X-Files Flashback: ‘Within’

Season 8, Episode 1
Director: Kim Manners
Writer: Chris Carter

“Within,” The X-Files‘ eighth season premiere, is an episode with two minds. First, it’s a work dedicated to the memory of the missing Fox Mulder. Actually, that’s not entirely true. The entire episode is dedicated to Mulder: what happened to him, where is here, and even who is he? But the first half of the episode deals with the reactions to his abduction. The second half is more about the procedural work undertaken by Scully, Skinner, and others as they attempt to follow a thin trail of clues to Mulder’s whereabouts. As focused as it is on Mulder, “Within” also attempts to reinstate old characters in new roles and introduce new characters intended to round out the cast after David Duchovny’s reduced presence on the show. As a result, this reboot of sorts has some effective moments and moves along easily enough. Do you miss David Duchovny? Absolutely. Does Robert Patrick make a satisfactory replacement? TBD. Is this a good episode? Surprisingly, yes.

Scully opens the episode with her emotional distress over the unexpected pregnancy and, primarily, with Mulder’s disappearance. When she returns to the FBI and Mulder’s office, she’s horrified to find it being ransacked by fellow agents. This starts a sort of discord between Skinner and Scully and the rest of the FBI as led by Alvin Kerch (James Pickens, Jr.) and task force leader John Doggett (T2‘s Robert Patrick). As Scully continues to struggle with Mulder’s disappearance through haunted dreams and the revelation that Mulder may have been dying, Skinner works with the Lone Gunmen to determine the most likely location of Mulder’s current whereabouts based on recent UFO sightings. Signs point to Mulder being in Arizona and potentially tying him to the young Gibson Praise, an old X-Files friend who can sense the presence of alien life on Earth. The episode ends with Agent Doggett finding Gibson and someone who appears to be Mulder on the top of a large hill in Arizona. To be continued, of course…

“Within” marks a subtle transition to a newer X-Files – one that attempts to largely carry on without its legendary reliance on David Duchovny’s Fox Mulder. The first changes are evidenced from the redesigned opening credits where Duchovny’s and Gillian Anderson’s badge photos have been updated and Robert Patrick’s has been added. That’s all fine – by far the worst addition is the inclusion of Mulder plummeting Scotty Ferguson-like (that one’s for all the Vertigo peeps out there) into the pupil of a large eye. It’s a cheesy, subpar special effect that betrays the simple, appealingly low-tech opening they’d maintained for seven years. There was no need to change it, and the improvements don’t really work at all. Here’s hoping they return to the original credits for the reboot.

The overall episode itself is appealing enough for what is essentially a mythology episode. It features a strong, emotional performance by Gillian Anderson and enough over-the-top “Mulder as Christ” imagery to make you affectionately roll your eyes. As grieved as everyone is, you never for one second believe that Fox Mulder is actually dead or even dying. That’s the problem with retroactively watching these things. Everything you know about the show today is a massive spoiler, so the thrill is basically gone. As such, the episode plunges forward and wastes little time with setting the stage for the season, no matter how breathlessly they do it. That includes the introduction of John Doggett (Patrick) who immediately pisses off Scully, but, by episode’s end, you know they’re soon going to be reluctant partners. Patrick’s initial presence is boilerplate FBI, which is expected given that he cannot approximate the rare blend of geeky and self-effacing sci-fi babbling in which Duchovny excelled.

I approach each season eight episode with trepidation. When will it become as legendarily bad as I’ve always heard they would be? There were signs late in season seven, but, surprisingly enough, the beginning of season eight isn’t awful. It’s not The X-Files either. Perhaps most damningly, it is a fraction of the great highs the show would often obtain, but “Within” isn’t really all that far off from their more mediocre episodes. It’s just not the same without Fox Mulder, and they should have realized that much earlier in the process. I suspect that had the world not continue to fetishize Gillian Anderson’s presence on the series, they wouldn’t have even tried this on.

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