The X Files Revisited: 9.18 Sunshine Days
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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 next X Files is Doggett and Reyes' last case together before the season nine finale...
Given that The X Files was ending - and had enough notice to wrap everything up - choosing to do a story about a man obsessed with The Brady Bunch was a questionable move. The show had spent the last three episodes wrapping up loose threads, warranted or otherwise, but Sunshine Days is The X Files' last hurrah, an episode that sends the show off in a joyous fashion. Like previous penultimate episodes to potential series finales Alone and Je Souhaite, this episodes has moments that have a celebratory feel; if Sunshine Days had been the end, it would have left a number of questions outstanding - including the fate of Mulder - but it was have still felt like a largely satisfying end. It certainly would have left The X Files with a sense that there was more still to come.
Michael Emerson, who would go to receive acclaim as Benjamin Linus in Lost, plays Oliver Martin, a man with psychokinetic powers and the proof Scully (and Mulder) spent years searching for. After two men sneak into Oliver's home after watching The Brady Bunch having dinner inside, one of them is thrown up through the roof to his death, prompting Doggett and Reyes to investigate their last X Files together. There's a cruel irony in Vince Gilligan's script (it would be last contribution to the show, in which he also serves as director), as the two FBI agents really start to embrace the bizarre nature of the cases. Doggett tells Reyes "I think I'm finally gettin' the hang of this job!", not realising that it will all be horribly taken away in the upcoming finale.
In fact, there's a lot of fun in this story, the first genuinely heartwarming episode of the short-lived Doggett / Reyes era (though episodes like Improbable embraces The X Files's knack for comedy). They are genuinely enjoying themselves as they ponder just how a man can fly through the air and into the roof of a car. The friend soon meets the same fate, determined to uncover truth and there is a brilliant moment as Doggett comes face to face with Oliver and is flung into the roof of the house. Hanging onto the beams of the roof, it's both a perilous and amusing moment, before Oliver is calmed down and Doggett goes plummeting back to the ground.
Autopsying the victims, Scully gets involved as this quickly becomes her best episode of the season too. Like Reyes and Doggett, she is filled with the wonder at Oliver's abilities and without all the angst of William and Mulder she is allowed to enjoy herself (again, only Improbable gave her some reprieve from the shell of a character her season nine role became). She soon discovers a link to studies on a young boy by a Dr. John Rietz, played in the present by the wonderful John Aylward. It soon transpires that Oliver's abilities floundered and Rietz's chance to astound the world with a new world of physics was cut short.
But Oliver's abilities have returned and he is utterly alone. Oliver isn't even his real name, taking it from the ostracized cousin that appeared in the final season of The Brady Bunch. He has conjured up this whole life around him, shaping reality to his will. This is very apparent in the moment he transports the doctor, Scully, Doggett and Reyes's into a virtual world - the joy on Scully's face is just as much a joy to watch for the audience.
By why The Brady Bunch? This is where Vince Gilligan is at his most creative. A show beloved by fans for thirty years - timeless and still enjoyed after all these years; does this sound like another show that emerged more than twenty years ago? Gilligan - in his celebration of numerous cases and the answers Scully has so desperately looked for - awards The X Files the same timeless quality as The Brady Bunch.
Brining him back to Washington DC, as Rietz and Scully start to dream of a Nobel Prize, the scene with Skinner as Oliver demonstrates his abilities by spinning the Assistant FBI Director in the air is the last really fun moment in The X Files - at least until Mulder And Scully Meet The Weremonster years later. It is lovely to see these characters having so much fun; again Scully's smile just breaks my heart.
But like the secrets offered by Gibson Praise way back in The End the vindication in The X Files that Oliver's abilities bring is cruelly snatched away as they learn those powers are killing him. It turns out that Oliver only stopped using his powers as a child after finding a connection with Doctor Rietz, watching episodes of The Brady Bunch together. Emmerson and Aylward delivering a lovely final scene together as the doctor promises to stay with him so he won't be alone anymore. And that's the real heart of Sunshine Days; in all the search for the truth and fun moments of characters being suspended in the air, it is all about a man so desperate not to be alone.
As Scully notes, it doesn't matter that those answers weren't revealed, it's about the quest to get there and the people she has shared those experiences with, that have made it all so special (I think in that moment she's forgotten all about insidious conspiracies, abductions and family murders, but I think we can forgive her this moment of sentimentality just this once).
It's the real end of the road for Doggett and Reyes too; that line from Doggett completes his journey towards his quest for the truth in The X Files. It reminds the audience again how frustrating season nine was; Sunshine Days shows, like John Doe or Hellbound, that the show could have continued with them in the lead. Sunshine Days might not be a perfect episode, but for me it feels like the very best entry in season nine.