“God, this really is an X-File, isn’t it?” — Leyla Harrison
“Congratulations.” — John Doggett
With Scully beginning her maternity leave, Doggett is left alone in the basement office… at least until a new face shows up with a case file.
Max: “Alone” is a kind of breather episode before the one-two punch of the remaining episodes of season eight. But of course, being The X-Files, it is still filled with plenty of twists and chills to satiate Philes accustomed to that winning milieu. It is also a chance for the writers of the program to give back to the fans — and one fan in particular — who made the show the cultural force it became over the course of the 1990s. Usually penultimate episodes act as kind of summation of the themes of the season that preceded it, and this episode is no exception.
The episode revolves around the hunt for some kind of creature that was involved in the death and disappearance of a father and son in upstate New York. Doggett, now the sole agent in charge of the X-Files when Scully begins her maternity leave, learns of the case from junior agent Leyla Harrison, who begged Kersh to let her out of the accounting department to become his temporary partner. Sensing a good opportunity when he see it, Doggett and Harrison begin investigating.
Meanwhile, Mulder is helping Scully out with anything she needs, which inevitably turns out being a pair of hands in the autopsy suite when she examines the father’s body. Doggett and his new partner eventually are imprisoned by the owner of a mansion, held as prey for the creature they were hunting — which turns out to be the man himself — a result of biology experiments gone amok. Eventually, Mulder and Skinner rescue the captured agents, and Leyla Harrison gets a visit in the hospital from her heroes, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.
Now, not a lot of people are too fond of the Leyla Harrison character, but I consider myself a fan and take it upon myself to defend her against naysayers. Created in memory of a prolific and passionate writer of X-Files fan fiction of the same name, Harrison is one of a long line of audience surrogates in popular culture. I think what endears me to her is that she is not the kind of Mary Sue character that pops up in the kind of writing that that real Harrison trafficked in, a way for the writers to insert themselves into the story in a bit of wish fulfillment. Harrison — the character — bumbles, she makes mistakes, and is definitely not cut out for field work. But, her optimism and dedication to the case, and ability to keep an open mind prove herself in the eyes of the people that matter the most to her, the agents of the X-Files whom she followed via the expense reports they filed over the years.
I also like how the Apollo 11 keychain that Mulder gave Scully for her birthday back in season four becomes a symbol for the ideas and philosophies of those who occupy the basement office, even for those who call it home if only for a brief time. It is a nice moment when Scully passes the keychain on to Doggett, a gesture that signals that she thinks he belongs. That sense of fellowship is important, given how many times the division has come under attack from forces that would rather secrets stay buried or think that the unit is a stain on the reputation of the Bureau.
If the season’s two main narrative through-lines have been Scully’s pregnancy and the search for Mulder, I think that a third can be the journey of one John Doggett. He has come a long way from the by-the-book agent tasked by Kersh to find Mulder quickly and to shut down all the nonsense about aliens and government conspiracies. He has earned the trust of Scully (even Mulder too!), and the audience by this point I believe feels the same way. This episode may not have the most memorable monster of the week, but I think it has a lot of excellent character moments that more than make it worth a rewatch.
Radhika: This episode is all about the nostalgia: From the Apollo 11 keychain to the fan-like mentions of X-Files cases of yore (i.e.: liver eating mutants). With this season being all about passing on the torch and introducing yet another new era of The X-Files, that makes a lot of sense. And while I don’t consider myself a fan of the Leyla Harrison character, I do think there’s something very sweet about her — even if there are elements of her character that make it seem as though the writers are poking gentle fun at X-Philes. (But I don’t blame them — I don’t think Philes, myself included, have much of a reputation for acting rationally in the presence of anyone affiliated with the show, which is why I now just laugh when I see Harrison interacting with Mulder and Scully toward the end of the episode).
Speaking of the end of the episode, this is the jovial sort of Mulder and Scully banter I can get behind, unlike the type seen in “Empedocles,” which I wasn’t as big a fan of. The back-and-forth over whether that was actually a spaceship we saw in Fight the Future is adorable and still gives us some of that skeptic-believer dynamic that we don’t really get to see in season eight. The nostalgia and the progression of their relationship is nicely encapsulated in this episode, the last Monster of the Week episode we’ll ever see Mulder in, which is why I’m also willing to forgive the so-so monster plot. It’s a nice way of looking back at things without resorting to the dreaded clip show.
Max alludes to the journey of John Doggett above and I agree that we really have seen him come a long way. In addition to that, it is also rather poignant how much Mulder and Scully seem to have grown on him — he seems rather hopeful at the possibility of Scully coming back after her maternity leave (which she largely implies she won’t) and he seems a bit sad at the end watching the two characters banter about their previous close encounters. He seems to have some genuine respect for the agents, just as they do for him, and it seems like it won’t just be the fans that will be feeling the loss of Mulder and Scully from the basement office when season nine rolls around.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Jolie Jenkins – The irrepressible Agent Leyla Harrison has guest starred on The West Wing, Desperate Housewives, Psych, and How I Met Your Mother. She also had a regular role on the “classic” UPN program Shasta McNasty.
Zach Grenier – Playing the mad biologist Herman Stites, Grenier’s mug has been all over television and movies. Currently on the show The Good Wife, he also has been in Touching Evil, Deadwood, Law & Order, 24, and Miami Vice. On the big screen, he had credits from Zodiac, Donnie Brasco, Fight Club, Liebestraum, and Twister.