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Character Analysis

The X-Files | The Case for Monica Reyes: Uplifting Woman of TV

Underappreciated during The X-Files’ original run, Annabeth Gish’s captivating Monica Reyes is one of the greatest female characters on TV.

Special Agent Monica Reyes flew into the lives of us X-philes in 2001 during The X-Files Season 8’s extended manhunt for Mulder. While Season 8 delicately introduced the new agent, Season 9 would see Agent Reyes and Doggett confidently take the metaphorical baton from Mulder and Scully as the lead investigators of the X-Files. Actor Annabeth Gish would enjoy a 19-episode run between 2001 and 2002 and would return, albeit fleetingly, for Season 10 and 11 in 2016 and 18. 

Over 20 years since she took the helm of one of the most popular TV series of all time, the character of Monica Reyes, her partner John Doggett (Robert Patrick), and most of Season 9 along with them, are still widely criticized by a corner of by The X-Files fanbase. In one such criticism, Reyes gets a particularly glowing review; “She’s just a ghost, an empty space where a person ought to be.” Adding insult to injury, when Monica Reyes returns in the 2016/2018 reboot we learn that she has evolved into the right hand of long-standing series villain, Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis) and is conspiring with the dark side to save her own skin. 

All in all, it looks like a dreary outcome for Monica Reyes. The “poorly conceived” leading lady turned misguided villain is probably best resigned to the history books as a creative misstep in otherwise brilliant 20th-century television. Case closed. 

Or is it?

When lockdown hit in 2020, I began what became a seminal rewatch of The X-Files. I had revelations about the queerness of my childhood connection with Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), got myself a Mulder and Scully tattoo and was even delightfully surprised by how much I enjoyed The X-Files Season 9. Yet, most unexpectedly of all, while watching the franchise through the lens of all I’ve learnt on queer theory and feminist interpretation since the show’s original run, I had the pleasure of rediscovering Agent Monica Reyes in a way I’d never seen.  Not only did I find a wealth of evidence to argue that she is a whole and persuasive character, I found myself wondering whether she – along the simply delightful Annabeth Gish – deserve the accolade of ‘Uplifting Woman in TV.’ 

So flying in the face of the critics, come with me through the highlights of season 9 to consider the case for Agent Monica Reyes, and what it is about her that might finally put her on the right side of the history books. If you’re up for it, we’ve even got a soundtrack to go with it. 

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‘Mystic Monica’: Reyes Wasn’t a Mulder Palatte Swap

As an expert in Satanic cults and ritualistic killings, we know that Monica Reyes was introduced to the series to operate as the Mulder to Doggett’s Scully once it was clear that Duchovny was leaving the series for good. However, if we look closely at The X-Files Season 9, we see that this isn’t a lazy ‘like for like’ replacement of one believer for another. While Mulder’s expertise lies in the paranormal (aliens, swamp monsters, werewolves, and the like), Reyes introduces us not just to the concept of, but experience with, mysticism in a way we’ve never before seen from the show.

Mysticism as a concept is one that refers to the practice (and general school of thought) around the ‘spiritual realm’. Consequently ‘a mystic’ is someone who has the experience and mastery of ‘spiritual encounters’ or ‘enlightened spiritual understanding’ beyond the realm of human rationale knowledge. While it’s true that The X-Files took Mulder and Scully to cases with ‘mystic themes’ (religious cults and Satanic worship galore), it was always clear that neither agent excelled in this space. By contrast, The X-Files Season 9 reveals Reyes to be a confident and powerful mystic. She isn’t just more knowledgeable and familiar with the concept than her colleagues, she possesses a unique ability to tap into the spiritual realm. Almost, some might say, in a supernaturally gifted kind of way.  

Dana Scully, wearing surgical scrubs, hands some paperwork to Monica Reyes, who is wearing a brown leather coat.
Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) review accounts of a similar case in The X-Files episode ‘Hellbound’ (S9, Ep8). The episode, which centers on Reyes’ role in an unbroken cycle, was designed to take the character in a darker direction. | 20th Century Fox, 2002.

We got a glimpse of Reyes’ mystic perception from her introduction in The X-Files Season 8, which plays out again early in Season 9. But by the time we reach The X-Files episode ‘Hellbound’ (S9, Ep8), Reyes’ involvement with the mystical begins to run much deeper. When she is drawn to investigate several murders where the victims have been flayed, Reyes’ recurring dreams and mystic intuition lead her to discover that the killings are part of endless cosmic reincarnation that she herself is part of. She tries to explain to a sceptical Doggett: 

John Doggett: Choosing your victims because of their birth dates, that’s the very definition of a serial killer
Monica Reyes: No…That’s not what’s happening here
John Doggett: That’s the only thing that makes sense
Monica Reyes: To you
John Doggett: Okay, what do you think it is?
Monica Reyes: He knew he was going to die, he had a premonition of his death, just like the first victim
John Doggett: So how do you figure that?
Monica Reyes: I’m involved in this someway, I have some kind of memory of it. It’s all happened before and now it’s happening again

The X-Files ‘Hellbound’ – S9, Ep8.

She tries again to explain to Scully; 

“Whoever I was, I failed. In 1868. In 1909. In 1960, I failed. I was always there, but I couldn’t stop the killings. And he knew that… And somehow, he knows my deepest fear – that I’ll fail.”

Monica Reyes, The X-Files ‘Hellbound’ – S9, Ep8.

The theme of life and death, and Reyes’s awareness of her ability to transcend it, is played out again in The X-Files episode ‘Audrey Pauley’ (S9, Ep11). Hospitalized by a nasty car accident, Reyes finds herself trapped, along with other comatose patients, in a purgatory-like reality. While the others think they are dead, Reyes’ mystic spider senses are tingling. Displaying a level of discernment with spiritual plains that can only be described as superhuman, Reyes establishes that she has been accidentally trapped in an alternative world built by hospital assistant Audrey Pauley (Tracey Ellis). 

Reyes’ cognisance of her own reincarnated status, her ability to sense the embodiment of evil and comprehend the journey of her own soul between life and death is the mark of a powerful mystic; allowing the show to universe build and play out narratives that would seem more at home in Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Charmed than The X-Files. 

Monica Reyes sits cross-legged on the floor of a deserted hospital.
Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) emerges from a coma to find herself in purgatory in The X-Files episode ‘Audrey Pauley’ (S9, Ep11). The titular Audrey Pauley was played by Tracey Ellis, who previously guest-starred in The X-Files episode ‘Oubliette’ (S3, Ep8). | 20th Century Fox, 2002.

As a lovely little aside, it turns out that Annabeth Gish, whose tremendously versatile acting career is seated in horror classics, shares some of Monica’s infinity with the mystical. Gish’s career started in the late eighties, starring alongside young Julia Roberts in Mystic Pizza; a romantic comedy set in the town of Mystic (coincidence?) Her expertise in the horror genre started with The X-Files and has blossomed through several Stephen King adaptions (Desperation, Bag of Bones) culminating most recently, in the Netflix horror hit The Haunting of Hill House and the eerie Midnight Mass, both created by Mike Flanagan, director of Doctor Sleep (2019), Hush (2016) , and Oculus (2013). Her next two projects for Netflix are Poe adaptation The Fall of the House of Usher with Flanagan, and Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches.

In a 2019 interview with filmmaker Mick Garris, Gish explains why she has been so drawn to TV/film that touches on the paranormal.  She attests;

“I am a searcher and a seeker of mysticism, whether the spiritual realm or the supernatural realm. I have an interest in it and am always intrigued.” 

Annabeth Gish on Post Mortem with Mick Garris

This episode is an absolute delight to listen to and Gish is wonderful in openly recounting her early childhood experiences with Ouija boards, hotel encounters with ghosts and her own regular practices of meditation. This wealth of mystic enthusiasm that Gish brings to Monica, let alone the fact that she portrayed the only leading X-File agent to possess supernatural abilities, is woefully underappreciated in the history of The X-Files critical analysis. 

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Monica Reyes: The Nerd

The X-Files is full of brainiac lead investigators; from Mulder’s Oxford degree to Scully’s forensic genius, the writers on the show seem to have a thing for the academically accomplished. In this Reyes is no exception, but once again has her own unique brand of ‘smart’ that distinguishes, and occasionally outstrips, her colleagues quite considerably. 

John Doggett stands in an alleyway with his gun drawn, he is wearing a blue FBI windbreaker.
In a parallel universe, John Doggett (Robert Patrick) is stalked by serial killer Erwin Lukesh (Dylan Haggerty) in The X-Files episode ‘4-D’ (S9, Ep4). The theme of the episode is signposted in the opening credits where “The truth is out there is shown in reverse.” | 20th Century Fox, 2001.

Take early Season 9 episode ‘4-D’ (S9, Ep4). While enjoying a very flirty encounter with Agent Doggett over hotdogs, Reyes is momentarily puzzled when she receives a call from Assistant Director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) reporting that Doggett has just been shot in a stakeout. Although initially puzzled by how Doggett could be in two places at once, it doesn’t take long for Reyes to work out that he may have accidentally traveled through alternative dimensions. As Doggett lies paralysed in hospital, Reyes explains to him that he’s slid into the wrong universe, and that ‘her Doggett’ has therefore been forced out. 

“What if you were at my apartment and I was at a stakeout with you at the exact same time?… You’ve heard of the idea of a parallel universe, one that is identical to our own… It’s theoretical physics but, what’s if it’s real?”

Monica Reyes, The X-Files, ‘4-D’ – S9, Ep4.

It’s brilliant that she has such an instant recall for theoretical physics, reaching conclusions you would expect to hear from Dr. Emmett Brown or Spock rather than “an empty space where a person ought to be”. In a small piece of self-indulgent fan fiction, I like to imagine that at the time of this case she probably has Stephen’s Hawkins Universe in a Nutshell (2001) open on her bedstand and that she had just unpacked the complete Sliders DVD boxset into her new apartment.

Monica Reyes lies in bed, looking towards the phone. The digital clock in the foreground reads "9:09"
Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) calls Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) at the end of The X-Files episode ‘Improbable’ (S9, Ep13) to ask about her assigned numerology number. The answer, like the clock, is 9. | 20th Century Fox, 2002.

Reyes own brand of nerdy intelligence, merging with her mystic abilities, gives her character a wonderful queer, geeky color that is so beautifully drawn out in some of the final episodes in Season 9. In The X-Files episode ‘Improbable’ (S9, Ep13), in spite of the light mockery of her FBI colleagues, Reyes uses her vast knowledge of numerology to track down a serial killer. It’s a delightful episode, and Reyes is giddy in sharing her hitherto closeted prowess in numerology, reading Scully’s numbers with loving accuracy: 

Dana Scully: Alright I need to know
Monica Reyes: What?
Dana Scully: What my numerology is – or my number – whatever you call it.. what am I?
Monica Reyes: You’re a nine
Dana Scully: Which means what?
Monica Reyes: Nine is completion. You’ve evolved through the experiences of all the other numbers to a spiritual realisation that this life is only part of a larger whole

The X-Files, ‘Improbable’ – S9, Ep13.

Reyes’s geekery isn’t limited to mystic abilities or cosmology, she’s also partial to a bit of pop culture fandom. In The X-Files episode ‘Sunshine Days’ (S9, Ep18), Reyes again outs herself, this time as a Brandy Bunch fanatic. It’s a beautiful little quirky side of Monica Reyes, balancing her paranormal abilities with mundane humanity.  

Reyes’s niche interests, and the incredible intelligence displayed in mastering them, is not only deeply endearing but also marks her out as a unique and counter-cultural female character in a decade where such traits were still predominantly reserved for male protagonists. Reyes’s own brand of feminine geekery speaks to the queer, subversive power of The X-Files, leading the way in smashing the heteronormative gender roles of women on screen and introducing a new generation of unapologetically nerdy female antagonists. 

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Monica Reyes: The Empath 

Reyes’ capacity for servant-hearted friendship has already been revealed in The X-Files Season 8 when she most of her time as a midwife to pregnant Scully. Yet, it’s season nine where this becomes less about another character’s need and more about who Monica Reyes is. As the Doggett/Reyes pairing endures increasingly frightening and gruesome cases, it’s in Monica’s relationship with John that we start to see the fullness of her empathy and loyalty. 

In The X-Files episode ‘John Doe’ (S9, Ep7), written and directed by Vince Gilligan (which shares huge overlaps in cinematography with his hit series Breaking Bad), Agent Doggett finds himself lost in a small town in Mexico, suffering from amnesia. While Doggett tries to piece together his identity, and Deputy Director Kersh (James Pickens Jr.) disbands the task force looking for him, it’s Reyes alone who remains committed to the search. 

A furtive looking John Doggett, his face streaked with grime and blood, looks behind him. Monica Reyes watches helplessly.
Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) tracks down an amnesiac John Doggett (Robert Patrick) in The X-Files episode ‘John Doe’ (S9, Ep7). The episode was the directorial debut of Michelle MacLaren, only the second woman to direct an episode of The X-Files and the first not to be Gillian Anderson. MacLaren is currently the executive producer of Apple TV’s Shining Girls. which has more than a hint of The X-Files in its time-traveling serial killer premise. | 20th Century Fox, 2002.

When she crosses the border from San Antonio, we learn another golden nugget about Monica Reyes; she was raised in Mexico and speaks fluent Spanish. What’s interesting about this revelation is that this categorizes Agent Reyes as the only bi-lingual investigator of the X-Files (yes, okay, Scully took German in college but she’s not exactly fluent) and breathes, after eight years, much-needed diversity into the lead character line up. It’s a shame that more wasn’t made of Monica’s heritage; perhaps using the subversive potential of The X-Files to tell a different story about the American/Mexican relationship that is sorely, sorely needed. 

In ‘John Doe’ we see the burden of pain and history that Monica shoulders with John. While hiding from the cops, she has the arduous task of reminding her partner that his son was murdered several years ago. It’s such a powerful and beautiful moment that’s echoed later on between them in The X-Files episode ‘Release’ (S9, Ep17). Both times, Gish does a tremendous job in articulating the depth of empathy Monica holds for John.

A visibly heartbroken John Doggett throws his arms around Monica Reyes. The ocean is visible behind them.
John Doggett (Robert Patrick) embraces Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) in The X-Files episode ‘Release’ (S9, Ep17). Patrick called the scene – in which Doggett scatters son’s ashes – one of the hardest in his career. | 20th Century Fox, 2002.

As we’ve seen since The X-Files Season 8, Reyes’ empathy isn’t limited to Doggett. At the close of the original X-Files run, when we see the brief return of David Duchovny for Mulder’s final trial, Reyes is called in to vouch for our falsely accused hero. Out of all the witnesses, every ally Mulder had in nine years of investigating, it is Reyes who is most visibly incensed by the injustice of Mulder’s trial; 

“You don’t care what these people have sacrificed over the last nine years; what has been lost to their cause… What is the point of all of this? To destroy a man who seeks the truth or to destroy the truth so that no man can seek it?”

Monica Reyes, The X-Files, ‘The Truth’ – S9, Ep19-20.

If we understand Reyes as an empath, this scene in Mulder’s courtroom sits differently. If we focus on Reyes rather than Mulder for just a minute, we might start to see the level of heartbreak and disillusion that took root in her in this moment. A turning point perhaps, that might foreshadow some of her later decision-making, leading to the events of Season 10/11. 

Monica Reyes and John Doggett point their handguns at the camera, a cliff face at their backs.
Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) and John Doggett (Robert Patrick) face off against Knowle Rohrer (Adam Baldwin) in The X-Files episode ‘The Truth’ (S9, Ep19-20). At 13.25 million viewers, the second part of ‘The Truth’ was the most-watched episode in The X-Files Season 9. | 20th Century Fox, 2002.

Once the creators knew that The X-Files Season 9 would be the last, they had to end with Mulder and Scully’s touching moment in the motel in New Roswell. However, the series has an equally powerful final moment for the friendship of Reyes and Doggett. Rushing to alert Mulder and Scully in the Mexican desert, the ‘B team’ face the notorious super-soldier Knowle Rohrer (Adam Baldwin). Guns drawn backed in the wall, Doggett tells Reyes to get out of there; she refuses. It’s a powerful selfless moment, as much as for Doggett as for Reyes, as they face their imminent demise in the middle of nowhere, for the sake of their colleagues.

It’s an easy moment to miss when you’ve been distracted by Mulder’s chase for the truth, but when you really see it you get a better sense of that ‘real truth’, that Scully was talking about at the end of ‘Sunshine Days’ (S9, Ep18). It’s Agent Monica Reyes, and her equally faithful partner John Doggett, that show us the true meaning of the X-Files. Hand in hand, at the end of their run. Their friendship is the “proof of more important things.”

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Monica Reyes Gone Bad: Season 10 and 11.

When The X-Files returned for Season 10 in 2016, fans were shocked to see what had become of Agent Reyes. In ‘My Struggle II’ (S10, Ep6) Monica is revealed to be the new right-hand woman of the series mega villain, the Cigarette Smoking-Man (CSM). Popping cigarettes into his tracheostomy, she appears to be directly assisting the shadowy villain in his plot to release an alien virus on humankind. 

When reunited with Scully in ‘My Struggle II’, Reyes reveals that she’s accepted CSM’s offer to become one of the ‘chosen elite’; a group of humans protected from the upcoming apocalypse by alien DNA. The meeting with Scully is uncomfortable and a seemingly sad ending for their friendship. When Scully calls her a coward, Reyes desperately blurts out that she, and Mulder if he accepts it, are protected too. It’s a bittersweet moment, revealing that although she may have made a cowardly bargain with the devil, she’s made one for her friends too. 

Monica Reyes stands under an umbrella in front of Dana Scully, who has her back to the camera.
Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) pleads with Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) in The X-Files Season 10 episode ‘My Struggle II’ (S10, Ep6). The episode was Gish’s only appearance in Season 10 and the first time she had appeared in the show without Robert Patrick. | 20th Century Fox, 2016.

In her all-too-brief appearances throughout 2018’s Season 11, Reyes’ actions become increasingly ambiguous and uncharacteristically passive. She continues to assist CSM in his devious plan, culminating in holding poor A.D. Skinner at gunpoint. It’s clear that she’s uncomfortable with her affiliation with the CSM; revealed in her efforts to point Mulder and Scully towards William and attempts to wrestle CSM away from crushing Skinner with their speeding vehicle. The fact that she does both of these while still seated at the right hand of CSM sadly reveals a naïve and hypocritical ending for Monica, for which she seemingly deserves the final bullet to her head. Her mystic prowess was right after all, she was destined to fail. 

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The Case for Monica Reyes 

With her Season 11 ending in mind, where does that leave us in our case for Reyes? Despite all of her Season 9 attributes it’s hard to look past her actions in the reboot.

Before we conclude, it’s worth remembering that Monica Reyes wasn’t the only hero to fall for CSM’s promises. The X-Files episode ‘En Ami’ (S7, Ep15) sees Scully accept the CSM invitation of a cross-country road trip to learn the cure for cancer. This is a problematic episode in which Scully finds, rather the cure, herself drugged and impregnated. Regardless of how uncomfortable this episode is, we do see Reyes’ experience mirrored in Scully. Both smart women, in their quest for knowledge, fell to the false promises of CSM. If Scully’s naivety can be forgiven, perhaps too can Reyes?

Dana Scully peers through the window of a stationary car to see the Cigarette-Smoking Man lighting up.
Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) receives an unexpected overture from the sinister Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis) in The X-Files episode ‘En Ami’ (S7, Ep15). The two characters had scared relatively few scenes together, so Davis pitched the idea of him ‘seducing’ her with an appeal to her medical curiosity and sympathy. | 20th Century Fox, 2000.

But perhaps there’s another line of thought that doesn’t involve explaining away her villainy. In modern TV/film, society has a huge discomfort with villainous female leads. Even in 2022, there remains a patriarchal expectation on female characters to be ‘on the good side’; to model the characteristics of acceptable feminine troupes. Look at Laura Linney’s spectacular Wendy Byrde from the 2017-2022 hit series Ozark. When Wendy’s personal ambition puts her family in danger, audiences hated her for it. When Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen encountered power, she went mad and good old Jon Snow had to put in her place. 

Ultimately, this is why, even when Monica’s choices led her to villainy, we should see past the patriarchal trap to judge her for it. A woman has a right to choose her destiny, even all the way to villainhood. 

Monica Reyes: Uplifting Woman of TV

Therefore, it is with great pleasure that we finally offer Agent Monica Reyes, and Annabeth Gish, the admiration and appreciation that she so readily deserves by categorizing her, front and center, as an ‘Uplifting Woman of TV’, if not for the reasons above, for Reyes’ impressive collection of leather jacket-based looks. 

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Alanna is a Non Binary Brit telling stories for the stage, screen, and webpage. Alanna lives in London and writes musings on the overlooked influence of queer thought across TV/film, sci-fi and pop culture, over at Queer Notes.

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