I thought this theme was finished, but “Medusa” brings us back to another classic subclass of X-File, the kind where our two leads mix with a rag tag group of experts in a remote location and stumble upon a dangerous, previously undiscovered organism. I’m thinking, of course, of “Ice” (1×7), “Darkness Falls” (1×19), “Firewalker” (2×9), even “Detour” (5×4) and “Dod Kalm” (2×19). “Medusa” is of the same order, it just takes place not in a primeval forest or in the bowels of a volcano, but in the otherworldly, subterranean realm of the Boston underground. And if Season 8 has been good for anything, and it is good for something, it’s for bringing us back to the classic scare. It’s also good for Scully expressions, but that’s a conversation for a later episode.
I haven’t heard much mention of “Medusa” on the interwebs, so I can only assume it doesn’t get either much love or hate. From me, it gets love. It may not be the most radically inventive episode, but it doesn’t need to be. It just needs to work.
Maybe it’s the way the neurons fire in my brain, but this skin-eating creature freaks me out. I get involuntary chills every time I see those electric sparks. It’s not the grossest thing The X-Files has ever done, but it bothers me. The irrationally obstinate local authorities are back and they bother me too, but in a different way. It is what it is, I suppose. Someone has to get in the way of our protagonists, but sometimes I wish the antagonism had a legitimate motive. But without an obstacle, our team wouldn’t have anything to team up against.
Scully and Doggett spend most of this episode separate, which is how they’ve also spent most of the season. Up to this point, they haven’t felt like much of a team at all despite being given such a great emotional set up back in “Roadrunners” (8×5). But one of the things I like most about “Medusa” is that I finally feel like Scully and Doggett are working together and not just alongside of each other. Oddly, their separation here bonds them because they’re forced to depend on each other.
This is especially a test for Doggett, who admirably accepts Scully’s refusal to enter the tunnels herself without question and follows her every instruction without resentment, even when she sends him into clear danger. See that? A real man’s man can take orders from a girl without sacrificing any of his manliness.
Doggett has to learn to trust Scully, which so far he hasn’t had reason to do yet. Up until now he’s questioned Scully’s theories and conclusions. He’s questioned her judgment. But in the face of dire circumstances and opposition from a suspiciously contrary lieutenant, Doggett shows remarkable solidarity with Scully.
Scully already has reason to trust Doggett, but she still hasn’t trusted him with the truth of her pregnancy. This is the first time we’ve seen her consciously reluctant to take a physical risk and much of the emotional tension in this episode relies on the audience’s awareness of Scully’s pregnancy and the potential jeopardy to the baby.
This is also the first time that Scully shows real concern and care for Doggett, a care possibly fueled by guilt that by keeping him in the dark she’s putting her partner in more danger. Here she’s asking him to risk dying a gruesome death without her physically present to watch his back and she’s not telling him why. Knowing Doggett, he would’ve done it in a heartbeat, but still.
And let me just say again that I like Doggett. I like his military-bred willingness to do what needs to be done. I like his respect for Scully and her seniority in the X-Files. I like that he’s willing to risk his life to save a jerk who knocked him out and left him for dead. That’s a good guy, right there. And for the first time, I feel like I’m not just watching Doggett I’m actually rooting for him. Scully isn’t the only one who’s becoming emotionally invested in the man.
Much thanks to writer Frank Spotnitz for reminding us that not every X-File is about paranormal phenomena or alien conspiracies. The X-Files division investigates the unexplained, including events with purely scientific causes.
I’m also grateful to see Scully acting something other than bored or sad. Righteously angry and guilty will work for a change of pace. She’s also not acting like Mulder! Whew! For what feels like the first time this season, she’s solving an X-File as Scully the Scientist and not as Scully the Wannabe Mulder.
One weakness I do spot, besides the inexplicably obdurate local authorities, is the miraculous appearance of the little boy in the tunnels. You know, the mute little boy who somehow knows exactly what Doggett is looking for and leads him to it, the one who serves no purpose other than to allow Scully to connect the dots and whose origins are left unexplained. Actually, to be really real, the whole ending is rushed and weak. Somehow, that doesn’t ruin the experience for me, though. Because that’s what it is: a tense, dark, sweaty experience that lasts for a while and then suddenly lets up – A description that applies to several of my favorite episodes.
Hello, Penny Johnson Jerald. I loved to hate you on 24.
Scully asks Doggett to uncover bodies killed by some unknown contagion. Is she nuts? Didn’t she learn anything from “F. Emasculata” (2×22)?
I enjoyed seeing Scully go off on Deputy Chief Karras. She was this close to a Scully Squared ™ moment.
Scully and Doggett share a cute moment in the hospital when Doggett is clearly embarrassed that Scully might see something she shouldn’t while he’s wearing his hospital gown. I can’t help but remember how easily Mulder walked around Scully in his underwear as early as “Fire” (1×11).
Deputy Chief Karras: Agent Scully is a medical doctor. Who they tell me has a lot of experience with equivocal deaths.
Melnick: Equivocal? [Laughs] Hey, I mean you’re dead or you’re not, right?
Scully: Deaths for which there may be many explanations or for which an explanation may be hard to find.
Lyle: [To Doggett] What about you?
Doggett: I’m just a good shot.