Truth be told, I can’t say I know many X-Philes out there who are big fans of FBI Special Agent Monica Reyes.
This X-Files co-pilot arrived during the show’s eighth season, an era defined by risks and gambles, most of which barely paid off. Reyes was “the new Mulder,” the token empathetic female character in a show that no longer had an advocate for all the true believers out there.
Our beloved Agent Scully was doing a so-so job filling this role part-time in Mulder’s absence, but she wasn’t what you would call a poster child for pseudo-science (yet, Season 10 has indirectly proved that Mulder’s paranoid ramblings and his dexterity to leaps of tall figurative buildings of logic in a single bound had a lasting effect on her psyche after all.) Dana may have had an alien Jesus child baking in the oven, and she may have seen some crazy shit during the ‘90s, but she still struggled with fully accepting bloodsucking bat creatures and tiny little men that possess people by crawling up their butts as reality. Or rather, the reality that she wanted to live in.
Determining what was hard for Scully to swallow and what wasn’t (#innuendo) forced her character, whose smoldering skepticism was a crucial ingredient of the X-Files phenomenon, into a gray area that alienated longtime viewers. After all, this was a television series that needed to maintain contrast within its spectrum of characters to survive.
Robert Patrick was enlisted to embody the “skeptic” archetype in Special Agent John Doggett while David Duchovny took a much-needed break from being a pop culture icon. For a new character, Doggett’s presence had a powerful effect on the show. He grounded the series as the writing and production staff steered The X-Files away from the light-hearted Hollywood rom-com flavor it took on after its big move to Los Angeles and back to the tense, shadowy horror that made it a cult hit during its early days in Vancouver.
But when it came to the paranormal mumbo-jumbo, Agent Doggett was only good for a shrug and a blank stare or two.
Scully’s new positioning as the Half-Mulder was great dramatic material for Gillian Anderson to work with, and you can tell she had fun playing it up after spending seven years elegantly puking up dialogue ripped from the pages of a technical journal collecting dust on a nursing school student’s shelf. Meanwhile, certain fans watching at home (such as yours truly) were finally witnessing honest-to-goodness character development for once.
But the character of Dana Scully felt so uncomfortable justifying the unknown in ways that weren’t grounded in the scientific method that she couldn’t help but cringe while pulling exposition out of her ass during the third act.
So who was going to comfortably bring up the aliens, the monsters, the sewer creatures, the time loops, the angels, the Jersey Devils and everything else that made both Scully and Doggett raise their eyebrows?
Annabeth Gish, that’s who.
Agent Monica Reyes was introduced during the final leg of the “Mulder is Missing!” story arc that fueled the first half of season 8. Her presence didn’t amount to much at first, as she seemed like a more down-to-earth take on the show’s peripheral-yet-functional characters like Marita Covarrubias.
When she played a larger supporting role during the last part of the season (the “Scully’s Water is Breaking!” arc), fans could see what Chris Carter and the FOX execs were up to. She was most definitely going become a headlining character.
The news hit that Gish indeed signed on as a lead for the reviled ninth season – a year that remains tonally isolated from rest of the series. A large portion of the fanbase was immediately turned off by this prospect since most felt betrayed by all the shake-ups that had occurred. I’m not implying this was because of Annabeth Gish or her performance (although some of you may have issues with that), but more because of who Agent Reyes was, how she was portrayed, and why the show felt a need for her in the first place.
It also had a lot to do with timing. Initiating another new FBI agent into the baroque secrets of Mulder’s corner basement office directly after Agent Doggett settled in was a lot to handle at the time. Such a stunt caused fans to face a truth they didn’t want to believe: the old X-Files was gone forever, and now that Duchovny was leaving for good this time, Anderson was next in line.
Ushering in new placeholders for our two irreplaceable leads was, quite frankly, insulting. This act was further evidence that corporate greed was ruled over the franchise at this point, and that its creator and the network didn’t understand the appeal of their own property. They envisioned The X-Files as a paranormal Law & Order clone, able to cannibalize and perpetuate itself for decades on end by pressing a refresh button every few years and bringing in new celebrities to staff it.
Training both Agent Reyes and Agent Doggett to be the new keepers of the X felt like The X-Files was telling us fans that it wanted to open up the relationship and start seeing other people after a seven year LTR. But we weren’t there yet. We were committed to Mulder and Scully, even if they seemed bored with life and us – and occasionally each other. Doggett was a solid rebound guy, but Reyes… well, we didn’t feel like having a threeway with her. She was turning our favorite sci-fi/horror series into a Lifetime Original Movie.
Because of such insurmountable trepidation from a fandom that was already ornery from being rubbed the wrong way, Agent Reyes became the most hated character of the franchise this side of Diana Fowley. So I guess it’s not much of a surprise that season 10 (or the “revival season”) embraced Monica’s reputation by making her the Cigarette Smoking Man’s new personal assistant.
But if you paid close enough attention during your compulsive Netflix binge sessions, you might recall that her darker nature was hinted at in subtle ways during the show’s original run.
In fact, the very first time we meet Monica Reyes in season 8’s “This Is Not Happening,” she’s standing in a field, by herself, smoking a cigarette and trying to hide it. An awkward moment follows in which Skinner and Scully look at each other with all of their Cancer Man baggage written across their faces. Then, Agent Reyes throws the cigarette on the ground, stamps it out and leaves it there to rot, in nature. Gasp!
“I know it’s not very FBI of me, but I’m trying to quit,” she says.
Scully and Skinner continue to stare.
Later on in the same episode, we see what brand of cigarettes Reyes smokes: Morley Lights. She glances at a pack of them resting on the seat beside her while she drives on a lonely highway at night. She debates on whether or not she should light one up again. Eventually, Reyes gives in and grabs the pack (Her future sugar daddy would have been proud).
In context of the revival, this scene takes on a symbolic meaning now. It’s as if a deeper inner struggle plays out here, a clash between the “good” and “evil” sides of her personality. The visual language of The X-Files is incredible simple. It dictates that smoking is a sinister act, a sign of danger, and not something any of its altruistic characters want to be seen doing – ever. (Right, Dana?)
During her second appearance in season 8’s “Empedocles,” she is shown to be wearing a nicotine patch. But by the time the season finale rolled around (8×21: “Existence”), she was back to lighting up again.
At the time, fans dismissed her addiction as a way to humanize her character and differentiate her personality from those of her godlike predecessors.
But her smoking problem wasn’t just a nasty habit; it was a way to express the darker parts of her soul and foreshadows her character’s ultimate direction.
We’re given another clue about this in an obscure monster-of-the-week episode from season 9 called “Hellbound” (9×08). Apparently, Agent Reyes had a series of past lives in which she tried to stop a serial killer from flaying his victims. Each one ended with her becoming his next victim. After the case is more or less resolved in this lifetime, she has a revealing exchange with Agent Scully.
REYES: 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. Just like he knows I’m here right now. He feels me, the way I felt him when I saw that picture of the first victim. And somehow he knows my deepest fear – that I’ll fail.
SCULLY: Well, maybe in this life you succeed.
REYES: (unconvinced) Maybe…
Okay, I get that this is mostly referring to the serial killer being reincarnated as a baby again, which suggests that Reyes will have to stop him when he gets older. But it’s how this scene was played. It’s clear she’s not only scared of failing to stop him, she’s afraid of failing on a broader scale.
Which is why in her latest conversation with Dana during season 10’s “My Struggle II,” Monica looks like a woman haunted by her feelings of personal failure. She’s spent over a decade avoiding Scully and the FBI so she could be one of CSM’s “elite chosen” alien DNA survivors…yadda yadda (I swear “alien DNA” is this show’s new “super solider”/”my baby”).
It’s obvious that Reyes carries guilt for choosing her smokey path. (“I made choices. You might not approve or understand. But they made sense to me at the time.”) And it’s obvious that Scully wants her to feel said guilt. A lot. (“Why did you call me, Monica? To tell me what a coward you are?”) At the same time, it’s also clear that Monica doesn’t enjoy her relationship with CGB Spender as much as Scully thinks she does. But we’re not sure if her motivation for helping him was founded in self-preservation or duplicitous sabotage, the two big motivations for a good number of the female characters on The X-Files.
However, there is one thing we can be sure of: Agent Reyes’ dark side was foreshadowed from the moment she was introduced. Whether or not that was part of a larger master plan or just another happy accident for the show is anyone’s guess. But it’s a nice touch.
Stephen Harber thinks that if Agent Reyes was really living in the 21st century, that girl would get herself a vape pen. Studies prove it’s 53% less evil. Follow him on Twitter for other research developments, and check out his graphic novel project Occult Generation. He has an Instagram too. Thanks.