“You believe in extraterrestrials?” — Dana Scully
“Let’s just say I don’t not believe. As I said, I try to stay open.” — Monica Reyes
We begin the buildup to Mulder’s return and get introduced to a new agent as Doggett, Scully and Skinner try to figure out what’s going on with a number of returned alien abductees.
Radhika: “This is Not Happening,” a fairly emotional and reasonably action-packed episode, brings us to that point in season eight where we can start moving away from searching for Mulder and begin thinking more about what will happen once he returns. Of course, Mulder can’t just return in a simple manner, which is why this episode isn’t quite the “ta-da!” reveal promos from back in the day might have made us all think.
When Theresa Hoese, a woman abducted right around the time Mulder was, reappears, bruised and broken, Skinner, Doggett and Scully head to Montana to get to the bottom of things. There, they encounter Richie Szalay (who discovered Theresa), who has been searching for his abducted friend Gary. Meanwhile, viewers are reintroduced to shape-shifter/healer extraordinaire Jeremiah Smith — who has assumed the form of a doctor and had Theresa transferred. That’s around the time Doggett calls in some backup: Special Agent Monica Reyes, a believer in paranormal phenomenon, who nonetheless thinks Mulder may have joined a UFO cult. We later see Jeremiah Smith up to his old tricks, healing Theresa of her injuries. He’s also teamed up with some guy who goes by the name Absalom (and is essentially the leader of a doomsday cult).
Reyes ends up running into Smith and Absalom handling a body after she spots a UFO and she also finds Gary’s body. Absalom is eventually arrested and he tells Doggett and Scully he has simply been saving abductees when they return. After observing videotape that shows Smith’s shape-shifting abilities in action, Scully goes to the cult compound and finds him — and he says he’s the only one who can help these abductees and cannot have additional attention called to himself. This is when Skinner interrupts and tells her it’s about Mulder. Cut to the point where we see Scully in the woods, completely unable to believe a lifeless-looking Mulder might truly be dead. She rushes back to the compound for Smith, but a UFO appears, leading to his disappearance.
The episode ends on quite a hopeless note, and minus the delivery of the phrase, “This is not happening” (which I just find a cheesy and unnatural-sounding piece of writing, even coming from Richie in the teaser) and a Darth Vader-esque “Noooooo,” Gillian Anderson does a magnificent job of conveying all the emotions Scully is going through at this point. The “Ice Queen” is openly vulnerable in this episode, willingly crying in front of Skinner and turning to him in a moment of despair. She wants Mulder back, but she doesn’t want to know what she might find. This is incredibly well captured in a matter of a few seconds toward the end of the episode when Skinner comes to Scully — as soon as he mentions Mulder, her face manages to convey simultaneous inklings of hope and fear. It’s really quite remarkable.
It’s kind of neat seeing Jeremiah Smith return, though he’s a perfect example of a character dropped for a lengthy period of time before suddenly reappearing again. However, it’s cool to see a thread of the old mythology reappear, giving at least some semblance of all these things making sense in the grand scheme of things (even though this is not done with as much impact as I would have liked). But of course this is an episode that also brings us Monica Reyes, a fairly polarizing character in fans’ eyes. She’s actually not entirely horrible here and I was reminded once again of how I thought she was a bit like Melissa Scully when she was first introduced, but she also feels slightly plunked in the middle of things — and the hint of a possible new X-Files pairing is too obvious to ignore.
Max: Count me as a defender of the Reyes character. Yes, her season-and-a-half tenure didn’t leave any room really to develop her character, especially in a show that needed to service characters with longer tenures on the program, let alone the balancing act of possibly transitioning Scully away from the show for a hypothetical tenth season in 2002. She’s like Mulder (as an analogue with Scully and Doggett), but different enough where her presence doesn’t seem redundant to me. The character will be making recurring appearances for the remainder of this season before coming aboard full-time in season nine.
The thing I do appreciate about the mythology in The X-Files‘ late period is, again, how the writers and the audience come full circle, and as we lap what came before, pieces of the puzzle take on new shapes and meaning. This started back in “Requiem” as Mulder and Scully literally revisited their first case, and Radhika and I talked plenty about the parallels that episode made to show us the dichotomy of how far and yet how little we’ve traveled from Bellefleur, Oregon. This two-parter begins laying the groundwork for the equally-as-polarizing “super soldier” arc that will come to dominate the remainder of the program. With the destruction of The Syndicate, it will become clear that the Colonists no longer trust — or care to do business with — human collaborators, and thus from this estrangement is born a new conspiracy.
As for the UFO cult angle, I’m not particularly impressed by this new wrinkle. Granted, it makes sense from a story perspective, particularly when you have Jeremiah Smith doing his Jesus act, but there is a tinge of “tried-and-tired” lack of imagination to the proceedings. Perhaps this is due to a bit of trope fatigue since this episode aired over 14 years ago — the result of ingesting way too many bits of pop culture about cults — or maybe because the group isn’t compelling enough to make an impact. At the very least, it provides a plausible counter-explanation to claims of extraterrestrial abduction, something that Reyes picks up on and I’m sure others will run with as a way to shut the investigation down and mollify the righteous fury of one Dana Scully as she is faced with the very real possibility that her partner is dead and there is nothing she can do to change that.
What has aged remarkably well though for a television program are the special effects used in the scenes with the UFO, especially the climactic moment when Smith is taken right from under Scully when she needed him the most. In fact, I have to give the show credit in general for this, as other appearances (notably “Deep Throat” and “Paper Clip“) have also been genuinely sturdy affairs. In an age when you can laughably see that a green-screen is being used in the most prestigious network dramas, it is comforting to know that there are (or were) competent effects crews, particularly when the science fiction genre is derided for cheesy effects. They really lend a sense of power and urgency to these scenes, and paired with Mark Snow’s propulsive score during the chases in the fields, make me think back to the antics of Fight the Future.
Mulder is returned, most likely dead, and now Scully has to confront the scenario that Doggett said she was afraid of. Poor Scully, she really needs a hug right now.
ENTER ANNABETH GISH
Even though Annabeth Gish doesn’t become a series regular until season nine, we’d like to mark this occasion, her official introduction to The X-Files. Philes may know her as Monica Reyes, but Gish has had a pretty solid career, with roles in films like Mystic Pizza, SLC Punk! and Double Jeopardy. She’s also appeared in a number of other TV shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, The Bridge and Sons of Anarchy.
YES, IT’S THAT GUY
Judson Scott – He plays Absalom in this episode, but Scott has also played numerous roles within the Star Trek franchise, including Joachim, the chief henchman and son of Khan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.