X-Files Flashback: ‘Empedocles’

Season 8, Episode 17
Director: Barry K. Thomas
Writer: Greg Walker

The X-Files‘ “Empedocles” tries to accomplish a lot in its 45-minute time slot. Many of Season Eight’s episodes are guilty of this because we now have four agents being used in various rotations and combinations throughout the season. The cause is David Duchovny’s understandable fatigue with the series and (at the time) the fear that Gillian Anderson would leave the show. So, Chris Carter and team needed to smoothly transition to potential replacements – Doggett and Reyes. As such, the episode further explores the history of Agent John Doggett (Robert Patrick), most specifically the emotionally and factually unresolved death of his son. It also attempts to make the audience more familiar with Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) as a potential replacement / substitute for Dana Scully. Finally, Mulder and Scully are put on the back burner a bit with Mulder attempting to work a new case without FBI authority and Scully saddled with a pregnancy scare.

It’s a lot for any one series to undertake, particularly one not in its prime.

“Empedocles” (named after a Greek philosopher who threw himself into Mount Etna) begins with the firing of Jeb Dukes due to corporate cutbacks. Stunned, he walks out of the office in a daze and witnesses a deadly car accident in front of the building. From the accident, a firey being walks from a burning car and is absorbed into Dukes’ body, apparently unseen by other onlookers. Dukes returns to his office and kills the two people responsible for his termination. Using the thinnest of connections, Monica Reyes is asked to investigate the case because an officer on-site finds a Marilyn Manson CD cover and assumes Satanic involvement. There, Reyes sees one of the corpses take on a charred appearance that resembles something similar when Doggett’s son was murdered.

Reyes involves Mulder in the case as Dukes continues to murder innocents out of rage, professing he is not in control of his own actions. By the end of the episode, Dukes is shot by Reyes after taking his niece hostage. He later dies in the hospital, and the fire demon transfers into Dukes’ grieving sister, Katha. She then attacks Reyes but is detained by Doggett who has gradually begun to accept his visions and experience with supernatural events over the episode. Meanwhile, Scully has a pregnancy complication but is ultimately fine. Doggett and Mulder visit her in the hospital a lot.

“Empedocles” is a fine episode. It’s just overstuffed, proving a secret fear I’d had that the series would be unable to juggle so many main characters. There was earlier evidence that the writers would be more successful in their endeavors, but this episode leads us to believe it will continue to plague the series. Doggett has never been one of my favorite series characters, partially because Robert Patrick feels so miscast in the role.

And the jury’s out on Monica Reyes and her effectiveness. Gish is an appealing actress, but you have the sense through much of this episode that she’s really trying to please the viewers more than anything else. On the plus side, it’s nice to have an episode not explicitly explained to us – I had to think about the connection a little between Doggett’s son and the fire-walking demon that plagued multiple parties. I’m not saying it’s incredibly deep, but it doesn’t spend a lot of time over-analyzing the case. Frankly, it didn’t have the time to spare.

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