"Via Negativa"
by Michelle Erica Green

Doggett on the Bloody, Nasty, Hideous Dark Side

"Via Negativa" Plot Summary:

Agent Stedman wakes Agent Leeds on a stakeout near Pittsburgh, where cult leader Anthony Tippett is believed to be trafficking in narcotics. The door is open and the house is dark. Inside, 20 cult members have been murdered via axe blows between the eyes. Within minutes, both agents die in the same manner, at the hands of a man with a third eye in his forehead.

Scully calls Doggett from a hospital to tell him about the killings. Though she doesn't tell him her whereabouts, he covers for her absence when Skinner asks about her. Doggett doesn't understand why Leeds' corpse was found locked in his car, and Stedman inside his locked apartment, both without any signs of struggle against the killer with the axe. Tippett is missing but all the other cult members died, apparently without resistance or the use of drugs to subdue them. A convicted murderer who found religion in prison, Tippett had been preaching "via negativa," or that by taking the road of darkness, one can free oneself from the body to reach the Holy Spirit.

Kersh wants immediate pursuit, though Doggett points out the lack of physical evidence that Tippett committed the murders. Skinner suggests that perhaps the cult leader really did learn to leave his body, so he could kill in a non-corporeal state. Kersh assumes this must be Scully's crazy theory. Both men defend her, but Doggett privately berates Skinner for putting forth such "science fiction" as a hypothesis.

Doggett wants to find Tippett, who is at that moment trying to get ahold of his drug dealer. Panicked pharmaceuticals expert Andre Bormanis uses a razor to cut a mark in his forehead. Tippett kills a homeless man in his sleep by having him sucked into quicksand, though the body is found with an axe wound between the eyes. Skinner learns of the new murder and traces the last call made on the nearby pay phone. He and Doggett visit Bormanis, who takes amphetamines in their presence and claims he just made a drug to take Tippett "to the heights of consciousness."

Placed under arrest, Bormanis begs not to be left alone in a jail cell. When he is, he dreams of being eaten alive by rats. At the same time, Doggett has a vision of Tippett floating in the air in the prison, and sees Scully's severed head in his own hands. After Skinner wakes him, Doggett realizes Bormanis took the amphetamines because he was afraid of falling asleep. The two agents rush to the drug dealer's cell. As Doggett already suspects, Bormanis has died from an axe blow between his eyes, though his cell door has remained locked since his incarceration.

Back at the FBI, Doggett finds the Lone Gunmen in his office at Scully's request. They explain the history of "psychic assassins" the FBI sought to create years earlier by giving people LSD. The Bureau's project failed, but Tippett has apparently succeeded. The killer takes drugs to leave his body and enter his victims' consciousness; they die because they believe themselves to be dead. Doggett realizes that if Tippett believes such a theory, he will go looking for more drugs.

At Bormanis' lab, Doggett and Skinner find Tippett standing near a large buzz saw. They demand that he step away, but Tippett says he knows Doggett understands, and lowers his head to the blade. As Doggett admits the comatose suspect to the hospital, he sees Scully's name on a list of patients. Back at the bureau, Doggett explains that Tippett attempted suicide because he believed he had achieved via negativa, and was killing people in their nightmares. Kersh wants to close the case, though Doggett protests that they don't have a single piece of hard evidence.

After leaving a troubled message for Scully, Doggett goes to bed, dreaming of Tippett with an axe at the foot of his stairs. When he wakes with the sun bright on his face, Doggett sees a third eye in his reflection in the mirror. At the FBI, he reports to Skinner, complaining that he's not sure whether he's really awake. Skinner offers to pinch Doggett and reminds him that Tippett remains in a coma. After entering the elevator, Doggett begins to hallucinate, ultimately finding himself in Scully's apartment holding an axe.

The real Scully wakes the real Doggett as his dream-self prepares to slay her in his vision. He says she saved his life. She reports that Tippett died without ever regaining consciousness, and advises Doggett that his dream was only a nightmare. He asks if she needs more time off, but Scully says she's already back at work.


Not only is "Via Negativa" more confusing than "Roadrunners" and "Redrum," it's also more inexcusably bloody and disgusting. The X-Files' producers seem to believe that gore can replace logical plots this season. Maybe that's true for slasher movie fans, but it's making me want to tune out.

"Via Negativa" is filled with staples from horror films, particularly the terror of sleeping and the inability to tell when one is awake. There are some well-done nods to classic nightmare sequences, particularly the killer rats from 1984 that could drive a man to love Big Brother. But this is The X-Files, where one hopes for internal consistency when we're being asked to suspend our disbelief.

I'll excuse the annoying lack of explanation for Scully's hospitalization, because I assume we're going to find out later in dramatic fashion -- at the same time as she gets around to telling Doggett. I'll also excuse the half-assed explanations offered by the Lone Gunmen on Hindu beliefs about the third eye, and FBI drug testing programs that most often comes up in defense testimony for serial killers. It's amusing enough to hear Frohike (Melvin!) give his account of meeting Kesey, and Langly's rebuttal of same. I'll even excuse control-freak Kersh for being replaced by a pod person.

But why do all the victims end up with bloody faces if Tippett isn't physically present for their deaths? Why is there any physical manifestation of psychic murder? If the axe comes from Tippett reaching the dark side via an ancient religious belief, what does he need drugs for, and where is his corporeal body while his victims are having their nightmares -- is he swinging a virtual axe inside his own head? Since he's a religious man, are we supposed to think he's a good-guy axe murderer rather than a run-of-the-mill bad-guy axe murderer?

And what in the world does it mean that Doggett dreams not of his own death, but of killing Scully? Does Tippett plant that horror in Doggett's mind, or is this a subliminal fantasy/fear of Doggett's that Tippett pulls out, the way he pulled out the quicksand and the rats from the minds of others? Is this supposed to be one of those love-and-death grand romantic things to make us forget Mulder?

I don't know. Maybe not paying enough attention, but I don't care, either. I would have been happy to turn this episode off after the roomful of grotesque corpses in the opening, but that was just the first of many graphic, disgusting images in "Via Negativa." I don't have any desire to reach God via the dark side, I don't want this much gore in my television viewing, and I didn't even learn anything critical about Agent Doggett, except that he wants Skinner to pinch him. This is a prime example of gratuitous violence in entertainment, a sorry excuse for an installment of a show that was once about people using their brains.

Andre Bormanis is the name of Star Trek: Voyager's science consultant. Maybe the drug-dealing character is supposed to be a tribute to him. But if I were Andre, I'd complain about being associated with this episode.

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