John Doe 9×7: I’ll take the bad as long as I can remember the good.


JohnDoe38.jpg

Every time I try to walk away…

Here’s the thing about “John Doe”. It’s a beautifully crafted hour of television. Writer Vince Gilligan and his soon to be collaborator on Breaking Bad, first time director Michelle MacLaren, present us with an episode that looks like it’s ready for the big screen. Robert Patrick outdoes himself now that Doggett is finally given something interesting to do again, and he’s flanked by a motley crew of impressively convincing supporting actors.

The thing is, I’m incurably bored by “John Doe” and like the Eagles said, I can’t tell you why.

Is it the slow pace? Is it the token nature of the supernatural element slipped perfunctorily in at the end of the episode? Is it the atmosphere of heat and exhaustion?

Whatever it is, it puzzles me. But try though I might, by the ten minute mark I always tune out. I can never watch this episode in a single sitting. I get distracted and then rewind, distracted and then rewind. It’s a sad cycle.

It’s sad because there’s a lot of good going on here. First of all, as only the second time a woman has directed an episode of The X-Files since Gillian Anderson’s “all things” (7×17), it’s somewhat historic. Visually, it’s also an obvious homage to the film Traffic with all of its washed out outdoor scenes.

Speaking of film, I’ve always thought Vince Gilligan’s work on the show had a cinematic edge. That is to say, his X-Files often came across as stories that could easily be adapted for the big screen. His episodes are uniquely suited to Mulder and Scully, made more impactful by Mulder and Scully, but quite a few of them could be reworked without Mulder and Scully and still stand as independent stories. For example, “Unruhe” (4×2), “Pusher” (3×17), “Tithonus” (6×9), “Drive” (6×2), “Roadrunners” (8×5), etc.

“John Doe” feels even more like a mini movie, especially since unlike the days when the X-Files were run by Mulder and Scully, there’s no need to follow the show’s standard storytelling format. There’s nothing perfunctory about it like, say, a Scully autopsy. This isn’t familiar. And not only does our lead not know who he himself is, neither do we, really. We’re still getting to know John Doggett.

It is nice to see more of Doggett, to see more of his relationship with his son. Now we know he also had a wife. Whatever happened to Mrs. Doggett I wonder? I assume that one day she woke up and got out of their marital bed. I’m also assuming we’ll find out before the season wraps up, along with more of the details of Luke Doggett’s kidnapping. Meanwhile, more than anything, we learn a lot about Doggett’s character. Even without his memory and without his bearings, he keeps his integrity… and his skillset. And he’s not afraid of pain, not even the pain of the loss of his son, because he knows that his experiences have shaped him and he can’t lose that pain without losing himself.

All that sounds great, doesn’t it? They’re still doing new and different things on The X-Files, aren’t they? So what’s wrong with me, then?

I’m starting to think these kinds of amnesia tales just don’t interest me, personally. I LOVE “Demons” (4×23), in which Mulder has a limited amnesia. But when someone forgets how they wound up in hell and the audience watches them find out, that’s an interesting mystery. When someone forgets who they are and the audience already knows who they are, that’s not as much of a mystery. That’s a character study. We’re watching John Doggett remember John Doggett.

How he even came to be in no man’s land Mexico, while supposedly the big reveal of the story, is almost irrelevant to the story. The villains are obvious early on. The only question is how they did it, and even the how is given only brief screen treatment. A memory vampire? Really? It’s probably better that they didn’t spend too long dwelling on that, now that I think of it.

No, this is all just a showcase for Doggett the man. And maybe, Doggett, she’s just not that into you.

Verdict:

There’s no real X-File here. It could have been a memory vampire. It could have been a mugger who knocked him down so that he hit his head. The result is the same.

Then again, I think this recent crop of episodes is proving that Doggett and Reyes aren’t that suited to traditional X-Files. They needed something new built around them.

And it’s for that reason that I respect “John Doe” even if my attention span refuses to bend to my will. We needed episodes that sought to differentiate Doggett and Reyes from Mulder and Scully and create a unique bond between them and the audience. The X-Files needed to feel different in their hands.

So here’s what I learned about our new leads this episode –

They’re both more worldly than either Mulder or Scully were.
They’re both ready for a firefight.
They’re both built Ford tough.

The end.

I think Reyes is due for her own character episode now, isn’t she?

B+

Factoids:

It was after this episode aired that Chris Carter announced this would be the final season of The X-Files.

He should have done that after “Trust No 1” (9x).

Michelle MacLaren would go on to direct for both Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead among many other shows. Go ‘head, girl.

Mrs. Doggett is played by the real life Mrs. Patrick. Aww.

According to Wikipedia, Mulder’s old apartment set was dressed up and reused as the Mexican hotel set. Symbolic?

Scully is completely useless here. Yes, that counts as a fact.

The actor who plays Domingo, Frank Roman, does an incredible job. Also a fact.

Just One Question:

Why was Doggett investigating without Reyes in the first place?

Best Quotes:

Reyes: Y acerca de las drogas? Están en su inventario también? Usted ya sabe… cocaina, AGCO, John Deere?
Molina’s Lawyer: I’m sorry, I don’t speak Spanish.
Molina: She says I sell drugs.
Molina’s Lawyer: Please don’t speak Spanish anymore.

———————–

Caballero: Why would you want to remember? You can’t tell me you’re happier now, because you recall your life. I saw it all. So much pain. Why would you want to struggle, so long, and hard to get that pain back?
Doggett: Because it’s mine.

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20 responses to “John Doe 9×7: I’ll take the bad as long as I can remember the good.

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  3. Alright, alright! Finally a good one! At least watching this season isn’t all for naught (not counting some lovely choice scenes in the finale). I enjoyed this one, especially after the last episode. Maybe I’m just separating this so much from the original series (and also hating what’s happened to the mythology), but I’m completely happy for a character study of Doggett. I like Doggett now. Scully, I’m sorry to say, annoys me. I don’t hold it against her and no one will ever replace her in my heart, but this season doesn’t do her any favors. So, yeah, give me more Doggett and Reyes. Never thought I’d be saying that…

    Visually I liked it. The sun and the oppressive heat. The grime and the sweat. The side characters were also engaging. Doggett does better with cases and stories that are more grounded in reality, so the fact that the x-file side of this is so lite works. We also got a bit more background on Reyes, which was good. I look forward to an episode that delves deeper into her background.

    • Also, you mentioned that it was after this episode aired that CC announced that this would be the final season. Do you know any more specifics about that? I assume they were still filming episodes since the finale definitely feels like a major wrap up. Do you know which one they were up to? Did they make this decision based on ratings or was CC just tired of it all and didn’t want it to fall into anyone else’s hands like this season almost did?

      • No, except that it was the Wednesday after the show aired that he went to Fox and told them it was over. They were definitely still writing and filming, but I don’t know how far they were in the process. The show was planning to say goodbye to Scully regardless, so I would guess quite a few things were already conceived and only had to be reworked.

        “We lost our audience on the first episode. It’s like the audience had gone away, and I didn’t know how to find them. I didn’t want to work to get them back because I believed what we are doing deserved to have them back.”

        I don’t know what specifically caused him to pull the trigger. Likely, it was a combination of factors. But the show’s ratings had slipped dramatically. As of “John Doe” airing, they had been in the single digit millions for the last 6 episodes. For the record, the show had been pulling double digit millions since Season 1. Only 4 episodes in Season 1 rated lower and they didn’t come in a row.

        Whatever Chris may have thought, his audience was sending a clear message. The whole thing is sad.

        • It is really sad. No one wants to see their baby go down in flames, but that’s exactly what’s happening here. I was really curious about when they knew this was the end because I’m trying to figure out why they made Scully do what she did in “William”. Obviously we can talk about it when we get to that episode, but just…if this was the END end in their heads, why go in that direction?

          I also find it hard to believe that anyone who was a part of this show was shocked that they’d lost a vast majority of their audience this season. If I had watched the show as it aired, I’d pretty positive I would have checked out right after season 8.

          • I can only guess how Chris Carter must’ve felt watching his show die like this, especially after they had been on top for so long. The thrill of victory heightens the agony of defeat. But I’m glad he had the power to make the decision to cancel it rather than see it canceled by Fox. Seeing “canceled” on The X-Files’ record would have killed me and I can’t imagine it would have made CC happy either.

            I think, though, that maybe he was too close to the material to see why it wasn’t engaging even diehard fans. And I’m sure they were working as hard as ever. I’d be really curious to hear what the various members of 1013 have to say about Season 9 now.

            • “It’s like the audience had gone away, and I didn’t know how to find them. I didn’t want to work to get them back because I believed what we are doing deserved to have them back.”

              I’ve never heard that quote before, but that explains a lot. From quotes I’ve read, CC sometimes seemed not quite to understand what fans loved about the show. I wish I could find these again, but I remember reading that early on, he said that the real draw to the X-Files was the story, not the characters, and then around season 9 he stated that he saw no reason the show couldn’t run another nine seasons with new leads and a new mythology. So he cranked the mythology up to 11 and tried to keep on rumbling along, not realizing that for most of us, it wasn’t just the cases: it was Mulder and Scully solving the cases.

              • I meant to add, and not realizing that if no one could follow the original mythology, it’s probably bad to make the new mythology twice as convoluted.

              • I’ve read other interviews, old interviews, were he does really seem to understand and agree with the appeal of Mulder and Scully’s unique dynamic and the attachment that the viewers felt toward them. But I think everybody, Fox included, underestimated just how foundational not only the fans’ love of their partnership was, but how the way they investigated cases together sold the premise of the show and made these crazy situations seem important and entertaining. For the most part, things weren’t as interesting without them making it interesting.

                So he cranked the mythology up to 11 and tried to keep on rumbling along, not realizing that for most of us, it wasn’t just the cases: it was Mulder and Scully solving the cases.

                I so agree and even belabored the point in my review for “Daemonicus”. It wasn’t just the content or the production or even the excellent writing. It was the way Mulder and Scully brought it all home for the audience.

    • Yes!! Doggett is a much better fit with stories that are closer to reality and less fantastical. Or with X-Files that are easily ambiguous like “Via Negativa”.

      And the side characters are the unsung heroes of this episode. They make the environment Doggett finds himself in completely believable. Their style also makes them feel more like real world characters than the slightly stylized acting that’s developed over the years on The X-Files.

  4. My absolute favorite episode of season 9! And yes, I have to admit, I’m even including The Truth in that. I like to look of it, I like the focus on Doggett’s character, and I happily ignore the memory vampire part. This episode sealed my deep love of Robert Patrick—specifically in that moment when he asks Reyes about his son, and Reyes just looks at him, and he remembers what happened . . . he was so good in that bit.

    I think what you said about Doggett and Reyes not being suited to traditional X-Files is spot-on. I’ve always said that I would have loved to watch those two in a cop procedural that isn’t the X-Files. I love them individually, I love them as a team, I believe them as investigators, but . . . I just never loved them running the X-Files. At least now I can watch Robert Patrick in Scorpion, which has the most absurd and improbable plots but I’m obsessed with his character’s psuedo-father-son relationship with the protagonist. Actually in Scorpion he has a daughter who died as a child; apparently there’s just something about Robert Patrick that screams “government agent whose kids die young.”

    • I haven’t seen Scorpion but now I have to look it up. Robert Patrick did some great work on this show and it’s a shame the viewership went away just in time for his work to be missed. Doggett and Reyes needed a slightly different style and a different set of expectations.

      apparently there’s just something about Robert Patrick that screams “government agent whose kids die young.”

      Well there’s something specific for the old resume!

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  8. One question: why does Doggett all of the sudden not understand Spanish? It’s already been established that he understands basic Spanish, and now he doesn’t even know how to respond when he’s asked his name?
    Honestly, the worst thing about this season are the plot holes. It’s like they don’t even know the show they’re writing on!

    • And on that note… I learned Spanish in Puerto Rico and, though I wouldn’t call myself fluent, I can recognized an accent when a person is speaking Spanish. That was all BS about Reyes growing up in Mexico. Her accent sounded like that of a white American girl reading lines in Spanish without understanding any of the meaning or inflection. I suppose young Gish-walker did the best she could.

  9. Well, the first thing I can say I liked about this show was Patrick finally getting to show his chops. The scene with Reyes where he finally remembers his child had died is heartbreaking and so much more emotive than I have ever seen Patrick play Doggett. (not including his getting angry).

    The second thing was the mystery of what happened to him and some of his backstory.

    The way the episode was shot was interesting…Made me feel the heat of Mexico and the makeup for Patrick was very good.

    I think this is my 2nd fav of the season so far.

    Onwards.

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