X-Files Flashback: ‘The Gift’

Season 8, Episode 11
Director: Kim Manners
Writer: Frank Spotnitz

Badlaa” was such a terrible episode of The X-Files that I feared we’d reached that corner of quality around which the series may never return. Fortunately, we’ve not yet reached that point as “The Gift” wildly succeeds at which everything “Badlaa” so badly failed. The story features the expected tremendous filmmaking and makeup craft, but what sets it apart is an intriguingly structured story line wrapped around a genuinely sympathetic “monster of the week.” “The Gift” is a gift to The X-Files audience and may well prove to be the best episode of Season Eight.

We begin with a man driving through a rainstorm and arriving upon a house with a strange symbol (reminiscent of the Zodiac Killer’s symbol) painted on the door. The man walks inside where a man and a woman are huddled together, trembling, and a strange being with a horribly disfigured face standing nearby. The visitor pulls out a gun and shoots the monster three times before leaving the house. When he returns to the car, it is revealed that the man is Fox Mulder. We then flash forward to the present day where Agent Doggett is investigating a discrepancy between Mulder’s case reports and cell records in the days leading up to his disappearance.

After he and A.D. Skinner dig further, he discovers a community of people who are hunting and keeping the creature alive – a creature who survived Mulder’s three shots in close proximity. We quickly discover the creature / man’s benefit to the community: he consumes a human being with an illness and absorbs their illness (thus the facial scarring and other assorted deformities). He then regurgitates the remains of the devoured human, now clean, into a person-shaped mold. The victim is then resurrected, clean as new. Mulder attempted to clear his apparent brain tumor by using the creature’s ability but decided against it as the creature suffers more and more with each practice. Mulder tried to put it out of its misery but failed. When Doggett tries to take the creature into custody away from the townspeople, the sheriff shoots him in the back, killing him. Doggett then wakes up after being resurrected with the creature dead nearby – consuming someone who had died brought him death… and peace.

The primary reason “The Gift” works so well is credited to its ingenious structure. We’re initially presented with a set of information that we logically interpret one way – Mulder (the typical hero) is saving a couple from a deadly monster. Then, we proceed to receive little bits and pieces of information along the way that continue to alter that perspective, and, as the episode progresses, our perception of the episode, the characters, and the predicted outcome continually change. As a result, “The Gift” is one of the more unpredictable and fascinating pieces of television The X-Files has produced to date – all by playing with the structure a bit in an unusual fashion. The structure is then coupled with an actual suffering creature at the center of the story that legitimately elicits our sympathies without uttering a word of dialogue. The two aspects of the episode cause it to excel wildly beyond anything I’d personally expected within the uneven Season Eight. It’s a classic attempt at real story telling excellence that examples of which, lately, have been few and far between.

It’s as if the creative team and the writers started caring all of a sudden…

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