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The X-Files: Season 10 (IDW) #18 – Monica & John (Review)

This June, we’re going to be taking a look at the current run of The X-Files, beginning with the IDW comic book revival and perhaps taking some detours along the way. Check back daily for the latest review.

Monica & John feels like a bit of housekeeping as The X-Files: Season 10 moves towards its conclusion.

Put simply, The X-Files was in a very different place in November 2014 than it was when The X-Files: Season 10 launched in June 2013. When IDW initially announced the series in January 2013, it seemed like The X-Files was dead. Following the twentieth anniversary celebrations in October 2013, there was a sense that a revival was on the cards. Even before writer Joe Harris had finished Believers, the rules of the game had changed. The X-Files: Season 10 was highly unlikely to be the “canon” successor to The X-Files for long.

Missing in action...

Missing in action…

Over the next year or so, the details of the revival began to take shape. Something was brewing, even if nobody was sure exactly what. The prospect of a return to television would only be leaked to the press in January 2015, being officially confirmed two months later. All of this was still in the air at the time that Joe Harris was working on Monica & John. The writer has claimed to have no real specific insight into the workings of Ten Thirteen or the longer-term plans of Chris Carter, but he seems aware of anybody that changes are definitely coming in one form or another.

A rare single-issue story, Monica & John plays as a meditation on all the loose ends left dangling at the end of Believers that have been truncated and superseded by the knowledge that those threads are to be tackled by Chris Carter in another media. Monica & John feels like a reflection on the limbo to which those various elements have been consigned, including the Acolytes and the two eponymous agents.

It's not as black-and-white as it first appears...

It’s not as black-and-white as it first appears…

The new mythology teased in Believers was radically different than the mythology that Joe Harris would tease out across the rest of The X-Files: Season 10 and The X-Files: Season 11. That opening five-issue story arc focused on a cult of alien clones trying desperately to find William, with Mulder and Scully still reeling from the loss of the son they gave up to adoption in William. These elements would be quickly abandoned as The X-Files: Season 10 marched onwards, to the point that a lot of threads set up in Believers don’t seem to pay off.

To be fair, the final scenes of Believers do introduce the character who will later be revealed as Gibson Praise, setting up the overall arc of the two comic book seasons. However, the Acolytes and William are quickly brushed aside. Scully’s grief over giving up William for adoption comes up in stories like Chitter, but Pilgrims makes a point to have Mulder tell Scully that the colonists have no idea where William is. The plot thread can be dropped. The Acolytes can be forgotten. William can be left for episodes like Home Again or My Struggle II.

Poster children for discontinuity...

Poster children for discontinuity…

William and the Acolytes were not the only threads left dangling. Early in Believers, John Doggett and Monica Reyes found themselves abducted by the cult. There was no indication as to why they had been taken or where they were being held. More to the point, nobody really seemed that bothered. When Mulder disappeared in Requiem, the entire FBI prioritised a manhunt to recover him. Doggett and Scully remained on the case even beyond Within and Without, with Doggett investigating leads on his own in The Gift.

In contrast, Mulder and Scully seem particularly blaise about two of their own going missing in action. There is not even a discussion about them between Believers and Monica & John. In a way, this reflects the somewhat precarious position that Doggett and Reyes occupy in the larger X-Files canon. After all, it could be argued that the show itself never actively embraced these character. Despite David Duchovny’s absence, Mulder was afforded more agency over the show’s ninth season. Doggett and Reyes weren’t even mentioned in The X-Files: I Want to Believe.

Red for danger.

Red for danger.

That was true of the revival as well. While Duchovny, Anderson and Carter were constantly fielding questions about the return of the show, Patrick and Gish received fewer inquiries. While IDW made every effort to expand their X-Files line, Doggett and Reyes were completely forgotten. The Lone Gunmen got to take centre stage in Conspiracy. Frank Black got his time in the sun in Millennium. Karl Kessel even invented two new characters from whole-cloth for Year Zero. However, Doggett and Reyes were brushed aside.

In a way, this is quite a frustrating way to treat these characters. The ninth season was a very troubled season of television, but it arguably worked best when it focused on Doggett and Reyes over Mulder and Scully; highlights of the year include 4-D, John DoeHellbound and Audrey Pauley. In contrast, the ninth season sunk when it emphasised Mulder and Scully; lowlights included Nothing Important Happened Today I, Nothing Important Happened Today II, Dæmonicus, Lord of the Flies, Trust No 1, Provenance, Providence, William and The Truth.

Reyes-ing hopes...

Reyes-ing hopes…

There is something disingenuous in how Doggett and Reyes seem to have been reduced to footnotes and failures, perhaps most striking in the way that My Struggle II has Reyes betray the X-files and sell out Mulder and Scully to the Cigarette-Smoking Man. The narrative that has developed around the final two seasons of The X-Files treats those seasons as proof that The X-Files could never exist without Mulder and Scully. This seems unreasonable; the eighth season was a success by any measure and the ninth season floundered in its refusal to let go of Mulder and Scully.

It is a shame that the comic books could not find more to do with the characters. In a way, the lack of attention paid to Doggett and Reyes betrays the nostalgic focus of the comic book series. The X-Files: Season 10 is very much fixated on the show’s “peak” years. After all, Being for the Benefit of Mister X is a character-centric issue focusing on a character who died in Herrenvolk, the show’s fourth season premiere. More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man is very much a sequel to Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man, an early fourth season episode.

Badge of honour.

Badge of honour.

For all that IDW worked hard to position The X-Files: Season 10 as an expansion or continuation of the show, it seems awfully fixated on the past rather than the future. Believers made a few nods to developing themes and ideas set up in the ninth season, but those have been abandoned in favour of more iconic and recognisable X-Files trappings. This isn’t inherently a bad idea; after all, the ninth season mythology doesn’t really work. It makes sense to avoid some of the goofier elements like super soldiers and magnetite.

However, it does feel very retrograde and hampers the comic’s appeals to legitimacy. This is not new X-Files, it is just remixed old X-Files. The best stories of The X-Files: Season 10 and The X-Files: Season 11 are those divorced from familiar elements like the return of Alex Krycek or the origin story of Mister X. Joe Harris’ strongest stories are those that find a way to tell stories that build upon the established tones and themes for the the television show while updating them for the twenty-first century; the small town stories in Chitter and Immaculate are great examples.

"What's in the box?"

“What’s in the box?”

The appeal to nostalgia makes a great deal of sense. The fourth and fifth seasons represented a point at which The X-Files was a cultural phenomenon. Given that the series did not have the most dignified ending, it is perfectly rational to want to chase that all-time high. More than that, the contemporary cultural mood was one of nostalgia for the nineties. There was a clear hunger to recapture the glory of nineties popular culture, as demonstrated by everything from Netflix’s revival of Full House to the development of Jurassic World.

In a way, this feels like a logical continuation of the nostalgia that crept in around I Want to Believe, with Resist or Serve treating the seventh season as the end of the show and the Wildstorm comics wistfully imagining a world where the golden age of the fourth and fifth seasons never came to an end. To be fair, the revival would struggle with these same issues. Most notably, My Struggle I is very consciously a remix of the show’s second through fifth season mythology. However, at least My Struggle II tangibly pushes that mythology forward.

Marking time.

Marking time.

In contemporary interviews, Joe Harris acknowledged that fans would frequently get in contact about the two second-generation X-Files agents and that he was a little surprised at how broad and deep the support for these characters had been:

It’s fascinating to me you say that. I think it’s cool, ’cause I like him too. I love when people tell me they love Doggett. Although I remember when the show was out and everybody was like, “!?#@ this guy! I mean, I like ‘Terminator 2,’ but where the hell is Mulder?!”

Stay tuned, though, he will be coming back in some capacity. I like writing him and I thought it was fun having him back in that brief scene. I had no idea what we were going to do with him after that, but I was glad he showed up. And you’re not the first person to tell me they love Doggett, either. I’m shocked by how many people really, really like John Doggett!

Harris confessed to being asked about the fate of Doggett and Reyes “a lot”, and it seems clear that Monica & John is dedicated to answering those fans and tidying away a thread left dangling at the end of Believers.

Hold me.

Hold me.

There is a strange honesty to Monica & John, a wistful sadness of plot threads and characters long abandoned by their authors. Confronted by Doggett, the Acolyte mourns the end of his particular arc and the fact that none of his potentialities came to fruition. “I have watched the skies, searching for a sign,” the Acolyte laments. “I have waited, all this time, for instruction.” The Acolyte is a character forsaken, much like Sheltem in Pilgrims. He explains, “I’ve waited so long for the others to send me a sign and now I’ve gotten one. You’re meant to kill me.”

Doggett still believes that this can work. He still demands answers and reason; he wants a narrative to form from all these little details and set-ups. “You’re coming downstairs with me, and you’re going to tell me why held us all this time,” Doggett advises the Acolyte, as if trying to impose a structure upon his story. “And you’re going to give me a statement explaining why you let us go.” Of course, there is no structure. Whatever the Acolytes had planned for Doggett and Reyes doesn’t matter, because Joe Harris never got to write that story.

Reyes takes a stab at wrapping up some dangling plot threads.

Reyes takes a stab at wrapping up some dangling plot threads.

There is something very cynical in Reyes’ cold-blooded execution of the Acolyte. In a way, it is a very honest plot beat. It is a contrivance that serves to remind the reader that Doggett and Reyes are nothing more than puppets trapped in a narrative that exists at the whim of forces beyond their perspectives. Reyes even gets to make something of an accusation about the writers and production team. “You really don’t get it, do you?” she asks Doggett, harshly. “They forgot about is, John. They forgot about all of us.” It seems perfectly fair.

At the same time, the scene feels like a violation of Reyes’ character in the same way that her appearance in My Struggle II is a violation of her character. From her first appearance in This is Not Happening, Reyes was portrayed as an inherently upbeat and optimistic character who believed in concepts like fate. Improbable is perhaps the best Reyes episode ever produced, a show that simply would not be possible without the character’s cheerful personality and willingness to embrace whatever the universe throws at her.

"Bah. You're not even worth force-choking. Only regular choking for you."

“Bah. You’re not even worth force-choking. Only regular choking for you.”

To have Reyes so brutally and bluntly reject all of that optimism and idealism feels like a dismissal of the character. As with My Struggle II, the character’s agency is stripped away to make a point that feels unduly harsh. Her betrayal of the X-files in My Struggle II plays as a conscious attempt by Carter to play into a facile narrative of the show’s troubled final seasons; in contrast, the accusation that Reyes makes in Monica & John is very apt and very true. Nevertheless, there is something more than a little disingenuous about all this.

Although Monica & John brings the two characters back into the fold, it should be noted that they are also shuffled quietly off stage. Reyes and Doggett make an appearance in The X-Files Christmas Special 2014, but are promptly reassigned to comic book limbo. The two agents are absent from the events of Elders or the entirety of The X-Files: Season 11, despite the fact that Mulder and Scully seem to need all the help they can get. Even as Monica & John brings the characters back, it brings them back so that they might be forgotten once again.

"Monica who?"

“Oops. We kidnapped the wrong Bartlett daughter.”

There is something more than slightly cynical about writing a comic about how Doggett and Reyes have been marginalised and forgotten only to keep marginalising and forgetting them.

You might be interested in our reviews of IDW’s “season 10” of The X-Files:

2 Responses

  1. Great review, as always Darren. Love your X-File reviews, especially the comic reviews.

    I’ll confess to being one of the few fans of Season 9. I love the mythology of it, as hokey or hard to follow as it may have been at times. I love the mythology episodes as well as the monster of the weeks. In particular, I love Doggett and Reyes and think they really work great together as a team. One of the things that made me fall in love with the Season 10 comic to begin with was the appearance of Doggett at the beginning of the second issue. Love the mentions of the super soldiers and the appearance of magnetite. In short, it felt like a continuation of Season 9, which is one of the reasons why I liked that opening arc so well.

    I’m with you on the Doggett/Reyes absence in the IDW line. In the early days of the series I can remember e-mailing them saying how cool it would be to get a Doggett/Reyes spinoff or mini-series. Still hasn’t happened, but I still think it’d be a viable idea. I’d even love a one-shot.

    I was a little disappointed Doggett didn’t make an appearance in the revival, but even before it aired I realized maybe there was a reason Robert Patrick didn’t want to come back. If they were going to undermine him the same way they undermined Reyes, now I know what it was.

    Don’t know why they can’t find some kind of way to incorporate Doggett and Reyes into the new narrative as supporting players of some kind.

    • Thanks Bud.

      I’d agree with a lot of what you said.

      Robert Patrick is an interesting case. He’s stated in interviews that he is very proud of the work he did on The X-Files, and he should be. However, there have been various competing reasons given for why he didn’t come back. He argued that he didn’t want to retread old ground, which seems a bit strange for a guy who has consistently been a good sport about playing the T-1000. Then he argued that he didn’t have time with his commitment to Scorpions, which is a bit more plausible.

      After watching My Struggle II, I wondered the same thing you did. I’m generally not a big fan of an actor dictating the direction of their character, but I can totally understand Patrick being reluctant to return of Carter considered a similar arc for Doggett. (There is also something quite dismissive in the way Carter talks about Patrick’s declining to return, about not having to write Patrick out because he never wrote him in.)

      Personally, I’d have been happy to have Patrick or Reyes play a small supporting role as fellow agents in Babylon or something like that. Or even just an acknowledgement that the show went on for two years after David Duchovny left.

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