beat for multiple reasons.

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It feels like the kind of plot development that should have at least been foreshadowed during the seventh season. The Cigarette-Smoking Man’s attempts to harvest Mulder’s brain matter led to his decline and illness in stories like Closure or En Ami, but there was no indication that Mulder was in anything other than perfect health in late-season stories like Fight Club or Je Souhaite. Even Requiem offered no real indication that Mulder knew his death was approaching, although it would suggest a reason for him to wander off to be abducted.

From a character perspective, it suggests that Mulder spent an entire season lying to Scully about his mortality; given everything they have shared, and everything the relationship has cost her, it seems incredibly tone-deaf. At best, it represents a level of self-centredness only implied by Never Again. It feels weird that Scully never even bothers to raise this with Mulder upon his resurrection. The eighth season never quite addresses what it was like for Mulder to confront his mortality, outside of a few (mostly silent) flashbacks in The Gift.

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However, the biggest problem with Mulder’s terminal illness is that it adds absolutely nothing to the arc of the eighth season. It provides Doggett with a theory about how or why Mulder might have faked his disappearance, but it is a theory that the audience knows to be untrue because they know Mulder didn’t fake his disappearance. It would be more convenient to just have Doggett believe Mulder faked his disappearance without the “undiagnosed brain condiction”, because that “undiagnosed brain condition” adds no credibility to his case to the audience.

(It is not as though it adds any credibility to Doggett’s case within the world of The X-Files either. After all “Mulder faked his disappearance” is always going to be a more likely explanation than “Mulder was abducted by aliens” to any rational person. The threat to shut down the X-files at the start of Requiem would provide at least some logical basis for Doggett’s argument without the burden of retroactively adding a whole other plot thread on top of an already muddled seventh season.)

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The other problem with this thread is that it does not really go anywhere. The Gift is really the only episode of the eighth season to make use of Mulder’s undiagnosed brain condition in any significant way. The show seems to acknowledge how incredibly shallow this particular plot element is, dropping it with a throwaway line of dialogue at the start of Three Words. In a season that already feels overstuffed, wasting so much energy on a dead-end plot can seem frustrating.

Similarly, it is very difficult to place the events of Per Manum in the context of the seventh season. Although both the script and the direction suggest that Mulder and Scully tried to conceive during the seventh season of the show, it makes no real sense from a perspective of character or continuity. After all, Mulder knew about Scully’s infertility as early as Emily and it seems out of character for him to keep her ova a secret for three years following Memento Mori. Not to mention the awkwardness of failing to mention his looming death.

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If the legacy of the seventh season creates problems for the production team, the eighth season is seriously undercut by developments during the ninth season. Most of the major thematic and character beats in the final stretch of the eighth season are undercut brutally and effectively by the ninth season, starting with the desire to retire Mulder and Scully. Having worked so hard to form a family in Existence, Mulder abandons them forty-eight hours later in Nothing Important Happened Today I.

After spending a third of the year manoeuvring Mulder to the point where he no longer needs to chase conspiracies, the first scene after the credits of Nothing Important Happened Today I puts Mulder back on the road thanks to a conspiracy. After being told that William is the most organic and natural of “miracles”, Nothing Important Happened Today I and Nothing Important Happened Today II suggest that he has magic powers while Provenance and Providence insist that he really is a “Chosen One.”

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Perhaps the most damning transition into the ninth season is the way that the show so aggressively undercuts the work put into developing John Doggett as a character. The Doggett-centric episodes of the eighth season suggest that Doggett’s journey has nothing to do with colonisation or little green men. Stories like Invocation, Via Negativa and Empedocles all suggest that Doggett is tied into a world more in tune with that of Millennium than with Mulder’s pursuit of conspiracies and aliens.

In particular, Empedocles suggests that Doggett is tied into a nexus of human evil rather than a conspiracy to hand the planet over to a sentient virus. Indeed, Empedocles suggests several thematic and visual connections between Doggett’s own personal history and that of Mulder, as if to suggest that Doggett might find his own story interweaving with a thread of evil in the same way that Mulder’s quest brushed up against a plot against the American people. The eighth season hints at a different direction for the show beyond Mulder and Scully.

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Of course, a mythology built around a “thread of evil” is very different from a mythology built around something as concrete as colonisation. It is a lot more ethereal and abstract. Mulder had a hard time holding on to proof of a tangible plot, so what chance does Doggett have wrestling with something that has no such substance? Then again, the difference is what makes it interesting. The mythology of John Doggett suggests something very distinct from the familiar mythology of colonisation and invasion. After eight years, the show needed something fresh.

Unfortunately, all of that was abandoned during the ninth season, when the show decided to return to the well-worn realm of government conspiracy and alien invasion. Doggett was demoted to a supporting character on the show, second to a female lead with one foot out the door and a male lead who wouldn’t appear in front of the camera until the season (and series) finalé. A lot of the power and weight of the eighth season is undercut by what follows, as if the production team got cold feet after daring to make such a bold departure.

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Still, allowing for these problems, the eighth season is a remarkable accomplishment. It proves that there is life left in The X-Files. The show had survived the most traumatic transition that a show like this could face. The show finished the eighth season in a stronger position than it had in years. Unfortunately, a lot would change between the broadcast of Existence and Nothing Important Happened Today I.

You might be interested in our reviews of other seasons of The X-Files:

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

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2 Responses

  1. I feel like there are some comparisons to Millennium season 3 coming in our near future. I didn’t watch much of either Millennium season 3 or season 9 of The X-Files so I could be wrong. I can see the clear comparison to Millennium season 2, however. I read as part of the press for the revival that Glen Morgan watched the entire series. I wonder what he thought of season 8.

    • Ha! Fair point, although not as many as you might think. The production circumstances were different enough, I suspect.

      But I am curious what Morgan made of those final two seasons.

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