I blazed through my rewatching of "The X-Files" eighth season (2000-01, Fox), which plays like a page-turner of a novel and yet covers a ton of ground, from Scully getting a new partner to finally partnering with Mulder in an unabashedly romantic sense.
When it aired, I thought this was the best season of "The X-Files." I can't say that anymore, but I will argue that Season 8 is the best achievement. Season 3, featuring the glory years of the Mulder-Scully dynamic, has to rank as the best season, and Season 6 -- the first in Los Angeles -- was a remarkable second wind for the show.
In Season 8, the show finds its third wind thanks to the addition of Robert Patrick's John Doggett, who gets water thrown in his face in his first meeting with Scully, and who gets pushed into a chair in his first meeting with Mulder. But after proving his worth by doing the blue-collar work of investigating monsters (the standalones this year harken back to a Season 1 vibe, as the cinematographer and location scouts get in a groove we haven't seen since Vancouver), Scully gives the dogged Doggett Mulder's Apollo 11 medallion symbolizing teamwork. Aw.
The only flaw of this season (which, likes Seasons 3 and 6, doesn't have a bad episode) is the over-emphasis on Doggett being The Skeptic. Even Patrick expressed skepticism about this in a DVD feature, noting that Doggett retained his stance even after being eaten and regurgitated by a monster in "The Gift." Ultimately, though, Patrick made such an impression on "The X-Files" that he is now more associated with John Doggett than with the T-1000 in "Terminator 2."
He's not the only good actor doing good work in Season 8. Nicholas Lea's Alex Krycek gets a gripping sendoff courtesy a bullet from Skinner; even in his final moments, we aren't totally sure about his loyalties. And Annabeth Gish -- although not as good of an actor as Patrick, Duchovny or Anderson -- is a cute contrast to Scully's beauty, and we'll see in Season 9 how the Doggett-Monica Reyes chemistry works out.
More serialized than ever before, Season 8 launches a new twist on the familiar mythology. The Brian Thompson-looking rebel aliens are now populating the planet with formerly human, now-alien super soldiers (or, as the Brooklyn-accented Doggett says in the season finale -- and about 100 times in Season 9, if memory serves -- "supah soljahs"). These are sort of like the alien-human hybrids that came about via the black oil infection, but even more Terminator-like.
The biggest twist is that Mulder and Scully themselves are the X-Files: Mulder is tortured by the alien rebels on their spaceship, and Scully is pregnant with an inexplicable baby. That final kiss provides satisfying closure for 'shippers; I liked it a lot more on this viewing than when the episode first aired (since I was a latecomer to the show). And in the scene before that, people who wanted the show to continue even if Duchovny and Anderson quit (that includes me) are given their giggle-worthy scene. Doggett, with Reyes at his side and in a moment that would make Mulder and Scully proud, stands up to slimeball FBI director Kersh, saying that he'll continue to investigate X-Files, even if it's the FBI itself that needs to be investigated.
Here's how I rank the episodes of the kinda great Season 8:
1. "Surekill" (episode 8) -- For the first time in the L.A. era, an episode won me over by how it looked and felt. I love the noir-meets-"Of Mice and Men" story about brothers, one who can barely see and the other who can see through walls. It even has a femme fatale: The girlfriend of the smarter brother who is the secret objective of affection of the dimmer, but sweeter, brother. Agents Scully and Doggett play second fiddle to the yarn here, which is rare but rather refreshing in this character-driven year.
2. "Medusa" (12) -- This is another throwback to the simpler Season 1 vibe as Doggett and a group of workers investigate a subway tunnel and its various offshoots into boarded-up tunnels and platforms. As with classics like "Ice" and "Darkness Falls," the monster here is tiny bacteria.
3-6. "Per Manum" (13)/"This is Not Happening" (14)/"Deadalive" (15)/"Three Words" (16) -- Rarely have viewers been so drawn in by the fates of Scully and Mulder as in these four episodes, where Scully fears she will give birth to an alien, Mulder returns but then dies, Mulder comes back to life but only because he's being transformed into an alien super solider, and finally, Mulder is healed thanks to a lucky break: Skinner tries to kill Mulder in order to save Scully's baby, as per Krycek's demand. Oh, and Doggett and Mulder meet, and Agent Reyes is introduced. It's quite a ride, and easier to follow than myth episodes from earlier seasons.
7-8. "Essence" (20)/"Existence" (21) -- Rarely have screeching car chases through parking garages been so exciting and stare-downs between characters who don't trust each other (Doggett vs. Adam Baldwin's Knowle Rohrer, Mulder vs. Krycek, etc.) been so engrossing. If Season 2's "Colony"/"Endgame" was a stylistic throwback to "The Terminator," then these episodes are akin to "Terminator 2," with alien-abductee-turned-super-solider Billy Miles standing in for the T-1000.
9. "Vienen" (18) -- It's a blast to see Duchovny and Patrick's acting chops paired up for the first time, and although the return of the black oil virus was kind of an unnecessary side trip, the setting on a Gulf of Mexico oil rig is awesome.
10. "Roadrunners" (4) -- I think of settings like this episode's off-the-map Utah desert town when I think of the L.A. years. I'm probably overestimating how many desert episodes there were, but that's partly because "Roadrunners" is so evocative. Scully is in a serious bind, trapped by small-town cultists who want to plant a parasitic slug messiah in her brain. She's no damsel in distress; she's simply outnumbered, but it's still satisfying when Doggett comes to the rescue and Scully realizes he's a good guy to have on her side.
11. "Patience" (3) -- In the first Scully-Doggett team-up, Scully struggles to fill Mulder's shoes. Scully's inability to make Mulder-esque leaps really does illustrate what a great character Mulder is. At the same time, the man-bat monster is cool, there's a strong guest turn by an old man who's been hiding from the creature for years, and by episode's end -- although we miss Mulder -- we realize we can comfortably go forward with the new partnership.
12. "Redrum" (6) -- For the first time in the show's run, an episode is handed off to a guest lead. Doggett and Scully are merely supporting characters in this "Twilight Zone"-y journey of a lawyer who is living his days backwards, starting with waking up in an orange jumpsuit in a prison cell. Joe Morton (yet another "Terminator 2" tie-in to Season 8) is one of the few actors who could pull this off.
13. "Alone" (19) -- Doggett is partnered with the gung-ho but somewhat gun-shy Agent Leyla Harrison (Jolie Jenkins), who had kept Mulder and Scully's travel records at the FBI and had always dreamed of working an X-File. Although we know as viewers that this partnership won't stick, "Alone" is still a solid MOTW with some nice moments. Mulder squares off with the human-salamander mutant like he did with Tooms back in Season 1. And in the final scene, Harrison asks Mulder and Scully how they got off Antarctica after escaping the spaceship. Even though M&S hem and haw until the credits roll, the fact that the writers acknowledge that pesky plot hole from the 1998 movie goes a long way toward soothing nitpicky fans.
14. "The Gift" (11) -- The idea that Mulder knew he was dying in Season 7 and secretly sought out a mystical healer never really clicked with me. Still, it does lead Doggett to find the mystical healer, who has to rank among the grossest, weirdest MOTWs due to his method of eating the ill person and then regurgitating them as good as new.
15. "Salvage" (9) -- If Doggett wasn't in the mix, this could totally pass for a Season 1 episode due to its intriguing silliness. The monster is an industrial worker who is gradually turning into a metal man (played by the burly prison guard from "Prison Break"). In one of those "of course" moments that is nonetheless satisfying, he ends up purposely crushing himself in a compactor at the end.
16. "Empedocles" (17) -- Doggett doesn't want Reyes opening up the case of his son's murder again based on her hunch. This is sort of a Season 9 sneak peak, as we get a sense of what drives Doggett and how Reyes likes to conduct investigations.
17. "Badlaa" (10) -- This episode's MOTW is memorable both for his look (a mute Indian little person with no legs who tools around on a squeaky cart) and his method of travel (he crawls inside a bigger person via their ... well, it's "The X-Files," so you can probably guess).
18-19. "Within" (1)/"Without" (2) -- The year starts off very much like a pilot episode for a spinoff as Doggett goes through the paces of learning about things like the alien rebel shapeshifter (who now looks like Mulder) and humans with alien DNA such as young Gibson Praise (last seen two years ago).
20. "Invocation" (5) -- I used to have a perception that the later-season episodes always ended without explanations, whereas the early season episodes let things play out. During my rewatching project, I've realized that's not entirely accurate. But here's the episode that gave me that perception: In "Invocation," a 7-year-old boy reappears 10 years after he goes missing, but he's still 7 years old. And no explanation for this is even attempted.
21. "Via Negativa" (7) -- Although it's a popular episode, this story of Doggett stuck in a dreamscape (or something like that) didn't totally work for me. However, it does have the nice touch of Scully saving him (by simply waking him up), so at this point both agents have saved each other once, and their partnership is off and running.
Where would you rank Season 8 among "X-Files" years? What were your favorite episodes? Share your thoughts below. Up next, I'll be revisiting "The Lone Gunmen," which aired during the second half of Season 8, and then it's on to the ninth and last season of the parent show.