Wait, why are you reviewing a show that went off the air 13 years ago?
Well…if you own a TV, computer, or radio, chances are you’re privy to the fact that The X-Files is making a triumphant return to FOX in January 2016 for a short and sweet 6 episode revival.
Basically, if you’re not Nell from the movie Nell, then you probably have some idea of my motivation for this review.
I was born in 1997, meaning that technically this show was a little before my time. In August, though, my sister and I binge watched all 9 seasons along with the two movies. It was a solid undertaking but well WELL worth it. Not only is it excellent television, I also now understand every pop culture reference in history making me the most useless superhero to ever claim they were a superhero.
There will be spoilers, but seeing as it’s been off the air for 13 years and the last movie was in 2008, I’m not going to apologize for dropping some plot points.
*MILD AND UNNECESSARY SPOILER ALERT*
The early 90s were an exciting time for broadcast television. The introduction of Law & Order, Seinfeld, Friends, Murder She Wrote, Twin Peaks, and about 30 other culturally relevant titles contributed to a revolution of sorts, a revolution of which The X-Files played an integral role. No discussion of Science Fiction or “horror” in the 90s can be held without the X-Files taking the throne as the most popular and dynamic example of the genre. The 70′s witnessed a national fascination with all things alien- Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind was released in 77′, George Lucas’ Star Wars in the same year, and Ridley Scott’s Alien in 79′, but The X-Files represented the genre’s most reputable venture into mainstream broadcast television (The Twilight Zone deserves an honorable mention).
1993- a fresh faced pair of young actors, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, enter the scene.
Chris Carter, the show’s creator, is quoted as saying that he never thought his show would become such a significant cultural phenomenon. Honestly, I don’t think anyone could have predicted that.
Mid way through the first season, lead actress Gillian Anderson (Dana Scully) told Carter that she was pregnant and so he created a story line in which she was abducted by “aliens” for a few episodes to allow for her maternity leave. And thus, the alien-government conspiracy arc was born.
The X-Files can be separated into a few categories of episodes: Aliens, Supernatural Monsters, Products of Bizarre Mutation Monsters (including parasites, insects, and plants), Ghosts/People or Objects with Supernatural Powers, and God. Within those larger categories are subsets, here are some examples:
Aliens: story lines rating 10/10
Government: Scully was abducted by the government for testing purposes. Her captors (C.B. Spender/Cigarette Smoking Man) extracted all of her eggs, leaving her barren. They then used these eggs to produce fetuses with a hybrid of alien and human DNA. Scully met one of the children that resulted from these experiments but had to make the difficult decision to let her die after it was clear her quality of life would be far less than ideal (Emily, S5E7).
Artifacts: There are also actual aliens in The X-Files Universe, and those aliens are known to leave behind clues to their existence. In the season 6 finale, Biogenesis, Mulder discovers some artifacts off the coast of Africa that he believes might hold the answers to humanity’s biggest question- how did we get here? It’s revealed in the subsequent 2 episodes (S7,E1&2) that what he found are pieces of an alien space craft that has the laws of the universe engraved on its exterior. This leads to what feels like endless speculation on what the discovery means for science, but more for religion.
Mulder goes momentarily insane and Scully is sent off to Africa to do her typical most of the work but none of the credit.
Actual Aliens: Like I said before, there are actual aliens in this show. A couple different types of them as a matter of fact. There’s an alien bounty hunter guy that can shape-shift and who oozes a toxic green chemical when you puncture its skin. There’s your typical “little green men” who are mostly used as guinea pigs for the government’s vaccination experiments (I think those guys can also shape-shift, though). There’s this stuff that they call “black oil” that seeps inside people’s eyes and leaves them looking like this:
One way to combat the black oil is to sew up your ocular and oral cavities, like the “faceless rebels” did, which I think is just a way creepier variation on the bounty hunter:
But do it wrong and you might end up like this guy:
and you DO NOT want to be this guy.
Spoiler alert- you’ll be seeing that guy in your nightmares tonight.
The next category of episode is “Supernatural Monsters”. So your typical werewolves, vampires, mystical asian wolf that’s defeated by some weird lady with lupus that Scully is strangely threatened by (S6E16). Like for some reason she thinks Mulder is suddenly going to abandon their cripplingly codependent yet relatively platonic relationship to hang out with this chick:
This category also includes Kathy Griffin and her doppelganger, Kathy Griffin in what might be my least favorite episode of the series (Fight Club, S7E20). A comic relief episode they cleverly filmed in the style of Cops (X-Cops, S7E12), and another humorously inclined endeavor about a genie (Je Souhaite, S7E20).
Story lines rating: 6.5/10
My initial gripe with the Scully character was that she was wildly underdeveloped. I remember in maybe the 2nd or 3rd episode of the series, they sent her out on a date “to find a man”. That date didn’t go well because she got called off to work, and she never tried again. Literally. She didn’t go on a single date for the remainder of her tenure on the show. The one exception being a wild night in Philly after being diagnosed with cancer by a human lizard (Leonard Betts, S4E12). She gets in an argument with Mulder about how grossly he undervalues her (preach it, sister!) and then goes to Philly to stake out some bogus UFO related document on Mulder’s behalf. She wanders into a tattoo shop and meets a slightly schizophrenic divorcee with a Bettie Paige tattoo on his biceps that has the voice of Jodie Foster and alternates insulting his manhood and telling him to kill things (Never Again, S4E13). There’s a really long scene where she gets a tattoo and makes faces like this one:
and then…like 90% of The X-Files episodes, she ends up like this:
or one time even this...
So ANYWAY…you get the picture. Scully’s character traits were that she’s a medical doctor, she’s a skeptic, she makes bad love interest choices (aside from Mulder), and she can and will use every weapon at her disposal to not die (an important skill seeing as she’s kidnapped at least every other episode). So what did the writers decide to do to give her a little more “depth”? Made her religious and the gave her cancer. Let’s go one at a time here.
1. Mulder believes in little green men that come down from the sky and have abilities that humans don’t. Scully thinks this is a ridiculous notion. Suddenly, Scully believes that a man up in the sky governs human interaction. Yet she’s still a skeptic?
2. Scully has been abducted, experimented on, left barren, kidnapped in nearly every episode, her sister is shot and killed when an assassin mistakes her for Scully, her daughter dies, and now…let’s give her cancer. Terminal cancer.
Mulder finds the (cancer) vaccine and saves her life.
Later in the show she gets pregnant with a miracle Mulder/alien baby, Mulder is promptly kidnapped for 2 seasons (talk about hit it and quit it) during which time she gets a parasite with a God complex inserted into her back and then cut back out again, and when she finally has her baby she’s forced to give it up because the aliens won’t leave them alone.
Now I admit, Mulder has seen some shit too. Sister was abducted, dad was killed, dad was not really his dad, Mulder is abducted, he dies, he comes back to life, he only gets to kiss Scully 3 times on camera…His life is no picnic either. But in comparison…
Where were we? Oh right, we were wondering where Scully got her high horsed stallion. You know, the one that allows her to not believe in aliens (even though she’s seen like a million of them), while simultaneously believing in God, but only when her personal beliefs are allowed airtime. Let’s examine that statement.
In the pilot episode, although the audience is introduced to Scully first, it’s Mulder that is quickly painted as the protagonist. His reputation proceeds him. He’s interesting. He’s educated. He’s accomplished. He’s handsome. And yet, he’s been cast down to the bowels of the FBI. The air of mystery surrounding Mulder makes him instantly intriguing, and therefore likable. You want to believe him, I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in a world with aliens? Furthermore, he’s going against the grain, a rebel (a handsome rebel), an individual unable to be brainwashed by the machine. Anarchy in the UK! How dare the FBI send this woman to spy on him. And what’s her deal? OK, so she’s a doctor with hair obviously working through an awkward grow out, and a long plaid jacket that brings attention to her minuscule stature. Scully faced an uphill battle from the start. I hate having to bring this up, but it’s difficult being a woman written by a man.
I noticed something interesting as the show went on: Mulder and Scully don’t care what the audience thinks of them as individuals because really, when we get right down to, they’re not. Mulder and Scully are Mulder & Scully, one entity that seamlessly play off of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
What Scully lacks in background and consistent ideology, she makes up for in personality and meme worth facial expressions. Mulder’s quest for the truth is his entire identity. Although Mulder is supposed to deliver the majority of the jokes, it’s Scully’s reactions to his comments that really make them funny.
There are people out there who believe that there is no room for romance on The X-Files. I find that statement ridiculous. Everything these characters do for each other is romantic. Anderson referred to it as a “longing” in a recent interview. When they’re apart, they’re thinking about each other, when they’re together it’s a chemistry that Ross and Rachel could only dream of (oh yeah, I went there).
They’re as comfortable with one another in good times as they are in bad.
Fans of the show and the relationship have been making due with the subtle looks, the brief hand touches…but at a certain point, a relationship needs to progress. One thing that I disliked about the handling of their relationship was how much of it was off camera and simply implied. I understand that the audience not being 100% sure if they slept together added to the mystery that was William’s conception, but I would rather Mulder be God than Joseph. The audience was patient, and Chris Carter rewarded us (sort of), but without the satisfaction that comes from visual proof.
Now let us continue with the categories and subsets.
One of the categories that I forgot to mention in Part 1 was “Technology Gone Awry”. This includes episodes like “Kill Switch” (S5E11) and “First Person Shooter” (S7E13). The latter of which being one of my least favorites and the former occupying the other end of the spectrum. Although I did enjoy the scene where Scully goes all Rambo on the virtual soldiers and everyone’s like
and she’s all
I can’t even take S1E7′s “The Ghost in the Machine” seriously due to the fact that they thought a computer with all the aesthetics of a block of wood was advanced. It reminds me of the Macgyver episode “The Human Factor.” In any case, loved Kill Switch, wasn’t fond of the others. Story line rating: 5/10
Moving on to Supernatural Beings and Objects:
There are some episodes in this category that I found legitimately scary. Not like “Eww, cool!” creepy, like “lost a little sleep” scary.
Evidently Scully agrees
You’ve got your ghosts, your possessed people, your reincarnated man in a little girl’s body fighting her soul for control of her body, not to mention the very frightening doll from “Chinga” (S5E10) which was actually co-written by Stephen King! She makes people stab sharp objects into their eyeballs while The Hokie Pokie plays in the background. Creepier than the doll is a little beggar man that stows himself away within the bowels of overweight people and can control the way others perceive him visually (S8E10). Here’s what he looks like immediately after exiting his “host”:
Season 8 has quite a few of these super natural story lines. There are a lot of people who aren’t fans of that season because Mulder is gone (abducted) and they introduced a new character, John Doggett, as a substitute. I like Doggett, though. I really do. I also like how Mulder’s absence gives Scully a chance to step out from under his shadow. Doggett is a bigger skeptic than she is and so she is actually forced to advocate for cases and suspects as the believer.
In my opinion. The scariest supernatural episode is Elgery (S4E22). In it, the very recently departed spirits of murder victims come to a bowling alley attendant (and then later to Scully) with a silent message about their killer.
Just in case you needed any help not sleeping tonight, they look like this and move their mouths like animatronic fish.
These “apparitions” are also known to leave shit like this on mirrors
The events in this episode force Scully to come to terms with her impending demise (cancer), and finally open up to Mulder about it. He stays in denial about the seriousness of her condition for the remainder of season 4. By the first 2 episodes of the 5th season (Redux and Redux II), Scully is on her death bed. Some of the most tender and well acted scenes in the series can be found in these two episodes.
Let us blaze forth into the final two categories of The X-Files.
Yes I’m aware that this would have made more sense to put in the “God” section back in Pt 2, but I was too busy criticizing Scully’s hypocritical world view. Besides, the cult episodes are by far some of the best in the series. There are a few centered around satanic cults, which I found considerably less interesting than Our Town (S2E24) which takes place in a small town with a dark secret.
They’re cannibals! and because one of the people that ended up in their soup was diseasded, they all contract Creutzfeldt Jakob (a disease that essentially turns your brain into sponge).
Mulder finds these heads in the matriarch’s ominously large red cabinet:
As per usual, Scully comes about this close to getting her head chopped off by a very sharp looking war tribe axe
Thank goodness Mulder arrives just in the nick of time.
Let’s take a closer look at this situation because it feels awfully familiar. Why does Scully always get kidnapped? Well, there are a number of contributing factors. 1: as badass as she is, she’s only 5’3″ and can’t possibly weight more than 120lbs. Once she dosen’t have her gun, she’s basically easy pickings if you get her from behind. Don’t engage her in hand to hand, though, she’s scrappy and will no doubt pull out all the stops. 2: Mulder is basically a live action Fred from Scooby Doo, and Scully is an unfortunate mix of Velma and Daphne. Yes she has Velma’s intelligence but, like Daphne, she’s constantly being kidnapped. If you know anything about Scooby Doo, it should be that Fred ALWAYS wants to “split up and look for clues” but never invites Velma to go with him. Scooby and Shaggy have each other, Fred always goes with Daphne (for selfish reasons), and Velma is left to search alone like the BAMF that she is. Again, if you’re a fan of Scooby Doo then you know that Velma always trips and looses her glasses, and the monster hands them back to her. The X-Files is not a cartoon, though, so instead of handing her back her glasses the bad guys in this show try to give her a lobotomy (Unhrue, S4E4).
For some reason Velma also wears V-necks to the beach
Long story short, it’s Mulder’s fault that Scully almost dies every episode.
My favorite episode of the series, “Road Runners” (S8,E4) also fits in with the cult material, however it’s about a parasite as well, so I’ll wait to review it until I get to that section.
I left the broadest and most intriguing category of episode for last- Products of Bizarre Mutation (including parasites, insects, and plants)
If the alien story arcs were the Mulder of the show, then the mutation episodes would be the Scully. One of my favorite aspects of the X-Files is how, although they’re dealing with impossible material, the writers are able to create feasible reasoning for why the events in any given episode could take place.
For example, in “The Host” (S2E2), Mulder & Scully explore the possible effects of radiation on wildlife. A mutated fluke worm is accidentally brought over from Russia. Due to the chemicals in its natural breeding ground the worm mutates into a humanoid parasitic organism that takes up residence in the sewage pipes of New Jersey.
The mutated monsters seem to still fall under Mulder’s domain. The insects, plants, and pathogens, however, belong to Scully. Yes she really does seem to be a jack of all trades. Medical Doctor, investigator, pathologist, entomologist, biologist, botanist…you name it, she can diagnose it or identify it under a microscope. The perfect person to choose to survive the zombie apocalypse with.
Some other memorable monsters in this category include…
Leonard Betts of an episode with the same name (S4E12) is a man with regeneration abilities greater than a lizard.
The detachable conjoined twin from “Humbug” (S2E12)
The native dryads (or moth men) of Detour (S5E4)
The inbred mother from “Home” (S4E2)
nd my all time personal favorite- the spine-bending/life-sucking parasite from Roadrunners (S8E4) my favorite episode of the series.
I’ve said it MANY times before, but I’ll say it again: I love Mulder & Scully (Smulder, if you will) together, they’re a perfect team and the dialogue is better when they’re able to play off of each other. BUT…if the aliens came down from space and said, “Autumn (that’s my name), I need one of these guys for alien stuff. You choose which one.” 10 times out of 10 I’d sacrifice Mulder. Why? Scully’s a medical doctor (as she’s reminded us many MANY times), and like it or not, doctors are more valuable to society than psychology majors (no offense, mom).
Anyway, Roadrunners was the first episode of the “Scully” era where I felt like she really hit her stride as an individual separate from Mulder. Although she was carrying his miracle child, so she really wasn’t that separate. I digress. She gets stranded in an rural area of Utah when the creepy gas station attendant of an super creepy gas station in a extremely creepy “intentional community” sabotages her gas tank. This happens because Scully can’t miss an opportunity to tell people she’s a medical doctor. Like, every second she’s not saying it a little part of her dies. She’s forced to stay in a room that an old man without a working telephone offers her because no one in the “community” owns a car or a computer, or a phone. I know what you’re thinking: “it’s a cult! Scully, get out of there!” But you guys should know better! Yes, of course it’s a cult, but Scully has no chill and relies on Mulder to tell her things like, “these people eat people, he’s a vampire, she can control minds, the killer is a ghost, or Scully, look out!”
So the cult kept her there because she’s a medical doctor (see above meme for proof), and they need help caring for a hitch hiker with extreme scoliosis, kyphosis, and oh yeah, a GIANT parasite in his back.
Once again, because Scully evidently now sees the good in people and HAS NO CHILL, she gives the hitchhiker her gun and goes to look for clues (she has to be her own Fred without Mulder there).
Surprise surprise (no seriously, I was actually surprised), the hitch hiker is in on it and the cult (who are now confirmed as a cult) surrounds her in a creepy barn, kills the hitch hiker, removes the parasite, and closes in…in a valiant effort to appeal to their humanity, she tells them (screams at them) that she’s pregnant. When they don’t care she goes into her well of insults and unleashes her all time favorite:
but they are not having it. It cuts ahead to her strapped down on a bed with the parasite wriggling around beneath her skin (seriously the coolest visual the show has ever produced). She’s slinging profanities around and seems to be more pissed then scared.
Inevitably, Doggett finds her and they try to GTFO
One problem, though! Well many problems actually, but one main problem! The parasite is climbing up her spinal cord towards her brain stem. So like she raw MF’er that she is, she’s all “CUT IT OUT OF ME!” and Doggett proceeds to with a pocket knife.
In case you’re just tuning in, that was a recap of the best episode ever.
OK, so it’s time now for me to wrap it up.
The X-Files left a permanent mark on modern culture. Not just for die hard SciFi fans, but almost everyone who had access to television in the 90′s. I don’t want to make this conclusion too final because after the show ended in 2002, there was another movie and now it’s being revived on FOX. Obviously, I’m almost too excited to see Mulder & Scully taking on new monsters, but there’s a part of me that’s nervous as well. I sincerely hope that the revival is more similar to the show and first movie rather than the 2nd. Although I loved seeing them living together and not closeting their relationship, the rest of the movie was kind of a bust. I read somewhere that where the new seasons pick up they’ll have been out of contact for a little while, which I think is rather unfortunate. Blah blah blah, these characters belong together, blah blah blah. I’ve already plead and rest my case on that subject. Maybe Chris Carter has broken them up to make them getting back together more satisfying. Only time will tell. When the show returns in January I’ll be doing weekly reviews on the individual episodes, so if you’re a fan of the show, bookmark this page and I’ll talk to you again in January.
Just for fun…the evolution of Mulder & Scully:
I have a theory that Gillian Anderson aged backwards while David Duchovny didn’t age at all until 2008.