I remember being good and truly freaked out by this episode the first time it aired, and I’m not easily disturbed. This rewatch too, I made sure to watch it with the lights on and my door open. Sure, we’re used to creepy paranormal happenings on The X-Files, but these are some dark, dark images. It’s so dark that I had never watched it again until now.
The good news is, that meant that other than knowing it was dark, I had no preconceived notions or solidified memories of it. I came to “Via Negativa” with an open mind.
Uncle Frank wrote this one. And by “Uncle Frank” I mean Frank Spotnitz. Why do I call him “Uncle Frank”? I think it’s some kind of awkward outlet for my tightly governed affections.
When it came to The X-Files, Uncle Frank had a funny way of bringing out the best in everybody else. He was Chris Carter’s right hand man for the mythology episodes, also co-writing Fight the Future and I Want to Believe with him. When he wasn’t making a point of keeping me guessing with the mythology, he was busy cracking me up as part of the John Gillnitz trio (John Shiban – Vince Gilligan – Frank Spotnitz) who specialized in writing crazy goodness. His own solo offerings have been tragically few and far between, but so far I’ve loved all of them: “End Game” (2×17), “Our Town” (2×24), and “Detour” (5×4). So how did the two of us wind up here, Frank, with me sucking my breath through my teeth in the heaviness of horror?
It seems it’s Doggett’s turn to have the best brought out of him; Doggett who’s had a rough time of it being forced to take Mulder’s spot in the X-Files division. It’s time to give him something to do other than be wanting in comparison to Mulder and be rescuing Scully all the time. Here he’s on the trail of a killer who can’t be caught because if you catch him, it really means he’s caught you.
In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t completely understand this plot. But I don’t think it’s about the plot. The plot is a vehicle to bring us the imagery. I don’t understand the imagery either. Except that it’s dark and evil and one can only take so much of it. I couldn’t have sat through it for more than a one hour episode of television. I could barely do that.
Doggett: Just ’cause I’m assigned to the X-Files you want me to think like Scully or Mulder would. You got the wrong guy. I need facts, not wild ideas.
Doggett doesn’t really understand what’s going on either, but he too is disturbed. Yes, he’s a different type of investigator than both Mulder and Scully. His isn’t the ordered scientific mind nor the disordered mind of the fanatic. But one trait he does share in common with Mulder is that he trusts his own instincts. In this case, his instincts lead him to a conclusion that his mind can’t process: Cult leader Tipet is psychically killing people in their sleep.
I’m still not sure why Tipet is killing. I gather that he accidentally reached a lower rather than a higher state of consciousness, or that “Via Negativa” is telling me that those two states are one in the same. It’s suggested that he kills to prevent others from reaching that cursed state, but while that makes sense for his followers, it doesn’t make sense for the two F.B.I. agents, the homeless man or Doggett. Tipet seems reluctant to kill, yet somehow he must. Another thing I’m not sure about is where the threat of Doggett killing Scully came from. Are his visions of her death meant to induce Doggett to kill himself?
If so, he very nearly succeeds. Doggett nearly goes mad trying to figure out what’s a dream and what’s reality. Or does he nearly go mad? Maybe he just dreamed he did.
That whole dream sequence was wonderfully acted by Robert Patrick who finally gets to do something other than just be a good guy. It’s good to see Doggett discombobulated and uncomfortable instead of collected and capable. And I’m glad his first up close and personal experience with the paranormal happened when Scully wasn’t around. This way, she didn’t prompt him to come to certain conclusions. Actually, she seemed to talk him out of his conclusions right there at the end, so I’m not sure if Doggett’s growth has been partially undone or if he’ll be taking this experience with him into the future.
The nice thing about episodes that are low on Mulder and Scully is that some other of our favorite characters get to come to the forefront. So, see? There’s a silver lighting to every cloud. Okay, so Doggett isn’t most people’s favorite. But who isn’t a fan of Skinner? And who doesn’t like the Lone Gunmen? If that’s you, please don’t answer. Some secrets are best kept.
Skinner seems to be drinking the “I am Fox Mulder” Kool-aid which does make me roll my eyes a little. But it’s still good to see him interact with Doggett one on one. I enjoyed that scene they had together in “Without” (8×2) as well and I think they have good chemistry. We’re so used to Mulder and Scully that we don’t get to see two strong male leads share the same screen space very often and it’s a nice refresher.
Doggett also gets introduced to the Lone Gunmen, and while that’s a cute scene, color me confused. I thought Langly’s first name was Ringo? Or maybe it is Richard, nickname Ringo? As in Richard Starkey, Ringo?
Anyways, “Via Negativa” is a risky, shocking, effective episode. It’s a trip down memory lane I’m not sure I’ll ever take again willingly, and I’m quite sure I won’t be taking any acid trips to reach a higher plane. But I must say that Robert Patrick’s looking pretty darn good.
Another way Doggett uses his instincts: Checking the hospital register for Scully’s name.
On that note, it’s sweet of Doggett to be so concerned about Scully’s welfare right after his own near death experience.
Watching a man take a razor blade and slice his forehead open is not something I ever want to do again.
At the time, memories of the mass suicide of the Heaven’s Gate cult were still fresh, so this kind of story resonated.
Our first look at Doggett’s place – the first X-Files agent with a house.
Those aren’t the footprints of someone who’s walked in blood. Those are the footprints of someone whose shoes are bleeding.
So Scully really is going to be in the hospital every other episode this season.
Yo, 1013. If there’s nothing wrong with the baby, don’t make us think there’s something wrong with the baby. The welfare of The Scully Spawn automatically trumps in importance anything that might happen in a one-off episode. A plot point that major shouldn’t be used as a distraction or, worse, a way to merely get rid of Scully. Thanks. Peace.
Since when would Mulder consult the Lone Gunmen on paranormal cases? Did I miss something? Am I wrong or did he not use Chuck Burke for that?
Agent Crane is working under Skinner now?
I don’t get Kersh. I don’t get him at all. First he wants real world answers. Then he doesn’t care if he gets any answers. Is he really acting on someone else’s orders or does he just have a psychological disorder? Right now he’s being difficult just to be difficult, and that isn’t the behavior of a character acting logically within his universe but a character who’s being used to create a problem whenever a problem needs to happen.
Why Doggett turns off the lights after having a vision like that is a mystery that will never be solved.
Doggett: A third eye?
Frohike: We all have a third eye. If we could open it, we’d see a new reality, one closer to God. At least that’s what Kesey told me on the bus back in ’64.
Langly: You were not on the bus with Kesey in ’64.
Frohike: Hey, I got the pictures to prove it, my long-haired friend.
Langly: Before or after you partied with the Stones at Altamont?
Frohike: Don’t be a boob, Altamont was in ’70s.
Doggett: What if Tipet could invade his victims’… consciousness in their sleep? I mean, that’s why you’d be afraid to fall asleep, right? If you thought your nightmares might come true?
Byers: You believe that?
Doggett: No… but if Tipet does… he’ll need more drugs… to keep killing. [Leaves]
Frohike: That’s not bad for a beginner.