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I’ve been watching The X-Files the last few weeks out of some sense of obligation. I’ve loved the show since I got hooked, midway through the third season, but this year has been one dull and boring episode after another. The feeling that the show was definitely moving toward some specific plot resolution, that The Truth really was Out There, seemed to dissipate entirely after the birth of Scully’s child and Mulder’s exit. The mytharc just seemed to grind on in lifeless fashion, and the Monster-Of-The-Week episodes were dull primarily because of the show’s new dynamic. The X-Files didn’t necessarily fall apart merely because David Duchovny left, but the resulting lack of chemistry between Agents Doggett and Reyes coupled with the lack of a clearly defined new role for Scully only made the dificiencies in the increasingly-lukewarm scripts all the more glaring. Had the show been announced for a tenth season, I likely would have abandoned ship entirely. But since the series is ending, I’m watching all of the remaining episodes (two left, as of this writing). And even still, with the clear knowledge that the show will soon be over, the recent episodes have not been very good. There was a wrap-up episode to the cancelled Lone Gunmen spinoff, which contrived an amazingly unbelievable scenario in which the paranoid trio give their lives for the world, or some such thing. Then there was an episode revolving around Scully’s baby and its supernatural powers which ended with the child’s powers being neutralized forever — but then Scully, realizing that her child will always be a target, gives the child up for adoption. This was so stunningly out of character for Scully that when it was over I stared at the end credits in disbelief, made doubly strong by the fact that the episode was written by Chris Carter, the one person who should know Scully better than this. My expectations for the show have fallen incredibly low, so imagine my surprise when tonight’s episode proved to be one of the best the series has done in the last few years.

The episode involved the nine-year-old murder of Agent Doggett’s son, a crime which has (until now) gone unsolved. A young FBI cadet who apparently has some kind of ability to see things in case files (and autopsies) that are missed provides Doggett with some uncannily accurate information on another case, the success of which prompts Doggett to show his case information on his son’s murder to the seemingly clairvoyant cadet. But the cadet already knows of the Doggett case — he wallpapers his apartment with photographs of unsolved crimes, Doggett’s son being one of the ones on the wall — and in a fairly spooky moment he tells Doggett that the two cases are not unrelated.

This episode was remarkably well crafted, with nicely building suspense and a final resolution that is moving and sad. The story kept me guessing — is the cadet what he claims to be? is there more to the mobster who keeps avoiding prosecution? is the Assistant Director on the take? — and the story’s supernatural element is very muted, much more so than usual for an X-Files episode. The unbelievable plot developments that have been the mainstay of X-Files scripts for this entire season were nowhere in evidence. It’s nice to see that the folks at Ten Thirteen have not completely forgotten how to construct a story.

The episode is carried, though, on the strength of Robert Patrick’s acting. John Doggett’s cynicism, the way he can’t allow himself to believe in anything, is well established by Patrick, so as the episode progresses and Doggett goes more and more out on that limb we can strongly sense his strong emotions and his powerful desire to keep them in check. Patrick gets a lot in this episode to really sink his teeth into, and he does so beautifully. I wonder if it was frustrating for Patrick to get this script, read it, and realize that only now that there are a handful of episodes left before he’s back on the Hollywood unemployment line does he get some material that he can really use to delve into his character. I never disliked the John Doggett character; he was sufficiently different from Mulder and the chemistry was sufficiently different between him and Scully that I was always fine with him. But there was still a sense that Doggett wasn’t entirely thought out, as if he were thrown together by Chris Carter and the Ten Thirteen writers after it became clear that Duchovny was really leaving the show. This episode dispelled all that, and as such it should have been done last year.

So, as The X-Files prepares to end at last, a little hope is renewed. Maybe, just maybe, The Truth really is Out There. We’ll know for sure in two weeks.

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