The X Files Revisited: 9.15 Jump The Shark
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The X Files ran for nine seasons between 1993 and 2002, spanned two movies and then came back from the dead in 2016 for a revival series of 6 episodes. In many ways, the show is as much a cultural phenomenon as it ever was and The Digital Fix has been looking back at key episodes across the show’s run starting with the pilot episode, reviewing numerous classic stories and the first movie The X Files: Fight The Future. Now we're in the final stretch of our revisited as we cover the last season of the original run, the second movie and look back at 'season 10' a year on. This time we take a look at the Lone Gunmen's final episode as their journey comes to a tragic end...
After Mulder and Scully, there are a few second-tier characters that are synonymous with The X Files; Skinner, Krycek, Doggett (and to a lesser extent Reyes), the Cigarette Smoking Man and the Lone Gunmen. These three crusaders - Byers, Frohike and Langley - were loveable, heroic allies to Mulder and Scully, from their very first appearance in season one's E.B.E through to their own spin-off series The Lone Gunmen, that was sadly cancelled after just thirteen episodes. Like Millennium in season seven, which wrapped the story of Frank Black from the series Millennium, Jump The Shark served to wrap up the events from their cancelled show and also - in the larger scope of The X Files' cancellation - the story of the Lone Gunmen too.
Unfortunately, Jump The Shark does truly 'jump the shark' so to speak, delivering an ending no fan really wanted. Yes, killing off the Lone Gunmen is one way to finish their story but it wasn't necessary. They were heroes long before we first met them in E.B.E and they could have continued their crusade to uncover the truth long after the show had ended. What's worse is how their death is handled. It tries to be dramatic and heroic, but like much of the episode, it ends up lacklustre and frustrating.
The best bit of the Lone Gunmen tribute is the opening sequence, narrated by the wise-cracking man in black Morris Fletcher (Michael McKean), who first appeared in the hilarious season six comedy two-parter Dreamland before meeting the Lone Gunmen in Las Vegas later that season in Three Of A Kind. The images give the audience all the very best bits of this dynamic trio, from their work with Mulder and Scully to clips from their own series. It shows just how much of a journey they have had and ends on a bittersweet moment as Fletcher says "All great stories come to an end..."
The opening sequence also tries to get the audience up to scratch on what happened in the spin-off show, with the debut of protege Jimmy Bond (Stephen Snedden) and kick ass Yves Adele Harlow (Zuleikha Robinson). Now I confess, I have never watched The Lone Gunmen, though I plan to rectify that at some point. The inclusion of Jimmy and Yves does make the episode feel a little disjointed (Millennium was far smoother with the reuniting of Frank Black and his daughter at the end) and the episode does suffer a little.
It was wrong not to try and get David Duchovny back to do a voiceover from Mulder (he would return to direct the subsequent episode William and his absence in the story, particularly the funeral, is keenly felt. Standing off in the distance would have sufficed. But what is more surprising is that Gillian Anderson doesn't turn up until that final scene either, delivering a speech about how much they meant to her. Not enough it seems to be engaged in their final mission. It's another example of Scully being shoe-horned into the show at the last minute. Even current FBI heroes Doggett and Reyes are virtual cameos in the story, while Skinner is relegated to the funeral scene too.
Jump The Shark begins with Morris Fletcher on a yacht with hot young blond in the Bermuda Triangle. If Dreamland gave him a little humanity, that's all gone now; I can only imagine what his poor downtrodden wife and kids are up to - unless they're celebrating his absence! Fired from his position as a 'man in black', he's trying to find a new powerbase in this world and he calls in the latest X Files recruits Doggett and Scully with claims that he knows who one of the deadly supersoldiers are.
Of course it's all a ploy to gain access to some secret biogenic weapon, the ruse that the Lone Gunmen's associate Yves is the super solider is both a neat tie in to the current mytharc and a bit ridiculous. After handing off Fletcher to the Lone Gunmen, Doggett and Reyes virtually vanish from the episode too. I normally don't have a problem with this - like Skinner, the Lone Gunmen have carried their own episodes within The X Files - but this is their weakest so far, perhaps because they are so mournful. While I enjoyed Morris Fletcher before, here he is a complete jerk, gloating after his one appearance in The Lone Gunmen series where he kidnapped Yves. Byers, Frohike and Langley have spent the last year, and all their finances, trying to find her and now their den is a shell of its former self. Jimmy too has spent the last year tracking Yves, finally discovering her presence in a US university after she kills a professor.
Here's where it gets a little muddled. Yves is quickly revealed not to be a super solider, instead murdering those connected with a secret bioweapon her father engineered. At least that's what I pieced together. At times I struggled to keep track of where the episode was going, not having seen the spin-off series. (Again, Millennium worked a lot better to weave Frank Black into The X Files). The hunt for Yves becomes the hunt to stop a scientist who used shark DNA to create the weapon, something that is about to be unleashed at a hotel conference. Eventually the Lone Gunmen find the evil professor and trap him before he can unleash the weapon into the general populace. Their supposedly gruesome deaths are thankfully never shown, Jimmy and Yves watching through the glass as the weapon in activated, before the episode cuts to the funeral at Arlington.
The trouble with the death is that he situation that leads to it feels a little halfhearted. I felt it was something the Lone Gunmen, Mulder, Scully, Doggett and Reyes would have all managed to have escaped before, but being the end of The X Files, the episode chooses to let them die instead. Yes, it is heroic, sacrificing their lives to save hundreds, but it lacks punch.
Even the funeral is frustrating. Yes they are heroes, but I can't imagine for a second Skinner was able to convince the authorities to let them be buried at Arlington. The tacked on appearance by Scully and the absence of Mulder feels wrong. And Morris Fletcher being there when he was basically a dick who destroyed the Lone Gunmen is highly questionable. If anything, it is more his episode than theirs and it turns a fun character into an irritating one far too quickly.
The title of the episode Jump The Shark almost seems defeated to the episode's fate. Yes, it's a clever play on the scientist's use of shark DNA to to create the biogenic weapon, but it does feel as if The X Files has gone too far. Kill the Lone Gunmen? Check? Resolve William's story? Solve the murder of Doggett's son? Yes, the next two episodes continue the list of things The X Files has to do before it ends. And in that sense, Jump The Shark leaves a bad taste in your mouth. If there's one story I would have been happy to have left unresolved (and therefore leaving scope for a reunion in the revival) it was the Lone Gunmen's. And if Chris Carter really wanted to wrap it all up, he could have given them a far better ending than this.