8×02: Without

“We live in a darkness of our own making, blind to a habitant world all but unseen by us. A world of beings traveling through time and space imaginable to us only as flights of fancy. Who are these beings we dare to imagine but fear to accept? What dark goes on inside their impossible machines, cloaked from us by invisible forces? If they know our secrets, why can’t we know theirs?” — Dana Scully

The search for Mulder continues as an alien bounty hunter causes trouble, only for Doggett and Scully to end up becoming partners on the X-Files.

Without

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Radhika: And so continues the story of Scully’s search for Mulder in part two of a very sad, angry and paranoid set of episodes. This is the episode where Scully, Skinner and the audience need to accept that things really have changed in X-Files land and that things might not be terribly great for some time. And it’s something I still watch with a twinge of sadness, even though I lived through this trauma more than a decade ago.

Where we last left off, it looked like Doggett had cornered Mulder — but in this episode, we learn that it’s not actually Mulder, just an Alien Bounty Hunter trying to track down wunderkind Gibson Praise, who has been hiding out at a school for the deaf. The Bounty Hunter eventually takes on the guise of Scully as well, causing some real havoc when he attacks another FBI agent.

Meanwhile, Scully and Skinner manage to track down Gibson Praise and take him to a nearby hospital — but of course, Praise seemingly vanishes after some time. The boy is taken by the Bounty Hunter now in the guise of Skinner, but all is better when Scully shoots at faux-Skinner, killing the hunter. Doggett reports all these details to Deputy Director Kersh, and this ends in Doggett getting assigned to the X-Files along with Scully. Turns out Skinner’s warning about Doggett being set up for a fall ended up being right all along.

Without

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

The episode remains fairly interesting, thanks to the whole Alien Bounty Hunter plot — resurrecting the question of whom you can really trust. At one point, Scully ends up pulling a gun on the real Skinner (reminiscent of an earlier episode, “Paper Clip” where Scully, Skinner and Mulder all have their guns drawn) — and even though Skinner has developed into a real friend at this point, as I pointed out when discussing the previous episode, it becomes extra clear that Scully is in a pretty terrible place and is going to end up feeling pretty alone, no matter what, without Mulder around.

However, this is the episode where Doggett seems to soften up towards Scully a bit. He does mock the possibility that Mulder has her believing all kinds of UFO “crap,” but even though he’s the new skeptic on The X-Files, he seems to sense that something is kind of off. When he visits Scully in the hospital after she’s recovering from her encounter with the Alien Bounty Hunter, he seems somewhat changed — newly assigned to the X-Files and willing to engage with Scully on a more human level. Of course, Scully isn’t ready to tell him all her secrets yet, but it’s a slight improvement over the open hostility both characters displayed in the season opener.

Without

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Max: I had forgotten what a strange, paranoid, and claustrophobic episode this is. “Without” features some of the most suffocating story beats since the second and third seasons, Scully pulling a gun on Skinner and everything. And I think it is precisely because there is so very little to go on as to what kind of forces are against Scully in her search for the truth and the whereabouts of her partner. It’s also a tragedy because she towards the end of the episode is actually in very close proximity to the UFO holding Mulder, but is unable to see it through the same shielding that protected it in “Requiem.”

Speaking of Mulder, we see more of his captive situation in this episode. The production design of the room he’s in was meant to recall the space jockeys of the Alien film series, but to be quite honest I felt the chair he’s restrained in is incredibly hokey, more of a parody of Giger than any kind of faithful homage. It also doesn’t help that the design basically calls so much attention to his privates in the wide shots. But hey, the show has never really been that good at portraying the results of abductions (recall the very silly suction clamps around the visibly pregnant Anderson back in season two), so perhaps this is more of a snarky nitpick than legitimate criticism. We do, however, leave him off in a dire predicament as a cadre of Alien Bounty Hunters circles him menacingly. This would prove to be the last time we see the ABH, another sign that the show has moved on and changed from its classic period.

Without

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

The episode though is really all about bringing Doggett around to the possibilities that the facts and the truth in the X-Files can rarely be found in the official record, at least not those that a man like Kersh would ever accept or take seriously. As our new hero says, his findings read like an X-File, which land him assigned to the familiar confines of the basement office. For someone who was talked about as a future director of the Bureau, this must be an awfully bitter pill to swallow, but we see glimmers of the fundamentally decent man we later know he is when he accepts his fate. Sure, some of his methods of investigation rubbed Scully and Skinner the wrong way, but as this episode unfolded we learned to appreciate the damned-if-you-do damned-if-you-don’t predicament he was placed in. For Scully and Doggett, this is a relationship borne out of the worst of circumstances, far worse than Mulder’s playful accusations that Scully was assigned to spy on him.

With this settled, the structure of the season begins to take shape. Mulder’s abduction is materially different from Scully’s, both story and production wise, so it is going to be interesting exploring how things unfold over the course of our rewatch.

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