The X Files Revisited: A final retrospective on the show
Over the course of the last eighteen months, I have been 'revisiting' The X Files, picking key episodes from all 10 seasons and the two movies. The big mythology episodes, the fan favourites, the notable horror and comedy classics and my own personal favourites, I covered about two thirds of each season, filtering out some of the duds. You won't find Space, Teso dos Bichos or Fight Club on this list, though unfortunately Babylon made it due to the limited number of stories in the revival. It's been a long journey - 133 episodes and two movies since July 2015, but it has been worth it. Without a doubt, The X Files was, and continues to be one of the biggest TV shows of all time.
And that's the point of this retrospective, a final reflection of the series that I first started watching way back during the season two broadcasts on BBC2 in the 90s and then have re-watched once before. I began again with the foolish attempt to cover every season and movie before the revival, making it to season five's 100th episode Unusual Suspects before 'season 10' began and then picking up the rest of season five and beyond after the decisive My Struggle II had left us with an almighty cliff-hanger to chew on (possibly forever). It also gave me the opportunity to revisit the revival a year on, seeing just how well it held up in light of the rest of the series.
So here are my closing thoughts on The X Files...
One thing that is really apparent on re-watch is just how much of an influence the show had on TV as we know it today. It wasn't just about aliens and monsters, it delivered a number of dark, harrowing serial killer tales, introducing audiences to the likes of Donald Addie Pfaster from Irresistible and John Lee Roche from Paper Hearts. What was most surprising is that there were many episodes with little or no supernatural elements; the profiling of America's most terrible human monsters made The X Files as much a forerunner to shows like Criminal Minds as sci-fi shows like Fringe. And talking of sci-fi, The X Files was one of those shows that brought the genre into the mainstream. For an show where one of the primary focuses was the search for extra-terrestrial life, it become ratings gold within mainstream television in the 1990s, a cultural zeitgeist that led the way to successful shows like Lost.
Undeniably it's the magic between David Duchovny's Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson's Dana Scully that is the real heart of the series. Whatever people's thoughts were about the revival, the magic of seeing Mulder an Scully together again was its biggest success. But that's not to say that it was terrible when Duchovny reduced his role in season eight and left for all but the final episode of season nine. Robert Patrick did a excellent job of taking up the mantle as Scully's new partner John Doggett and was probably the most consistently brilliant aspect of the final two seasons of the original run. And of course the show gave us great recurring performances in Mitch Pileggi as no nonsense boss Walter Skinner, Nicholas Lea as the villainous Alex Krycek and of course William B Davis as one of the most brilliant TV villains of all time, the Cigarette Smoking Man. It's no surprise the show brought him back again for the original finale and the revival.
But what about the seasons themselves? Season one starts with a great pilot episode that catches all the key elements of The X Files with deft style, and offers one of the the most innovative debut seasons of any show. From the terrifying Eugene Victor Tooms to The Thing-inspired Ice, it hits the ground running with some amazing horror stories. I covered about half the first season (and in hindsight wished I'd covered more), but even the weaker episodes have their charm - in no small part to the brilliance of Duchovny and Anderson. In perhaps its boldest moment yet, the finale The Erlenmeyer Flask turns the entire premise on its head. The show's recurring ally Deep Throat is murdered, the X Files are shut down and the show as we knew it was no more. But the best episode of the first season has to be the chilling Beyond The Sea, with a mesmerising performance from Brad Douriff as a psychic killer connecting with Scully over her father's death.
That's one hell of a cliffhanger and fortunately The X Files doesn't go with the easy option if resetting the status quo by the end of the season two opener. Anderson's pregnancy led to the first epic, multi-episode mythology story (and possibly still one one of the best), finding herself abducted by aliens. It takes nine episodes before Mulder and Scully are back to investigating the supernatural. From there the mythology continues the season's highs with the arrival of Brian Thompson's shape shifting bounty hunter and Mulder's clone sister in Colony / End Game and the dramatic box-car finale Anasazi, which remains my favourite season cliffhanger episode to date. Not all stories are perfect, but there are so many home runs in the confident second year, from the disgusting Flukeman in The Host to Satanic school teachers in Die Hand Die Verletzt and Darin Morgan's comic writing debut in Humbug. Season two was where I started watching and when it is at its best, it emerges as one of most epic seasons the show ever did.
Season three was really where The X Files found its groove. After the epic resolution to Anasazi in Paper Clip, the mythology continued to excel in my favourite mythology story, the thrilling two-parter Nisei / 731, while the next mythology big story Piper Maru / Apocrypha gave us the return of the villainous Kyrcek and the debut of the black oil. Skinner also took the limelight for the first time in Avatar, after some great character development during season two and three. And while there were many great episodes, for me season three was ruled by Darin Morgan's amazing comedy trio Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose, War of the Coprophages and Jose Chung's "From Outer Space", three of the most sublime, self-referential comedy episodes in TV history.
The season three cliffhanger fails to live up to the previous two finales, but fortunately season four delivers some amazing stories, even it takes on a darker, more grim tone. The murders of numerous children, including maybe Samantha in Paper Hearts and Leonard Betts with his abilty to eat cancer victims and of course the darkest, most terrifying and disturbing episode of all time Home. These are all some of the best episodes the show ever did. Scully's cancer takes a morbid, personal tone too; when it is done well (with stories like Memento Mori), it was riveting but unfortunately these is a bit of a disjointed tone between episodes. It's not all dark and depressing though, with comic touches like those in Small Potatoes alleviating some of that darkness. And the cliffhanger is another doozy, with Mulder committing suicide even as Scully draws closer to death providing a great end point.
What I remarked in season five was the closeness of Mulder and Scully as the show progressed, coming out of her cancer with an even stronger connection. Tonally it fits the revival with the possibility of aliens being a hoax; though this isn't consistently followed through - something The X Files often suffered from. Anderson and Duchovny were so comfortable with their roles at this point that even the weaker episodes shone with them on screen together. There are some great ideas at play with Emily delivering a deeply personal story for Scully and Patient X / The Red And The Black accelerating the mythology towards its end game in season six. Episodes like Detour and Bad Blood proved the show still had plenty of magic but the biggest fault was that the season didn't connect well to the upcoming movie, despite being produced after filming had completed on The X Files: Fight The Future. The movie never seemed to wow fans - but then expectations at the time were impossibly high - but on re-watch it holds up well and the final scenes in Antarctica are worthy of the movie premise.
While the season five finale The End and season six opener The Beginning sit awkwardly around the movie, the mythology really delivers a satisfying climax in the sixth year with the destruction of the shadowy syndicate and plans for alien colonisation in Two Fathers / One Son. Season six, despite many beliefs to the contrary, is a second wind for the show and it would have been a brave move for The X Files to have wrapped the TV series up at the end of the year. Sadly the frustrating Biogenesis failed to deliver on what had been an altogether excellent year, one of my favourites. And how could it not be? Time travelling Nazi's in Triangle, a comedy body-swapping two-parter Dreamland, Mulder and Scully as a married couple if Arcadia and Groundhod Day style shenanigans in Monday. The lighter tone absolutely works this season. Unfortunately it would weaken the subsequent season considerably.
There is not denying that things feel tired come season seven. The mythology becomes tired and frustrating and having Samantha Mulder's story wrapped up by having her abducted by fairies is a giant failure. The lighter episodes like The Goldberg Variation fails to match the heights of season six, though Je Souhaite comes close while the other season seven highlight is X-Cops which mixes the format with the other famous Fox show perfectly. The chemistry between Duchovny and Anderson is still magic but there is a sense that the show had run out of steam. Requiem ends on a high though; it was was envisioned as a series finale as the show returned to the events of the pilot, Mulder was abducted and Scully found out she was pregnant. Even long-standing ally Skinner finally witnessed proof of extra-terrestrial life.
Those people who switched off when John Doggett entered at the start of season eight missed something incredible; the eighth year is one of the best of the show. It doesn't have all time classics like the earlier years but the absence of Mulder for half the season gave a year-long arc that was compelling from beginning to end. The show returned to its darker roots after the lighthearted mistakes of season seven and Doggett and Scully had surprising, if very different chemistry built on respect. Making Scully the sceptic was a bold move but a nice change of pace while Robert Patrick brought new life to the show. The search for Mulder and Scully's pregnancy were enticing mysteries and the serialised nature of the second half of the show which saw Mulder return, die, come back to life and help work to fight the upcoming super soldier threat gave The X Files some of its most exciting story lines to date. It culminated in style, with Kyrcek meeting his maker at the hands of Skinner, Scully finally giving birth to William, Mulder out of the FBI and Doggett now planted firmly in charge for a new era in the show. With that final happy shot of Mulder, Scully and William together, The X Files had the most perfect ending it could have wished for.
Unfortunately it was not to be. Anderson was tied by a contract to a show she now longer wanted to be on, while Duchovny ran for the hills. Instead of realising that Scully had had her happy ending, The X Files forced the mystery of William's heritage around her and refused to give up on Mulder. Reyes was not a fantastic character but she was decent enough and together with Doggett they could have made the show their own. Unfortunately, despite the best episodes of season nine being centered around Doggett and Reyes investigating the supernatural, the show show-horned in Scully giving her a tired, boring storyline centred on super soldiers, teased Mulder without there being a chance of Duchovny returning and treated Doggett and Reyes as second tier characters in their own show. When The X Files was inevitably cancelled, the show made all the wrong decisions, unceremoniously killing of the Lone Gunmen, forcing Scully to give up William and then delivered a finale which shafted Doggett and Reyes and made it all about Mulder putting the truth on trial. It was a disastrous end.
But of course, The X Files found a way to continue. While disappointing in many ways, the second movie The X Files: I Want To Believe had its charm, delivering a dark, insidious tale that works better when you know it isn't the end of the franchise. The revival last year was both a success and a failure; Chris Carter's attempt to revamp the mythology for the modern age totally undermined much of the show - particularly the end years - his focus on the war on terror in Babylon was borderline offensive and the finale was a mass of great ideas plowing through at a thousand miles per hour. Most unforgivable, he left the revival on an almighty cliff-hanger, despite there being no news of an eleventh season. Given that this was a chance to bring closure to the franchise, Carter failed completely. But it wasn't all bad. The other three episodes were magic in their own right, Mulder And Scully Meet The Were-Monster entered the pantheon of The X Files classics and the chemisty between Duchovny and Anderson was still wonderful after all these years.
The X Files is one long epic tale about two FBI agent's search for the truth. The mythology, when it was good, delivered some of the most epic moments on TV during the 1990s and its ability to switch between drama, comedy and horror was the show's biggest strength. The X Files was landmark television and its influences will continue even if the franchise does not. But I'm hopeful it will. There is still talk of an eleventh season and the popularity of the show will still means people will be watching.
This is the end of my The X Files Revisited for The Digital Fix, an end to 18 months of reviews. I hope you've enjoyed them as much as I have watching the episodes and reviewing them. I'll be kicking off with a Twin Peaks Revisited for the site soon. But if you're still interested in discussing all things The X Files check out my work on The X-Cast and you can follow them on Twitter here.
And you want to revisit any of my The X Files Revisited, you can view my reviews using the links below...
Beyond The Sea
The Erlenmeyer Flask
Little Green Men
Duane Barry / Ascension
Die Hand Die Verletzt
Colony / End Game
The Blessing Way / Paper Clip
Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose
Nisei / 731
War of the Coprophages
Piper Maru / Apocrypha
Jose Chung's "From Outer Space"
Musings Of A Cigarette-Smoking Man
Terma / Tunguska
Tempus Fugit / Max
Redux / Redux II
The Post Modern Prometheus
Christmas Carol / Emily
Patient X / The Red And The Black
The Pine Bluff Variant
Folie a Deux
The X Files: Fight The Future
Dreamland / Dreamland II
Two Fathers / One Son
Three Of A Kind
The Sixth Extinction / The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati
The Goldberg Variation
Sein Und Zeit / Closure
Within / Without
This Is Not Happening / Deadalive
Essence / Existence
Nothing Important Happened Today / Nothing Important Happened Today II
Trust No 1
Jump The Shark
The X Files: I Want To Believe
Mulder And Scully Meet The Were-Monster
My Struggle II