"It looks the way it does because of their sickness."
REVIEW: Mulder returns to haunt Doggett in this impressively directed episode signed Kim Manners, in which the truth behind the re-pilot's revelations about Mulder are explained. Why did he go down to Pennsylvania several times before he was abducted? What about the degenerative illness that was apparently eating at him through Season 7? Doggett is still on the case, but anyone following Mulder's career would, I think, have the experience Doggett has here. People don't want to talk about why Mulder was there, call him a crazy person, but are actually hiding the X-File so they don't sound crazy, and so on. It must ALL be like this. And at the end, a guy like Skinner would tell you to shelve what you found out, and keep these things on the down-low, to protect everyone's careers. With Scully absent, but having signed off on one of Mulder's falsified reports, secret guns found under Mulder's sink (who's paying his rent?), etc., this is an episode that makes you paranoid about characters you've known for a long time.
The truth of it is that Mulder sought a creature that ate disease, an abused captive of an entire town that would call it and make it absorb their diseases. Mulder's adventure there apparently ended with a mercy killing, but only after he had been cured of his brain problem. But the creature survived and got better, but still in great pain from all the ills it had consumed. And here comes Doggett again, asking the same questions and trying a different tack - taking the creature away. Shocker: He gets shot by the town sheriff! Of course, there's a healer in the story, so we know how he gets out of it, but it's still quite the moment. And that's how the creature is put out of its misery, absorbing death itself and bringing Doggett back.
Mulder's secret trips may not ALL be to Squamash, PA, but the mystery set up in Within/Without is adequately explained. It's perhaps disappointing that it has nothing to do with the Conspiracy, and if the episode has been ordinarily directed, that might have been my complaint. But the opposite is true. Manners is smart in his use of flashbacks, gets us right into Doggett's head and shows us a man who puts the pieces together logically and thoughtfully. There's plenty of atmosphere, unhinged camera work, ambiguous POVs, shadows and rain. It looks gorgeous, even though it features a gross monster. I especially love the bit where the camera spins around Doggett, his face in shadow, as he reconstructs that fateful night in his head. The style certainly warrants the ghost of Mulder appearing to Doggett at the end.
THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Is the sin eater supernatural in origin, or just one of those mutants we sometimes come across who look gross and feed on some human body part or byproduct? Folklore could have been built around such a mutant, and given the creature's lack of speech, etc., it's doubtful it's meant to be a trained shaman from days gone by.
REWATCHABILITY: High - It might have been enough that Duchovny was back for an episode, but they went all out making it LOOK special.