X-Files Flashback: ‘Invocation’

Invocation

Season 8, Episode 5
Director: Richard Compton
Writer: David Amann

The X-Files‘ “Invocation,” I suspect, was devised to deepen the mystery of its newest cast member, Robert Patrick’s John Doggett. The creative team presents a case that has deep personal resonance within Doggett, and, because of that, he displays a previously unseen obsessive drive to resolve the case. But the central case is so elaborately built – and too quickly resolved – that the payoff completely fails to deliver a satisfactory resolution. Yes, we’ve learned more about Doggett and his personal motivations, but at what cost? Like so many X-Files episodes before them, “Invocation” has all the right ingredients for a perfectly frightening soufflé, but it falls flat in the end.

The episode begins in 1990 when young Billy Underwood is taken from a playground while under his pregnant mother’s supervision. We don’t see exactly who took him, but a shady-looking young adult – Ronald Purcell – tosses Billy’s backpack to the ground. Ten years later, Billy’s mother returns to school only to find everyone anxiously awaiting her. All eyes on her, she finds Billy swinging in the same spot from which he disappeared ten years ago without having aged a day. Scully and Doggett are called in to investigate given the child’s rare physical condition – he even has the same baby teeth he had ten years prior. When Billy refuses to communicate, Doggett becomes aggressive in his investigation tactics, having lost, we later discover, a child of his own earlier. After Billy becomes increasingly disjointed and threatening, Doggett investigates the connection to Ronald Purcell and discovers that Purcell was an abductee himself and takes children for another man, Cal Jeppy. Purcell had taken Billy’s brother, but Doggett and Scully are able to save Billy’s brother and find a skeleton that turns out to be the dead Billy Underwood, causing the recent physical manifestation of Billy to disappear forever.

Credit “Invocation” for evolving a fascinating puzzle at the start. Here is every parents’ worst nightmare: a child taken, never to be seen again. It’s something American Horror Story: Hotel tried this year to positive initial effect. Yet, like Hotel, “Invocation” fails to effectively wrap the story in a clear manner. Not just clear, but it fails to avoid concluding the story on a frustrating note. The episode builds and builds the mystery and unease around Billy coupling his seemingly preserved physical condition, his persistent blank stare and silence, his seemingly murderous intentions toward his brother, his ability to completely disappear, and his bizarre interaction with a psychic called in to explore the case.

All of this is presented against the exploration of Doggett’s past and his own missing child. Yet, the end resolves the case without fully explaining Billy’s sudden reappearance. Why has he physically manifested now? How is it that he is dead and still able to fool Scully and other doctors? Why does he attempt to stab his brother and how is his own blood on the knife? There are dozens of questions raised by the episode that it chooses to ignore in the end. Instead, it becomes a fairly standard kidnapping story with a touch of the supernatural accentuating it. It’s one thing to not explain everything, and I’m not looking for a detailed explanation of every single aspect of the story. I am looking for the episode, though, to stick the landing, and “Invocation” does not. It’s rather lazy plotting to seemingly wrap it all up with “he was a ghost.” I’d almost have preferred him to have been abducted by aliens, although, by now, that would probably have given me hives.

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