I get the impression no one much liked Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), but I felt, for all the sub-Counsellor Troi, empath twiddling that dogged her characterisation, she was a mostly positive addition to the series’ last two years (of its main run). Undoubtedly, pairing her with Doggett, in anticipation of Gillian Anderson exiting just as David Duchovny had – you rewatch these seasons and you wonder where her head was at in hanging on – made for aggressively facile gender-swapped conflict positions on any given assignment. And generally, I’d have been more interested in seeing how two individuals sympathetic to the cause – her and Mulder – might have got on. Nevertheless, in an episode like 4-D, you get her character, and Doggett’s, at probably their best mutual showing.
Of course, you have to wonder what Chris Carter secretly thought of Monica, since he utterly character-assassinated her between the end of the series and her 2016 reappearance. Nothing about Reyes hitherto suggested someone who’d sacrifice her moral centre to work with Cigarette Smoking Man in exchange for surviving the End Times. So, you know, taking a massive shit all over her, basically. Presumably Carter figured she hadn’t really worked out and, like the actual father of Scully’s baby, he could flagrantly retcon her (why Gish agreed to this, though, is anyone’s guess. It’s isn’t as if she was having trouble getting work).
And no, Carter’s predictive programming of a virus unleashed on humanity through a vaccination programme as a means to depopulating the planet isn’t enough to give any of the cobblers of his Seasons 10 and 11 arcs a free pass. I mean, he’s essentially putting it all out there, if you take the narrative fact of a virus as literally as you do it including alien DNA (and it requiring Scully to develop a vaccine to remedy the situation – oh wait, that bit was the Dallas-esque frickin-dream My Struggle II. Unless, of course, it’s Carter’s way of saying “None of this is real”. Which, admittedly, would be quite clever. But still in no way dramatically satisfying).
But back to 4-D. Some will say the only way to rise above what’s going on right now is aim for 4-D. Or is that five? Steven Maeda’s conceit of the title being the locker number of serial killer Timothy Lukesh (Dylan Haggerty) is a bit too cute, maybe, and I think he missed some potential in exploring both posited parallel worlds rather than sticking to just the one. But in many other respects, this feels quite prescient of the kind of fare that became commonplace in film and TV since. Not least Fringe, for which it was bread and butter. Madea had worked on The X-Files since the seventh season, and his contributions to the ninth would be two of its best (the other being Audrey Pauley). He’d go on to write for both Lost and the entirely underrated Groundhog Day-esque Day Break.
We open with Doggett being shot in an alley after Reyes has had her throat cut. Then, apparently incoherently, Doggett shows up to see Reyes at her new apartment. The series is at its most romantically suggestive between them here. what with his offering her his polish sausage as she brushes a crumb from the side of his mouth. A moment later she receives a call to say Doggett is in hospital. And lo, the man in her apartment is gone. This is, of course, a blurring of parallel worlds, and Reyes being Reyes, she is quickly credulous of such an idea when it formulates.
Some have criticised this aspect of her personality, but I rather think it’s to the character’s credit. It also cuts to the chase, which is always a good thing (on this occasion, it leads to a masterful scene, the highlight of the episode, opposite Lukesh; she’s resolute and unintimidated as he stands within an inch of her face telling her how “You bled just like a pig”).
The classic series pitfalls are here too, of course. It isn’t such a problem that we never learn how Lukesh won his abilities, but it’s a little lazy that someone should do no more with them than go around cutting out women’s tongues while begrudgingly caring for a bed-bound mother (Angela Paton). One who eventually has hers removed too. Madea would say this is exactly the point, that Lukesh is so warped he can’t see the potential of his gift, but the issue is not that character defect but rather that we end up reverting to one of those all-purpose X-Files motivational templates.
That said, as dubious plot choices go, I quite like how quickly the frankly absurd idea of putting Reyes in the spotlight as a suspect unravels. There’s Cary Elwes’ banal ex-/FBI irritant on hand, whom I’d commendably managed to forget about; Elwes is a good actor and plays Brad Foulmer’s dirt-bag aspects to the hilt, no doubt about that, but he deserves better (additional to which, the nick-of-time, plug the bad guy in the head resolution is annoying, most especially because it denies Reyes agency very much her due, mainly because of the nasty end her other self met).
Scully’s barely in 4-D – again; the last episode I watched was Via Negativa – and Monica offers a gentle put down of her empathic reductiveness as Dana tells of also seeing something that wasn’t there once (“I think that’s wonderful. A blessing. But that’s not what happened to me”). This is an episode that shows both the positives and negatives of the new-ish line up. Both Gish and Robert Patrick are great, and they both have interesting things to do, but it’s also undeniable that they lack the indefinable spark that makes you want to see them together (or, in Mulder and Scully’s case, if you had any sense, see them not get together).
One thing I particularly like with 4-D is that we’re never explicitly told which is our X-Files world. We assume it’s the one where Doggett doesn’t have his respirator turned off and Reyes doesn’t get her throat cut, but such is the astuteness of our joining proceedings with that world, we’re left with a lurking unease, even as Reyes’ compassionate euthanasia sets her world to rights (actually, maybe I should reconsider the conviction that she’d never ally herself with CSM).