“I have to admit, Agent Scully, I’m at a loss.” — John Doggett
“Well, that’s a good place to start.” — Dana Scully
Something wicked this way comes as Scully and Doggett work their first X-File together as partners.
Max: The lack of a David Duchovny credit in the usual place means only one thing, we are in for the long haul for a relatively Mulder-less season. “Patience” is a landmark in two ways: it is the first MOTW without Mulder and it is Doggett’s inaugural experience with the things that go bump in the night. Chris Carter wanted to make this a throwback, back-to-basics episode whose purpose was to ease the new partnership and dynamic into place. And for those Batman: The Animated Series fans, this week’s freak is a loving homage to Man-Bat, a somewhat obscure adversary from the comics brought to prominence in several episodes of that classic television program.
When an undertaker and his wife are found dead in Idaho, victims of a vicious attack, Scully and Doggett are called in to lend their expertise into the strange circumstances surrounding the crime scene. The local detective and his officers are stumped, as the evidence points to a human or animal attack, with no clear match to either. This naturally leads to some back and forth between not only Scully and Doggett but the detective as well as to what exactly they were tangling with. At this stage of the game, it’s nice to see the dynamic that Mulder and Scully shared throughout seven seasons get upended a bit as Doggett is thrown into the mix. Yes, we’ve had moments before where our heroes theories laid outside their usual roles, but this is Scully’s first time out without Mulder, so she tries to adapt her thinking accordingly.
What this leads to are the brothers Myron and Ernie Stefaniuk, members of a hunting group who found and killed a human bat in 1956. Ernie has been hiding out in isolation for over forty-four years, afraid that the creature is intent on hunting him down and leaving him for dead. Unfortunately, for anyone who has even a faint trace of Ernie’s scent (via the body of his dead wife Ariel), that means they are a target of this human bat, which included the undertaker, his wife, and the detective, all who fall victim to the bat’s apparent lust for some sort of revenge. The creature’s patience pays off, however, as it finally tracks Ernie down and exacts his punishment before Scully and Doggett can down the creature for good. While our heroes (boy is it weird saying this in reference to Scully and Doggett) are not sure if they slayed the beast, they go back to Washington while Myron goes into hiding himself.
This isn’t a top shelf MOTW outing, but as the first case that our new dynamic duo undertake, it is a pretty effective episode, filled with a lot of the shocks and frights that make these episodes a treat and a pleasure to watch. I thought the cinematography was excellent, particularly in the cemetery scene which provided nice contrasts between the light and the dark. We never really see all of the human bat, which lends all the typical menace to the creature that Scully and Doggett are pursuing. The X-Files definitely has a flair for monsters that take a long time in-between kills, going all the way back to “Squeeze” and Eugene Victor Tooms, which adds to the flavor that is the backdrop of an episode that has an awful lot of unspoken history behind it.
That history culminates in a rather touching scene between Scully and Doggett back in Washington, which includes Scully making a point to ensure that Doggett gets a desk in the basement office — something she never got with Mulder — as well as other sentiments about their new working relationship. But perhaps the most telling action was Scully putting Mulder’s nameplate into a drawer, a clear sign that things have changed.
Radhika: Things have definitely changed, and as Max hinted earlier, a lot of that lies in how Scully approaches her cases. As seen in “Squeeze” (also the third episode of its season), there’s at least one agent here who becomes an object of ridicule and doesn’t mind throwing some “crazy” theories out there. But instead of seeing that kind of behavior in the now-missing Mulder, we see it in Scully, who would have previously reacted with the great raised eyebrow of skepticism. It’s kind of amusing, if a bit obvious, to see the show runners make Scully take this route at this stage in the game — and it does at least highlight what a journey Scully has gone through over her years working on the X-Files. But at the same time, there is something terribly sad about Scully’s attempts to think like Mulder and even she has a moment where she breaks down and wonders if she’s trying too hard (Doggett, bless him, immediately picks up on it). Scully’s a fantastic character, one very dear to my heart, but even she doesn’t feel like she can really replace the guy, and in a way, it kind of echoes the sentiments fans were juggling with around that time.
What I like though is that there are also moments where the line blurs between believer and skeptic. Doggett and Scully aren’t quite the archetypes that Mulder and Scully were when the show began — Scully is definitely ready to throw out crazy theories and work hard in the basement office, but she can still step back and reexamine whether her theories are really correct. Doggett thinks just about everything X-Files-related is crazy, but there’s a “good cop” hiding under that exterior who just wants to get to the bottom of the case. And of course, like any good investigator, he’s there for his partner. Scully seems almost surprised (and grateful) when Doggett looks out for her, and he lets her know that he never “saw it as an option.” As much as they got off to a rough start when they were first introduced to each other, it seems the two characters are developing a cautious trust — perhaps at a slower rate than Mulder and Scully did early on, but it’s still fairly notable.
The case itself is not that exciting for me — I do appreciate the overall atmosphere, and I think that season eight (especially starting with this episode) recaptures the darkness of the Vancouver years in a way seasons six and seven never did (even when the show runners took a break from experimentation and comedy). Of course, the images and special effects are fancier than they were in the Vancouver seasons, but there seems to be a solid effort to mirror the show’s origins here — perhaps as a way to appease fans struggling with the casting changes. But unlike Max, I actually think we saw too much of the Man-Bat type monster here, more than we would have in the past, and it took away most of the scare factor for me. (However, I do appreciate the sweeping shot we get of the creature hanging upside down at one point.) Nonetheless, it’s still a half-decent Monster of the Week installment and not a bad way to ease back into the case-of-the-week dynamic with Mulder gone.