Friday, July 8, 2011

The Penultimate Season Of The X-Files, "Season Eight" Delivers In Erratic Doses.

The Good: Scully's character arc, Plotlines involving Mulder and the baby, DVD bonus features, Acting
The Bad: Stories are largely repetitive, No consistent narrative that makes any sense, Lack of chemistry.
The Basics: A depressingly random season of The X-Files, "Season 8" replaces Mulder with John Doggett and limps through increasingly lame cases.

It is hard to stretch for something good to say about a season of television it has taken me an entire year to get through. It's true, though. Around Christmas of 2008, I began The X-Files Season Eight and since then, I have watched two complete series' of television as well as a ton of movies and random episodes of other shows. I remember starting this season right around the time I first went to meet my partner in person and the DVD boxed set was so unengaging that I worked a crappy job, married my partner, published my second novel, and filled my year avoiding many of the episodes in this boxed set. It is, therefore, no surprise that I let this perfectly average (at best) season of television fall into the below average rating. It is hardly the most exciting season of The X-Files.

It is also one which is impossible to either discuss or understand for those who have not seen prior seasons. The show problematically tried to restructure itself and at the time the episodes aired, even long-time fans like myself decided to let the show go. Given that it has taken me so long to muster up the enthusiasm to finish this boxed set, it is pretty easy to see why. The chemistry, the magic of The X-Files is lacking in its penultimate season and while the character aspects actually work, it is the plots which wander from the mundane and repetitive to the predictable, but directionless, which sink this season of the once-venerable science fiction series.

As well, it is impossible to discuss the thrust of this season of The X-Files without revealing key details on how Season Seven ended. That's the closest to a spoiler alert I've got.

With Scully still reeling from Mulder's abduction and the fact that she has gotten pregnant, Scully goes in search of Mulder. Hampered at the FBI by Deputy Director Kersch, she finds herself teamed with a former military FBI agent named John Doggett. Their attempt to find Mulder puts them in the middle of a conflict with shapeshifting aliens, who are threatened by Gibson Praise and his mind-reading abilities. Unfortunately unable to rescue Mulder from the clutches of the aliens, Scully and Doggett return home in defeat. Once there, Kersch assigns Doggett to the X-files as punishment.

On the X-files, Doggett begins investigating weird cases, while haunted by the disappearance of his son. Doggett's eyes are opened to extreme possibilities when encountering a creature that appears to be a giant bat, a friend who is accused of killing his wife who claims to be moving backward in time, a cult leader with an ability to access the mind's eye, and a serial killer who can see through walls. As Scully's pregnancy progresses, she is forced to support Doggett at a distance, like when he investigates a biological threat in the subway tunnels of Boston. And when a body is dumped that appears to be Mulder's, the relationship between his condition and Scully's unborn baby seems frighteningly connected!

The fundamental problem with the eighth season of The X-Files is there is no longer any guiding mythology. Instead, the show lists lazily along trying to figure out what the new arc story is. Amidst alien DNA in human women and the first threads of supersoldiers, the show creates "freak of the week" episodes which are now so passe one wonders why the writers and producers bother. This season, the writers oscillate between a fairly predictable number of cultists ("Roadrunners") and genetic freaks ("Alone").

What is even more problematic are the uses of the previously-established elements, like the black oil ("Vienen") and the shapeshifting aliens (previously referred to as the Alien Bounty Hunter). The black oil appears for an episode where the purpose is unclear . . . other than to set up the possible threat of another return in the future. Similarly, the Alien Bounty Hunters were last seen eradicating the government conspirators with the aliens and effectively ending fifty years of planning for colonization by the black oil aliens. So, why they would help make a race of supersoldiers for the humans (or for themselves) makes little to no sense.

Struggling through these episodes on DVD becomes more tiresome because of the backtracking the show insists upon doing. While references to Billy Miles work, it is filling in gaps that were supposedly in the prior season become annoying. So, for example, Doggett investigates a family housing a supposedly dangerous being that Mulder visited the year before (in "The Gift"). "The Gift" introduces the idea that Mulder was convinced he was dying and was looking into alternate remedies for that and that, perhaps, his abduction was staged in order to keep Scully from the pain of his death. This preposterous premise forces viewers to look back at the prior season and assume that Mulder's quest with his own mortality lasted a ridiculously short span in between any two episodes, as there was never even a hint of this in the prior season.

Even worse is the way "Per Manum" attempts to rewrite the prior season's emotional resonance (or lack thereof) between Mulder and Scully by creating a series of flashbacks which show how Scully came to Mulder to take on an experimental fertility treatment. As with the "Mulder knows he's dying and goes to try to save himself alone" storyline, this fails to work because there were no hints at the time and it seems to function only to tease viewers with images of Mulder while he is still missing from the primary narrative.

What does work surprisingly well is the way John Doggett steps into Mulder's place on the x-files. While Scully has to warm up to him through a series of events which comes close to claiming her life, Doggett is characterized as a good man, who is efficient and in virtually the same place Scully was at the beginning of the series. He is being punished by Kersch for his refusal to lie about what he witnesses in the investigation into Mulder's disappearance and this makes him instantly an ally to Scully.

In the eighth season of The X-Files, the cast had a bit of a shakeup, with David Duchovney's Fox Mulder only present in about half of the episodes. The primary characters for season eight are:

Dana Scully - Weakened by the loss of Mulder under mysterious circumstances, she vows to find him and follows what leads there are when they infrequently pop up. As her due date gets closer, she stays out of the field to protect her unborn child and prepare for the tasks of motherhood. But when a mysterious group seems bent upon controlling her baby, she feels more imperiled and it is only Mulder's sudden return to her that allows her to get through the final weeks alive and without fear,

John Doggett - After investigating Mulder's disappearance and losing him in the desert, Doggett is assigned to the x-files. Looking for his lost son, he takes a case with a child abductee who is returned very personally and he slowly opens his mind to the paranormal. He does most of the legwork as Scully becomes less able to run and dodge threats in the field,

Assistant Director Skinner - Virtually powerless now that Kersch has been promoted to Deputy Director, he works more subtly to try to find Mulder. Still controlled by Krycek,

and Fox Mulder - Abducted by the alien bounty hunter, he has hideous tests performed upon him for over six months. Returned to Earth, he is found dead, but is exhumed a short while later and makes a miraculous recovery, thanks in part to alien influences. At a loss to understand all that has happened to him, he goes in search of answers, a search which may cost him his job, if not his life!

The acting this season is exactly what one would figure it to be. The principles know their parts front and back and Robert Patrick's John Doggett is the only substantive new element (though his partner for the next season, Anabeth Gish's Agent Reyes is introduced this season). Patrick does an excellent job because he is essentially playing the straightman. His job is to question all of the extreme possibilities and as a result, he is essentially playing a typical adult human while Gillian Anderson now plays a character open to extreme possibilities.

In all, viewers of science fiction - and of television in general - have seen this before. The stories are dull and often random and they do not appear to be going anywhere. If there answers, they are not in this season of The X-Files.

On DVD, "Season Eight" comes with commentary tracks on two episodes as well as deleted scenes for five of the episodes which may be reintegrated into each episode. Each episode has a cast list as well, episode previews and there is a "Season Eight" documentary. It is not terribly enlightening. Similarly, the special effects featurettes tell the viewer little new that prior seasons' featurettes have not already revealed.

In short, this is a disappointing season of a once-beloved television show. While the episode "Jump The Shark" would not appear until the ninth season, by this season, the show had already done just that.

For a better value, fans might want to check out The X-Files - The Complete Collector's Edition (reviewed here!).

For other works featuring Robert Patrick, please check out my reviews of:
Lost Season 1
All The Pretty Horses
Terminator 2: Judgment Day


For other television reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

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