“You know, these words: ‘Anomalous,’ ‘supernatural,’ ‘paranormal…’ They purport to explain something by not explaining it. It’s lazy.” — John Doggett
When a boy who has been missing for ten years suddenly reappears — exactly how he was — it is up to our agents to puzzle through these strange circumstances.
Max: “Invocation” goes back to a familiar X-Files trope, the creepy child, and manages to add a fresh wrinkle by marrying it to other elements (namely kidnapping) and letting things boil over. This episode doesn’t get talked about a lot, which is a shame, because I think it nicely deals with the aftermath when a kid gets taken and there are no easy leads or answers, even after a decade when the case turns cold. It also hooks into the growing relationship between Scully and Doggett and the roles they are continuing to adjust to.
Billy Underwood was your typical normal seven-year-old child in 1990, attending a fair at his elementary school, when he was taken by an unknown individual. Ten years later, he miraculously reappears exactly where he was taken, and exactly how he was back then, physically still a boy of the age of seven. Scully is flummoxed to provide a medical explanation, given that he isn’t sick or suffering from any kind of disease, and Doggett’s heavy handed tactics to try to get Billy to talk only serve to upset the parents.
Several unsettling things occur in the Underwood household, and our heroes investigation leads to Ronald Purnell, a local slacker, who dodges questions about the kidnapping. Ronald also gets grief from Cal Jeppy, his mother’s trailer trash boyfriend. When Billy’s younger brother Josh is also taken, this leads to Scully and Doggett discovering the actual remains of Billy Underwood, who was abducted by Ronald under pressure from Jeppy who had a predilection for little boys. With Josh safe and Billy’s case (somewhat) closed, Doggett finds it hard to reconcile the evidence with his experiences, something he commiserates with Scully on.
The psychic power of traumatic events is something that the show has trafficked in heavily over its run, and it is easy to see why, because of the kind of juicy story beats that can be generated from this simple premise. I was reminded a lot of season three’s “Oubilette” with this episode, given that both dealt with child abductors and how paranormal events acted as a karmic conduit to bring to justice the wrongdoers. While previous abductee Lucy Householder helped to rescue Amy Jacobs in that classic episode, an avatar of the deceased Billy Underwood manifested itself to point the way to Billy’s abductor with the star symbol that was emblazoned on Jeppy’s horse trailer. While stuff like this makes for some delicious atmospheric storytelling, the thought always crosses my mind, “Why can’t the ghost/spirit/disembodied force just speak English and lay the facts out!” I mean, snarky nitpicking aside.
It was interesting to see Billy’s mother deal with — or not really deal with — the situation that was foisted upon her. Based upon the way she treated Billy and the arguments she had with her husband, she was clearly in denial about everything, and only wanted to pick up right back with how things were before her son was taken. It is an understandable reaction from someone who has experienced something like this, but her other kid is going to have one hell of a therapy bill when he gets older. I also appreciated how, like in “Oubilette,” the psychic elements underscored a cycle of violence and misdeeds. It was heavily implied that Jeppy abused Ronald as a kid to make him pliable enough to participate in Billy’s abduction, and all this bad energy had to go somewhere, so we have the events of this episode.
With Scully still in the early stages of her pregnancy, them tackling this case was a suitable echo of concerns and fears she must have running in the back of her head when she will be raising her own child.
Radhika: This is an atmospheric episode, but it also just feels like a bit of rehash to me — in my case, the episode it reminds me of is “The Calusari,” complete with the possibly evil child bit. Yes, it does end up being a little different than that, but I found elements of the storytelling a bit muddled as well, so it ultimately feels like more of a middle-of-the-road episode for me.
This is also the episode where we get the heavily dropped hint that Doggett has lost someone too — the entire secret isn’t revealed just yet, but it’s enough to feel like a bit of an echo of Mulder’s situation in losing his sister. Granted, Doggett doesn’t seem to have some grand quest yet, but the parallels certainly hit me over the head like an anvil.
Meanwhile, after a couple of moments of establishing tiny bits of trust in the past couple of episodes, Scully is back to scolding Doggett about everything she can — she doesn’t like his approach with Billy, she doesn’t like that he looked into juvenile records to get to the bottom of the case and she generally seems to enjoy reminding him why this case is incredibly weird. There is a point toward the end where she’s willing to admit that she’s been in the same spot Doggett has been — having to grapple with a strange case that makes zero sense on the surface — but she just generally seems very unsympathetic toward seeing and approaching cases the way Doggett does.
I’ve mentioned before that Doggett isn’t as staunchly skeptical about the X-Files the way Scully was when she first got started, but this is one case where he does seem to have trouble with what’s going on. Despite some general horror movie tropes that would have simply convinced me to roll with it if I were in his place, Doggett is not down with viewing the events of this episode as some form of “beyond the grave” justice. Creepy kid ghost creatures are not something Doggett is ready to accept just yet, so we have plenty of room for eye-rolling “I’m a believer now” Scully in the episodes ahead. Be careful what you wish for….
YES, IT’S THAT LADY
Kim Griest – Most famous for her role in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, the actress who played Mrs. Underwood was also in the films C.H.U.D. and the Homeward Bound series of Disney films in the 1990s. Notably, she was Phil Hartman’s wife in the epochal Sinbad comedy Houseguest in 1995.