“And I know what I saw. There’s a reason these things are happening. There is something at work here, and it all began with the man killed in the car crash.” — Monica Reyes
Monica Reyes approaches Mulder about a case linked to the death of Doggett’s son, all while the two men keep watch over Scully in the hospital.
Max: Belief. It is a powerful thing, and a tricky thing, a concept that many have struggled with in the grand scheme of human history — and one of the thematic underpinnings of The X-Files. The ancient Greek philosopher Empedocles believed so intensely in the supremacy of fire that according to legend he threw himself into a volcano so that he may become a god. The episode named in his honor is a fantastic hour that ties together a lot of disparate themes and plot points the show has accumulated over the years to come away with an interrogation of this core conceit, something it does pretty well.
After Jeb Dukes witnesses the end of a police chase soon after he gets fired from his job in New Orleans, some kind of hellish apparition apparently invades his body, which causes him to shoot and kill two of his former bosses. A local detective who believes this was motivated by a belief in satanic forces brings in Agent Monica Reyes. She initially dismisses these claims, but changes her mind when she sees a vision of one of the victim’s bodies being burned, an event she witnessed when she was assigned to find Doggett’s son Luke many years ago — a case that ended with them finding Luke’s body.
Approaching Mulder for help, Reyes works hard to find some link between these two far-flung crimes, wanting to keep this from Doggett until she knows more. Meanwhile, Scully’s in the hospital due to a placental abruption. A worried Mulder balances attending to Scully’s needs while helping Reyes out, as she eventually surmises that the evil that lead to Luke Doggett’s death can somehow jump from person to person. Mulder likens this to a communicable disease, and Doggett has a crisis of belief when he tries to come to terms with this after they capture and kill Dukes when he threatens his sister and niece.
We won’t get to see this much, given the way the cast roster will change from this point forward, but the thing I really like about this episode is how it pits the different ideological and investigative viewpoints of the four agents who will have worked in the basement office against each other. At this juncture, Mulder, Scully, Doggett and Reyes are all at different stages of being able to take the leaps of faith needed while working on the X-Files. And just because Mulder and Reyes are so-called believers, doesn’t mean that they approach their work the same way — the same can be said for the skepticism of Scully and Doggett, and the way Scully’s experiences over the past eight years have altered her beliefs while keeping her bedrock principles intact.
As for the monster of the week, the notion that that evil is an opportunistic virus that infects a host at a moment of weakness is a pretty nifty allegorical device. As Mulder said when he was commiserating with Doggett outside of Scully’s hospital room, when he started out at the Bureau investigating violent crimes, he frequently tried to come up with an explanation of why people did the heinous things they did, why — for example — someone would kidnap an innocent boy like Luke Doggett, only to kill him and dump his body in the woods.
Building on this, it is the first time we get a good picture of Doggett’s tragic past, hinted at earlier in the season. I like how the situation with Luke is an inversion of Mulder’s experience with Samantha. While Samantha’s abduction led Mulder to his belief in the existence of extraterrestrial life, Luke’s murder only causes Doggett to double up on doing solid police work — until Reyes’ investigation causes him to question his assumptions in a scene with Scully that acts as a kind of Catholic confession, a nice tie-in with Scully’s own philosophical crises.
Radhika: I do agree that the juxtaposition of the agents in this episode is pretty neat (and probably one of the few times I don’t entirely feel like letting my eyes roll out of my head when Reyes is around), and I actually like that Mulder gets to play off some characters other than Scully here. It’s also kind of interesting to note how “over everything” Mulder seems to be (and this might be a result of David Duchovny’s continuing disinterest in the show) — in an earlier episode, Scully tells Doggett that he should get out while he can, and here, Mulder also seems to carry a world weariness and exasperation that I can’t blame him for after a good decade or so of investigating X-Files and eventually getting abducted and tortured by aliens. Is it a little disconcerting to see Fox Mulder give in so much to his sarcastic bitter side? Maybe. But it’s not entirely shocking if you really think about it.
However, I actually find the overall episode pretty mediocre. The idea of evil jumping from body to body is somewhat interesting (and gives me a bit of a Twin Peaks vibe), but the execution of the idea falls flat for me. The special effects are somewhat admirable and things get a little interesting when Jeb reaches out to his sister and insists that he wasn’t actually the person behind the crimes he’s wanted for, but then the “climax” winds up involving Jeb getting shot, eventually dying and the evil entity passing along to his sister in her “moment of weakness.” It just feels like such a flat explanation, and the ending, with Doggett staring at the now-possessed sister (whose little daughter I really feel sorry for as her family is now effectively gone)… just feels like a very overdone type of horror cliché.
And speaking of flat, the Mulder/Scully dynamic in this episode is pretty lame. I don’t mind that they’re making jokes about the pizza man’s part in Scully’s heavily pregnant state, but then the joke just seems to go on forever. I do think it’s sweet that Mulder made an effort to wrap a family artifact really nicely as a gift to Scully (we’ve come a long way since the days of the Apollo 11 keychain), but the dialogue overall is so dreadfully maudlin and the cloying score accompanying it sure doesn’t help. It’s nice to see Mulder and Scully soften up around each other once in a while and it’s obvious their relationship did evolve beyond that of “coworkers” quite some time ago, but those scenes just make me miss the extra bit of edge their banter always had. The emotional heft seen in other sentimental scenes on this show is missing from the Mulder/Scully moments we see here and I don’t care for it. Perhaps the writers forgot a little about how to write their dynamic at this stage in the game.
Ultimately, “Empedocles” has its moments, but like a number of episodes in the later seasons, it feels like more of a “nice effort” installment of the show than anything else.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Ron Canada – Playing the New Orleans detective who calls Reyes in to help, Ron Canada is a familiar face on television, guest starring in The West Wing, Boston Legal, several Star Trek series, Cheers, Weeds, and Law & Order amongst many others. He currently recurs in the FX series The Strain.
Denise Crosby – Having a brief role as the doctor tending to Jeb Dukes in the final scenes, Crosby is best known for portraying Tasha Yar in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Since then, she’s been on Mad Men, The Walking Dead, and Ray Donovan. Pet Sematary, Miracle Mile, 48 Hrs., and Deep Impact are some of her credits on the big screen.