The X Files Revisited: 8.20 Essence, 8.21 Existence
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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 reach the end of season eight with a story that could have served as a fascinating conclusion to the show...
Season eight of The X Files was not the disaster it is made out to be. David Duchovny's absence was possibly the most exciting thing to happen to the show; the hunt for Mulder and the drama around his return gave the mythology the shot in the arm it needed, Gillian Anderson had a chance to shine as she took centre stage and Robert Patrick beat expectations. John Doggett wasn't a Mulder clone; instead he became a well-developed, down to earth character with integrity and dedication to Scully and the X Files. More than any previous season (except perhaps two), season eight ended with a sense of purpose, an epic story played out over a three act structure and the lead characters transformed by their experience.
It wasn't always perfect and there was never the sense that season eight delivered an all time classic but there was a quality to the show that never seemed to falter. The finale Essence and Existence perfectly encapsulate the season as a whole. It is exciting, emotional wrought, gives every character a moment to shine; some things certainly don't make a lot of sense but there is still a finality to proceedings. In many ways it feels like a natural end to the show as we know it and a potential springboard for another; sadly the show wasn't brave enough to follow it through into season nine and beyond.
With Mulder back but out of the FBI, the focus of the finale is on the mystery of Scully's baby. The pre title-sequence to Essence, a voice over by Mulder (because Chris Carter likes his opening monologues) asks who is this child? Is it natural or man made? The two-part finale never fully answers that mystery and there is an element of frustration with that and how the threat is concluded in Existence, but it is an exciting journey getting there.
From the moment Frances Fisher appears at Scully's baby shower as a friend of her mother Margaret and nurse you know the enemy is close (also, is it just me or did anyone else wonder where Scully got all these friends?). Lizzy Gill is soon replacing Scully's vitamin pills and making shady calls to Duffy Haskell, the man who came to Scully and Doggett in Per Manum and claimed his 'wife' had given birth to an alien baby.
The shady experiments of Zeus Genetics with deformed foetuses and alien babies are back and so is Billy Miles, now a mindless Terminator-style super solider who is eliminating everything in his path. He kills the doctor and the alien baby in his arms, burning the facility to the ground and then stalks the rest of the episode, killing everyone he comes across.
We get the return of a surprisingly great partnership in Mulder and Doggett too, the former coming to Doggett on his day off with news about the suspicious destruction of Zeus Genetics. We saw Doggett still surrounded and respected by his friends and colleagues at the start of the season but the influence of the X Files and Mulder mean the cracks are already starting to show. Doggett's old friend Agent Gene Crane (Kirk B.R. Woller) warns him as much when Doggett has him roped into leading an investigation into the remains from the attack.
Fortunately Doggett doesn't listen and soon he and Mulder are confronting Scully's former doctor, Parenti in a second facility filled with deformed embryos. The conspiracy is up and running again but without characters like the Cigarette Smoking Man to control it, it soon falters as Billy Miles kills Parenti and Mulder and Doggett get caught in the crossfire. Mulder discovers Parenti's head in a jar in a surprisingly shocking moment, just as he and Doggett are faced with Terminator-like Billy. Mulder is thrown through walls, while Doggett fails to kill him with two shots to the chest; the cold demeanour in which Zachary Ansley plays Billy is reminiscent of Robert Patrick's own chilling role as the T1000.
There is a sense of things accelerating quickly, plots coming to the fore much sooner than they would have in years gone by, as the episode heads towards its cliffhanger. As Haskell is brutally decapitated by Billy, Scully discovers his conspirator Lizzie switching her pills. The scene in Skinner's office as Doggett, Mulder and Skinner interrogate her seeks to bring eight years of storytelling to a head; it's all a little rushed but it also feels climatic as if to serve as a potential end to the show's run. Lizzie confirms she was a research scientist working on human cloning before becoming engaged in the cloning of alien / human hybrids.
She refers to the government men who funded her work all being dead (a nod to the shadowy consortium's demise at the hand of alien rebels in season six's One Son) and the insidious use of fertility treatment to impregnate woman with alien feotesus. Scully's baby is the first success.
I've always wonder why the enemy would use the very heroes working against them for their own ends but it does serve to give Scully's pregnancy a purpose to the wider mythology and leaves her vulnerable to Billy Miles. In a terrifically tense scene, Mulder gets Scully out of her apartment just in time as Billy finds her. Trapped in their car, the super solider closing in on them, Mulder and Scully are rescued by an unlikely ally...Alex Krycek, running Billy Miles down and getting them back to the supposed safety of the FBI.
Nicholas Lea is always great as Mulder's evil mirror Krycek, even if his allegiances and motivations continue to baffle audiences. This two-parter is his swansong, though he would appear as some form of ghost-like presence in season nine finale The Truth. Just what he is doing here is a mystery; he seemed ready to kill Mulder and murder Scully's unborn baby to stop the latest alien threat that is the super soldiers a few episodes ago, and mowing Billy down would support that. But then he goes on to play both sides, seemingly working with Adam Baldwin's Knowle Rohrer in Existence. He remains ambiguous to the very end...I'm not sure whether that's a good or bad thing but it is very in keeping with the character.
The pieces are all set as Essence reaches its gripping cliff-hanger. Doggett calls in Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) to drive Scully to safety. The abrupt arrival of Billy Miles delivers an exciting climax, one of the most thrilling scenes the show had ever done. The racing through the empty corridors of the FBI, panicked descents through elevators, the manic chase as Krycek gets Scully to Reyes who drives her away from a pursuing Billy...it is all gripping stuff. And the final twist that Doggett's friend Crane is another super soldier adds a sense of dread...the enemy is everywhere. Even with Billy thrown into a garbage truck and crushed, no one is safe and that's a great premise to go into the finale with.
The Terminator motif continues in the pre-title sequence of Existence as Billy's remains are taken to a morgue at 4am. The metal, spiked vertebrae spinning on the table, rebuilding him is a great, creepy moment, that leads to some more tense action sequences as the FBI offices come under siege themselves. But the episode is also tempered by a lot of sitting around, waiting for something to happen. Reyes and Scully arrive in an abandoned ranch in Georgia and prepare for the impending birth, while Mulder, Doggett, Skinner and Krycek wait it Skinner's office planning their next move. It does however allow the story to catch a breath before the final dramatic showdowns.
After the glimpse of his super soldier origins in Three Words, Adam Baldwin's Knowle Rohrer confronts Doggett, revealing the truth behind the pregnancy and in doing so nicely tying it up with the historic mythology. The chip given to save her life in Redux 'activated' her mysterious pregnancy and the prelude to the birth of the perfect alien / human hybrid super solider. It's his last act as Doggett's 'Deep Throat' before his full villainous role is revealed. Doggett spies his former friend and informant conversing with his friend Crane and the stage is set for a final showdown in the heart if the FBI itself. On one side, it feels like a cheap use of an existing set, but the idea of the enemy stalking our heroes through their base of operations is a great one, adding credence to the idea that this should have been the conclusion to the series.
Krycek is dispatched for good, another ending to the long running saga of The X Files. He ends as pathetic and ambiguous as he has ever been, holding Mulder at gunpoint, raging about the alien conspiracy at the heart of the FBI, even after being caught conducting a clandestine meeting with Rohrer. It shows how small he has become; he was once associated with a global conspiracy of men; they always held power within the FBI. To suggest that this knowledge makes him valuable shows how desperate a character Krycek has become. Truth be told, he hadn't really made any impact on the show since season three and he had to go. At least his death is a great one as Skinner finally snaps after being tortured by this man for two years. The travelling shot of the bullet firing from Skinner's gun and striking Krycek in the forehead is a great, satisfying moment.
The Washington DC-based storyline ends with a spectacular car chase through the labyrinthine corridors and parking lot of the J Edgar Hoover building, Doggett and Skinner fleeing Rohrer and Crane. They are seemingly destroyed, Crane run down and crushed by Rohrer's car, who then meets a fiery end as his vehicle crashes into a post and explodes. Considering the miraculous resurrection of Billy Miles, it is unlikely this was enough to end the super soldier threat within the FBI. Though had this been the end of The X Files it would have served as a satisfying conclusion.
Over in Georgia, the finale follows Reyes' attempts to protect Scully. Annabeth Gish tries her best, but sadly Reyes isn't that interesting; though I did like Scully noting that Reyes' spiritual beliefs reminded her of Melissa. She proves she's got the FBI skills when she needs them, confronting Billy Miles and then throwing the pot of hot water into the face of the warden who helps her when she notices the ridges on the back of her neck. The ending is baffling however. As Reyes helps Scully deliver her baby, numerous cars pull up, driven by super soldiers, It's a tense moment as Scully screams "Don't let them take my baby!" through her contractions but it doesn't go anywhere. Her baby is born and the super soliders turn and leave. The suggestion is the child isn't that special after all, but no real explanation is given and after all the enemy has done to track her down, it feels anticlimactic.
The X Files has laid on the religious metaphors before, with Mulder prostrated on the cross-like table in The Sixth Extinction and Scully's own Mary-like unconsummated pregnancy running through season eight. But it is all laid on a little thickly here with Scully giving birth in what is little more than a barn as the super soldiers watch on like some twisted shepherds. Add in Mulder following the light (a helicopter?) to reach Scully and the Lone Gunmen appearing at the end with presents like the Wise Men and it all feels a little saccharine and forced.
But it does end well, both as a closing chapter for Mulder and Scully and the passing off the X Files to Doggett and Reyes. Doggett shoots Deputy Director Kersh down at his as his boss condemns Doggett's assumption that he can appoint Reyes as his partner. "I assumed I because this office is under investigation." The new team is in place and the X Files will continue; it's a great scene with a lot of promise but it will be sadly a little wasted in season nine.
And that, ironically, is because the show won't give up the ghost of Mulder and Scully even when Doggett and Reyes are investigating the X Files. This is their perfect end. Scully holds her baby in her arms, telling Mulder she named him after his father and there is the almost/i> confirmation that with the enemy gone, her baby is something far more natural...the consummation of her love for Mulder. He is the father and he finally admits the truth to himself. Their very romantic kiss as he holds their son in his arms is the perfect place their story could have ended. And yet it will all becoming horribly undone over the final season of the original run.
Essence and Existance offer a finality to The X Files - particularly Mulder and Scully's story - while setting up a future without them. It's the end of Krycek and the start of Doggett and Reyes investigating the X Files...or at least it should be. Season nine would unfortunately undo a lot of the promise built over the course of this reinvigorated season. As with a lot of the later mythology episodes, not everything makes a lot of sense and the super soldier storyline ends up a little anticlimactic. At least it is exciting, perhaps more exciting than The X Files had been in years. David Duchovny would not return for season nine; the irony of course is that Gillian Anderson should have left too. The X Files without Mulder and Scully should have been unthinkable but here it was ready to go. Anything else would ruin that happy ending...and ruin it The X Files did...
Our 'The X Files Revisited' will be taking a short break before it covers the final season of the original run, the second movie The X Files: I Want To Believe and re-looks at the revival season a year down the line...how does it hold up after all the hype has died down?