11.10.2003

Invocation [8x06]

Overall Rating: 7.5/10
Fright Factor: 8/10
Acting: 7/10
Mytharc Relevance: 4/10
Re-watchability: Medium-High
Connections: Paper Hearts [4x08], The Calusari [2x21], The Exorcist

Summary: The episode's opening scene takes place in September 1990, at a crowded children's country fair. Seven-year-old Billy Underwood (played by twins Kyle and Ryan Pepi) is playing on a swingset, vainly trying to catch the attention of his pregnant mother who is occupied in conversation nearby. We see a disheveled, dark-haired teenaged boy behaving suspiciously near the swing; a closeup reveals a knife concealed up the sleeve of his grimy army jacket.

Suddenly, Billy's swing seat is empty. Within moments Billy's mother Lisa (Kim Greist) realizes her son is missing and in a panic searches the fairground. Her increasingly frantic calls go unanswered. The boy seems to have vanished into thin air. Our only clue is a shot of the dark-haired teen clutching Billy's tiny "Dinosaurs from Outer Space" backpack, which he discards into the sawdust. Later we learn the young man was a younger Ronald Purnell (Rodney Eastman), who ends up being a suspect in Billy's disappearance.

Flash forward ten years forward into the present. Lisa Underwood drives up to a schoolyard to pick up her (now ten-year old) other son Josh (Colton James). "They've been trying to call you, Mom," her son says, and she is greeted by a group of gathered school officials acting oddly. She walks over to the crowd surrounding the school's swing set, and sees a small boy, his back to her. He dismounts and turns around. It is Billy - exactly as he looked the day he disappeared, but curiously expressionless and silent.

Scully and Doggett are called in to the case, despite the Underwood's desire for privacy. Billy's mother is overjoyed that her missing boy has somehow returned and asks no questions about how he could possibly stayed exactly the same for a full decade. In an interview room, Doggett makes a poorly-executed attempt to elicit a description of Billy's captors, while the boy repeatedly draws a strange symbol on a sheet of paper. When Doggett uses Billy's backpack - the one he wore the day he disappeared - as "leverage", Lisa halts the interrogation and takes her son home.

Soon, the rest of the Underwood family grows increasingly spooked by the mute, sullen boy - and for good reason: their usually friendly dog barks and snarls furiously, attacking 'Billy,' and one morning Josh awakens to discover a bloody hunting knife stabbed into his mattress, with Billy standing next to his bed. Police discover that no one in the household had access to such a knife.

Compounding the mystery are the results of Billy's health exam - everything from his dental condition to his enzyme counts are precisely the same as they were at the time he disappeared; a medical impossibility. Who - or what - is Billy, and why has he returned?

Report: One of the early Season 8 stand-alone episodes, Invocation is an excellent example of the old adage that if you can't be original, at least copy your sources with flair. Many elements of the story are lifted from previous X-Files episodes Paper Hearts (dead abducted child reaching "beyond the grave" for warning or vengeance on their killer) and The Calusari (a seemingly malevolent ghostly child terrorizing his previous family), but the episode manages to transcend the "rehash" label with its edgy pacing and eerie atmosphere.

Importantly, it also introduces the paranormal to Agent John Doggett through a plot element painfully close to his heart: the abducted young son - Billy Underwood even bears a physical resemblance to Doggett's murdered child. Early in this episode, Doggett treats Billy's miraculous reappearance as a rare "happy ending" to a normally tragic child kidnapping scenario, and rationalizes the boy's complete lack of growth or change in the past decade as some "rare childhood disease" or "failure to thrive." But slowly it dawns on him that 'something is very wrong with this picture'.

Later in the season (Empedocles [8x17]), Doggett also must confront a possible supernatural component to his own son's death.

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