“Empedolces” is one of my favorite episodes of Season 8. The X-File itself isn’t all that engaging, but Agent Reyes is established as a trustworthy character, Doggett’s backstory is at long last revealed, and we get more pure Mulder and Scully interaction in this one episode than in any other episode from the time of Mulder’s return to the season finale.
This X-File isn’t a fright fest, it’s a springboard for character and therefore audience discussion. There is an evil that leaps on a person when they’re emotionally vulnerable and can cause them to commit acts they never thought themselves capable of. I’m feeling echoes of “Irresistible” (2×13) in Mulder’s musings on the nature of evil, that once again, evil isn’t something so easily explained by psychology. Perhaps sometimes there’s an actual force behind it and people are open to that force at certain moments. Some things mommy issues can’t account for.
This X-File also finally lets us into Agent Doggett’s world. We now know how he and Agent Reyes met. They met on the case of Doggett’s missing son who was later found dead. It turns out, Doggett does have some previous experience with the paranormal, he just talked himself out of believing it. He and Reyes both saw a vision of his dead son burned to ashes that matches visions Reyes is having again on this new case.
It’s about time now for Doggett to start believing at least a little bit. He’s seen things he can’t explain all season. He’s even experienced things personally in “Via Negativa” (8×7) and physically in “The Gift” (8×11). No, what’s holding him back from belief isn’t lack of knowledge or experience, it’s the nagging guilt that if the paranormal is real then there’s another avenue of help that he failed to use to try and save his son.
Fortunately for him, Reyes is an unlicensed therapist and a pushy one at that. She’s not going to let him get away with lying to himself any longer. And she’s not going to let Mulder get away with ignoring Doggett’s plight.
You would think that since Reyes is a believer she and Mulder would get along. And they kinda do in the end. But the new-agey, spiritual type has always annoyed Mulder as evidenced by his relationship with the late Melissa Scully. Then again, Mulder’s also annoyed by the Doggetts of the world and this particular Doggett is not only stubborn in the face of loose coincidences but this non-believing heretic is in charge of his precious X-Files. Mulder only hears Reyes out in the first place because he thinks she’s going to give him some dirt on Doggett. It takes a lot for Mulder to swallow his pride and learn to tolerate Doggett, but he does this episode. He’s still not sold on him, but he does make overtures of peace.
When you think about it, these two men have experienced similar losses. They both know what it’s like to have a missing loved one and for that loved one to turn out to be dead. If anything, Doggett’s loss as a father is even greater than Mulder’s. Mulder and Doggett have already been established as very, very different men so I think giving them this single point of contact was a good choice. It forces Mulder to recognize Doggett as a man and not just as an interloper. Mulder shows stirrings of empathy after hearing what Doggett’s been through, but the only thing that manages to fully convince him to make an effort to help Doggett is Scully.
Scully is off the playing field this episode by virtue of the football in her tummy. Like in “Via Negativa”, Scully is sidelined by threatening the pregnancy. But whereas in “Via Negativa” that felt like a poor plot device to get her out of the way and one that distracted the audience from the plot at hand, I’m not as mad at it here because it serves a purpose other than just getting Scully out of the way.
Drugged out, bedridden Scully becomes the fount of all wisdom, leading Doggett and Mulder toward each other on the path to peace. Seeing how far Scully’s come in her own beliefs causes Doggett to reevaluate his own fear of believing and Mulder to reevaluate Doggett’s potential. Scully being in the hospital also forces Mulder to shift his focus off of being separated from his precious X-Files.
This is the first time we’ve seen Mulder engaged with Scully’s pregnancy. Between bringing a very personal gift for the baby and holding a vigil at her hospital bedside, he’s no longer the disinterested and distracted Mulder of “Three Words” (8×18). If anything, he resents Reyes bringing him this X-File that takes his attention away from caring for Scully and the baby.
Scully: I feel like I’m stuck in an episode of Mad About You.
Mulder: Well, uh, yeah. But, small technicality: Mad About You was about a married couple and we just work together.
ER Nurse: Who are you? The husband?
ER Nurse: Then you wait outside.
Mulder’s being set up to make a choice. He can choose to prioritize the X-Files and keep running and running and running, or he can choose to define his relationship with Scully and focus on protecting her and the baby, on making sure that she doesn’t lose anything else because of this quest of his. That was the choice he was in the middle of making back in “Requiem” (7×22) right before he was abducted, to stop fighting for the X-Files and let Scully have her life back because “there has to be an end.”
It may seem odd to think of Mulder being seriously tempted by the possibility of domestic bliss, but this is the same Mulder who dreamt of dropping out of this conspiracy rat race, settling down and having kids in “The Sixth Extinction: Amor Fati” (7×2). Even as far back as “Home” (4×3) he showed signs of longing for the simple life. Perhaps these latent desires are merely bubbling back to the surface.
What will Mulder do? He has until the end of the season and David Duchovny’s contract to tell us. But I’m pretty sure that look of joy and wonder on his face as he feels the baby in Scully’s tummy is what they call “a clue.”
In some ways this is the reunion of Mulder and Scully that “Three Words” couldn’t be because Mulder had to deal with the immediate aftermath of his abduction. Their banter is as golden as ever, maybe better after Mulder’s long absence. Mulder seems to be more at peace with his situation now and even more so by the end of the episode, which is part of the point. All of the episodes from Mulder’s return to the season finale are about fleshing out interpersonal relationships. There’s very little by way of spooks and scares. There isn’t even much conspiracy.
There are rumors about the pizza delivery man and those are worth every second of this episode. However much 1013 may be trying to tease us and milk the “Who’s the Baby Daddy?” plot up to the very last second, “Empedolces” makes it obvious that Mulder and Scully at least believe this baby is theirs, Mulder’s insinuations about the pizza man notwithstanding.
I only have two nitpicks with this episode besides the lackluster X-File and the cheesy 80’s horror movie special effects.
The resolution is more than a bit of a copout. We go straight from “We have to find the connection, Doggett!” to “Don’t worry about finding the connection, Doggett!”. I mean, really. But as I said, this doesn’t exist as a story unto itself so much as it’s a vehicle to set up the characters. There’s a time crunch to phase out Mulder and Scully and establish Doggett and Reyes before the season ends, so these developments don’t happen as gradually and naturally as one might have wished.
The other nitpick is Doggett and Reyes. I like them and I can see that they’re going to be a good team. But in this episode they’re paralleled against the best, skeptic and believer to somewhat reformed skeptic and believer. Doggett and Reyes can’t possibly shine in comparison. Sorry, guys. My screen actually lights up when Mulder and Scully are on it.
Scully’s reduced role also allows Reyes to get some needed airtime.
Mulder’s final Elvis joke… I’m tearing up just thinking about it.
The scene where Mulder puts his hand on Scully’s belly reminds me of Scully putting her hand on Mulder’s chest to feel him breathe in “Deadalive” (8×15).
It’s that kid, Jay Underwood, from that Disney movie Not Quite Human and its sequel. He also showed up in Chris Carter’s Millennium.
I also recognize Denise Crosby from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Her second claim to fame is that she’s Bing Crosby’s granddaughter.
That last line of Scully’s, though. That was a little on the nose, dontcha think?
Reyes: What if this is a thread of evil… connecting through time, through men, through opportunity, connecting back to you. In India, in Africa, in Iran, in the Middle East, in the Far East, most of the world… they take it as a given. They see evil in death the way other people see God in a rose.
Mulder: I saw Elvis in a potato chip once.
Scully: I was just about to jump in the shower but I was waiting for the pizza man.
Mulder: You got something going on with the pizza man I should know about?
Scully: The pizza man?
Mulder: Well, correct me if I’m wrong but you just said you were waiting for the pizza man to jump in the shower.
Scully: No, what I mean was the pizza man’s usually late, and so… You want to come in?
Mulder: Thank you.
Mulder: You miss your regular pizza man, don’t you?
Scully: [Meekly] Yes.
Mulder: [Feigns devastation]
Scully: [Cheerful now] That’s okay. He’s coming by later.