Season 8, Episodes 1 and 2: “Within”/“Without”
Original Airdates: November 5 and November 12, 2000
Aw, look, I know. Change is hard. You miss Mulder. You miss the conspiracy. You miss the old days! You miss your youth. I miss your youth too, but the point is—change is an opportunity. No, it is. Even on this stubborn old television program. The addition of John Doggett may have been, to some, a sign that it was time to write off the whole show, but if “Within” and “Without” have anything to say about it, the addition of John Doggett could be exactly the thing this thing needs.
Because here’s the #1 thing that losing Mulder and gaining Doggett did for The X-Files: it forced the writers to reconfigure the show’s existing elements, to use their existing resources and even—heaven help me—create a little character development. Scully is the primary beneficiary of this change. She is now, finally, finally, finally, a believer. A believer with the backbone of a skeptic, of course (if her heart was a pillow, on that pillow would be stitched, “I have seen things that I cannot explain”), but still, a believer. And now, without Mulder around, she’s the driver. She’s the one who has to push to get things done.
Skinner is a believer too, although his belief isn’t quite as big of a reversal. He was, after all, infected by nanobots, and it seems a long time since he was the guy getting in Mulder and Scully’s way primarily because he found their claims ludicrous. Perhaps because of his military history, perhaps because of the things he’s seen, Skinner has always had slightly more believer-potential. That potential is used to great effect, here, as he and Scully team up to find the Mulder they have lost. Together, they comb the desert. They sweat, they snap, they point guns at each other. In other words, they grieve. The best a couple of tough guys can.
Their search turns up two old-timey plot elements: the Alien Bounty Hunter and Gibson Praise. We know, already, that the Alien Bounty Hunter’s charge is to hide evidence of Colonization as best he can—that’s why he picked up Mulder, and why he’s targeting Praise. The leap to Praise as the ABH’s next target is absurd, to be sure, but the ABH’s presence in these episodes is actually a lot of fun. The scripts lean hard on his shapeshifting ability, elevating it from a device to a set piece (the scene in which Scully pursues a Bounty Hunter version of herself is a lot of fun) and making me wonder why the hell nobody thought of this sooner.
Actually there’s a lot of that to go around in these episodes. The pairing of Skinner and Scully, for instance, is 100% charming, like, makes a girl want to write fanfic charming. Plus, pitting Scully and Skinner against Doggett is a fine way to introduce the new character to a grumpy bunch of fans. We’re not being made to like him, not right away. If anything, we’re given permission to hate him, as he spends his first scene trying to outwit Scully, only to end up with a glassful of water in his face. And a later scene scowling at Skinner, as Skinner gruffly (and correctly) informs him that he’s being made a patsy in a Mulderhunt destined to fail.
But the Committee For You To Accept John Doggett has an ace up its sleeve, and that ace is named Robert Patrick. Who is a charmer without being charming. Who has the potential to believe but isn’t going to let you off easy. Who is so definitely not a replacement for Duchovny, just as Doggett isn’t a replacement for Mulder. A tough-talking Marine, a former New York City detective? Enunciates clearly, seems focused on the person he’s talking to at all times? Yeah, no, this guy is new. And while tough-talking former-cop is hella archetype, it’s satisfying to see that guy dropped into this show’s world. Like it is, in fact, your Scully/Skinner fanfic and you also did a crossover from I don’t know some basic cable cop drama.
Mulder, for being the guy who is sort of not on the show anymore, is in these episodes plenty. He appears primarily in Scully’s dreams, terrifying visions of her partner strapped to a chair, having holes drilled in the roof of his mouth. There have been plenty of “they’re doing tests!!!!”-type scenes on this show, but these are particularly gruesome in their rendering. You wonder, almost, if the creative team took a perverse pleasure in tormenting their show’s erstwhile hero, in picturing him constantly but never letting him speak.
So it’s an episode of terrific change, except it isn’t. Even the season’s new villain (because, in case you forgot, the show has either kilt off or turned around its old villains) is our old buddy, Alvin Kersh. The combined presences of Bounty Hunter, and Praise, and Kersh offer a little bit of stabilization, a rare little bit of continuity while everyone else shuffles themselves around the bases. If you miss Mulder, look. You’re going to keep missing Mulder (and, ps, hang in there). But if you’re open to something new—if you’re willing to believe—then maybe there will be life after Season 7.