Nobody's Who He Seems
"Without" Plot Summary:
Night in the Arizona desert. Scully reflects that we live in a darkness of our own making. "Who are these beings we dare to imagine? If they know our secrets, why can't we know theirs?" As she speaks, a spaceship lands.
Day in the Arizona desert. Doggett threatens to shoot unless Mulder releases Gibson Praise. He does, then backs away, until he falls over a cliff and plummets to the ground far below. From above, Doggett can see that the agent's arm is broken. On the ground, "Mulder"'s eyes open. By the time Scully and Skinner arrive, Doggett and his men don't know where her partner is. Scully says that whatever Doggett saw fall over the cliff, it wasn't Mulder. When he questions her, she says she has seen what looks like a man transform into another man. "What looks like a man but is not a man? What is he?" Scully says Doggett doesn't want to know, but admits he's an alien bounty hunter looking for Gibson Praise, who is himself part alien. Doggett says Scully is starting to remind him a lot of Mulder himself.
At the school for the deaf, "Mulder" fixes his broken arm and transforms into one of the officials. Doggett sees the man and is confused because he thought they had evacuated all school personnel. Scully follows Thea, a deaf student who bikes into the desert; the girl leads her to Praise, hidden in what looks like a bomb shelter beneath the sand. Because Praise has broken his leg, Scully makes a splint and promises to return for him when it's safe.
On the telephone, Kersh scolds Doggett for failing to find Mulder. Skinner suggests that the other agent is being set up to fail, because this is a no-win situation: the only way Doggett can find Mulder is to accept the truth, but if Doggett puts alien bounty hunters in his report, Kersh will destroy his career. Doggett spots Scully coming from the desert, but another agent claims that she's inside the school dormitory. As the real Scully, Doggett, and Skinner race inside, the fake "Scully" tries to kill one of Doggett's agents, then disappears. Scully insists that she must have transformed into someone else in the building. Doggett won't admit that he got a good look at her. Thea sees blood on the hand of the "school official," and sneaks away.
Gibson wakes after having the same nightmare of Mulder that Scully has been experiencing. Scully tries to sneak out to him, but Skinner catches her and they pull guns on one another. The assistant director says he can prove that he's Skinner because he knows her secret. When both have finally dropped their weapons, he says, "I don't like pulling guns at pregnant women any more than I like them pulling guns at me." He thinks the investigation has gone too far, but she thinks it hasn't gone far enough: "I can't take the chance that I'm never going to see him again." Skinner offers to drive her to Gibson Praise. Thea watches them pull away.
Scully finds Praise outside, feverish, in the desert, and asks Skinner to take him to the hospital while she searches for Mulder, whom she suspects is nearby. A light from the sky approaches, but it's a helicopter flown by Doggett. He asks her hypothetically what she would have done even if she had found Mulder or the alien bounty hunter out there in the desert. She says Mulder would have done whatever it took, and admits she hid Praise's whereabouts from him. Then she realizes Doggett's men must have followed Skinner to the hospital, and it's likely one of them is the bounty hunter. The two take off in the helicopter; mere feet in front of them, the alien spaceship shimmers behind its cloak of invisibility, and Mulder screams for Scully.
At the hospital, Doggett's agents assure him that no one could have gotten in or out of Praise's room without them seeing. But after a visit from Thea, neither Praise nor Skinner can be found. While Doggett opens a ceiling panel to spot Skinner mutilated and unconscious, Scully discovers "Skinner" hiding with the boy in another hospital room. Praise tries to warn Scully, but too late: "Skinner" knocks the gun from her hand and hurls her at the window, which shatters. Weeping, Scully gets her weapon and shoots "Skinner" in the neck. Green fluid pours out of his body.
In Washington, Kersh guesses hospital materials caused the damage to the kidnapper's body. Doggett says that hasn't been determined. The deputy director complains about all the undetermined facts, like the whereabouts of Mulder and the assailant who vanished into thin air. To him it looks like potboiled science fiction. "You mean it reads like an X-File," asserts Doggett. "But that's what you intended when you assigned me to this case." Kersh warns him not to come back without answers.
Doggett visits Scully at the hospital, where he tells her that Skinner will be all right, and Praise is a ward of the state. He says he has to keep her apprised of the case because he has been officially assigned to the X-Files. "Whatever you and I may differ on, I'll find him, Agent Scully," promises Doggett. The man in question sleeps as a circle of alien bounty hunters look on.
Despite its predictability, "Without" makes a stronger impact than "Within," mostly because of excellent performances by Anderson, Pileggi, and Patrick. The latter needs to decide whether his accent's supposed to be New York or Southern, but he's great at delivering hardened-cop stories, and even better at holding his own against Scully when she points out his blind spots. Doggett comes across as confident and authoritative without being obnoxious or condescending -- something Scully can't quite manage when she promises to protect Praise. It's a lot of fun to hear Scully faced with a skeptic even less open-minded than herself.
Yet Scully comes across as more vulnerable in this episode than the season premiere, even without a shirt to snuggle. She races through the desert inferno during the day, looks for aliens at night in short sleeves, climbs into an underground shelter, gets thrown into a window. She's not being overprotective of herself because of her pregnancy, which is appealing on many counts, particularly when she makes clear to both Skinner and Doggett that she will do whatever is necessary to see Mulder again. Her introspective voice-over has a lot more power than the cheesecake shots of her dressing from "Within." And she doesn't puke once.
Skinner seems not to know whether to treat Scully paternally or as an equal in this case. It's telling that the false Skinner's admission of uncertainty doesn't alert her that he is not whom he seems. We've seen him and Scully look at each other through the barrel of a gun before, but never with the added uncertainty that the other might be a deadly alien. He does a fine job playing mind games with Doggett; it's lovely that he's also apparently right in his guesses about Kersh's motives. Too bad he looked so ineffectual letting Thea into Praise's hospital room without so much as a squeak.
Poor Mulder. How will we -- or Scully -- concentrate next week on a mundane bloodsucking villain with him missing?
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