Monday, July 11, 2011

Not As Bad As I Remembered It, The X-Files Season Nine Still Underwhelms!

The Good: A few imaginative stories, Moments of character development, Supersoldier plotline is decent, Finale.
The Bad: Light on DVD bonus features, Some terribly repetitive plots, Absence of Mulder.
The Basics: The X-Files Season Nine is not bad, but the best episodes are available elsewhere for less money and this is a far cry from the show at its peak.

It is time for my grand confession as a fan of The X-Files. I was one of the many, many fans who jumped ship on the show in its ninth season and started watching Alias. For me, it wasn't so much the absence of Mulder which drove me away - the prior season, I found myself caring less and less about Mulder as they tried to fill in stories from the seventh season in the eighth season and Mulder's character began to make less overall sense - but rather the plotlines that no longer resonated with me. While Alias started off with a bang with an intriguing serialized plot, the ninth and final season of The X-Files was declining with repetitive "freak of the week" episodes and the serialized plots of the Supersoldiers resonated with me less because the villains we cared most about were all gone and the heroes who remained were not as interesting as the ones who preceded them.

Or so I thought. After rewatching The X-Files Season Nine on DVD the last few weeks, I began to remember why I liked the show to begin with. The Supersoldier episodes were more intriguing than I remembered them being and even the new agent, Reyes, had some interesting-enough plotlines to keep me happy. I finally caught "Improbable," the episode which featured Burt Reynolds as God, and I respected Chris Carter's creativity and moments of the execution with that story. But the biggest thrill for me, sadly, was when Michael Emerson - who took on a regular role of Ben Linus beginning with the third season of Lost (reviewed here!) - appeared in the penultimate episode, "Sunshine Days." More than anything, though, watching the ninth season of The X-Files on DVD is an uncomfortable exercise in watching the endurance of humans be tested as almost every other episode involves Doggett or Reyes ending up in a coma, shot or having their brain messed with. Seeing the episodes so closely, there is the feeling that these people must be superhuman!

The ninth season of The X-Files finds Scully off the x-files and Mulder on the run to parts unknown, both in attempts to protect their baby, William. Agents Doggett and Reyes are running the x-files and they find themselves hampered by two powerful leaders within the FBI, Deputy Director Kersch and Assistant Director Follmer. As Doggett investigates Kersch in relation to the incident where Knowle infiltrated the FBI building, Follmer extorts Reyes with a video of Skinner killing Krycek. The investigations seek to expose the powers within the FBI which have been covering up the Supersoldiers - former Marines who are now part of the intelligence community, all of whom were experimented upon and now are indestructible warriors who have the ability to return even from the most traumatic of wounds.

With the investigation ongoing, Reyes and Doggett take time to investigate other x-files, like a boy who apparently kills others by marshaling vast forces of flies, a serial killer who appears to kill as part of a blood vengeance from multiple past lives, and a killer who may be the evil manifestation of an otherwise innocent man. The agents are wounded by a killer from an alternate reality and a car accident which puts Reyes in a netherregion between life and death where her only hope is to stay alive inside a dollhouse replica of the hospital. God shows up to encourage a serial killer to change his ways and a kid torments everyone with his uninhibited mental powers. And Scully, Doggett, Skinner and Reyes find hope in a man whose abilities may be empirically illustrated, which would once and for all prove the existence of paranormal phenomenon.

Throughout the season, there are bits peppered in about Mulder being on the run, rumors that he has been killed and conspiracies to try to get him to surface. And Mulder does surface for the series finale, the double-length episode "The Truth," which has Mulder put on trial for the murder of Knowle and he works to establish a defense based upon information collected throughout the years on the x-files. This leaves the series open enough such that years later the film The X-Files: I Want To Believe could be released.

What is nice about the ninth season is that Agents Doggett and Reyes have enough of a backstory and chemistry to make their near misses on a romantic relationship interesting to watch. While Mulder and Scully kept things chaste for most of their years together, Doggett and Reyes have overt sexual chemistry and it works for them as well as the writers let them run with it.

Unfortunately, that is far less frequently than most viewers will be satisfied with. While Reyes and Doggett flirt and make conscious choices not to get romantically involved, this is often pushed aside as quickly as possible and as fans had been jerked around for years with the denial of the Mulder and Scully chemistry, this may seem problematic and annoying to most viewers. As a result, Reyes and Doggett take professional and personal risks for one another - like Doggett refusing to pull the plug on Reyes in "Audrey Pauley" and Reyes going to Mexico in search of the brain-altered Doggett in "John Doe" - without them ever getting the romantic benefits that come with their obvious love and respect for one another.

As well, the stories oscillate from the familiar to the troubling. Stories like "Lord Of The Flies" and "Daemonicus" are basically freak-of-the-week and serial killer stories which seem like they have been done before by The X-Files. "Scary Monsters" is almost entirely self-referential about that with the FBI's beancounter returning with her almost constant refrain of "That's not how Mulder and Scully would do it . . ." This, sadly, works poorly in an episode that already seems familiar to most fans of the show.

Finally, the show is weakened by the loss of Mulder and the teased references to him being underground. Episodes like "Trust No 1" go so far as to have a fleeing Mulder shown just long enough to annoy viewers who can see clearly on DVD that it was not David Duchovny. And when "The Truth" comes, the result is less spectacular than most fans would like because there is so much to wrap up and so much left unclear.

Even so, the season is not as weak as I remembered it being. The Supersoldier episodes (anthologized on DVD separately) was a stronger plotline than I remembered it being before and Doggett becomes a much more likable and interesting character through his experiences on the x-files. So, unlike Scully, who took years to believe things which were right before her eyes, Doggett begins to understand things - most notably about the indestructible nature of the Supersoldiers - quickly and he begins to accept them because the evidence is right before him.

Scully is, unfortunately, diminished by much of the ninth season. She takes on a supporting role as she works to keep William safe. Sadly, some of her most interesting moments in the season actually have her openly pining for the absent Mulder. Outside that, she seldom is in the field in these episodes, which makes "The Truth" fairly incongruent with the rest of the season.

The essential characters in the ninth season of The X-Files are:

Dr. Dana Scully - Having had her baby, William, who begins to exhibit supernatural powers like the ability to move objects with his thoughts, she works to keep the baby safe. In addition to taking a teaching job at the FBI training facility, she spends more time doing things like working from home and advising Doggett and Reyes. She gets terribly lonely with Mulder's absence and when a man from her past resurfaces, she comes to understand that while William is a great gift, he is also a tremendous liability to her and her work,

Special Agent John Doggett - After investigating Deputy Director Kersch on how the supersoldiers have gained influence within the FBI, he becomes an unconditional believer in the existence of the supersoldiers when Knowle resurfaces, as does one of the other members of Doggett's former company. Influenced by the female supersoldier, Doggett comes to understand the threat level they represent and he works to expose the conspiracy surrounding them. While he begins to have feelings for Reyes, he also has the opportunity to put the murder of his son to rest,

Special Agent Monica Reyes - A believer in the supernatural, she tends to investigate satanic rituals and practices. She quickly leaps to conclusions about the nature of reality and parallel universes when Doggett is shot across town moments after being with her in her new apartment and she discovers her own past life history. She tends to let her heart guide her, despite being exceptionally smart,

Assistant Director Walter Skinner - Continues to support the x-files as a leader within the FBI, but he finds his support diminished and himself having to cover his tracks after killing Krycek,

Fox Mulder - No longer an FBI agent, he is on the run from the sinister government conspiracy which threatens to undermine everything he believes and menaces every freedom loving person on the planet. He misses his infant son and Scully even more.

In terms of performances, the ninth season of The X-Files is a study more in stagnation than anything spectacular. While Robert Patrick continues grow in his performances as Agent Doggett, Annabeth Gish is given very little to work with as Agent Reyes. While she does shine in "Audrey Pauley," this is sadly the exception to the rule for her on the show. More often than not, she is treated as an uncomfortable appendage as opposed to a vital member of the ensemble.

Gillian Anderson, however, continues to come out strong as Dana Scully. She is given some greater emotional range to work with in this season as she now has opened up to loving - and thus, missing - Mulder. Anderson plays mopey extraordinarily well and that makes many of her scenes alone work better than one might expect.

On DVD, the ninth season comes with an entire disc of season retrospective featurettes and there are commentary tracks on three of the best episodes. But among the special effects featurettes and the retrospectives, there is a feeling that the show had run its course and even on DVD the producers were not excited about talking about the project.

Despite there being some decent episodes in this boxed set, the best truly are on the Mythology Volume 4 discs and that makes this final season of The X-Files entirely dispensable, even if it is not horrible. As well, fans who want the entire story would do much better to buy The X-Files Complete Collection, reviewed here! And even in that set, the ninth season is a weaker one, though arguably not as bad as the season which preceded it.


For other television reviews, please be sure to check out my index page here!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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