The X-Files #276: Underneath

"You don't clock out at the end of your shift unless you know you did everything you could. That's what this is about. Me not clockin' out."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: A serial killer Doggett arrested 13 years ago is released based on new evidence, but he may be two men.

REVIEW: There's a lot that's worthwhile in Underneath, including some great rainy atmosphere, but the execution is often messy. At its root, going back into Doggett's past as a beat cop, and seeing the arrest that more or less propelled him along on his law enforcement career, is a good idea, but as with the previous episode, that the case was an X-File and he just didn't know it strains credulity (his as well as mine, as it turns out). Doggett as the "meat and potatoes" policeman is his default mode, and in episodes where a Doggett-Reyes relationship isn't acknowledged (like this one), is where they two stop trusting one another. The release of the killer from that arrest turns his world upside down, and he obsessively tries to undo it, but the theme of Underneath is that the justice system is a failure, and he gets no traction. Politics and the fear of lawsuits drive the D.A., the defense attorney's good intentions are misplaced, and Doggett's old partner turns out to have planted evidence. The X-File is about a man who transforms himself into a sinner, and that idea of "evil" transformation is present in these characters.

The transformational premise of the X-Files itself, of a man who can't reconcile his psychotic urges with his religious value, and whose disassociative state is physically manifest. As Doggett scoffs, it's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And that literary touchstone just shows how old this idea is. For Reyes to tie it to Catholic transubstantiation is sadly absurd, and one of the episode's irritants. I suppose the other is the contrivance that though the "screwdriver killer" murdered a lot of people whose bodies were never found in the 1980s, when he comes out in the 2000s, his defense lawyer lends him a room in her house yards away from where they're all "buried" in a sewer tunnel. Expediency causes a plot hole that really can fit all those bodies.

The first murder we see is fantastic, happening in a split second from the killer's point of view. One minute he's standing there, anxious, the next the whole family is dead at his feet and he hasn't moved. A great prologue to some kind of demon story that kills between seconds and uses this man to clean up after him, a demon who has taken the form of the Jesus on the man's crucifix. That's not where this goes, and each successive killing or interaction with the monster plays by different rules. It's a Fight Club thing where the other personality is present in the room with him, etc., but the shifting way it's presented is really just an elaborate red herring to keep the audience from grasping the rather simple solution. It's counter-productive, because the theories you come up with yourself are all more interesting than what's actually happening. Doggett doesn't want to trust his eyes at the end of this, and I can understand that; the audience can't quite trust the POV it's given either.

- A strong theme and atmospheric direction, but the episode quickly loses the plot.



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