September 10, 1993. So begins The X-Files, a cult TV show that would eventually embed itself not only into pop culture, but into household culture. How many times has something weird or unusual happened and someone, somewhere will whistle the tune to the X-Files? January 2016 marks the “return” of one of those television shows that have left many a mark on storytelling (I’m looking at you, Fringe), and the living cult that is Conspiracy.
The unexplained is a fascination that at the very least entertains, at the very most intrigues, and at the very worst, deceives. Overall, the X-Files tells the story of intruders, and how, by using deception and the unexplained as a cover, these intruders thread their way into human society mostly for nefarious purposes. This story is told through the experiences of Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), among others as these two baggage-laden characters explore all kinds of unexplained phenomena and cases classified as “X-Files” which, apparently, are (or were) true.
“Mulder, toads just fell from the sky.” -Scully
“I guess their parachutes didn’t open.” -Mulder
Over nine seasons from 1993 until 2002, a mix of monster-of-the-week and mythology-based episodes told us tales of tragedy, change, humor, deception, and of the utterly bizarre; monsters, liars, and lovers made their appearances in equal numbers, and sometimes in the same character.
One of the most disturbing episodes, in my opinion, is the season 4 episode 2 called “Home”. Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong, this tale centers around Mulder and Scully’s investigation of the Peacock brothers, a family of deformed farmers who haven’t left their farm in Home, Pennsylvania in a decade. It’s a horrid little story about abuse, rape, and incest, that I’ve not been able to forget.
On the other end of the scale is “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” from the third season. A standalone episode, this season’s twentieth episode shows how the show could happily poke fun at itself and the world within which it existed. Guest actors include Charles Nelson Reilly as author Jose Chung, and Alex Trebek – yes, that Alex Trebek – as one of the Men in Black. A very funny episode, the story of alien abduction is told and retold through the eyes of multiple characters. To be honest, there are several episodes that have much more humor than plot, but they’re great fun.
Having watched all nine seasons of this show, I can assuredly tell you that if there was one thing The X-Files excelled at, it was trying all kinds of flavors to tell its stories, and books have already been written on the mythos and ideas it presented. Both hampered and propelled by public opinion, the show’s creative team oscilated between telling Mulder and Scully’s slow-burn love story, alien invasion, and plain old paranormal phenomena. Along the way, Scully’s scientific approach to life, the universe, and everything were challenged, and she came face to face (several times) with various versions of God. By the series’ end she and we were left with a sort-of answer to those questions as she discovers ancient alien spaceships.
In contrast, Mulder, who began the series as the believer in all things paranormal, extraterrestrial, Wiccan, and just plain spooky, became more and more a skeptic. By the end of the series, their roles had basically reversed.
Along the way, this show introduces us to a whole buffet table of truly interesting supporting characters, and a vast number of actors who had guest spots went on to make major names for themselves. Three of those characters were known as the Lone Gunmen, a likable threesome of underground conspiracy theorists who aided Mulder and Scully on many occasions. The Lone Gunmen spinoff failed, unfortunately, and as I have not had the chance to see it, I couldn’t tell you whether it was a deserved failure or not. The three geniuses supposedly sacrificed their lives for Mulder and Scully in season 9, but I tell you no dead bodies were ever seen. And indeed, they are set to return in January, along with Mitch Pillegi (Walter Skinner), the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), John Dogget (Robert Patrick), and Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish).
Side note: I found Agent Dogget to be a very interesting character who did a wonderful job while he replaced Agent Mulder during season 8.
When we last saw the well-worn team of Mulder and Scully, they had been driven into hiding, Scully had been forced to give up her son, and the final scenes echo the very first episode of the series, with the two chatting in a hotel room. What will the return in January bring? Rumor has it that the show will go back to stand-alone episodes while entertaining a plot thread through the six episodes.
What am I hoping for in the relaunch? More of the really weird, more of that “out there” stuff that inspired so many people. The sense of humor and ability to not take oneself too seriously, be it in fiction or in real life. I’m hoping for the camaraderie that, similarly, never took itself too seriously. Well… maybe season 9 went a bridge too far on that one. But hey, no one’s perfect. Right, guys?
I can live with that.