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