Season 9, Episode 17: “Release”
Original Airdate: May 5, 2002
“Release” is not an X-File. Which is not so surprising; not every X-File is an X-File. What is surprising is that “Release” is closure, aka basically something the show never ever likes to do ever, because, you know, just in case maybe someday you need to bring back a character and cover him in makeup and have him pretend to be someone else so that you can get rid of that baby that was annoying everyone. Wait, what were we talking about?
Why is it that “Release” has a special dispensation to provide closure? It could be because the case it’s closing is not an X-File. It’s not even O.G. X-Files mythology—it’s the case of Luke Doggett’s murder, the silent pain that keeps our John Doggett’s brow constantly furrowed. But “Release” may also exist simply to give Robert Patrick one last stage on which to demonstrate, again, that he is the best thing about the final two seasons of this show.
The case of Luke Doggett is as stubbornly down-to-earth as the case of Samantha was not. Luke was abducted from his own neighborhood. There were no witnesses, and his body turned up three days later in a field. New light in the case comes first from an anonymous tip that leads Doggett to discover the body of a woman murdered and hidden in the walls of an apartment. An incredibly intense FBI cadet named Hayes—a student of Scully’s—takes one look at the victim and accurately outlines the circumstances of her murder. Impressed, Scully introduces Hayes to Doggett and Reyes, and Hayes offers them a profile of the killer: 40s, out of state, recently arrived, involved in organized crime.
With that profile, Doggett and Reyes turn up a man named Regali, who is super-rude to them in a bar. Doggett, feeling confident that Hayes’ profile has led them in the right direction, asks him to take a look at Luke’s case. But Hayes can do better than that. Not only is he familiar with the case, he’s already working it—he believes that the man who killed the woman-in-the-wall is also the man who killed Luke.
Hayes is the perfect opportunity for this non-X-File to become an X-File, but writers John Shiban and David Amman resist giving Hayes any sort of supernatural ability. Perhaps because it’s been done, before, and on this very program? Or perhaps because Luke, again, has never been an X-File, and at this point there’s nothing to gain from pushing the supernatural into the case. In spite of the way he was initially introduced, Doggett came to be defined not by his status as a nonbeliever, but by his (sorry) doggedness, his focus, and his drive. Strength is his faith, and the best way to challenge him is to reveal the ways in which he is vulnerable.
The back half of the episode uncovers another layer in the case, although honestly it’s not a particularly well-constructed layer. What We Learn, Is, that Brad Follmer has spent most of his career on the take from none other than Regali. It started back in New York; Reyes even witnessed one of Follmer’s meeting with Regali (and taking what she describes as a “stack” of money, which seems sort of showy for a streetcorner rendezvous?). Follmer did this not knowing that Regali had anything to do with Luke’s murder, but when Doggett comes to him asking for help nabbing Regali, Follmer’s first instinct is to run interference. He investigates Hayes, finds out that he’s actually a schizophrenic who faked credentials to get into the Academy (um, nice work, FBI?), and lets it drop that Hayes lived in New York City at the time of Luke’s murder.
This is all somehow enough to send a SWAT team to arrest Hayes, although frankly, aside from the faked credentials that is some circumstantial circumstancing. Which normally, I wouldn’t even bother pointing out? Plots gotta plot along and all that. But Reyes and Scully make such a big deal out of how all of the evidence concerning Regali and Luke is circumstantial—Reyes is particularly not impressed when Doggett runs Regali’s credit card activity (!) and finds that he bought gas two miles from the Doggetts’ Long Island home the day of the murder. Then Follmer drops that Hayes lived in New York City at the same time and all of a sudden it’s case closed? Between that, and the longshot about a guy successfully faking his way into the Academy, and the fact that Regali actually calls Doggett “flatfoot” at one point, I think we have to admit that “Release” is not the strongest overall episode to come around.
But. It comes out all right in the end, or rather, it does end. For Doggett as well as for Regali. While questioning Hayes, the agents all remember that they forgot to arrest Regali for the crime they can for sure link him to. They hustle after him, and he sort-of-confesses to Doggett, and while Doggett is trying to decide if he’s going to go after him—if he’s going to be strong in one way, or if he’s going to be strong in another—Follmer shoots Regali straight in the head. Case closed, Doggett and his ex-wife scatter their son’s ashes, and Doggett and Reyes embrace. End of show! Just kidding. But end of this part, for sure.