Season 8, Episode 18: “Vienen”
Original Airdate: April 29, 2001
This is an episode about Fox Mulder and John Doggett, and how the former decided to stop being a jerk to the latter. Was a time when Mulder would never ever stop being a jerk to a tough-jawed interloper like Doggett, but also was a time when the actor playing Mulder wasn’t working super-hard to get off the show. And so. It is not a surprise, to watch Mulder release the X-Files into the care of another. It is, however, a little bittersweet.
Our old friend the black oil is called upon to star in this hand-off. You remember the black oil, right? It was one of those things we used to be afraid of (it takes over your whole body!), then it got partially explained to us (it is a virus that makes you aliiiiiien!) and sort of turned into something else (THE BEES) and then, I don’t know, dropped between the couch cushions where we all maybe forgot about it. The oil is a strong villain, though! Combining your favorite things about aliens and body-snatchers, a little bit otherworldly and a little bit monster of the week. And I am happy to have it back.
The black oil has gone and infected almost an entire crew of folks working for an oil company in the Gulf of Mexico. One of the two men who is not infected (both “Mexican nationals,” we’re told) is killed, and a report on his mysterious death crosses the desk of the FBI’s most unwanted. Mulder wants to look into it. Doggett does not—he’s read the “Piper Maru”/“Apocrypha” case files, apparently, and isn’t impressed. Mulder could, of course, direct him to another set of files—maybe the files where he himself was infected with the virus?—but instead he decides to go behind Doggett’s back and do some investigating of his own.
Doggett isn’t the only one who wants Mulder to stay out of it, oh no. The CEO of Galpex Petroleum isn’t interested in this investigation at all, because of course he isn’t because of course he wants to drill all of this $$product$$ before anyone notices that he’s doing it. It’s the first time, I believe, that the black oil has actually had been tied into an oil-related storyline, but the episode doesn’t turn into a parable against consumption. Galpex is involved in order to give Kersh a reason to push Mulder out of the FBI for good. And, I know. Think about all of the things that Mulder’s gotten away with, and how is it that this dumb little investigation is the dumb little thing that gets him canned? But that, of course, is the point. Kersh is looking for a reason, doesn’t matter how it stacks up against all the others. He just needs the one.
But we’re ahead of ourselves, aren’t we. There’s the investigation, first. There’s Doggett heading off on his own, only to find that Mulder is already there, on the ship, questioning the crew. If you like television episodes where grim-faced men yell at each other about which one ought to be in charge, “Vienen” has a whole lot for you. What’s funny, of course, is that Doggett’s lines could easily be Scully’s lines, in any earlier season. Oh sure, he’s a little rougher, but Mulder going off to investigate something on his own isn’t new, isn’t aggressive behavior. It’s just behavior, it’s just what the man has always done. Doggett yelling that he’s in charge is just another iteration of Scully telling him that he’s nuts.
Incidentally this is, as you may have guessed, one of those Oh But What About Scully types of episodes. What about Scully, she’s pregnant, which by the law of television means she has to mostly stay indoors, doing things that don’t involve fires on oil rigs. Back in DC she performs an Unauthorized Autopsy and discovers that the black oil inside the first victim is dead, d-e-d, dead. This has never happened before! And what everyone surmises is that the victim and his surviving friend have a genetic immunity to the black oil, thanks to the fact that they are actually members of a Native American tribe with a “rare, undiluted gene pool.” So it’s not just the black oil that’s brought back for the Mulder/Doggett torch-passing, but also the disconcerting use of the Magical Native American! Aw, it’s like a weird, racist high school reunion.
So how does Doggett win Mulder’s heart, or at least, how does Doggett slightly endear himself to a man who has really not had much of a sense of humor since he was abducted and tortured? Three things: and I am not joking: Doggett is good at his job. I mean, he’s a guy that you want to have around. He doesn’t drag behind, and he knows how to get a radio working. Mulder gets to see that during the investigation. Second thing: he has compassion. He befriends the second uninfected man and then makes a point to go back for him once all of the fires are burning. (By the time Doggett finds the man, he’s dead, but that’s beside the point.) And third thing: he has eyes. He sees what Mulder sees. And he doesn’t deny it, or make excuses. Doggett just watches.
If these reasons seem a little thin, they are. You could argue that Mulder is leaving behind Scully as the heart of the operation, and acknowledging Doggett as the eyes, but the fact is, Scully isn’t particularly long for this department, either. And while “Vienen” works hard to hit its marks—a classic villain, a battle of dudes—it can’t measure up to all that’s come before it. The transfer is functional, but the transfer is hollow.