The Truth is Somewhere: The Continuing Adventures of an X-Files Junkie
It was 1993, and I was twenty-eight years old, still single, and living in student housing in southern Alabama. I was about to complete a bachelor’s degree in psychology with no real plans of what to do once that came to pass. One option was to keep working at the local airport and pursue my commercial pilot rating, the other to continue on to graduate school to get a degree I could actually use.
Neither of those life choices seemed appealing at the time, mostly because my late twenties were to me what the teens are to normal folks: my formative years. Problem was, in those days, I couldn’t feign interest in anything that didn’t involve beer, Chinese food, or cigarettes.
Then came The X-Files. Oh, man, those were the days.
For folks who lived in or near caves back in the 1990s, here’s the rundown: FBI agents Fox “Spooky” Mulder (a believer) and Dana Scully (a skeptic) investigate all manner of paranormal phenomena—aliens, demons, killer computers, ghosts, a sewer-dwelling flukeman (yes, really), telepaths, miracle healers, and pyrokinetics, just to name a few. It was glorious.
The X-Files was part Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with a dash of Project U.F.O., a smidge of Twin Peaks and The Silence of the Lambs, finished off with something else that was all its own. Show creator Chris Carter hit a nerve with this series, a feat he’d never be able to replicate with any of a number of other attempts.
Now it’s 2016, The X-Files is back, and the reviews, like my own feelings, are a mixed bag. Before I get to that, though, here’s some more background.
The X-Files hit 1993-me like a flying saucer coming in low over the New Mexico desert. It was creepy, hip, and one of the smartest shows I’d ever seen. Every time it aired, I programmed my gargantuan VCR, recorded the show on the highest quality speed, and kept every episode. Taping over The X-Files was a cardinal sin in my house. Good thing I lived alone most of the time.
Eventually, when my wife-to-be and I started dating, we watched the show together. I filled her in on what she’d missed, and we caught up on re-runs, a much more difficult task in a pre-Netflix world. It became a regular thing for us, and we continued throughout the entire run of the show, even during the dreaded Seasons Eight and Nine non-Mulder episodes, known among rabid fans as The Dark Times.
A side note: Seriously, The X-Files sans Fox Mulder is like ketchup with no tomato.
In general, there were three types of episodes. First, there were the mythology installments, some of which would serialize a story for two or three weeks, often spanning the end and beginning of a season. These always involved the vast conspiracy involving aliens and relating in some way to the childhood abduction of Mulder’s sister. Their resolutions were a bit murky at times, and it wasn’t always clear that the writers had a grand plan.
The second variety were the standalone Monster-of-the-Week episodes, usually involving our favorite agents chasing down one or more of the aforementioned paranormal critters. Mulder sees all the weird stuff, while Scully is always out of the room, grappling with an enormous cellphone, or trapped in a closet somewhere.
The third type, a subset of the second type, were the funny episodes, and they were always my favorites. They were, in fact, what made The X-Files The X-Files.
Of all the funny episodes, though, “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” is not only the granddaddy, it’s one of the best episodes of television, full stop. It features air force pilots in alien costumes smoking cigarettes, alien abductions, men in black, Charles Nelson Reilly as author Jose Chung, and one of the greatest, most immortal series lines in recorded history, “Now that’s a bleepin’ dead alien!”
But there’s more to “Jose Chung” than just jokes. Here, Carter and writer Darin Morgan explore the actual idea of the insane stories of aliens and the people who tell them. “What really happened out there?” Chung asks Mulder, to which the agent responds, “How the hell should I know?” The takeaway is that yes, something happened, but we can only hope to get at a part of the truth. Even the Men in Black (if for no other reason, watch this one for the two MIBs) are up front about this: No one is going to believe a damn word you say.
This brings me to the new season. Some people love it, some hate it, while other reviewers don’t know what to make of it. “Who wants The X-Files to be funny?” one critic writes. “What’s with all the jokes?” As if those are questions real people even ask. Of course it can be funny, reviewer. I wonder, by the way, have you even watched the original series? Let’s just say I’m skeptical.
Here’s my take on the new series so far. The first episode, “My Struggle,” was a fever-pitch information dump, in which every conspiracy theory peddled by a tin-foil hat wearing street-corner prophet was on display. That’s sort of what made it just okay—it was almost too close to reality. We’ve all heard the claims about chemtrails, it’s no surprise that the NSA collects more info on us than they should, and we know about the supposed dangers of GMOs, so hearing Mulder rattle these and others off seemed like low hanging fruit.
“Founder’s Mutation,” the second installment, was better, one of the Monster-of-the-Week variety. It wasn’t great, but it had what always made The X-Files good: Mulder and Scully investigating weird things. So there is that.
The third one, “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” did my spooky little heart good. It was a return to the glory days of the comic episodes. Our favorite agents go to a small town (check) to investigate an unexplained monster story (check), and they meet a host of weird characters (check). Brilliance ensues.
On top of the stellar writing and the showcasing of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson’s acting chops and chemistry, the true genius of the third episode—as with all the comic installments—is that it fits in seamlessly with the rest of the series, which can be heavy and serious at times. The story takes place in the same world, and the characters are the same people. We just see them from a slightly different perspective.
In fact, Scully, after listening to her partner go on a bizarre yet coherent monster-centric rant, sums up the episode perfectly.
“Yeah,” she says, “This is how I like my Mulder.”
Right on, Scully.