Season 9, Episode 8
Director: Kim Manners
Writer: David Amann
“Hellbound” focuses on Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) as she explores a personal draw to a series of grisly murders. In the last episode of The X-Files, Agent Doggett (Robert Patrick) became the focus as he explored his own X-file without his memory. Memory, it seems, plays a significant role between the two characters and their respective episodes. Patrick’s Doggett was the standard amnesia sufferer while Gish’s Reyes is something very different. Despite that connection, “Hellbound” still suffers from lacking the unifying vision of Vince Gilligan as David Amann provides the skeleton for a solid outing but fails to cover it with good meaty material.
The prologue takes place in an anger management group where the attendees discuss making amends with the past versus being resistant to change and destined for hell. One of the attendees admits to having graphic nightmares about people skinned alive. Later, the same man, after having a vision where his friend stands before him a bleeding mass of veins and arteries, is found dead, perfectly skinned as to prolong the pain of the experience. As Reyes brings Doggett and Scully in to investigate the potential X-file, another man is similarly skinned while local Detective Van Allen demonstrates no concern over the victims. Scully determines there may be a previous instance of similar, equally skilled murders in the 1960s where the local sheriff paid no attention to the case and then killed himself after the fact.
More bodies pile up until one is found with a coal-dust covered rag shoved into its mouth, a fact that Reyes predicted without even having seen the corpse. That leads Reyes and Doggett to a nearby coal mine where the skeleton of a sheriff is found. Another room holds the gently swaying skins of the killer’s victims, and Reyes encounters the killer, Detective Van Allen, who tells her that she will fail again. She is unexpectedly a component in a multiple past-life story where four miners murdered a man and skinned him in 1868. The murderer’s reincarnated soul is reborn in multiple decades, skinning his murderers again and again before killing himself to repeat the pattern. Reyes determines who the final victim is, and Doggett manages to shoot Van Allen before he completes the final murder. Van Allen dies in the hospital while Reyes wonders if she failed or succeeded in this life. Meanwhile, a baby is born with a skinner’s look in his eyes…
Annabeth Gish’s performance here initially bothered me. She wanders through her scenes as if half-there with a vacant look on her face. It wasn’t until the clarification of the past life scenario where I decided that it may have been an intentional bid on Gish’s behalf. Reyes is confused, bothered, even haunted by the images around her, particularly since she herself sees the visions of the skinned bodies. As with many past life stories, the notes all sound familiar, but she’s forgotten how to play them. Given that, the focus on Reyes gives Gish the opportunity to carry forward a unique characterization here in “Hellbound.” It’s not perhaps as dramatic as the Doggett episode, but it’s a nice touch and a step forward in learning exactly what drives Monica Reyes. The episode also features some pretty fantastic special effects in the creation of the skinned bodies, particularly the one who was still alive when found. Fantastically creepy…
Unfortunately, I felt the story had one too many steps into differing genres and divergent paths to fully / satisfactorily convey a convincing arc. It’s partially a serial killer drama that wants to thrill. It’s partially a story about survivors. It’s partially a story about fate versus free will, atoning for the past versus remaining victims of it. And it’s partially a memory piece, about being haunted by a past life that influences the present. All of that sounds great on paper, but I’m not convinced they fully pulled it off despite the best efforts of the creative team. Again, perhaps this material needed to be padded into a bigger episode, one that more fully explores the various intentions of the writer. As such, it simultaneously wanders and yet feels rushed to a random conclusion.
But those bodies… oh those bodies. Totally disgusting.