The X Files Revisited: 8.12 Medusa
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The X Files ran for nine seasons and two movies, charting the efforts of Agents Mulder and Scully in their search for the unexplained. And then in 2016, it returned for six new episodes, a mix of mythology and case of the week stories that brought Mulder and Scully back the FBI. From the brilliant Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster to the frantic mythology cliff-hanger in My Struggle II, it was largely viewed as a success and there are hopes that season 10 is just the first of more. In the lead up to the revival, The Digital Fix reviewed the pilot episode and then carried on throughout the series, covering the best and most significant episodes of the show including the first movie The X Files: Fight The Future. Now we revisit the last X File case for Doggett and Scully before David Duchovny returns to the show for the remainder of season eight...
Medusa marks the halfway point of season eight. Mulder is still missing, Scully is still hiding her pregnancy and Doggett has been assigned as her new partner on the X Files. Robert Patrick has made an instant impression as FBI John Doggett; he's not Mulder mark 2, far from it. While he fills the skeptic role (Scully is now the quasi-believer) he has also shown himself to be a grounded, decent agent and in this episode that tension between them seems have wavered. There is a level of respect between them and this episode shows them working together as a cohesive unit; it might not be the Mulder / Scully magic but it is still a great thing to watch.
The two agents are called in to investigate a mysterious, brutal death on the Boston subway that left one detective with half his face and body eaten off. It's a gruesome death, something that seems to be all the rage in the darker season eight and while Scully and Doggett are initially called in to help catch the suspect the detective was tracking it is soon something far more...X Filesy. It is Scully's mission; Doggett refers to her expertise without ever coming across as condescending. I continue to appreciate Robert Patrick's great performance alongside Gillian Anderson in these scenes and kind wish we had more over the course of the show's history.
There is a great cast at play. Scrubs' Ken Jenkins plays another aggressive bureaucrat, Deputy Chief Karras who orders the agents to resolve the case by 4pm so he can get the trains running again. Admittedly the lack of reason he shows - particularly when presented with a possible contagion - feels a little forced, as if to give the episode a ticking time clock. You could almost imagine the 24 clock appearing on screen as Doggett rushes through the dark tunnels of the empty subway while Scully watches from control. But it does add some great tension to a claustrophobic episode that gives both agents a chance to be in control. While Scully observes (presumably to protect her unborn baby from whatever is down there), Doggett, armed with a helmet cam Aliens-style, is joined by 24 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine alum Penny Johnson Jerald as CDC Doctor Hellura Lyle, Brent Sexton (The Killing) as subway official Steven Melnick and Vyto Ruginis (NCIS: Los Angeles) as the thuggish Lieutenant Bianco.
Admittedly, the tension and claustrophobia aside, this is one of The X Files more simpler tales but the episode is directed by Richard Compton with style, making great use of the underground setting. Doggett's group encounter the suspect dead, his body eaten away in the same horrific fashion as the detective. Despite the ridiculous belief by Bianco and Karras that the case is closed, Doggett, ever the professional, moves on and the discovery of the three bodies wrapped in plastic suggests a more sinister event at play. Sadly the suggestion that Karras might be hiding something corrupt never comes to fruition, but the case moves on to the discover of the luminous green substance lurking in the darkness.
Melnick's horrific attack, the substance burning off the skin on his face and arm is shocking and only the calm actions of Scully on com allow Doggett to save him. As Lyle takes him into quarantine (she is admittedly wasted, disappearing about half way through) Doggett and Bianco come to a violent confrontation that leaves them both exposed to the substance. There is a great sequence as Doggett's cam lies on the ground, while a desperate Scully wonders of her partner is dead. It definitely shows the bond that has grown between them.
The arrival of Judith Scott's marine biologist Doctor Kai Bowe reveals the truth; it's a sea creature called Medusa that has seeped into the tunnels of the Boston subway from the coast. It reacts to sweat, causing the violent action that almost killed Melnick. But it does leave Medusa with one giant plot hole - Doggett is seen sweating from the heat of the tunnels on numerous occasions. It's one twist that fails to deliver and in fact this is where the episode falters as a whole. The sea creatures aren't anything malicious, but they aren't anything special either. The nasty cocooning insects of season one's Darkness Falls (from which this episode feels inspired), the Medusa creatures are not.
Still, there is a great tense moment as Doggett (still sweating) discovers the cavern full of luminous green creatures, which are seeping out onto the main tracks...just as Karras has released the first train. I'm not sure it ever feels like the commuters onboard would be at immediate threat, but Doggett swiftly resolves the situation by electrocuting the creatures with the live track from the passing train...and nearly killing himself in the process.
Medusa could have been an all time classic. It has a brilliant cast, a great working dynamic between Scully and Doggett and plenty of tension, claustrophobia and rather nasty horror. But the payoff fails to deliver on the premise. Still, I enjoyed it more than most, particularly for what it was; the end of the Doggett and Scully era. David Duchovny would feature in every subsequent episode of season eight and once he had gone again, it would be Doggett and the as of yet unseen Reyes investigating the X Files, with Scully in a supporting role. It's also an episode that feels as if it could have been set in season one, a theme apparent through multiple episodes this season.
The next few episodes see The X Files more serialised than ever in a season that feels more underrated the more I watch it. Medusa...the last X File for a while...is a solid ending to a renewed era for the show. It's just a shame it was only a good episode and not a magnificent one...