The X Files Revisited: 8.14 This Is Not Happening, 8.15 Deadalive
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. Our latest look back sees the epic return of Mulder after half a year...
Ah mythology episodes, how I have missed you! Not since the climatic events of mid-season six's Two Fathers / One Son has the show's mythology felt so invigorated as it has with season's eight's search for and return of the abducted Fox Mulder. This Is Not Happening and Deadalive aren't perfect (in fact there are a few flaws in the latter), but they show an energy in storytelling that was lacking all last season.
These two episodes tell the return and death of Fox Mulder and his subsequent resurrection to the show, but they are so distinctly different I almost reviewed them separately. It's really part of a larger arc, starting with the previous episode Per Manum and continuing into the subsequent Three Words; a more tight-knit narrative then the show has ever really attempted before. There hasn't been a real dud in the episodes I have reviewed this season, and there hasn't been an all time classic either...but This Is Not Happening comes close.
It begins with Judd Trichter reprising his role from season seven finale Requiem (in the first of many ties to that episode in this quasi-two parter). He even gets a name this time round - Richie Szalay - searching for his friend Gary who was abducted last year. After chasing a UFO across the desert he comes across another abductee, Theresa Nemman Hoese, making her third and final appearance in the show after the pilot episode and Requiem.
Theresa bears the same marks as those we saw inflicted on Mulder in the season opener Within / Without, tissue damage to her cheeks and arms and evidence of having organs scooped out. There is the sense that things have gone terribly wrong, that the abductees rounded up by the alien shape-shifter bounty hunter at the end of season seven have been subjected to horrific tests as part of the plan to remove all traces of alien involvement and at least once Mulder is seen trapped into the metallic chair, still experimented on in a gruesome fashion.
The possibility that Mulder could be the next abductee to return adds a real sense of urgency as Skinner engages Scully and a Doggett on a quest to track down the abductees. It's perhaps the most involved Skinner has been yet, pointing Scully in the direction of the case and then sharing a great moment where Scully recounts Mulder's starlight conversation from season four's Tempus Fugit. It shows how closer Scully and Skinner have become, not in a romantic sense as joked about in last season's comedy esque Hollywood A.D., but through the shared experiences on the X Files and their desperate hunt for Mulder.
The surprise return of alien shapeshifter and healer Jeremiah Smith (Roy Thinnes), last seen in season four opener Herrenvolk, is an interesting tie into the earlier mythology, working with cult leader Absalom (Judson Scott), rescuing abductees and healing them on their horrific wounds before a sinister transformation can occur - something we see when Billy Miles returns in the subsequent Deadalive. Absalom is a cultist, believing the alien apocalypse would happen at the start of the Millennium. I wondered if he was another tie to the Millennium group within the Frank-Black series, but this never transpires.
It's also an episode that establishes the last key player in the latter years of The X Files universe; FBI Special Agent Monica Reyes, played by Annabeth Gish. It's the beginning of the partnership between her and Doggett that will form the crux of season nine. With her speciality in ritualistic crime, Doggett uses Reyes help to help track down Absalom's cult and find the missing abductees. Unfortunately, while Doggett's story is able to play out naturally over the first half of season eight, giving him a purpose in the hunt for missing Fox Mulder, her debut is somewhat lacking; apparently it was always the plan to bring her into the fold in an effort to create a new dynamic with Doggett should Gillian Anderson move on; Doggett the male skeptic, Reyes the female believer, a reversal of the show's original duo. But it doesn't completely work here; had she been involved in an earlier case, her sudden appearance wouldn't have felt so forced.
It is a shame as there is a lot to like about Reyes and Gish delivers a good performance. Her connection to Doggett is strong. There has been brief mention of the death of his son during the season and we learn that Reyes helped him in that search for three days. She is keenly aware that his search for Mulder is the manifestation of his inability to find his son. Her intuition and spirituality is far more interesting than her similarities with Mulder (her belief in aliens, becoming the black sheep of her FBI office in New Orleans), all of which feel a little too on the nose. I did like that she smoked Morleys though; as much as I hated what The X Files did to her character in season ten, perhaps the clues were here all along? Okay no, perhaps not. There is nothing here to suggest she will betray her beliefs.
As always, Gillian Anderson is on fine form as Scully battles her fear for Mulder's life while trying to solve the case at hand. Her autopsy of returned abductee Gary is powerfully played, Doggett watches with unease as she recounts the trauma he suffered, knowing that Mulder has likely experienced the same thing. And after the FBI raid on Absalom's cult, her interrogation of the cult lead is filled with cold, subdued fury. This is Scully at the end of her wits, even though the worst is still to come.
Most significantly she encounters several things in this episode that are undeniably alien. After Reyes locates Jeremiah on footage of the raid, Scully rushes back to the farm and demands answers from him, witnessing his shapeshifting abilities first hand. Of course, she has fallen foul of Brian Thompson's shapeshifting bounty hunter before, but here she sees things that only Mulder would have witnessed in early seasons. Then the worst happens and Mulder is found dead in the woods. Realising that Jeremiah and his healing abilities are the only chance to save her partner, she runs frantically back to the farm and witnesses a UFO hovering over the building as it abducts Jeremiah Smith and the only hope Mulder has.
This is a HUGE moment for her, though it is sadly lost in the arguably terrific cliffhanger. Scully screams the titular line "this is not happening" and it is neither cheesy or over the top. This is Scully losing everything and that momentum carries through into the subsequent Deadalive. The stakes are never higher. The pre-title sequence shows Mulder's funeral, the prophetic tombstone Doggett uncovered in the season opener being put to use as he is laid to rest alongside his father, mother and sister. And if there was any hope for a last minute resurrection, it is dashed as the episode shifts three months later. Mulder is not only dead, he's been in the ground for a quarter of a year. That is one hell of a conundrum to resolve.
If This Is Not Happening is all about the conclusion of Mulder's abduction, his resurrection in Deadalive is about the renewal of the show's mythology through the introduction of the super soldiers. Billy Miles makes his eventual return after his abduction in Requiem but he is no longer the innocent kid we saw back in the pilot. The scene in the morgue where the eyes open on his decaying body set the scene for Mulder's exhumation at the hands of Skinner, who is more engaged in The X Files mythology than ever before.
For Doggett, this is him truly going in at the deep end. He rejects Kersh's role of moving on in order to protect the work on the X Files, even though it was never a passion of his. He does it to help Scully, who will soon be going on maternity leave and giving those higher up the opportunity to shut it down for good. I love how far he has come already; his bond with Scully will continue even with the return of Mulder and he continues to protect her even when he learns of Skinner's plans.
Mulder is 'deadalive', his body showing signs of decay from being in the ground for three months but also signs of life within. We have seen Mulder and Scully crying at each other's bedside while the other lies in critical condition several times on the show but it is incredibly powerful here; seeing a visibly pregnant Scully, possibly carrying Mulder's child, cradling his hand as he hovers between life and death. Through Billy we learn what terrible fate might befall Mulder as the abductee rises from his bed, walks into a shower and in the most gruesome way possibly sheds his old decaying skin, revealing someone new within. He might look like Billy Miles, but this is something far more sinister...an alien super soldier.
It's at this point the cracks start to appear. On one side, the mythology reignited with Mulder's abduction in Requiem is more thrilling than it has been in years. The monsters lurking within abductees is a thrilling idea; could Mulder actually be the enemy? Krycek is back and he's always good fun to have around; in fact he hasn't been this bad in years, threatening Skinner again with the nanites he injected him with in season six's S.R. 819, by dangling a cure for Mulder and demanding Skinner kill Scully's unborn child. Doggett too discovers answers as he visits Absalom in prison and learns that he was helping to heal abductees to prevent the next stage of an alien invasion, something Billy succumbs to in this episode.
It might sound thrilling but there a few plot holes. Abductees are being transformed into super soldiers, but apparently their return hasn't been planned out. Being dropped off in the wilderness and yet needing human medicine and life support to incubate the alien virus within, the plan is open to healers like Jeremiah Smith stopping the transformation or bodies being lost before the super soldier can be born. It's a shame as the super solider is a great reinvigoration of the mythology at this point in the show and the threat to Mulder is incredibly high; finding him alive might not end well for Scully.
There's a lot of emotional highs in this episode. Scully truly respects Doggett's strength of character but their differing beliefs threaten to tear them apart as a team. And Krycek's manipulation of Skinner is cruel and insidious; it leads to a thrilling moment when Doggett encounters Krycek for the first time as he tries to retrieve the antidote to the alien virus within Mulder. Jumping through the car window as Krycek speeds away, punching him in the side of the face, Doggett couldn't have been any cooler.
Unfortunately, it's a bit of a rushed conclusion, Doggett doesn't need the antidote that Krycek ruthless destroys in front of him. Realising at the last moment that the life support is incubating the virus, Scully has Mulder rushed into surgery and...somehow...saves him. It's not all terribly clear.
But it is great to have Mulder back and you don't realise just how serious The X Files has become (Scully, Doggett and Skinner aren't exactly barrel of laughs) until Mulder cracks a joke about not recognising her when he wakes up for the first time. David Duchovny only has a couple of lines in this two-parter and yet it feels like a full circle moment when he speaks. As for Doggett, his transition to hero is complete as his actions lead to a confrontation with Kersh and the threat of his career being ruined. He might watch a reunited Mulder and Scully from the outside but he is now truly part of the team.
The return, death and resurrection of Mulder, the debut of Reyes, a villainous turn from Krycek, a great confrontation with Doggett, Scully observing a UFO, the return of Jeremiah Smith and the development of the super soldier story arc; that's a lot packed into these two episodes. There are certainly plot holes but there is also an epic rejuvenation mythology as season eight of The X Files reaches new heights. It sets the scene for the final run of episodes in the lead up to the birth of William and puts Mulder back on the show for a time. Things are changing but by the end of Deadalive there is also the sense of things coming full circle. One thing is for certain, the show hadn't been this exciting in years...