It’s been a hard road. But for all the frustration of David Duchovny being half in, half out all season, and the blasphemy worthy of Beelzebub that is Scully having a partner who’s not Mulder, the bald-faced truth is I actually prefer Season 8 to Season 7.
Stop, stop! Don’t panic! Everybody breathe!
It may not have been the way I would have preferred it to happen, but David Duchovny’s absence woke everybody up. There was passion again and a sense of urgency, from the acting to the writing. For too long, for all of Season 7 – which is ironic since “The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati” (7×2) was all about Mulder’s renewed will to fight – there had been nothing driving Mulder and Scully, nothing that you felt like they were fighting for. Come Season 8, Scully’s fighting for Mulder’s life and their future with their child, the latter part of which fight Mulder joins when he graces us with his presence again. Also, Mulder leaving meant we had a reunion to look forward to and, while it may have been rushed, these two characters did not disappoint.
But if I may back it up for a moment to the improved writing again, when it comes to Monster of the Week episodes, Season 8 may be the scariest season of them all. I don’t scare easily and while The X-Files has regularly thrilled me, it’s never actually made me uneasy before. But there were moments this season that I thought were honestly frightening. Moments I wouldn’t watch in a room with the lights off. I’m thinking of you, “Via Negativa” (8×7).
I think the writers lost their crutch and found out they could walk again unassisted, albeit with a limp. They couldn’t rely on the failsafe of that old black magic that was the Mulder and Scully partnership. Together, those two could elevate even the most mundane episodes, make an insignificant finding appear the key to all mysteries. And it was on that foundation that Season 7 leaned a little too heavily, with lackluster plots and performances sneaking through and held afloat by desperate appeals to the characters’ chemistry.
In Season 8, since they couldn’t give us Mulder and Scully, and since Mulder and Scully couldn’t give them a head start off the mark every episode, 1013 pulled out all the stops to remind its audience that The X-Files could be freaky. Period. It’s like they figured if they couldn’t squee us, they’d scare us. I honestly have no idea whether it was in desperation or confidence, but our favorite writing team definitely upped their game.
That praise delightfully and duly given, Season 8 still had its problems. Serious problems.
1. Scully starts to slip.
Now, when I say this, it has nothing to do with Gillian Anderson’s performance as Scully. Season 8 is, without question, Gillian’s best year of acting on The X-Files and that’s saying a lot… a lot, a lot. Probably more than we should get into at this hour.
No, Scully was acted beautifully. Some of her characterization, though…
Scully doesn’t have much to do except miss Mulder and worry about her baby…. Scully will never again have much more to do except miss Mulder and worry about her baby. Oops. Spoilers.
Of course she needs to be upset about Mulder, but I wish she’d been given a more active role in investigating Mulder’s abduction. I realize the abduction plot was stretched out to make room for David Duchovny’s return in the latter half of the season, but the result is that Scully spent long stretches of time not even mentioning Mulder let alone looking for him. Instead, she was working through her mixed feelings about her new partner who was both worthy and unwanted.
Some of that may have been necessary, but not all of it. We’ve seen Scully work with temporary partners before. And she did so while still remaining true to her core characterization. Yep, I’ll see your “Chinga” (5×10) and raise you a “Tithonus” (6×9).
This Scully takes ten standalone episodes to gel with her partner and ten episodes to realize that she can’t solve cases pretending to be Fox Mulder. Why would she need to? *whispers* She’s solved them as a skeptic before.
I get that she’s on an emotional rollercoaster and it makes sense for her to resist liking Doggett and it makes sense for her to try to feel closer to Mulder by thinking like he’d think and doing what he’d do. But Scully is a smart and sensible woman. Having her work through the same issues for so long felt like the series had her caught in an ouroboros… and me stuck on a treadmill.
2. In with the new before we’re out with the old.
I’m a fan of Doggett and I like Reyes too. What I wish for them and for the series is that they’d had time to develop as characters away from the looming spectre that was Mulder and Scully.
The idea was to get the audience interested in and attached to them by the time Season 9, if there was a Season 9, started. Season 9 wasn’t confirmed till after the season finale was shot and not long before it aired. If and when Season 9 did come, it would come without Mulder.
Again, I get it. We needed to bond with Doggett and Reyes in time for us to want to tune in to the premiere of a Mulder-less Season 9. But I submit that this plan backfired. Or maybe it was destined to fail regardless, I don’t know. All I can say is that as much as I kept my mind open to Doggett and Reyes and even appreciated their contributions in Season 8, the new skeptic and the new believer sharing screen space with the old skeptic and the old believer only made me more sure that while the show might be able to survive, the magic would be gone.
Episodes like “Empedolces” (8×17) and “Alone” (8×19) showed a promising dynamic between Doggett and Reyes, but up against the hard earned connection Mulder and Scully showed us in their brief scenes in both those episodes, Doggett and Reyes couldn’t help being less interesting in comparison.
It’s impossible to ever know and I may be wrong, but I suspect Doggett and Reyes as a team would have benefitted from being completely removed from Mulder and Scully and given a fresh start Season 9 or placed in their own spinoff.
3. Is that a mythology or are you just happy to see me?
Season 8’s mythology was a jumbled mess of the old and the new, as if 1013 wanted to change things up but were afraid to flip the switch outright. To be sure, most casual fans were so confused by the mythology as it already stood, both the core mythology of Seasons 2-6 and the brief pitstop into creation theory that was the beginning of Season 7, that springing something totally new on them without any connection to what came before probably would have lost them completely.
I concede that the transition to something new needed to happen, but it was a rough, uncertain transition. The character of Gibson Praise was brought back after a two year absence, Jeremiah Smith after four. Both were again dropped unceremoniously, Gibson when he was on the verge of finding Mulder, Jeremiah when he was on the cusp of saving him. And two things we haven’t heard about since the 1998 movie, the Black Oil that was to be the means of alien invasion and the phrase “Fight the future”, both showed up once more only to just as quickly die in episodes “Vienen” (8×16) and “Three Words” (8×18).
1013 is dropping large hints that old things are passed away and all things are become new. At the same time, they’re making inconsistent connections between the old and the new, basing the new mythology of the Super Soldiers on what came before without giving us a reason for or a logic behind the evolution.
I humbly submit that we needed a clear end to the old mythology, with the loose ends tied up and Mulder and Scully set free from their quest, before we moved into a completely different conspiratorial territory that would be uniquely suited to Doggett and Reyes.
4. That’s just my baby daddy.
Baby William. Sweet little baby William. He, for me, becomes the major headache of both Seasons 8 and 9.
We first found out about Scully’s pregnancy in the heart-wrenching cliffhanger that was “Requiem” (7×22). Then and in the Season 8 premiere, Scully seems to be living with the assumption that, despite being declared barren, she and Mulder are having a baby. She all but admits to Skinner that her drive to find Mulder is fueled by her pregnancy, i.e. I don’t want to have this baby and lose its father at the same time.
But then “Per Manum” (8×8) comes along and with revisionist history comes perplexities of nations. Now we’re told that at some point in Season 7, when we were previously led to believe that Mulder and Scully were having a sexual relationship, Scully either before or after or in the middle of said relationship asked Mulder to donate sperm to her quest for conception. Shocker – the IVF treatments Scully underwent were administered by a fertility specialist who had secretly worked for the Syndicate and was still carrying on experimentation in alien-human hybridization with unsuspecting mothers. Shocker – Scully may have been one of them.
But then “Essence” (8×20) comes along and we’re told that this is a very, very, very special baby. No, it’s not normal. It’s an uber Scully, a super human. And the Super Soldiers want to kill this Super Baby because it carries within itself the potential to resist colonization and possibly save humankind.
But then “Existence” (8×21) comes along and… Psych! Just kidding. Everything’s exactly the way you thought it was at the end of Season 7. We were just messin’ with ya.
Somewhere and at some point, I imagine the conversation went a little like this:
How do we get our audience back? I know! We’ll make them wonder again whether or not Mulder and Scully are a couple. Hey, it’s not like we absolutely said that they were sleeping together, we just showed Mulder splayed out naked in bed. There’s deniability there. And then we’ll tease them with whether or not Scully’s baby is Mulder’s. That’ll work because we know they lurve Mulder and Scully. That’ll get them to stick around all the way to the finale. We’ll make them beg for it, then give the people what they want.
Stop it. Tricks are for kids.
Which brings us to…
5. Lot’s wife syndrome.
Season 8 spent too much time looking backward to Season 7 to spark interest in current events. It should have spent more time making current events interesting.
Everyone knows that Mulder and Scully’s partnership is at the heart of the show, however you may feel about ships and the destinations they sail to. 1013 knows it too and Mulder being gone for half the season only served to intensify the palpable presence of Mulder and Scully’s history, not diminish it.
Since there was bound to be a void due to Mulder and Scully being apart, and since fans were and are ravenous when it comes to the two of them, it seems like the idea was to fill that void by continuing to evolve their relationship… by devolving it.
What I mean by that is that we were retreading old ground. Mulder and Scully are in a romantic relationship… or are they? Mulder and Scully are having a baby together… or are they? Mulder and Scully don’t keep secrets from each other… or do they? Mulder and Scully were having the time of their lives Season 7… or were they?
There’s a real irony here because while Chris Carter once swore that Mulder and Scully would never become a couple, by playing these mind games with the audience, their coupling ended up dominating the series and the search for clear answers about their relationship ended up being the main draw for those loyal enough to tune into the Season 8 finale. This is a tragedy.
All this hemming and hawing and revisionist history also resulted in a crazy pregnancy timeline and, even more irritatingly, Mulder’s magically disappearing brain disease. It’s not even subtle. Mulder was retroactively made to be dying in Season 7 not because the plot would move the characters forward, but to shock the audience. It was shamelessly designed to manufacture tears. Then, that job done, it all goes away like nothing ever happened. Mulder hears the good news of his recovery and couldn’t care less. Scully doesn’t so much as broach the conversation of why Mulder kept her in the dark.
Okay, so I had more to gripe about than I thought.
But I really do prefer Season 8 to Season 7. I’ll take being frustrated over being bored. Though there’s nothing worse than being bored with being frustrated and that point also can and will be reached.
Like I said, Season 8 has momentum. And for all the focus backward, you know that Mulder and Scully are headed toward something: Freedom, if you can believe it.
We needed Mulder to reach this point. We needed him to willingly walk away from the X-Files. If he hadn’t, if things had ended the way they did in “The End” (5×20) and his work was taken away from him, then his era would have ended in tragedy and not in victory. And what a waste of eight years that would have been. No, he had to make a choice.
The Fox Mulder who started the X-Files didn’t have anything more important in his life to rival his work. He lost his family that day when Samantha was taken and his work was all about redeeming that loss and finding Samantha. But now he’s found the truth, more or less and there are two people that now mean more to him than the work that used to give his life purpose. Mulder never said he wanted to spend the rest of his life hunting demons, he said he wanted to find his sister. Well, he found her and he’s found his family.
If he could get the hang of the thing his cry might become: “To live would be an awfully big adventure!”
If our Paranormal Peter Pan is going to grow up, we have to believe that Mulder is leaving behind one great adventure for another, even greater adventure; the adventure of loving and being loved and passing on that love.
And I do. I want to believe.
So without further ado, the Season 8 awards:
Best Episode You Haven’t Watched Because You Skipped Season 8
You’re Not Missing Anything
Work it Doggett
Gillian Anderson for All the Awards
Best Old-School X-File
Believe the Banter