“You’ve been following my son’s case.” — John Doggett
“For a long time. He calls to me.” — Rudolph Hayes
Doggett is drawn back to trying to figure out his son’s murder thanks to a mysterious FBI cadet.
Radhika: I’ll be honest: Even though “Release” tackles a plot point that is pretty significant for the Doggett character, I had largely forgotten about it by the time I rewatched the episode for this blog. This is something of a damning thing to say under normal circumstances, but I will also confess that while it is not a flawless episode, I was pleasantly surprised revisiting “Release,” which is reasonably atmospheric, compelling and emotional compared to the bulk of this season.
It begins when Doggett receives a tip that leads him to a dead body in an abandoned apartment building. When Scully performs an autopsy, one of her students, Rudolph Hayes, guesses that the victim had met a killer in a bar and the murder is eventually linked to another killing. Doggett and Reyes work with Hayes who eventually leads them to ex-mobster Nicholas Regali. It turns out that Hayes has a bit of an obsession with crime scenes — his apartment walls are plastered with crime scene photos, including those related to Doggett’s dead son, Luke. Hayes tells Doggett he believes a man named Robert Harvey kidnapped Luke, but that Regali was the man behind his murder.
Of course, we learn that Hayes is not who he seems — he’s actually a former mental patient named Stuart Mimms, and Assistant Director Brad Follmer hints that Mimms was the culprit behind Luke’s demise. This is related to Follmer being something of a crooked agent, wrapped up in a world of bribery with Regali. Eventually, Doggett learns the truth in a confrontation with Regali when the mobster tells a hypothetical tale where a pedophile took a young boy to his home and a “businessman” walked in, murdering the boy when he realized the boy could potentially link him to the crime. Regali walks away, with Doggett following him — ready to shoot the man behind his son’s murder — when Follmer steps in and kills the mobster himself. As the episode concludes, we see Doggett and his ex-wife scattering Luke’s ashes over the ocean, coming to terms with their newfound closure.
As I pointed out earlier, these last few episodes are all about endings — a logical path for The X-Files as it approached its series finale. The endings for the Lone Gunmen and Scully’s time with her son were fairly abysmal, but I think “Release” is a little more successful in providing some closure for the Doggett character. The only issue is that while we’ve known all along that Doggett’s son died a violent death, we haven’t necessarily connected with his character or this backstory enough for it to matter the same way the quest to find Samantha did. But that said, this still works as a standalone episode for the most part, especially as it highlights exactly how painful finding closure can be — both Doggett and his ex-wife can find at least some peace as evidenced by the final scene, but parents are never going to be happy knowing exactly what killed their young son.
There are a few things that annoyed me — Hayes, while moderately interesting in concept, started making me feel a little crazy thanks to the actor’s intense stares that didn’t seem to go anywhere. And there are some pacing issues regarding his character’s introduction as something of a mysterious savant; I feel as though there’s a little too much emphasis on him before we get to the actual crux of the story. The Follmer aspect of the storyline also ends up feeling rushed — here’s another character that we haven’t gotten to know particularly well (nor was he played particularly well), but now we have confirmation that he’s corrupt and taking care of Doggett’s problems for him. It feels like it should be a dramatic turn, but it does nothing for me. And of course, I’m tired of everyone trying to make Doggett and Reyes happen — they’re nice enough around each other, but lack that type of spark, in my opinion.
But I still manage to enjoy this episode somewhat, perhaps because it still stands out in a sea of mediocre episodes — largely due to Robert Patrick’s acting, which is one of the few redeemable elements of season nine. He’s the one who really makes it work.
Max: As usual for this season, “Release” works largely in spite of itself, with a whole ton of caveats along the way. Radhika spoke a lot about some of the issues she had with the episode, and I have to agree with her assessment of the situation. Character growth — hell, the writing for the characters, period — is something sorely lacking in a season that sits at a distressing level of mediocrity for a program that once evinced such rich resonances as late as a couple of seasons ago. It is why Reyes mostly never stepped out of the casting brief that was probably drawn up when she was conceived, and why the beats for Doggett here don’t feel particularly earned. And of course there is the continuing crime of a sidelined Scully, who now seems more superfluous than ever without her son keeping her connected to the overall picture.
My partner also spoke on the fact that the show was winding down at this point, the writers all trying to tie up loose ends still hanging about. I believe something more was planned for the death of Luke Doggett had the series continued into a tenth — and most likely Scully-less — season, so like before you have the writers trying to cram partially developed ideas into the running time of a single episode. There is also the feeling that we as an audience are at this juncture checking off boxes. During the initial run, Philes by now were aware that the show was canceled and that things were running up to a big finale to close everything off, so there was a lot of distraction from that as well as the notion that nothing too crazy was going to happen — with the fireworks being saved for that last episode.
Still, I do find myself feeling a hint of bittersweet melancholy about the whole enterprise. The X-Files had mostly fallen off my radar screen in 2002, but I remember seeing the handful of episodes left of the show after I found out it was going off the air, so I was thinking back a lot while rewatching this of those times and wanting to pay my respects to a program that played a massive role in my own cultural zeitgeist. It is also interesting — in retrospect — that some of the more interesting episodes of this season (including “John Doe“) were centered around Doggett, which says something for how much he became part of the program during these final years.
The X-Files — and our initial rewatch project — are rapidly coming to a close. We only have one more final MotW episode before we get to the to-this-day contentious finale, and that image of Doggett and his ex-wife on the beach is a hell of a way to begin this process.