9×08: Hellbound

“Yeah, that’s right; walk away. But just like you said you can’t run from what you are.”
— Terrance Pruit

Aside from the typical trappings of an X-File, Reyes is unusually drawn to a case in Virginia where a man was killed and his skin removed with surgical precision.

Hellbound

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Max: Following on the trail of the last episode, I liked “Hellbound” a lot more than I ought to for an episode from this season. Obviously this is no masterpiece on par with the classics of yore, but there is a bit of that ‘ole haunting feeling that manifests itself in this outing, and Annabeth Gish’s performance is yet another reason why — despite the whale songs — that I defend the character against her detractors. Also, the case our heroes are tackling is just original enough to be compelling for a program approaching two-hundred episodes.

Reyes brings the case of one Victor Potts to the attention of both Scully and Doggett at a most late hour. A former con whose body was found stripped of his epidermal layer, Potts was said to have had a dream (or a vision) of dying in such a manner. Their investigation brings them to an anger management group for felons looking for a new lease on life lead by a Dr. Lisa Holland. She mentions to Reyes and Doggett about Potts’ friend Ed Kelso, who was dismissive at one of the meetings. Another group member — and fellow butcher — Terrance Pruit, shows concern that Kelso isn’t more beat up over his friend’s gruesome demise, and warns him about the FBI investigation. However, it isn’t long before Pruit has those same visions and suffers the same fate as Potts, and found by Doggett barely clinging to life.

Hellbound

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Scully manages to connect these incidents with a string of murders that happened in 1960, with two of the victims dying on the same days that Potts and Pruit were born. Concurrently, Reyes finds herself more and more drawn into these mysterious circumstances, to the point of being woken up by Doggett in the middle of having some of the same kind of visions. After the agents are unable to save Kelso — and finding his mouth stuffed with a rag saturated with coal dust — they connect things to an abandoned mine in town, and newspaper clippings found there speak of a disturbing incident in 1868 when four miners killed a man and skinned him alive, and of a sheriff who killed himself in 1909 after being unable to bring them to justice. Believing this to be a case of reincarnated souls reliving events over and over, Reyes is unfortunately unable to to put an end to things for good when she determines a local detective is the reincarnation of the 1868 victim, seeking perpetual revenge on his assailants.

The ideas of reincarnation and soul transference are concepts The X-Files has dealt with a lot over these nine seasons, but this riff on an old Aztec myth is unique for the way it positions Reyes as the latest form of the sheriff’s soul, always trying —in vain — to forestall the inevitable cycle of vengeance and death. At the very least, the bleak outlook of the episode is an effective way of having the episode stick with you, even though the ham-fisted concluding scene of one baby (starting the cycle over) amongst others is more eye-rolling than anything, and nearly derails all the work the episode puts in to things. There is a real sense of pathos and agony, and Gish is credible in coming to terms with the unusual situation she is put in.

Hellbound

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

I’d even venture to say that this episode does as much for her character as “John Doe” did for Doggett, even though during the series’ run Reyes is the one whose background we end up knowing the least about. But with a season whose MotWs include a lot of ritualistic and spiritual elements, it is Reyes who the season passes through, with Doggett playing the soundboard and Scully acting as the mentor, exploring these new X-Files.

Radhika: I’ll agree that “Hellbound” is among the better episodes we’ve seen of this season so far, though I don’t really like it to the level that I did “John Doe.” I give it points for having a somewhat interesting concept to readdress themes of reincarnation (in a much more tolerable way than “The Field Where I Died” did). And aside from the visibly chilling aspect of skinning people, there’s an atmospheric quality that I appreciate.

But despite her character being at the center of the plot here, Annabeth Gish’s performance is not something I care for in this episode — she’s a perfectly capable actress in other roles, but as I’ve said before, the writing for her character doesn’t really help bring out any amazing performances from her on The X-Files. To me, Reyes is just there — a character that believes in so-called crazy spiritual things, but never feels particularly fleshed out. She stands there with her concerned face and her concerned voice, talking about what condition they’ll find a corpse in or how the case is all part of a vicious cycle, and frankly… I just don’t feel much of what she’s going through because there’s something about her character that just doesn’t feel real to me in the way that Mulder, Scully or even Doggett have throughout the series. She just exists for the sake of existing.

Hellbound

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

All that said, this remains a passable and mildly intriguing Monster of the Week episode for me. And even though Scully remains in a slightly diminished mentor role, I enjoyed her here, especially when she consults the medical examiner who dealt with a similar case in the 1960s. It reminded me a little of  “Squeeze,” when Mulder and Scully turned to an old detective to figure out a murderous pattern — while I doubt the scenes in “Hellbound” were meant to be any kind of obvious callback to those days, it just brought a little joy to my X-Phile heart.

YES, IT’S THAT GUY

Don Swayze – Yes, that is the younger brother of the late Patrick Swayze in this episode, playing the role of reformed felon Terrance Pruit. He’s done work a couple of soap operas, as well as recurring roles on Carnivale, True Blood, and The Bridge — where he shared a few scenes with our own Annabeth Gish.

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