“Sometimes we must come full circle to find the truth.”
I still can’t believe it. The X-Files is twenty years old. Time really does fly by!
For a fan of the show, I’m sure everyone remembers the first time. Me – I fell in love with the show when I was eight years old back in the early 90s. My earliest memory came from the pilot. It was like a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where the Cigarette Smoking Man walked down an endless corridor full of draws and boxes and it’s only when he exited the room you suddenly realise where he was – The Pentagon. It was that sense of an orchestrator, someone that powerful enough to pull all the strings and hold all the closely guarded secrets. He didn’t have to say a word but his presence throughout the episode was striking. The pilot episode was full of excitement, mystery and intrigue, witnessed through the eyes of two investigative FBI Agents who were willing to expose these hidden truths. And yet, it is that last shot from the pilot that stuck in my mind – and that’s all it took.
My excitement grew as each season went on. When it was X-Files day I use to do my school homework early so my mind was entirely focused on the show when it aired on the BBC. Lights were turned off. VHS tape and recorder was primed and ready. There were episodes that would literally freak me out and give me nightmares – if I was lucky enough. There were episodes that didn’t even allow me to sleep! And yet, every week like clockwork I repeated this ritual and continued watching for all 202 episodes, nine seasons and two feature films.
To put it into context, you have to remember that nowadays we are spoilt rotten on how we watch or catch up with our TV shows. Whether it’s recorded on a TIVO box or viewed on an on-demand platform, there’s now a greater emphasis on the audience being in control. With a mouse click or a touch of a button, technology has made it easier and effortless. But back then you HAD to be in front of your TV because once it aired, that was it. Shows were rarely repeated which was great for The X-Files because it created a shared, collective experience. It was event viewing. Every one of us, tuning in at the same time, experiencing the same emotions as every twist and turn was thrown up on the screen.
Sometimes it’s hard to put down in words why, twenty years later, The X-Files is still being talked about. The truth is, there are so many reasons. The show was dark, moody and cinematic thanks to the excellent environment of being shot in Vancouver during the early seasons. It had wonderful music and a signature haunting theme song, conducted by the outstanding Mark Snow. It also had great supporting characters such as The Lone Gunmen, Skinner and The Cigarette Smoking Man that help expand the world of the show. But of course, we wouldn’t be talking about this show without the lasting influence of creator Chris Carter, the compelling and complex storylines and our main heroes – Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson).
“Whatever happened to playing a hunch, Scully? The element of surprise, random acts of unpredictability? If we fail to anticipate the unforeseen or expect the unexpected in a universe of infinite possibilities, we may find ourselves at the mercy of anyone or anything that cannot be programmed, categorized or easily referenced.” – Mulder (The X-Files: Fight the Future)
It would be so easy to describe The X-Files as simply a show about aliens. But that is simply not the case. With incredible writing from a talented group of writers (Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, John Shiban, Breaking Bad’s, Vince Gilligan, Morgan and Wong – to name a few), The X-Files explored more than just the alien phenomena. The show tackled different themes ranging from the mythology and the conspiracy to the Monster of the Week (MOTW) episodes. The Monster of the Week episodes were so good, it could have easily featured in a horror movie. It featured drama that wouldn’t look out of place on a show like ER and yet the show was brave enough to take on humour and comedy – Bad Blood, need I say more? In fact, these multi-genre elements kept the show fresh every week, providing something for everyone, no matter what your interest was.
When people think of sci-fi, people may think of outer space with characters living on huge spaceships, exploring the galaxy and meeting new alien races. That was certainly my childhood growing up when I was exposed to shows like Doctor Who, Star Trek (the Original Series and The Next Generation) and even the original Battlestar Galactica. But The X-Files was different.
The X-Files did talk about things that were “out there” but it was a collection of intelligent stories grounded in reality. It used the two main characters of Mulder and Scully to explore the cases and question them, using every tool, knowledge and technology to find the answers. The fact that one was a believer (Mulder) and the other a sceptic (Scully), our characters continuously debated the evidence and provided different viewpoints. Mulder’s dry sense of humour and Scully’s scientific and rational opinion often broke the dark filled atmosphere that clouded each episode. When the episode reached its conclusion, quite cleverly (due to the open-ended nature of the stories) it is the audience who are then left with the questions. It engaged them to continue on with the mystery, whether it was having a discussion with friends or even sharing a theory on an online forum community (which was still in its infancy during the 90s when the internet became accessible in people’s homes for the first time). It used real life backdrops to help build on their stories into plausible arguments. Characters such as Deep Throat in the first season became an integral part of the show, hinting at his past involvement in the Watergate scandal whilst evolving his character into an informative ally for Mulder. The 90s itself was a decade of mistrust and paranoia which the show managed to capture in abundance. It’s this grounded reality that made The X-Files so easily digestible for viewers like me. As the seasons went on and the confidence growing, The X-Files became a model template and inspiration for other sci-fi shows that were developed during and after its run and help cement the show as one of the best of all time.
And oh yeah…how I can I forget about Mulder and Scully!
“It seems to me that the best relationships, the ones that last, are frequently the ones that are rooted in friendship. You know, one day you look at the person and you see something more than you did the night before. Like a switch has been flicked somewhere. And the person who was just a friend is suddenly the only person you can ever imagine yourself with.” – Scully (Season 6: The Rain King)
Through the murky shady world of conspiracies, half-truths and monsters, Mulder and Scully became the hope, a light in the darkness – the heartbeat. Their exploits humanised the show. Their relationship was constantly tested as they showed bravery to fight against the odds (Scully battling cancer being an exceptional example of strength through adversity). They also suffered the hurt and pain when people close to them (whether informants or family members) died. Sometimes our heroes never won – always taking one step forward and three massive steps back. They also made their fair share of mistakes or misjudgements but whenever they needed each other, their support was unlike anything you will ever see.
When I watch other TV shows, no matter what genre they are, the romantic “will they, won’t they’” tension (for me) can sometimes come off like an imitation. The plot points from the story puts the characters in situations where it looks unrealistic and you can tell from the get go that the characters will eventually consummate their love. There’s nothing wrong with that of course and it entirely depends on the type of show and whether that relationship suits it, but you never got that feeling with Mulder and Scully. Their relationship naturally and subtly evolved through the seasons. David and Gillian (with their amazing chemistry) gave their characters the heart and soul and made them who they are.
It’s no surprise that Mulder and Scully fell in love, but their relationship was handled with so much care (and at times stubbornness and a damn bee) that you couldn’t wish for a better outcome. Yes it took nine seasons for acknowledgement but you can view it in this way – as they grew to love each other, the audience grew to love them.
So after all this positivity and nostalgia, XF3 is still on the backburner despite everyone from the show being up for a new film. Initiatives such Kickstarter sadly will not work for The X-Files despite the impressive situation with Veronica Mars. Whilst Kickstarter represents a very good opportunity for fans to have a direct influence on what films are made, in order for it to work you need all parties – the creator and the studio to sign off on the project. Despite its last cinema outing, The X-Files (even today) is still a highly reputable and marketable franchise which the respective parties still own the rights. And yet fans are refusing to give up hope, with xfilesnews.com (a fan website officially endorsed by 20th Century Fox) launching campaigns to get the film made. They’ve had success once before – The X-Files: I Want to Believe was made because of their active interest in another movie and the fans desire to see one. If they did it once before, they can certainly do it again!
While I Want to Believe may have been a disappointment for some (personally I liked it), you can never doubt the attraction for the show. I remember leaving the cinema after the film’s release, wanting more. I Want to Believe felt like the calm before the storm. It re-established our heroes on the big screen once again, in new surroundings, a relationship further explored and yet the same old darkness that they can’t escape from. Yet I wished the film included a nod to the conspiracy (like a Blu-ray Easter egg), something to keep us excited because there’s some unfinished business that needs to be addressed.
That’s why XF3 must be made. We need to see the mythology back.
After seeing the cast and the writers reunited at Comic-Con this year, the excitement and buzz is still alive and kicking. The fans clearly want closure and the new X-Files: Season 10 comics (which are brilliant btw) are reigniting that desire and re-introducing the show’s complex themes and shadowy characters to a whole new generation of fans.
I have no doubt in my mind that if/when XF3 is announced, the fans will continue (as they always have) to show their support once again, especially if it’s the last one. With recent on-going events that frequently feature on the news, The X-Files (with its themes) proves time and time again that it manages to stay relevant in this ever-changing world.
Don’t give up – the truth is still out there.