"You know, these words, 'anomalous', 'supernatural', 'paranormal', they propound to explain something by not explaining it. That's lazy!"
REVIEW: Aliens and gross mutants are all well and good, but how will Doggett react to truly supernatural events? The truly unexplainable? I wonder if he'll be moved from his skeptic's position faster than Scully was, simply because she is a more believable person than Mulder was, exactly BECAUSE she was a skeptic for so long. Is she his "shortcut"? He reacts to the mystery at hand like a cop does. Punishing the parties responsible is paramount, explaining it is secondary. Except that he feels unsatisfied when he gets his wish and yet still can't explain how he met and talked to a child rotting in an improvised grave for the last 10 years. That's the nature of the X-Files, buddy. Get used to it.
I'm less impressed with the script's need to make this personal for Doggett and the introduction of a kidnapped child in his life (the details of which are not defined here). It would have been enough that he served on a child abduction task force and have a particular hatred of such crimes. Because this bit of back story makes him the third Chris Carter FBI agent to have an unresolved kidnapped/murdered family member subplot. Come on now.
I do rate the mystery of the week highly, however. It's the kind of scenario that doesn't seem to make any sense (real world or supernatural) until the very end when the asterisk-like symbol is revealed to be, well, the very image seen in the episode, a rig for ponies to walk around in a circle. I noticed the overhead shot right away, and thought the episode might play with a wheel motif, and it sort of did at that. The missing child returned at the same age he was when he vanished seems to have gotten off the merry-go-round and gotten back on again later. If wheels represent time, then he was outside time until he needed to return to save his brother. By the time the symbol recurs, you've forgotten it, just as you might the name of the carny running the pony ride, later seen as suspect's abusive "stepfather". The clues are all there for the audience to figure it out, and if you don't, the ending satisfyingly reveals how you could have. Smart writing. The kid having a Village of the Damned vibe, and getting attention with a knife (of all things) is manipulative horror movie stuff, but the latter perhaps tells us something about his horrifying murder we don't need to be told. Invocation works its magic by inference, dancing around a crime that's hard to take even in the context of a fantasy program, but it's not a coward's dance. Rather, it's subtle and tactful. It WOULD have worked better, however, if the supernatural element was more easily deniable at the end. X-Files work better when people can justify them, even as some kind of group hallucination, but here, the returned kid left too much evidence of himself. The supernatural is too overt.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Highish - A deep and intriguing mystery, but I have some reservations regarding the cheap horror scares and Doggett's repetitive back story.