[Review] – The X-Files, Season 10


In which we learn that the truth is still out there, and it’s watching you.

Back in the day I was big into the X-Files. Every Sunday, there I was, along with a considerable chunk of the population, watching Mulder and Scully get chased by all manner of nonsense creature, all the while being sarcastic at one another. Then Duchovny left the show, and like a considerable chunk of the population, my interest waned. Then the show ended, and I stopped caring altogether (and, based on the box office results of that last film, so did everyone else). In the interceding 14 years, I’ve never had the desire to return to it. This from someone who rewatches Farscape at least once a year, and thinks nothing of binging a season of Parks and Rec at the drop of a hat. I know I went back and gave X-Files season 1 another go within the last couple years, but I had no desire to finish off the rest of it. Its charm had worn away, like the shine off a penny. All that was left was a curiosity of dating, and a sickly green. Spoilers abound from here on out.

X-Files really was a pioneer of dramatic television. It checked off a lot of firsts for elements that we now demand as standard in a high-concept drama series. But like so many pioneers, it was the work of others building on those first steps that take the fuller credit. What X-Files began with season arcs, Buffy popularized. What X-Files engineered with contained mythologies and mysteries, LOST capitalized upon. But, much like LOST, once the mystery was unraveled, there is little joy in spooling it back up again. A slinky bouncing down the stairs is entertaining once, then it’s just a piece of metal falling oddly. And, like so many things, it was a victim of its own hubris. As cast members left and the mystery became more and more bogged down in the minutia of its own overly elaborated detail, it became too confusing to fully digest, but refused to end. And only the most obsessive can recall the labyrinth of twists and revelations on which they eventually settled.

I feel like the only people for whom this revival was spiritual and fulfilling was FOX and Chris Carter, mostly because they have each failed to find an equal to the experience in the time since. Carter especially, always one to be far more invested in his show’s importance than the audience ever was, seems preoccupied with the notion that the X-Files is capital-N Necessary, that it is expounding on a greater truth that must be known. FOX just wants something that will bring in that level of rating (the tireless search for a replacement to their pop culture behemoth would spark the decade of quick fire cancellations, and dictate their series orders right to the present day, with shows like Fringe, and Sleepy Hollow marketed as the heir apparent of Mulder and Scully). Duchovney, who was the most desperate to distance himself from Mulder back during the original run, seems to have sprinted mightily towards a return, his post Californication career stuck in idle. It really was Anderson alone, for whom the original run was a run-up rather than a plateau, who had no horse in the race. Given the state of her filmography these last few years, she certainly doesn’t need Scully to bolster her credentials any longer.

A fair compare and contrast can be drawn between this revival and the recent Ash vs Evil Dead  series. Both are returns to properties left for dead in all but the dreams of a few. In the case of the Evil Dead, it was the fans desperately hounding the creators for more, where it seems that Carter convinced FOX that there was a similar tide of interest for more FBI hi-jinks, when really it was just himself. But Evil Dead also didn’t have a decade’s worth of established backstory shackled to its leg. It had three movies in which a buffoon avoids dying terribly. That left a lot of ground for the series to cover, to add to, in order to make the story of Ash fuller and more rounded. The X-Files really had no one else to go, in plot or characterization. And it went there, for six episodes.

Immediately, the series feels hollow. Carter had, as I recalled, built into the mythology of the show the importance of 2012 (those with memories for stupidity recall the Mayan calendar nonsense that plagued rational thought that year). 2012 was when “it” would happen, so the Smoking Man said before he fell down the stairs, or burst into flames, or died in any of the other horrible ways he did before the show's ironically over-extended life necessitated his resurrection. But swing and a miss, 2012 came and went without Mulder’s worst fears coming true. And so, the revival from the start is marked by a sort of desperate rearrangement, choice reinterpretations of mythological elements of the story that will and won’t be adhered to, in order for this new mini-series to make sense.

The first and last episodes of this blissfully truncated yet still overly long series felt like the occasionally mooted third film that, again, Carter seemed to be the sole interested party. Taken by themselves, they seemed to cover the little ground Carter had left unsalted. That there was still one last mystery out there for Mulder to blunder into. That, it turned out, was the revelation that there has never been an alien plot, and that in fact it has been mankind all along, using stolen alien technology and DNA to create a plague, and an fail safe to save the select few, and Annabeth Gish. This struck me as particularly odd, at least considering that there was a movie in which Mulder and Scully did a slip-and-slide out of an alien vessel as it launched into space. And the multitude of other established alien encounters over the course of the original series. I’m not sure if Carter decided he had a better idea over the last decade and a half, and opted to selectively choose which of his original ideas he was going to ignore, or if this had always been his intended destination, and the original journey had become a Family Circus-esque adventure in distraction. Either way, the foundations on which the mini-series stood were shaky.

 But the greater sin was that of bad writing, something that long time readers will know I have little patience for. Despite 14 years having passed, despite Mulder living off the grid in a shack, despite Scully having moved on with her life and career, and despite the X-Files no longer existing, by the end of the first episode they are back in the basement, back in their suits and all characterization has ground to a halt. Worse than that, it has went backwards. Mulder and Scully exist as characters as some weird Platonic ideal of their younger selves, a merging of what they actually were like back mid season two or three, and the nostalgic memory of what those characters were like. Like me, it seemed that Carter didn’t bother to go back and remind himself of specific details, preferring to just fill in the blanks based on what he could remember while glimpsing old TV Guide covers.

I had a brief hope that they might be significant development as episode three opens with Mulder giving a diatribe about how everything weird and unexplained had been subsequently found to be mundane and utterly explainable, but this turned out just to be a sour, tongue-in-cheek introduction to the season’s “comedy” episode, an episode utterly bereft of subtly or acumen. It is Scully comes off the worst unfortunately, because at this point she’s just a bad scientist. Being “a scientist” isn’t carte blanche to be a snide skeptic for twenty plus years, it’s about absorbing data and redefining you’re notion of what is and isn’t real and possible. Her “Mulder, that’s not possible” position rings hollow in the shadow of liver-eating sub-humans, dog-eating giant crocodiles, and the aforementioned toboggan ride down a UFO. Now she’s the worst kind of scientist, the kind that refuses to budge from their position despite the overwhelming evidence. 14 years on, and Scully is as relevant as a Flat-Earther or an anti-vaxxer.

But when I say the writing is bad, I don’t just mean in characterization. Mostly, I just mean that the writing is bad. Even Anderson, who we know can spin old damp rope into gold, has trouble making these jilted lines passable. Part of it is that everyone speaks in headlines. Every statement is solitary and definite, and they say these things at one another rather than having a conversation. It’s as organic as reading Reddit entries in place of discussion. And for all Duchovney’s charm, even he can’t make some of the smartass things he said sound anything other than douchey. Mulder, as it turns out, is just an ass now. And this afflicts everyone across the board. Poor Mitch Pileggi gets nothing to do, but gets full credit for doing it, while the Mulder and Scully clones that pop up in the eleventh hour serve no purpose other than allowing Mulder and Scully to split up without losing someone to exposition to. Mini-Mulder and Einstein really were the richest example of the lazy writing here, and redundant too, as the younger, purer versions of Mulder and Scully they were aping were already present in the malaise-constructed versions of the characters at play. I mean, it wouldn’t have taken any effort to switch the gender roles, or at least to make the skeptic a blonde. The copy-paste characters come off as bad fanfic knock-offs, which is actually impressive when the whole mini-series feels like wish-fulfillment, mid-nineties chat room forum-fodder. Scully’s nerd-seduction scene especially, and specifically. It seems like most of the time Carter wishes he could either go back in time to the glory days and create all new adventures with his young and nubile cast, or reboot the entire property without having to do any leg work.

The best of the bunch is easily Home Again, but only because it alone allows Anderson to earn her paycheck in a truly emotional display of acting. Even those viewers, like myself, who remembered nothing of Scully’s mother or extended family, should have been moved by her loss. The whole subplot felt like it had been lifted from another miniseries, and certainly was the most alien thing about these six revival episodes. Boo-urns then that they stuck it in the middle of an episode miming the classic Toomes or Fluke-man style episode. Though, Glen Morgan seemed to be working at a different level than the rest of the series’ writers and directors, because even the Trashman proved an effective monster of the week plot. It’s just that the two were a poor pair, and the need to wrap up the garbage-gollum plot unwisely tore Scully from her grief and corresponding character development, and turned her into just another flashlight wielding video game character.

That hubris I mentioned earlier reared its ugly head when, in a finale that was mostly flashback and exposition (because they had spent essentially none of the preceding episodes actually setting up a new, growing threat), they ended the series with a cliffhanger. Yes, this series which was so underdeveloped and existed basically to satisfy a nostalgic itch no one was keen to scratch then had the gall not even to give us a full and complete story. No, it is their insistence that this story demands to be brought back yet again, meaning that once again this sickly mule has been trotted out, hosed off, and left to dry in the sun, while we all gape at the spectacle. Not because it is worth of attention, but because we don’t understand who would do such a thing. Had it existed on its own, as six isolated episodes, I might have had the good will to give it a pass, an easily ignored blip, reconciled to the dust bins of memory and the discount bins at Best Buy. But rather than let the audience dictate whether or not Mulder and Scully were fit to return, the producers opted to go the aggressive route. That’s what cliffhangers are, aggressive acts of confrontation. They are demands by producers that we remain transfixed and in clawing need of satisfaction. And that steams my lapels. Rather than let this nineties curiosity remain where it should be, in an era when digital camera buffoonery might have been reasonable rather than a sign of gross incompetence, it has been recycled and resold, at installment pricing. Well, I want my refund.

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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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