Season 9, Episode 16: “William”
Original Airdate: April 28, 2002
And just when you thought that The X-Files was out of twists, here’s a hell of a one: “Directed by David Duchovny.” Holy what. The man can no longer be bothered to mumble some nonsense about mutant genetics but he’s down to sit in the director’s chair, and also to get a co-writing credit on the script? And what’s more, he seems to be pretty good at directing? Kudos to you, The X-Files, you constantly find new paranormal avenues to explore. Too bad about this baby though.
That’s actually what I would call the book I am never going to write about Seasons 8 and 9, by the way, Too Bad About The Baby Though: A Guide to What Happened After Most People You Know Stopped Watching. And incidentally, I can’t say I’m sad to see him go. Everything good that William ever gave us seemed to come at the expense of something else. For instance: an opportunity for Gillian Anderson to pull off some of the best acting she ever did do on the program, at the expense of Scully’s good sense. An opportunity to re-focus the show’s direction, at the expense of giving us a villain who is so distant as to seem imaginary, and made up.
Because that’s often how I feel about these aliens, who are supposedly Colonizing. They seem pretty made up. When they threaten our characters, it is by proxy of the Supersoldiers, who are even more human-seeming than the humanoid Bounty Hunters who preceded them. Of course, the true villains of the show’s early years were entirely human—the Consortium, the Cigarette-Smoking Man. We could invest in a story that put our agents at odds with them, because we had some understanding of what it meant to be up against powerful, older, government men. And while I appreciate the opportunity of a fresh slate, I believe that the show ultimately suffers for keeping evil at such a distance. From telling us of the threat, but never even giving us the shape of it.
Of course, before this episode you might have thought you did know the shape of it. You might have thought that the concept of Colonization itself was enough of a threat, that the aliens’ fear of William (and his mobile-turning powers) represented the game. Save the baby, save the world. Yes? No? Oh—no. Says “William.” Because “William” eliminates William from the equation. Goes to great lengths to convince Scully that she must put her child up for adoption and get him out of the show’s plot, I possibly for good. Which I think raises the question: if William’s not the game, then what is the game? Are we really stuck with these far-away villains, these Supersoldiers that come and go?
Bright side, I guess, the nature of William’s dismissal isn’t half bad to watch. What happens is: a shadowy man breaks into the X-Files. Doggett catches him, and throws a few punches at him, then catches him for real. The shadowy man is incredibly disfigured, and he wants to talk to Scully. He says he’s been in touch with Mulder and also that his disfigurement was caused by alien tests. He wants help, says Mulder gave him the numbers of case files that will be of use. Only those case files are in Scully’s apartment, and for some reason she takes him there, and also lets him hold her child. Her child seems to like him.
Doggett and Reyes are convinced that the disfigured man is actually Mulder; Scully, of course, is not. Not even when Doggett runs a DNA test and it comes up Mulder-positive. Genetics, as ever! Because the man is eventually revealed to be Mulder’s brother, the presumed-dead (but-we-never-saw-the-body) Jeffrey Spender. Spender’s end game was to get to William and to inject him with “a form of magnetite,” “a gift,” he says, although he doesn’t say exactly what makes it a gift. What he says is that once his father realized he couldn’t control Colonization, he wanted no one to control colonization. He wanted the aliens to succeed. Genetics, as ever: Spender’s act is not meant to resist colonization so much as it is meant to resist his father’s influence.
Thematically, it’s a throwback, and a welcome change from the intermittent business of Supersoldiers. Overall, it’s a head-scratcher. How is it that Spender, of all people, is the one who’s able to convince Scully to send William away? Considering all of the threats she’s thus far warded off, and considering that this one isn’t even a threat? Considering that what Spender has done has in fact made William less valuable to the aliens, it’s pretty super-weird that Spender then says, “It’ll never be over. They’ll always know what he was. They’ll never accept what he is.” Well, okay. Then why cure him at all? Was it just to give us a reason to see Spender again? Just to remind us of the glorious days of that Cigarette-Smoking Son of a Bitch?
But oppositional plot notions seem the least of our problems out here on the raggedy edge of Season 9. At this point? It would be good just to know what we’re up against.