X-Files Flashback: ‘Release’


Season 9, Episode 17
Director: Kim Manners
Writer: David Amann

If I had three episodes left to burn in The X-Files, then I doubt I would have burned one of them writing about John Doggett’s tortured past. Sure, his backstory is incredibly sad. It feels, though, less like an actual method of character motivation than it does a connection point to Mulder, the man he was designed to replace. Doggett’s tortured past isn’t an accentuating detail of Doggett’s persona, it’s his entire personality. It’s the only thing that truly makes him unique even as he stands in the shadow of Fox Mulder. “Release” tries to put that past behind us all as if the series were continuing beyond the ninth season. The episode highlights many of the problems I have with the character of John Doggett as it’s mired in a New York mafia aesthetic. Doggett never belonged in the X-files, and he doesn’t belong on The X-Files.

“Release” begins with Doggett exploring a tip in an abandoned apartment building. After missing a perp (doesn’t it feel like Doggett always misses the perp?), he hears a scratching in the walls. Approaching the sound, he is startled to see the walls slowly bleeding. The occurrence is caused by a body stored within the wall, rats gnawing at the dying flesh. A young FBI cadet, Rudolph Hayes, seems to have an extra sense about the body and correctly guesses the circumstances around her death. There are a handful of mixed signals and scenes of Doggett going down random paths to connect Hayes’s apparent visions to his son’s murder. He becomes convinced that a mafia kingpin from New York was involved and engages his ex-wife in a lineup to no avail.

Hayes is eventually revealed to be a former mental patient who entered the FBI Academy under a false name. He apparently does see some sort of visions around the dead. That aspect of his character isn’t fully explored. Doggett has a late conversation with the mafia kingpin in which the man reveals the saga of Doggett’s son’s death. All but admitting to the crime, the kingpin leaves the bar in which they meet but is shot in the eye by A.D. Follmer (Cary Elwes). Follmer was apparently taking bribes in exchange for a diversion of FBI attention. Armed with the knowledge of his son’s murderer, Doggett and his ex-wife are able to let go. They scatter his son’s ashes by the ocean. You know, that one near Washington, D.C., that looks exactly like a rocky California shore.

“Release” spends a great deal of time establishing the mysterious character of Rudolph Hayes, clearly fashioned as an X-Files off-shoot of Sherlock Holmes. What’s not clear, based on this episode, is if Hayes has some sort of legitimate sixth sense about crime scenes or if he is just extraordinarily gifted in the forensics arena. The trick with the episode and with most Doggett-centric pieces is that it never really takes a side on the matter. Doggett’s ties are exceedingly tangental to the X-files. He refuses to believe in the supernatural. As such, his character is better suited to a C.S.I. New York-like series than The X-Files.

“Release” suffers the same fate. It dances between the supernatural and the mundane. It anchors its plot in Doggett’s mafia obsession and spices things up with the Hayes character. Yet, I was clearly more drawn to the Hayes character and his backstory over what Doggett has to offer. As the series heads into its closing moments, “Release” feels like a tossed-off outing. It goes to great lengths to provide closure on a character that perhaps didn’t deserve such great lengths. He hasn’t earned his X-Files wings yet. Likely, he never will.

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