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The X-Files
8.11: The Gift


I had a more positive response to this episode than on previous engagements, perhaps because I was more willing to divorce the actual content from the intentionally distracting retcon trappings of the lost Mulder trail. Certainly, the lack of Mulder sustenance seems to be largely Rob Shearman’s sticking point in wanting to believe, irked by the case of false advertising. Taken for what it is, though, The Gift’s an effective and affecting non-mythology episode that wins inclusion in the arc somewhat waywardly.

One thing that quickly becomes evident in the series at this point, and can’t help but grate, no matter how much one steels oneself, is the opportunistic – or shall we say, cynical – means by which the writers apply belief or scepticism to the main cast. So Scully is now recast as the often blunt, uncompromising and withering believer, while Doggett must struggle manfully her cast-off sceptic mantle. What you get in an episode like this, though, is a rather ridiculous position where he has a face full of the supernatural yet will still retire to a safe distance of disavowal when it comes to UFOs a couple of weeks later. The best I can say is that Patrick does a commendable job of underplaying and parrying the writers’ unkindest characterisations with an air of stoic reticence. At times, this means Doggett just comes across as a bit thick, but it’s better than him shouting and waving his arms about.

It’s interesting coming back to Season 8 for the mythology episodes alone, because you tend to notice the leaps from the intervening gaps much more. Most significantly, you’re left with a profound “Poor John” feeling, for the way everyone snaps at him, treats him like shit and is generally dismissive, and yet he just takes it on the chin and gets on with it. You kind of wish the X-Files had this kind of professionalism on the case seven seasons ago!

There’s no Scully in this one, so it at least means she doesn’t get to be short with John and look down her nose at him. Skinner does it instead! Doggett’s discovered the latest retcon in the Mulder case, via Fox visiting Squamash Pennsylvania in connection with his deadly condition not long before he was abducted. It looks as if Mulder shot someone with a weapon he’s concealed under his sink, and Doggett takes his concerns to the AD, most particularly because Scully signed the case reports Mulder entered. Skinner thinks John’s unfeeling git, so the latter has to tell him “I’m not taking it to OPR, I’m taking it to you” (I mean really, everything about Skinner and Scully in this season smacks of hypocrisy of the first order).

It turns out that Mulder had a lead on a soul eater, albeit a decidedly more benign interpretation than the African legend (we’ve recently seen similar fast-and-loose appropriation of terms but not their generally attributed meaning with walk-ins). This one derives from an Indian folk legend about a creature that lived out in the woods (North American shaman Lakhota Indians). Rather than swallowing souls or anything overtly cannibalistic, this chap snuffles up disease, ingesting and displaying the sickness itself; in the end, Mulder cannot in good conscience allow the poor fellow to take his own sickness, compassionate as he is towards him; he attempted to put him out of his misery (but failed).

This is a persuasive take, and if the design of the eater is on the unremarkable side, tangible empathy is evoked. The development whereby John, protecting the man-creature against the townsfolk who wish to continue exploiting him for his healing capacities, is shot in the back and killed is fairly persuasive too, if not to say decisive, and the twist whereby, upon his resurrection, Doggett is told “It took your death. You freed it” is simultaneously overly neat and satisfyingly so.

Less neat is that we see no retribution against those who killed John. At very least, Sheriff Frey (Michael McGrady) deserved braining with a shovel. It’s one thing for Doggett not to submit a report, quite another to allow a corrupt lawman to go unpunished. Of which, Rob Shearman called out Skinner’s “Don’t write that report” advice as “the series this year has become a show that actively urges cover-ups”. Which is a fair point on one level, but basic realism about the workings of governmental institutions on another. The correlate would be, of course, if these guys feel this, should they in good conscience continuing working for something they know suppresses, alters, or omits the truth? Which is, after all, a conundrum of which Mulder has been aware from the word dot.

Not much lightness in The Gift, but a word for the small-hours call to the Lone Gunman, and Doggett’s amusing deadpan “You wearing pants, Langly?” This isn’t satisfying as a mythology episode, but conversely, I’m kind of glad the Mulder plot lacks much in the way of glue, as I find this kind of retcon quite irritating. It was probably unwise, though, to have a plotline in which the series’ male FBI protagonist is shown dead and then resurrected a few episodes before one in which the series male FBI protagonist is shown dead and then resurrected.

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