Frank Spotnitz, Robert Patrick, and Annabeth Gish reunite for a live panel and audience Q&A on The X-Files Season 8, Season 9, and what might have been.
On July 30, 2022, we hosted perhaps our biggest live event ever as Frank Spotnitz, writer and executive producer of The X-Files, led a live discussion and audience Q&A with Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish. Marking the 20th anniversary of the end of The X-Files original, with Patrick and Gish in the core cast as John Doggett and Monica Reyes, this was a touching, hilarious, and cathartic experience, with best-laid plans for life after The X-Files Season 9 revealed for the very first time.
This was a real reunion. Whilst Annabeth Gish and Robert Patrick stayed in touch through the convention circuit, writer and executive producer Frank Spotnitz moved to the UK. “I haven’t seen you, Frank, since the last time we had dinner,” says Patrick. “I know it was after The X-Files ended.”
The love and respect for each other and the universe they helped to build is very real.
In Praise of John Doggett and Monica Reyes
Whilst David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson had been relative unknowns prior to The X-Files, Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish were both stars – and they were auditioning for roles in one of the biggest TV shows on the planet. Despite his profile – which had taken off in the wake of Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – Patrick was looking for a different type of role, a journey that took him to cult classic UFO abduction thriller Fire in the Sky (1993), and a three-episode arc in The Sopranos as David Scatiano, a gambler who gets in over his head with childhood friend Tony Soprano.
“It was equivalent to winning the SuperBowl for me,” recalls Patrick. “I had that kind of enthusiasm going into it. I mean, it was almost the same feeling if not the same as when I got T2 – you realize this was a monumental shift in your career, and how fortunate and how grateful you were that it all worked out that you got the opportunity to do it.”
Introduced in The X-Files episode ‘Within’ (S8, Ep1) as Scully’s new partner, Special Agent John Doggett trod a careful path to his predecessor. Skeptical, determined, and loyal, with a blue-collar work ethic and a beat cop’s world-weariness – he was a very different company man to Mulder and slowly won over not just his reluctant partner, but an audience leery of seeing the dynamic they had come to love displaced.
“To this day, Doggett is probably my favorite character I’ve ever played. I keep going back to the fact that Doggett had such a great heart. He was unwavering. To get to play that kind of role, especially when you’ve been introduced to the world as this AI intelligent robot kind of thing, that baggage. And you’ve given me the opportunity to go completely the other way and be this big-hearted guy.”Robert Patrick
“It was a harbinger of the new masculinity,” adds Gish, “Of being like, a tough guy in a governmental job, but with a heart of gold and some wounds. He was all about vulnerability that he had to hide. You created the characters, you cast a wide net, we got hired, and then I don’t know how much you write for us or not, but I think that is what Robert is: he is this deep heart of gold, with all sorts of masculine energy, but super soft and loving and tender on the inside vulnerability, which I think is somehow you tapped into that.
“And we just got to touch the surface of that between Monica and Doggett.”
Introduced as a friend of Doggett’s with experience of cults in The X-Files episode ‘This Is Not Happening’ (S8, Ep14), Agent Monica Reyes was a believer, who like Mulder was more inclined to see the supernatural at work in the case of week, but again she was very different. Empathic and open, Monica Reyes let her feelings guide her as readily as Mulder did his instincts. Where Mulder was inclined towards parapsychology and the extraterrestrial – ostensibly scientific paradigms – Reyes felt at home in the world of spirit and mysticism.
“You just brought this warmth, accessibility, kindness, humanity… I mean, these are all repressed characters,” says Spotnitz. “The X-Files – everybody is emotionally repressed, but I felt like Reyes was more open. And you wanted Doggett to speak to her, he just couldn’t quite do it. But you saw that she was there and available in a way that nobody else in the show had been up to that point.”
“Can I ask you a question, Frank?” says Gish. “In terms of that emotional repression, was that a strategic thing? Because there I do think in all of the characters, in everyone, there is restraint. There’s something about touching lightly on these traits. You’re not shoving anything down anyone’s face. No one is overblown, But then somehow everybody can relate to everybody else in this because there’s something hidden.”
“I think that’s kind of who Chris [Carter, creator of The X-Files] is and the way he defined the characters in the show,” says Spotnitz. “This is my first job in TV – it was like my second film school. I had never worked in TV before. And I remember him saying to me in the very beginning, like, you don’t write the emotion, you let the actors play the emotion. It’s not in the words, it’s in the performance. Actors read it and get it, but sometimes, you know, executives read the scripts and go, ‘Well, where’s the emotion? Where the- ?’ No, no, it’s all there. But it’s not being said – it’s being played, which I think was one of the secrets to the show.”
The X-Files episode ‘Ice’ riffs on The Thing as primordial terrors thaw out. In reality, science is making plenty of deadly discoveries of its own…
Reappraising The X-Files Season 8 and 9
Gish went from a recurring character to a regular for The X-Files Season 9, and the Doggett and Reyes duo stepped formally to the fore. For Spotnitz and the rest of the production team, it wasn’t business-as-usual, it was an opportunity to tell different stories.
“It was so exciting for us, because, you know, we’ve been doing the show for seven seasons, right and 24 episodes a year, and it was like, and suddenly it was this new, new toolbox, these new characters, these new actors, these new dynamics to play and the storytelling really changed in those last two seasons and was really exciting for us to get to, to explore you know, your characters and the kinds of stories we could tell with you that we’d never could have or would have told with, with just Mulder and Scully in the show.
“The show in Seasons 8-9 I took on a Twilight Zone kind of feel that it never had before because it kept reinventing itself. And there were new types of stories that we were telling that really made it super exciting for us. So, for us, it was like some of the most exciting seasons of the whole run”Frank Spotnitz
The X-Files episodes ‘Roadrunners’ (S8, Ep4), ‘Redrum’ (S8, Ep6), the Doggett-centric ‘Via Negativa’ (S8, Ep9), ‘4-D’ (S9, Ep4), and the Reyes-centric ‘Audrey Pauly’ (S9, Ep11), are called out as favorites.
“My favorite scene of all the scenes you did is in that episode,” says Spotnitz of Patrick’s performance in ‘Via Negativa’. “You don’t know if you’re sleeping or you’re awake and you walk into Skinner’s office, and you are so terrified. Because you don’t know whether you’re asleep or awake. And you play it so real and TV Guide or somebody actually singled out that scene as like an extraordinary scene and it was all your performance.
“[Director] Kim Manners called me from set and said, ‘Oh my God, you won’t believe what we just shot with Robert – you got to see the scene’..”
Beloved by Chris Carter, Fire in the Sky – based on the ‘true’ story of Travis Waltons 1975 abduction by aliens – set Robert Patrick up for The X-Files.
9/11 and the Cancellation of The X-Files
It’s Reyes’ impassioned speech in defense of Mulder in The X-Files episode ‘The Truth’ (S9, Ep19-20) that lingers. Recorded in the shadow of the show’s cancellation, it imbues her performance with extra power as she castigates the court – and the network:
Monica Reyes: You don’t care what these people have sacrificed over the last nine years – what’s been lost to their cause. You make a mockery of it, gladdened it proves your point.The X-Files, ‘The Truth’ – S9, Ep19-20.
Deputy Director Kersh: Agent Reyes, that’s enough!
Monica Reyes: What is the point of all of this? To destroy a man who seeks the truth or to destroy the truth so no man can seek it? Either way, you lose.
“There was a lot of frustration, then,” she says. “And I remember channeling it.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever said this to you,” replies Spotnitz. “And I don’t know that you even know this. But the reason the show ended had nothing to do with Doggett and Reyes.
“Season 8, the ratings for the show went up. David’s gone, and the ratings went up. They went up. Then Season 9 – 9/11 happened before we premiered. I remember seeing in the New York Times Sunday magazine, I think it was like two weeks later, there was a chart of things that are in and things that are out post-9/11. And one of the things that it said was out was The X-Files. Like what are they talking about? And then, sure enough, we premiered Season 9. And our ratings are down. It’s not like people watch Doggett and Reyes, and [then] go. There was a section of the audience after 9/11 that just didn’t come back.
“We talked about this a lot, Chris and I, and we really came to believe that we were suddenly out of step with the mood of the country. Because this is a show about government conspiracy and who you trust and paranoia. And that was not the mood of the country. We could have continued the show – we felt like we were doing great work, but it’s not landing because the mood and the atmosphere are not good.”Frank Spotnitz
The X-Files episode ‘Within’ introduced Special Agent John Doggett, striking a deliberate – and welcome – contrast to both Mulder and Scully.
What Might Have Been: Doggett and Reyes go to Hollywood
“The other part I know you don’t know, because I was never allowed to say this to you, is that the movie studio wanted to continue the movies. The reason there’s this episode ‘William’ (S9, Ep16) where Scully gives up her child for adoption was [so] in the series Mulder and Scully are fugitives, Doggett and Reyes are at the FBI with Skinner, and there’s a movie franchise, that was our plan. So we didn’t think we were saying goodbye to you when the show ended.
“And then what happened was, there was a legal dispute between Chris [Carter] and Fox that I thought was going to be over in weeks or months. And it went on for five years. And when it finally ended, they didn’t want the alien mythology. They wanted a little small-budget movie that was just as standalone, but we had worked on storylines involving Doggett and Reyes and Mulder and Scully. And that’s what we thought we were going to do when the show ended.”
“I’m so glad to hear that,” replies Patrick. “I still remember the day that Chris came to Soundstage Seven and we were lighting some furniture on fire for some episode. I remember him walking me to my trailer and I said, ‘Chris, you’re starting to scare me.’ And he said, ‘Well, you should [be scared].’ And I got in the trailer and he sat me down. And he said, ‘You’re the first to know, we’re not coming back.’ And I was devastated. I think I kind of kept myself together. I felt devastated because I thought we’d put our heart and soul into it. And I thought we were really making some great television, and I thought the fans were digging it. And, I thought it was going to go on and on, which is what I wanted.
“If that show hadn’t been canceled, if I may use that word, if we hadn’t stopped, I would have done it forever. I’d still be doing it. You can’t get a better character than John Doggett.”Robert Patrick
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James Hoare is editor of The Companion. He has been “working in publishing” since the early 1990s when he made his own Doctor Who fanzine to sell in the school playground.You can find him on Twitter @JDHoare