Review of "Empedocles"

The X-Files, v. 2.0

by Sarah Stegall

Written by Greg Walker
Directed by Barry K. Thomas
Airdate: 22 April 2001

"I saw Elvis once in a potato chip." -- Fox Mulder

Being dead has done wonders for Fox Mulder. He's funny, he's feisty, he has that barely-suppressed grin hovering around his mouth, and he's sexy as hell. The guy who was dragging through the seventh season of the X-Files has returned from the void with a spring in his step and fire in his eye. I wish he could stay longer.

Our evening begins with a layoff to give any manager nightmares; Mr. Milquetoast gets fired, leaves in shock, witnesses an auto accident that frees some evil being to possess him, and then walks back in to introduce his former boss to a new intrepretation of "termination". The New Orleans PD calls in FBI Agent and top-notch profiler Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) to contribute her expertise in Satanism and pop culture; she immediately diagnoses a severe case of Marilyn Manson and calls up Agent Mulder for help. Unfortunately, Mulder has just taken Scully to the hospital emergency room, and is playing circle-and-hiss games with his opposite number, John Doggett. Reyes refuses to let either of them be distracted, and guides their focus back to the case despite their preoccupation with their pissing contest. No wonder Scully likes her.

It's just as well that this particular X-File is not all that fresh. We've already seen the enraged employee scenario, and X-Files involving demonic possession are a glut on the market, but the focus of the episode is not really on the trials of Jeb Dukes, Disgruntled Worker At Large. Viewers will probably be spending more time savoring the heightened dynamics of the meeting between Agent Doggett and Agent Mulder, comparing the approaches of Agent Reyes and Agent Scully, and even dissecting the cross-currents between Doggett/Scully and Mulder/Reyes. All we needed for a compleat X-Files Smack-Down was Skinner versus Kersh.

"Empedocles" is our first X-File with the whole team present and accounted for, both actual (Scully and Mulder) and potential (Doggett and Reyes), while actually working on a case. Everyone has something pithy to say; Scully's admission to Doggett that she was a skeptic for so long because "I was afraid to believe" goes straight to the bone. It also resonates later when Dogget realizes that his unbelief is based on guilt, that if he accepted that he could have used paranormal techniques to investigate the death of his son but didn't, he will be crushed by guilt. Yet Doggett, one of the most fundamentally honest characters in the series, finally admits to himself that his denial is compromising his own integrity. Mulder is in rare form; I loved his line to the tenacious Agent Reyes, "You just keep shootin' til ya hit something, doncha?" Some scenes were actually redemptive; Mulder, who has spent eight years ditching Scully at every opportunity to go work on a case, now attempts to brush off Reyes in order to spend time with his partner. Maybe it took some serious down time (six feet down) to teach Mulder that human contact is not as overrated as he thinks.

I would not have expected that he could still find something fresh to bring to the role of Fox Mulder, but David Duchovny shines in this episode as he has not in a long, long time. His moments with Scully are tender without being cloying, intimate without being mawkish, with just a touch of the old sublimated sexual tension. He blazes at Doggett, is coolly sardonic with Reyes, and manages always to convey both fragility and resilience in a Mulder now very much older and more worn than the one we met in 1993. He is leaving the role with grace and skill, and leaving us with a final glimpse of how good he really was.

Annabeth Gish's Agent Reyes is emerging as a much stronger and more sympathetic character than when she was introduced. She is well able to stand up to Mulder, much less Doggett, and is proving to be as tenacious as Scully without having to copy her cool detachment. I only worry at some of the stereotyping creeping into the Doggett/Reyes dynamic. In a pivotal scene between Doggett and Reyes, Doggett is doing the classic masculine "active" things and Reyes is asking "How do you feel"? Let us NOT go down that road, boys. Reyes can be a passionate advocate without being a New Age cottonhead. The reason Mulder and Scully generated so much interest to start with was that they reversed the traditional mental gender roles; he was intuitive and impulsive, she was rational and methodical. The X-Files team would do well to stick as close to that original dynamic as possible as they mold Reyes and Doggett into the new dyad.

I must deplore the introduction of yet another soap opera element—this time into Agent Doggett's life. We learn for sure that his young son was murdered. Can't the guy just be a good cop, does he have to be a martyr too? Is it part of the entrance requirements to the X-Files team that you have to have had a close family member murdered under mysterious circumstances? I am really hoping Agent Reyes is an orphan with no living siblings, just for the sake of variety. >

Overall, this is one of the best episodes of the new era. Mulder and Scully get one last chance to remind us why we will miss them, and Doggett and Reyes get a chance to earn their stripes. This is the big time in series television, the tag team face-off, the turning point on which the future of a franchise rests. A lot is riding on fan acceptance of Doggett and Reyes, and Ten Thirteen is pulling out some pretty hefty chops to make it work. Greg Walker's script sparkles and Barry Thomas' direction zips through a story which focuses less on the paranormal than on the parallelisms of Mulder and Doggett, Scully and Reyes. The focus was not on the story, but right now it didn't need to be. If this is the season where the torch gets passed, it's good to see that it's got one last flare in it. "Empedocles" gets five out of five sunflower seeds.

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