The X Files Revisited: 9.17 Release
The X Files ran for nine seasons between 1993 and 2002, spanned two movies and then came back from the dead in 2016 for a revival series of 6 episodes. In many ways, the show is as much a cultural phenomenon as it ever was and The Digital Fix has been looking back at key episodes across the show’s run starting with the pilot episode, reviewing numerous classic stories and the first movie The X Files: Fight The Future. Now we're in the final stretch of our revisited as we cover the last season of the original run, the second movie and look back at 'season 10' a year on. Our latest Revisited puts Doggett in the spotlight one last time...
In The X Files's continued countdown towards the end, wrapping up loose story threads before the finale, comes Release, an episode that seeks to address the one John Doggett mystery on the show; who killed his son? It's to Doggett what Samantha was to Fox Mulder, though arguably a lot more simple. He son was dead, killed in a very ordinary way, a grounding in reality that suits Doggett's more down to earth nature on the show. In that sense, Release follows a similar structure to season seven's Closure as a seemingly unconnected case leads to the fate of Luke Doggett. It follows the same emotional beats too, like Mulder in that episode, from a slightly convoluted, confusing conclusion and a powerful performance from Robert Patrick as he finds his 'closure'.
But I think Release is the stronger of the two episodes, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it wasn't the driving force behind Doggett like Samantha's abduction was to Mulder and the mystery was barely two years old. It meant the expectations were much lower; there's a strong argument that it didn't need to be resolved at all but at least it gives the brilliant John Doggett one last moment to shine. It is also much more grounded and maybe for me as a father, the idea of getting closure on the murder of a child feels much more powerful. Yes, Samantha was incredibly sad but I couldn't imagine what the character of Doggett must have gone through; the crime scene photos of Doggett standing over his son's corpse feels deeply uncomfortable.
The episode has a good hook, as Doggett is given a tip about a murder and discovers the bloody corpse of a woman buried in fresh plaster in an apartment wall. It's a great image, the blood dripping down as he claws away and if there's one thing I cannot argue with this episode, it's that the direction is amazing. From there, we see Scully in one of the rare instances of doing her new role, teaching forensics at Quantico, where a somewhat odd cadet, Rudolph Hayes is able to identify every aspect of the case just by studying the corpse. Jared Poe delivers an off putting but ultimately captivating performance as Hayes, a man who has surrounded himself in darkness in order to solve the mysteries of death. It is Hayes that is the true X File element of Release, with his highly attuned abilities.
And it is Hayes that tells Doggett the murder of a prostitute as some kind of mob hit is linked to the death of his son. His wall of photos, including Luke's crime scene, is a chilling, dark image, one that captures the essence of the show's darker episodes like Irresistable and quasi-spin off show Millennium. The stuff with him sitting alone in the room after his FBI training, pouring over old cases, is very atmospheric. And in true blunt John Doggett style, when confronted with the wall of death, Robert Patrick delivers the fantastic line "Cadet, you should know there’s a real good chance you’re nuts.”
With the death of the original prime suspect Bob Harvey in a car crash, the attention turns to mob hitman Nicholas Regali, who was behind the murder of the woman in the wall and may have killed Luke too. Regali is a fairly stereotypical mob man, but Sal Landi delivers a strong performance that prevents him from becoming a cliche. There is a great connection between Doggett and Regali as the latter knows the other did these crimes, even though he can't 100% prove it.
And then things get oddly complicated, when FBI Assistant Director Brad Follmer (Cary Elwes) enters the mix. Elwes was never able to do anything interesting with the character; he's too smarmy to be likeable, too wet to be a believable villain. Release is certainly his best episode to date, even though it is confusing why the writers choose to link him to Luke's murder, or why he needs his story wrapped at all. He hadn't made enough of an impact to leave the audience wondering what might happen to him...particularly Doggett and Reyes never get the same full treatment (despite the resolution for Doggett in this episode).
Follmer, it transpires has been corrupt all along, despite there been zero evidence of this to date. What has made him so annoying is that he has been trying to do the right thing, doing the wrong things without the right information. But suddenly he has been on the take with Regali for years, something Reyes suspected, which led to their break up. That's something I could have bought into, but then the possible connection to Luke takes things too far.
“Say this Bob Harvey likes little boys” Regali 'theories tp Doggett as he learns the truth about his son's murder. “Yeah. Disgusting. Say one day, Bob Harvey sees a little boy riding a bike, and he can’t stand it. He grabs the boy. So, Harvey takes the boy back to his place only he doesn’t tell the businessman what he’s doing. So, the businessman walks in on him. You see what I’m saying, FBI? The boy sees the businessman’s face. The businessman who never did nothing to this little boy. That’s a problem. Well… every problem has got a solution, right?”
The episode never really makes it clear. The original suspect abducted Luke Doggett, but didn't kill him. But who did? Was it Regali? Or was it bizarrely Brad Follmer? We never know as Follmer destroys his career by shooting Regali and killing him in front of Doggett. Considering the episode make the effort to solve the mystery of Luke's murder, it ends with a feeling of 'huh?'.
The scenes with John Doggett's ex-wife Barbara (played by Robert Patrick's real-life wife Barbara Patrick) are by far the most successful elements of Release. In their few scenes they share, they convey years of shared history and anguish, two people who still love each other but have been broken by the loss of their son. Their final scene, as they spread Luke's ashes out into the ocean is incredibly powerful and wonderfully shot, the brilliant Kim Manners making the use of this emotive ending. And it more than makes up for the plot contrivances that get them to this closure.
Release Is both a frustrating and great episode. For me, John Doe is still Robert Patrick's finest season nine episode, but his performance here is outstanding. A mix of gruff, down to earth deductions and the emotional guilt and anguish over his son's death. It's not a perfect ending, but it is a good final showcase for one of The X Files's finest characters.