Agent Doggett and Stepdad Syndrome

I hated Special Agent John Doggett’s guts. Everything he did and said annoyed me. It was nothing against Robert Patrick’s portrayal, which was fine. I didn’t care for Doggett’s average joe “just-a-New-York cop” shtick. I rolled my eyes at all the things he was written to say that showed he was the opposite of Mulder. I hated the self-referential Terminator 2 reference in one of his early episodes. I really hated that he had an entirely new alien mythology concocted around his character—the super solider arc. I hated that poor Scully had to deal with this man, how the new role changed her. I hated the he wasn’t Mulder. I wanted Mulder. Why, oh why, did Mulder leave and stick us with this guy?

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I stopped watching the show—after being a weekly viewer since mid-Season 1. I never finished the series. It was all just too sad.

At the time, back in 2000, Duchonvny leaving the show seemed so final (even though he was only absent from nine episodes). The series had only just been renewed at the last possible moment. The Season 7 finale was filmed and about to air when FOX renewed, so it was possible that they could have pulled the plug and Mulder’s abduction in finale would have been the end of the series. We did get that renewal, but fans weren’t exactly clamoring for it. The prospects for a hoped-for film franchise were suddenly murky. It felt like the end, but with a replacement cast to steer the ship into harbor. There was no energy around the show or in fandom. As one TV critic wrote at the time, without Mulder you are left with “half a show.” How wrong we all were.

Now I am watching Season 8 for the first time and with fresh eyes. The old bitterness is gone. I’m excited about Season 10 premiering in January, when Mulder and Scully are back on the case. And from this perspective, the first half of Season 8, and Patrick’s Doggett in particular, are terrific. All the things that annoyed me about Doggett (when I was still smarting from my Mulder daddy issues) I now see were strengths.

I love how Doggett approaches X-Files cases with a hardboiled, sometimes unethical, cop mindset. I love the way he simply ignores evidence of the paranormal that is right in front of his face. His tendency to refuse to believe is something that most people would do in his case. It is a reaction that Scully was never able to have because of her scientific method. She had to grapple with Mulder’s questions. Doggett refuses to even listen. It’s fun and satisfying to watch Scully come into her own and fully and merge her scientific practice with the evidence of the paranormal she has amassed all these years: “I have observed phenomena that I cannot deny. And that as a scientist and a serious person it is a badge of honor not to dismiss these things because someone thinks they’re BS.” She gives herself a desk for the first time, and thus corrects the subtle sexism of the Mulder-Scully dynamic of old. And that episode that referenced Patrick’s character in Terminator 2—Salvage—is actually a pretty solid monster show.

The surprising fact—and wonderful discovery for an X-Files fan who has never seen them—is that all of the episodes in the half of Season 8 are solid, and most of them are excellent. Roadrunners is a thoroughly creepy murderous-cult story with a monster quite unlike anything the series had done before. It’s got a twist reminiscent of Season 1 and 2.

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Redrum is a well-executed time travel story where the main character lives each day of the week backward until he arrives at the point in time of his wife’s murder. He is able to save her, but the twist ending results in a sci-fi morality tale worthy of classic Star Trek or The Twilight Zone. Invocation is the series’ creepiest use of a demonic child. Via Negative is a scary and suspenseful story of people being killed in their dreams. And Badlaa gives us one of the most unusual murder methods of any magically-powered killer in the series, and he is played by the great Deep Roy.

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Here is what is interesting: all of these episodes are legitimately scary television. I remember reading media reports that Carter wanted to use Duchovny’s departure as a means to get back to basics and “scare the pants off people.” At the time, I was not having any of it. Bring back Mulder! But Carter delivered.

I have a theory as to why the first half of Season 8 worked like gangbusters, and why some episodes, particularly Roadrunners and The Gift, captured the sublime weirdness of Season 1 and 2 X-Files. It all comes back to the chemistry of the leads. Doggett and Scully have chemistry alright, but it’s like two flint stones rubbing together. They don’t see eye to eye, they don’t trust one another, and they don’t like one another. But they are professionals who do their job. The result is that we the audience get to focus on the spooky story that revolves around them, and not the psychodrama between them.

While I praise Season 6 and 7, especially the great conclusion to the mythology arc, so much of Season 6 was about the fact the Mulder and Scully kissed in the movie, and they were actively flirting through much of Season 7. From a storytelling perspective, it is hard to scare the pants off of people when your main characters are falling in love with one another. There is a reason horror movies—to the extent they deal with romance at all—depict sex in a carnal way. Sex can be scary, can portend foreboding and doom. Love, however, is all about hope, the antithesis of horror. For all those who claim that The X-Files can still remain The X-Files with Mulder and Scully in an active romance, they have to answer to the fact that Season 8 rejuvenated the series by ejecting—or at least postponing—the Mulder-Scully romance. It is really hard to tell a good horror story when your main characters are flirting.

Implications for Season 10: Patrick is not interested in coming back to the series, so Doggett won’t reappear in Season 10. In one sense that is too bad because I really like the character. But it’s for the best because with only six episodes I don’t won’t to devote too much time to other characters, and it would be wrong to give him a brief cameo.

More importantly, we know Carter is capable of upping the horror and weirdness ratio of the X-Files formula because he did it in Season 8. Can he do it again with Season 10? I suspect this is why he split Mulder and Scully up for the new episodes. With the romance put behind them, the new shows will be able to focus on the aliens, the monsters, the conspiracies, and solving the mysteries of the Universe—which is what The X-Files are all about to begin with.

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