Thursday, August 19, 2010

I've Now Watched All Nine Seasons of the X-Files

Last November, my roommate, bought a box-set of The X-Files and over the last nine months I've watched the nine seasons. That gives an immediate measure of my assessment of the series -- I liked it well enough to watch the series from start to finish, unlike, say Six Feet Under. However, I did not like it so much to race through it at a non-leisurely pace, it did not take over my life the way Babylon 5 or The Wire did, two 5-season shows that I finished in less than 6 weeks.

The X-Files is a 1990s-era show about two FBI detectives, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, who navigate various paranormal cases dealing with elements such as God, the afterlife, demons, magic, mutants, premonitions, and most famously, extraterrestrial life and a government conspiracy of involvement with said extraterrestrial life and the cover-up thereof. The first few nourish the episodic elements of The X-Files, whereas the last one lies at the heart of the show's 9-season story arc(s). It makes for an interesting dual nature. Popular culture's fantasies of yesteryear, such as demons, fulfill the role of antagonists within the more stylistically conservative stream of the show, aka the episodic stream. Our more modern irrational paranoia of extra-terrestrial invasion is what lies sweeping the more contemporary and superior trend of long-form story arc.

There were a lot of really fabulous stand-alone episodes. I like Terms of Endearment, a season six episode of a half-demon man who keeps trying to impregnate human women with a human offspring, and keeps producing demonic offspring, babies he then discards. In this episode, the antagonist, Wayne Weinsider, eventually hooks up with a woman who, unknown to him, is also a demon. She, however, has been seeking a demon child, and when he tries to dispose of the baby she stops him with ease, running off with the baby. Ice of season 1, The Walk   of season 3, Three of season 3 which dealt with vampires, Synchrony of season 4, Detour of season 5,  Triangle of season 6, Field Trip of season 6,  First Person Shooter of season 7, are some of my other favourites. I  liked the vampire episode, but that could just be because I'm an innocent and helpless hostage of the zeitgeist -- I wonder. Interestingly, I read somewhere online that the vampire Mulder hooked up with in that episode was played by his real-world girlfriend at the time.

Some of those stand-alone episodes are, in my opinion, classics of science fiction. I would totally nominate them for the official television sci-fi canon if there were such a thing and if I were to have a vote. Unfortunately, they were very much hit and miss. If more of them had been tied together into mini-arcs, such as the episodes Irresistible and Orison dealing with fetishist Donald Pfaster, or agent John Doggett's one and a half season search for closure in the unsolved murder of his son Luke, they would have been more bearable. By the time season 3 rolled around, never mind season 7, I was anxious to see developments in the extra-terrestrial issue and a payoff for my interest.

My favourite episode is probably Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man, the 7th episode of the 4th season. It illustrates CGB Spender's rise to power -- he was the real Kennedy assassin, which was a good plot device as it allowed them to explore two good stories in one episode. My second favourite would probably be Synchrony, to go back to my earlier point, these are the two I'd include in a sci-fi canon. Synchrony involves a visitor from the future who is responsible for the development of time travel... he comes back to kill those who contributed to its development.

This website has a good list:
http://www.starpulse.com/news/index.php/2008/07/25/x_files_10_best_episodes

I much preferred the overall ET story arc though. The characters of Alex Krycek, CGB Spender aka the cigarette smoking man, X, Marita Covarrubias, Deep Throat, and a few others did a great job enriching the story, really, great cast selections. I thought it was a good expose of how a government conspiracy could work, perhaps with Aliens or some other issues. The public players such as the senators move around, but not the real power brokers behind the scene. Even when these players are removed, however, their missions go on. The institution and the conspiracy is bigger than any one man, and goes on with great vigor after the original syndicate, Krycek and Spender depart.

Chris Carter (X-Files creator) may not have realized he was making a critique of the American standard model of governance but he was. Most Americans, indeed most westerners, believe that the way to get better governance is to change the leader. Get a different president, get different leadership. It hasn't worked out that way with Obama, and it didn't work out that way in the X-Files. The syndicate came and went but their agenda remained, being carried out by new power brokers like Knowles Rohrer. The way the final ends, with Mulder broken, is pretty consistent with where the western world seems right now.

I hope they end up releasing a third X-Files movie to coincide with the alien invasion predicted in the show, slated for December 21st 2012. In light of how poorly the movie did at the box office, and the lack of information this late in the game, I'm not holding my breath.

The relationship between Mulder and Scully was interesting. They were friends and colleagues but never lovers in the first few seasons, and I thought that was an interesting change from most of TV, which hooks up any single and attractive male and female coleads in virtually all shows. To my shock, they hooked up around season 8 -- I wonder if this was imposed by the actual writers or by the executives.  John Doggett and Monica Reyes then hooked up toward the end of season 9, but that one was more expected, they seemed to have more of a chemistry. I remain unsure how to interpret the gender dynamics of the two characters -- there are two role-reversals from standard reality which muddle the waters. One, Scully is the more scientific and rational one, the exact opposite of most of popular culture which portrays men as technological and women as magical. On the other hand, as this is the X-Files universe, I'd argue that being "rational" in the standard universe sense is in fact irrational... Dana Scully eventually opens her mind more from around season 7 or so, but in light of everything she had seen it should have come sometime before season 4. Mulder on the other hand didn't change much between the start and the end of the series, and that's because the events of The X-Files reality vindicated his world view again and again -- he had no need to change. Later on, in seasons 8 and 9, the personality asignment between Doggett and Reyes is reversed, it is Doggett who is cool and rational and Reyes who makes the more ambitious leaps of faiths.

Overall, I'd have to give this series a B+. It aimed high, asked some tough questions and tackled an ambitious storyline, but it wasn't as addictive as say Mad Men or True Blood. I'm not sure if it's crying out for a remake or not -- I think the modern trend of larger ensemble casts  and deeper story arcs would have worked well for a show such as The X-Files, but it's still too soon.

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