The X Files: Season Nine Review
I gave up watching The X Files regularly somewhere around the middle of season five. Not out of any particular design, it just didn’t seem as vital to watch as it once had been and there were other series more demanding of my attention. I did manage to tune in every so often to catch the more important episodes of later years – Mulder’s abduction, the first appearance of Doggett, Mulder’s return etc – but before sitting down to review this last season I hadn’t seriously concentrated on the series in over five years. So it was with some interest that I returned for the show’s final year, intrigued to see whether finally we would be illuminated, whether the truth would at last be unearthed and whether the government conspirators would finally be brought to justice by Mulder’s lone crusade.
The season opens forty eight hours after the season eight finale. After briefly seeing his outline in the shower Mulder does another runner, leaving Scully to care for their new baby on her own. Meanwhile Agents Doggett (Robert Patrick) and Reyes (Annabeth Gish) are now officially the only agents assigned to the X Files, and over the next nineteen episodes they continue to encounter the usual selection of paranormal and freakish occurrences, occurrences that every so often seem to have some larger implication within the series’ complex mythology. Scully acts as an unofficial advisor to them, seemingly able to follow their lead wherever they go throughout the country with no concerns about leaving her new post teaching forensics at the FBI’s training facility at Quantico. Her main motivation these days in discovering the true nature of William, her baby, who begins to demonstrate weird abilities of his own, and with whom a large number of people seem to be obsessed. Everything comes to a head when, in the final episode, Mulder at last makes a reappearance, arrested after infiltrating a Top Secret Military Base and insisting on using a military tribunal to finally try and lay out the truth as he sees it.
When it was first announced that the X Files would continue following the departure of David Duchovny, the reaction was one of deep scepticism – as far as many people were concerned, the X Files is Agent Mulder, and having the series without him would be like having The Simpsons without Homer or Doctor Who without the Doctor. His almost evangelical quest to hunt out the Truth was what gave the show its drive and the more cynical amongst us would perhaps think that the only reason the series was kept alive was as a cash cow, both during first airings and subsequently with matters such as this very box set. To allay these fears Chris Carter and his team brought in as Duchovny’s replacement a fine actor in the shape of Robert Patrick, (who up until that moment was most famous as the T-1000 in Terminator 2) as Agent John Doggett. Like Mulder Doggett has a great pain in his past, the murder of his son, but unlike Mulder he has no time for nonsense about paranormal activity or little green men from Mars. As a fill-in he worked very well, but during the first season he was the lead there was always the knowledge that Duchovny was going to come back for the last handful of episodes, something which, while beneficial to the series, could be seen as a little unfair to the character Robert Patrick was trying to establish. Under Mulder’s shadow he could never grow and take hold of the series so it was only now, in this ninth season when it was quite clear that Mulder wasn’t going to return in any significant way, that he had the opportunity to really lay stake to the series and justify the show’s carrying on.
Fortunately, Robert Patrick acquits himself extremely well. His character is a welcome mix of down-to-earth common sense coupled with a slightly more open mind than Scully had in the early years. We are given an interesting contrast – whereas it used to be Scully pooh-poohing Mulder’s wild theories, now it is she and Reyes who put forward paranormal theories and Doggett the one who gives them the quizzical eyebrow. However, by the end of this season he is certainly opening up his mind to more, in the parlance of the show, “extreme possibilities”, which is considerably quicker than it took the obstinate Scully. Patrick gives a genuine, warm performance of a man struggling not to be completely out of his depth, and if he doesn’t have the intensity that Duchovny used to have, that is no bad thing in that it doesn’t invite comparisons between them. His character is also a lot more emotionally open than Mulder ever was, most notably in the episode Audrey Pauley, in which he does nothing to contain his grief over Reyes’ condition, instead letting his feelings flow out freely. This is Patrick’s standout performance, elevating what would otherwise have been a rather ordinary episode to become one of the season’s best, and is a good demonstration of the kind of character Doggett is.
Of course, it was not just Robert Patrick that had to establish himself, Annabeth Gish as his partner Monica Reyes did as well, even more so in a way as only in this season was her status elevated to series regular. Unfortunately, while she looks the part and certainly has a chemistry with Patrick, her performance is at times rather reserved and she certainly never lays herself fully on the line in the way the other two leads do, giving the impression that she doesn’t have the total commitment to her role that Patrick and Anderson have to theirs. That said, she isn’t exactly given very much material to work on, other than sometimes furrow her brow and announce that she thinks evil is afoot (not always the most brilliant of deductions given she’s usually standing right by a corpse). Gillian Anderson as Scully, meanwhile, spends her time examining corpses and fretting about her baby, and does her dependable solid job. If the glint in her eye seems a little more jaded than in the past, who can blame her after nine years hard work and when she’s good, she’s very good.
The main problem that all three main actors have is they are given very little in the scripts to sink their teeth into. There is practically no character development at all during the season – Doggett and Reyes have feelings for each other is as deep as it goes – and instead the writers rely on artificial methods to drum up tension and angst. I lost count of the number of times either Doggett or Reyes are placed at death’s door through injury or accident, a storyline acceptable perhaps once a season but no more, given that we know the outcome ahead of time. There are more examples of repetition as well – many episodes open with some kind of raid on a suspect’s home, for example, and there are numerous times when one or other of the characters “senses” that the case they’re dealing with is an X File, despite the others’ strenuous denials that it is not – which cumulatively gives the impression of lazy writing. The one interesting theme that develops throughout is that of faith – always a mainstay of the early years, belief in a higher power, specifically a Catholic God, comes to the fore again this year, notably in the episode Hellbound and in Mulder and Scully’s very last conversation together. There are echoes of it throughout the year, whether it be the Exorcist-like projectile vomiting of Daemonicus or the flirtations with religion of both Reyes and Skinner in the Provenance/Providence two parter, and it brings an intriguing extra dimension with something a bit more intellectually stimulating than usual. It is a shame this area was not developed more as it’s an area of paranormal study that the series often flirted with over the course of its seasons but never properly gripped. Other than this area, however, there’s precious little to excite the intellect, which is a pity.
Not having kept up to date with the series’ development in the intervening years, it is difficult for me to assess the strength of the mythology episodes, the backbone on which the show is based. It is interesting to observe that all the crucial episodes revolve around Mulder in one way or another – even in a season in which he does not appear until the very end, his spectre, or perhaps more accurately his soul, remains in the series, still providing the momentum and driving it forward. His quest remains the core around which the series revolves, maybe underlining the fact that the X Files without him really shouldn’t work. Of the developments that do happen, the fate of baby William is the best solution that could have been engineered for that particular plot strand, given that there was (and still is) the faintest glimmer of a second movie, but I did not approve of the fate of certain other characters in the episode Jump the Shark, just because I was always fond of them. The two key episodes resolution-wise, however, are Release and the series finale The Truth. The former deals with the resolution of the murder of Doggett’s son, and regrettably is a complete mess. The episode twists and turns itself into a knot, having one too many ideas thrown in to make it work successfully, and the ending, while perhaps the morally correct one, is also an easy way out. A shame, really, as it was Patrick’s one chance to really show some meat, but the ball was well and truly dropped.
The following paragraph contains spoilers for the series finale
It is hard to know what to make of The Truth. After nine long years encompassing one of the most complex backstories in television history, you would hope for some closure at least. The actual plotline, of Mulder being brought up before a tribunal and everything he has discovered in the series being laid out, is actually quite good, giving a perfect opportunity to bring back as many people from the show’s past as possible, as well as giving Mulder one last chance to storm against the barricades of the government’s cover-ups and conspiracies (although his reticence in testifying is a little frustrating). It gives both him and Scully some good scenes together, and Skinner gets a chance to take centre stage for a last time, illustrating perfectly both his character’s good intentions and the fact he was always slightly out of his depth. However, to question whether it is successful as the series finale is to go beyond the details of the actual episode and question what the episode should have actually done, and whether the intentions of Chris Carter the writer for what he wanted to achieve in the episode were correct or not. If your opinion is that the episode should have been a complete bookend to the preceding nine years, in which all the loose ends were tied up or, at the most, a reset button was pressed, then the episode will not satisfy. The on-going alien invasion is still on track, Mulder and Scully end up not back in the FBI but on the run, and nothing particularly is achieved other than the X Files being closed down permanently. This is not some Buffy-like denouncement in which it would be perfectly satisfactory never to visit these characters again. The argument that the X Files has always revelled in the fact that it doesn’t tie up loose ends can be countered by the fact that a series finale, by definition, probably should do just that, otherwise the story is all build up and no pay off. If, on the other hand, you accept that the finale’s job was to blatantly put forth, for the first time, everything that has been discovered over the nine seasons, but not resolve the issues those discoveries bring up (perhaps hoping for that in a movie) then the finale does its job perfectly, and at the same time shows just how well the at-times seemingly random collection of events do all mesh together. For myself I feel that the truth (no pun intended) lies somewhere in the middle – I enjoyed the episode and appreciated what it set out to do, but did feel that the resolution of Mulder’s quest – that there is, in fact, no resolution – not quite enough of a reward for having watched all two hundred odd episodes. Perhaps the worst criticism that can be placed at its door, however, is that it doesn’t actually feel much like an X Files episode – there is precious little in the manner of paranormal or extraterrestrial activities, there are no great revelations, and the big bangs at the end seem tacked on rather than necessary to the plot. (It is also extremely telling that Doggett and Reyes do not get much in the way of closure, once again clearly showing that at best they were just fill-ins).
End of spoilers
Ultimately, the best way to describe this season is tired. The episodes are, generally speaking, entertaining enough – there aren’t really any that you could outright call stinkers (although Lord of the Flies comes dangerously close) and the leads all do perfectly acceptable jobs. However, there is nothing really there, no spark of life, that makes you sit up and think, that echoes the excitement of such early years fare as Duane Barry or One Breath. The season has a feeling of lethargy about it, of marking time until the end, and while there are a few moments of excitement every so often – the departure of William, Patrick’s performance in Audrey Pauley, etc – it is not enough to raise the season above the also rans. The phrase Trust No One will forever be associated with the X Files, it’s just a shame that, by the end, no one, not even the writers it would seem, cared.
The season comes on seven dual-layered discs coded for Region 2 only. The first five hold four episodes each, as well as the extras appropriate for those episodes, and the last two contain the supplementary documentaries and extras. All episodes come with full subtitling, as do the documentaries. The menus open with a montage of clips from the season’s episodes (be aware before watching these that they do contain a significant spoiler for the finale) before settling into a series of static images relevant to the particular episodes on that disk.
Generally very good for a TV show, and a vast improvement on the picture quality for the earlier seasons. However, at times the flesh tones are rather rich and do not appear entirely naturalistic, and there is also some evidence of edge enhancement in places.
The 2.0 mix is fine and at times rather good, with the theme tune in particular sounding very dramatic. The only flaw detectable was in a couple of scenes in Release where the dialogue between the three agents sounds rather crackly.
There are commentaries on three episodes: Improbable, Jump the Shark and The Truth. As two of those episodes were on a disk unavailable at the time of reviewing, the only commentary I can talk about is the one for The Truth, by the X Files’ most prolific director, Kim Manners which is pretty weak. Manners repeats himself often, making the same observations about how complex the show is and how wonderful the family was, and it does sound like this was recorded in more than one go, which disrupts the flow. Why on earth wasn’t Chris Carter commentating on this episode?
There are deleted scenes for 7 episodes spread over the season which are included both on the disks with the episodes themselves and also on the extras disk, this time with a pretty entertaining, if not particularly illuminating, commentary from Frank Spotnitz and another voice the subtitles say is Chris Carter but is actually Kim Manners. The scenes can actually be branched into the episodes, but disappointingly the branching is not entirely successful, interrupting the natural music cues of the properly edited episode and proving more distracting than anything else. The scenes do not add anything to the episodes in question and, in particular, one for the finale manages to replace the proper last scene with a ridiculous one involving a George Bush impersonator, rather spoiling the effect. All that said, branching the scenes in is an excellent feature to include, it’s just a shame in this case they’re not implemented better.
These are clips dubbed into German, Italian and Japanese, each lasting roughly two minutes, taken from five episodes. Each language’s clip is unique, so that, for example, the German clip from Nothing Important Happened Today 2 is not the same as the Italian one, and so on. Aside from hearing what the main participants sound like in those languages, I really do not see the point of these clips but their continual presence on these disks show that someone out there likes them.
Two vignettes, one looking at Monica Reyes and one at Brad Follmer. These featurettes are taken from the video releases of the first two parters of the season, and include some talking heads commentary about those episodes, as well as the characters. At six minutes, neither is very indepth and it’s telling that in the Follmer one clips are reused, showing he isn’t actually that important a character.
The Truth About Season Nine
Twenty minute look at various episodes of Season Nine with all the key production figures talking. A bit brief really, but with some interesting tidbits. Ends with a montage of clips from the nine years.
A look at the construction of effects from eight episodes, complete with commentary from Paul Rabwin and, for one, Mat Beck. Very interesting and I would have welcomed more of these than the eleven minutes afforded here.
Secrets of the X Files
A forty minute pick n mix of clips from the first two seasons, with a growly voiceover promising that we haven’t seen anything yet. Made just before the season two finale for aficionados to indulge in some favourite moments, it would make no sense to any new-comers to the series. As it goes over (very) old ground it’s slightly dull.
More Secrets of the X Files
A much better, more coherent version of the above, which also covers season three. Narrated by Mitch Pileggi and featuring snippets of Chris Carter, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson talking about the series, it’s much better put together and more interesting as a result. (It’s also a good illustration of how much better the early seasons were compared to the current).
Reflections on the X Files
Enjoyable sixteen minute featurette with some of the guest stars reminiscing about their time on the show (including such luminaries such as Martin Landau, Burt Reynolds and Seth Green), as well as comments from some celebrity fans including, bizarrely, Cher.
Two trailers used to advertise each episode, one ten seconds and one twenty. I always like this inclusion and wish more TV shows had as complete a record as the X Files sets on this score.
Included for every episode, which doesn’t seem that necessary, but they’re there if you want them
The review disks I received did not include two of the promised extras for the second disk, two Inside Looks (for which read featurettes), one for I, Robot and one for Aliens vs Predator.
As the last season of a long-running, in many ways seminal, series season nine of The X Files is a bit of mixed bag. Individually, the episodes are entertaining enough and pass three quarters of an hour pleasantly enough. However, collected together, they are vaguely unsatisfactory, with none of the sharpness or flair of past years. The set is complemented by a decent set of extras, although it is a shame Chris Carter didn’t do a couple more commentaries, and overall those who have bought the previous eight will find little to complain about, just as those who have given the show a miss in previous years will find little of interest here.