“Mulder was dying, but he kept it a secret. He had an undiagnosed brain disease. He was a sick man, desperate to find a cure.” — John Doggett
“They all are.” — Rustic Woman
Doggett digs into a casefile that Mulder worked on shortly before his abduction in a bid to get new leads into his whereabouts, and comes face to face with his own mortality.
Max: After a series of half-baked episodes, it is a welcome treat to watch “The Gift” again. Not only is the monster of the week a compelling — and ultimately worthy of compassion — creature, but the injection of Mulder into the proceedings brings us back to the good old days. Season eight had a good bit of juggling contract-wise with its three leads, and thus “The Gift” is a result. In this case, Gillian Anderson required periodic weeks off in order to spend time with her daughter Piper (of “Piper Maru” fame) who was still back in Vancouver (with ex-husband Clyde Klotz) enrolled in school, so Scully was only seen in archival footage from earlier in the season. David Duchovny, meanwhile, began his half-season worth of episodes here, shedding light on some of the activities that Doggett turned up back in the two-part premiere.
Turning up in rural Pennsylvania, Doggett enlists the local sheriff to help him understand Mulder’s investigation of a woman named Marie Hangemuhl, whose casefile mentioned her possible disappearance. Doggett later confirms that Marie is alive and with her husband in their home, but she is suffering from renal failure that will assuredly lead to her death. Investigating further, Doggett asks Skinner for assistance, but is warned by his AD that looking into the matter may bring trouble for not only Mulder but Scully as well.
Meanwhile, the townsfolk hunt down and capture a human-like creature on the property of a local woman. In parallel to this, flashbacks to Mulder’s time in Pennsylvania let the audience learn that the creature is a “soul eater” of Native American lore, who eats the disease of the sick, returning them to their former health. Mulder learned of this creature and initially sought him out to get rid of the brain tumor that he suffered as a result of black oil exposure back in the fourth season, but relented when he saw the incredible amount of pain in the soul eater’s eyes.
Doggett and Skinner investigate the alleged burial site of the soul eater after Mulder shot him (bringing The Lone Gunmen in to fill them in on some background), but find an empty grave. The soul eater is brought to the Hangemuhl home, and is used to eat from Marie in order to cure her. Things come to a head when the sheriff kills Doggett in a struggle over the soul eater, and the soul eater — in a final act of mercy — eats Doggett’s death, which results his own demise.
This is a pretty atmospheric episode, and the supersaturation of death and disease casts a thick pallor over the proceedings. For the second time this season, Doggett as come face to face with things that definitely stand firmly outside of his comfort zone. While in “Via Negativa” his experiences questioned his reality, this outing he actually dies and is resurrected. We spoke earlier about how accelerated Doggett’s experiences with the paranormal have been in contrast to Scully, and already only a half a season into his tenure in the X-Files division he has witnessed and been a party to some really serious out-there stuff. Of course it helps that Doggett has been aided by a Skinner who has been transformed by witnessing Mulder’s abduction, and Scully whose miracle pregnancy has tempered her staunch skepticism.
“The Gift” runs on two tracks. The present day material is a classic MOTW, with one of the best creations of the series’ late period. The flashbacks though tie quite heavily into the The X-Files‘ mythology, filling in the gaps of Mulder’s past while planting seeds for what is to come the next time we see our beloved Spooky. The episode sets up what is to come, acting as a prelude to when the next mythological revelations shake things up and set the course for the remainder of the season.
Radhika: I have more mixed feelings on “The Gift,” because even though it does kind of bring the series back on track, I still take issue with the “Mulder is dying” retcon. I know that Duchovny’s decision not to come back to the show added some complications, but his abduction could and should have really been enough to explain his absence.
We already received a hint of this retcon in the season opener, but it really annoys me that a guy who seemed to exhibit no symptoms whatsoever after his weird brain activity phase in the “Biogenesis” / “Sixth Extinction” arc was secretly dying and decided not to mention a word to Scully, his partner and friend of years who also happens to be a doctor and his eventual romantic partner. And of course, Scully, the doctor, should have been able to pick up on something being wrong, especially considering the number of times Mulder lands in the hospital in season seven. It just feels like a sloppy, shaky way of resetting the series to me.
I also don’t particularly care for Mulder in the minimal flashback scenes he’s in. He just seems more hostile than usual, which I guess is the after effect of his incurable brain disease, but it still feels weird.
I do like that Doggett is now fully immersed into the wacky world of the X-Files — of course, he remains irritatingly skeptical to a degree, just like Scully did for all these years, but he’s really hitting a point where he really truly can’t come up with a so-called logical explanation for the things he’s witnessed, while also not being able to deny it.
And on a slightly disgusted positive note: This is another episode that proves that season eight was all about embracing remarkably gross imagery. The images of the monster’s mouth stretching and vomiting are completely icky in a way The X-Files never was in the past. I’ve done a lot of recoiling while rewatching this season, but I am willing to give the show runners some props for their commitment to grossing out the audience.