Passionate fans of “The X-Files” have a hard time speaking rationally about Season 9. As I watched the first half and tried to unpack my feelings, rather than useful and well-reasoned statements about the flaws, I mostly yielded eye rolling, groans, and whimpers. If you’ll forgive my use of a tired meme, it’s such an epic case of “Do not want!” on the part of the viewers that pushing past the initial feelings of discomfort and boredom to get to the actual reasons for the suck presents a challenge.
However, now that I’m worked through my moaning and whining, I think I’ve unpacked a few big reasons behind the nigh-fiasco. Most glaring, the way Mulder’s sudden and disappearance just days after the birth of Scully’s baby gets dealt with feels ham-handed at best. He’s just – poof! – not there and nobody wants to discuss it. Scully and Skinner’s reticence to talk feels like an attempt to add drama and high stakes to the season. By the time you finally get some answers it seems less mysterious and more like a “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” explanation for the actor’s departure.
Although Mulder’s absence presents Season 9′s most obvious problem, I don’t think it’s what really dooms it. The biggest obstacle between Season 9 and the Land of Unsucky comes from the fact that the character relationships, how the people are motivated and how they relate to each other, just don’t work. Attempting to restart the series by focusing on Doggett and Reyes while keeping the older characters around but only semi-relevant fails from the start.
Scully and Skinner drift into and out of the story, and their presence sometimes feels forced. Skinner gets vaguely tied in with Kersh and the FBI’s secret-keeping nonsense, but it doesn’t make much sense with his character from the end of Season 8. Scully functions as a freelance problem solver for the agents and as a “trust your instincts” mentor for Reyes. By the mid-point of the season, when Scully hunts for her kidnapped son, Reyes becomes the only person she seems to trust at all. Aside from not being openly evil, I wasn’t sure what Reyes did to earn Scully’s regard.
Even if Annabeth Gish were an elegantly nuanced actress (she isn’t) and even if Monica Reyes had a solid, sensible character motivation (she doesn’t) there just isn’t enough time to make her or her relationship with her partner resonate. We’re supposed to buy, I guess, that Reyes having been on Doggett’s son’s case gives them history and subtext, but since we didn’t see any of that, it wasn’t enough for me.
Sometimes Doggett seems to care about Reyes; sometimes he seems irritated and almost disrespectful. Episodes like “4-D” (wherein Doggett gets shot by a killer who can pass through alternate dimensions) and “John Doe” (Doggett wakes up in Mexico with his entire memory erased) imply a deep, meaningful connection between the agents, the connection doesn’t resonate like it should, because there’s so little context for how or why they give a damn about each other.
Mulder and Scully initially connected through a combo of sexual tension and mutual curiosity that deepened into soulmate-style intimacy and trust. Season 9 implies a deep bond between Doggett and Reyes without doing the work to make us believe it. Sometimes, I even got the sense that the writers didn’t know exactly how they wanted us to feel about how the characters relate to each other. In “Daemonicus,” a highly manipulative and possibly satanic killer/mental patient implies that Doggett has romantic feelings for Scully. I really couldn’t tell whether the guy was just spouting nonsense to make Doggett uncomfortable or if the writers were trying to plant seeds.
The fact that Reyes comes from nowhere, loaded down with vague but passionate opinions provides a treasure trove of irritating moments. Even more problematic than her “just add water” intimacy with her partner is her poorly defined “feelings” about “energies.” Every time Season 9 needs a reason why they’re on a certain case or a way to make an otherwise straightforward case seem more mysterious, in comes Reyes and her vague sensitivities. Is she psychic? Telepathic? Unusually in touch with her past lives? Maybe she’s part alien like Gibson Praise. I honestly have no idea.
The final crap piece to the disappointing puzzle of Season 9 is that there is just too much going on all at once so no person or event can unfold with realistic timing and depth. In the first 10 eps they attempt to endear us to Doggett and Reyes and their partnership, establish a new conspiracy and meta mystery involving Mulder’s disappearance and baby William’s destiny, introduce Cary Elwes as a new Assistant Director, and build a complicated backstory and purpose for the super soldiers.
“The X-Files” formed its reputation on careful, deliberate plots and a mystery that got deeper even as it was explained. In comparison, Season 9 piles on so much in such a short time it reminds me of an ice cream sundae made by a seven-year-old: cookie dough ice cream, gummie bears, hot fudge, peanut butter, strawberries, and sprinkles. Ambitious, but unpalatable.
The important to-do in the first half of Season 9 unfolds primarily in “Nothing Important Happened Today” parts 1 and 2, “Trust No”, “Providence” and “Provenance.” At the beginning, Doggett busily investigates Kersh’s ties to the super soldiers when he discovers that Mulder has up and disappeared. Scully insists Mulder and her baby are just fine and wants Doggett to stop poking around. When William moves the mobile over his crib with his mind, she decides maybe she’d like to know more about the super soldiers after all.
Doggett discovers that the government recruited Knowle Roher and another buddy from the Marines – Shannon McMahon (played with stunt casting relish by Lucy Lawless) – as prototype super soldiers. Now they’re ready to start birthing super soldiers in the population and preparing the way by doping the water supply with a chemical to encourage mutation in human eggs. McMahon has been collaborating with the captain of a ship housing a secret human ova manipulation lab to expose the project. Knowle Roher has other ideas. He systematically destroys all the potential leakers, the ship, and the lab therein.
These episodes also provide additional stunt casting goodness in the form of Cary Elwes with a wretched American accent as former lover of Reyes and general pain-in-the-ass, Assistant Director Brad Follmer. He mostly hangs around, sometimes being very evil and sometimes less evil, and generally giving everyone a hard time. They also introduce the idea that Kersh was threatened with death if he didn’t cooperate with the super soldiers and that he urged Mulder to disappear in order to avoid the same fate.
In “Trust No 1,” Mulder and Scully exchange some melodramatic yet touching e-mails. They miss each other and wish he could come back. Scully hooks up with a mysterious National Security Agent guy they call the Shadow Man (played in his third “X-Files” role – including the movie – by Terry O’Quinn from “Lost”). He claims to want to give Mulder information about the super soldiers. Scully goes along with him and enacts the prearranged plan for Mulder’s return. At the train station where he’s due to arrive, the Shadow Man tries to kill Scully, but Doggett gets him first.
His body falls under a train, and when it disappears, they guess he was a super soldier himself. A man, presumably Mulder, jumps off the train near a rock quarry. Scully, Reyes, and Doggett go to find him. They don’t see Mulder but do get attacked by the Shadow Man. Luckily for them, because of his metal skeleton, Shadow Man gets sucked forcefully into the quarry wall by a magnetic mineral deposit. This proves it’s not utterly impossible to kill the super soldiers. Hint: This will come up again later.
“Providence” and “Provenance” are two decent but complicated episodes that take a circuitous and suspenseful route to revealing a no- enormous amount of information. Condensed version: Josepho was a soldier who had a spiritual awakening in Iraq; he came home to found a UFO cult. He believes the earth will be invaded by aliens and thinks this is awesome because they are the physical manifestations of God. God told him where to go to find a ship buried in the ground.
FBI Agent Cromer was undercover with the cult; he comes to believe in the invasion but doesn’t agree that it’s a good thing. Josepho prophesized that a miracle child (William) would be born and coveted by both the forces of good and evil. If the child’s father lived, he would follow in his footsteps and fight the coming invasion. Josepho has William kidnapped because he thinks Mulder is already dead and that William will lead the alien invasion force. Also believing Mulder is dead, in an attempt to fight the prophecy, Comer tries to kill William to save humanity.
Doggett ends up in a coma trying to prevent William’s kidnapping. While unconscious, a voice tells him to tell Scully not to trust the men that will come to her. Josepho starts to doubt that Mulder is actually dead and gets in touch with Scully. They meet and he tells her she can see her baby if she brings him Mulder’s head. Thanks to Doggett, her own good sense, and a cell phone planted by the Lone Gunmen before the kidnapping, she tracks down Josepho’s location. He and his cult have unearthed the buried UFO, and it goes crazy when William’s around. It wakes up, rises into the sky, and burns the cult members to a crisp while Scully and Reyes watch. William, however, survives.
So in the end, William is alive and possibly a sort of Christ child. Mulder might be dead, but based on Josepho’s uncertainty, probably isn’t. Unquestionably, Scully is nearing the end of her rope. A confession: I’m very confused about the super soldiers. I’m not sure whether I haven’t been paying enough attention (a distinct possibility at this point in the odyssey), if the mythology contradicts itself, or if the obfuscation is intentional. Did the government create the super soldiers or did the colonists? Or did the government create them for the colonists? If so, does that mean the government is still collaborating with the invaders? If not, how did the colonists have a lab on a military ship and why did they recruit marines? I’d like to think the second half of season 9 will clear this stuff up, but I’m not getting my hopes up. For now, I’m trying to steel myself for the end.