X-Files Flashback: ‘John Doe’

John Doggett

Season 9, Episode 7
Director: Michelle MacLaren
Writer: Vince Gilligan

“John Doe” features writer Vince Gilligan finally giving Agent John Doggett is day in court. Brought in as a Mulder replacement, Doggett was never exactly a fan favorite. In his defense, he was never really given the opportunity to shine. That all changes with “John Doe,” a smart and intriguing Doggett-centered episode that gives us the pain at his core by completely breaking him down as a new person. I’ll explain that later. Sure, “John Doe” is a little bit of a Traffic knock-off, particularly with its grainy cinematography, but no matter. It achieves what it set out to do.

“John Doe’s” plot is gloriously uncomplicated. Doggett wakes up in a warehouse as someone tries to steal his shoe. He’s in plain clothes without ID or badge, a gun, or money. He instinctively chases the man to get his shoe back and is soon arrested because he can’t prove or remember who he is. Doggett is eventually freed by a man who asks him to perform illegal jobs for him. During this section, he experiences brief flashbacks to an earlier life with his still-alive son. Meanwhile, Agents Skinner, Reyes, and Scully are all frantically trying to locate Doggett who entered Mexico trying to track down a local drug cartel boss. It is this cartel boss that is a “memory vampire,” absorbing the memories of those who stand in his way. Reyes eventually locates Doggett and helps him regain his memory, even the tragic death of his son.

This isn’t a very fussy episode of The X-Files. Writer Vince Gilligan knows that the supernatural element isn’t the star here. It’s John Doggett. As such, Gilligan’s approach gives us the chance to see Robert Patrick’s true acting chops where previous episodes have given him limited windows to do so. Plus, as we learn about Doggett’s son with him, we’re given the opportunity to understand his pain – the intense pain at remembering a son and having that son ripped away again. “John Doe” isn’t going to go down in history as a Top Twenty episode, but it is accomplished at what it sets out to do. Credit the trifecta of first-time X-Files director MacLaren, top writer Gilligan, and an unexpectedly tremendous performance from wronged star Robert Patrick.

Sometimes, all the elements come together for a strong episode, even in the turbulent Season Nine.

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