The X Files Revisited: 9.16 William
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. Next we reach the controversial episode William, which resolves the mytharc of Scully's child...
After unnecessarily killing off the Lone Gunmen in Jump The Shark the next train on the end of The X Files is William, an episode that seeks to tie up some of the super solider plot threads and the fate of Scully's baby. It's a frustrating episode in many ways, not least because of the final solution in which William is bizarrely given up for adoption as the opening scene shows. The realisation that Scully will cut that bond with her own child leaves a bad taste in your mouth for the entire episode and seeks to undermine almost two years of storylines. Scully had two happy endings; the realisation that she was miraculously pregnant in season seven finale Requiem and then a year later in Essence as season eight closed with that heartwarming shot of Mulder, holding William in his arms as he kissed Scully. That should have been the end of The X Files - or at least the end of the Mulder / Scully era.
Sadly, William is the nadir of all that plot development and the epitome of all that is wrong with season nine. Scully hangs around a shell of her former character, anxious over the fate of her baby without any impact to the day to day running of the X Files. She overshadows Doggett and Reyes' chance to step into the spotlight and there are times that the brilliant Gillian Anderson feels like she is phoning in her performance - the frustration of being held to a contract for a ninth season just to get a pay rise for season eight will likely do that. Worse still, Mulder has inexplicably vanished but the show won't let him go, dangling his return with no hope of fulfilling that promise. Season eight worked because he would be back; season nine fails because he won't. The only reason he is in The Truth was because the show had been cancelled and it was to be the last ever episode.
One of the reasons David Duchovny didn't sign on for a ninth season was because he didn't like the 'ensemble feel' that season eight had become. Ironically, that only happened because he reduced his involvement in The X Files. Furthermore, it gave the show a huge breath of fresh air. But he returned to direct William in a story he conjured up with Chris Carter, a story about how Scully could possibly give up her child. And for what? In the hope that a continued movie franchise would not be dragged down by Mulder and Scully's child? It feels spiteful, unnecessary and frankly mind boggling. Has her entire character not been taken up by her devotion to her child in season nine?
Actually I have to admit, the lead up to that final decision is actually a fairly enjoyable mystery as a horrible scarred man sneaks into the X Files office and attacks Doggett before stealing an X Files...Samantha Mulder's. When cornered, this mystery man claims to have been sent by Mulder with knowledge of William's mysterious powers and the super soldier threat. Like Trust No 1 it makes the mythology feel deeply personal, which was always a questionale move; when Mulder and Scully were stumbling upon global conspiracies, secret experimentations and miltary cover-ups it worked because they were normal people caught up in something extroadinary. But when Mulder. Scully and their child were the heart of the mystery it stretches the credibility of it all.
Still, it gives the audience something to get hooked into. What is this man? Who inflicted those horrible injuries upon him? What's even more intriguing is the revelation that he shares his DNA with Mulder. It asks some interesting questions. It never really feels like it could be Duchovny's character; his brutal attack on Doggett, his refusal to answer the agent's questions and his cold demeanour towards Scully all feel at odds with his character. What's worse, it feels like an overly-nasty fate for Mulder.
The first time I watched William I quite liked that the man was actually Jeffrey Spender, last seen shot by his father - the Cigarette Smoking Man - after betraying him in season six's One Son. On second viewing it's the part of William that still works. While the episode confirms the belief that Mulder and Spender are half brothers (something I thought had been dispelled) it serves as a surprise red herring and Chris Owens does some great work even when his face is largely hidden by the disfigured make up. We learn that he survived the shooting and was experimented upon, his scars are the results of horrific attempts to make him into a super soldier.
Jeffrey Spender was largely wasted as a character during his season five / six recurring tenure, but I like how he is used here to provide the connective tissue between the old mytharc and the new. When all the mystery is revealed it turns out he is simply out to destroy what legacy his father, the Cigarette Smoking Man, has left behind (It's telling that the iconic bad guy would also return in the finale three weeks later). Realising that William is the key to the new alien colonisation threat, he seeks to end the threat once and for all.
As this is where the episode really stumbles. Can the entire alien threat be resolved so simply by injection a metallic substance into William, removing those alien abilities that makes him some kind if alien messiah? Chris Carter would have you think so; frankly, given the build-up over the last two seasons it feels like a hugely simple deux ex machina. But even then, I could go with it, knowing that nine years if The X Files mythology would be coming to an end very shortly.
But why then does Scully give up William? Spender suggests that her son will never stop being hunted, even when he doesn't have those special abilities. So despite his 'cure' she decides that the best thing for him is to send him off to live with a new family, a sort of witness protection for human / alien baby hybrids? It seems laughable and a cruelly unhappy ending for Scully. She fought so hard for William, even before he was born. He was her miracle, a baby born as a result of her love for Mulder after her abduction and experimentations left her barren. I find it hard to believe she would simply give him up, not even when her connection to William might bring him harm. Is she foolish enough to think that the super solider menace, with all their resources would not be able to hunt him down? She gave William up to two people her are innocent and unprepared for the danger they might face.
William has a fairly decent mystery at the heart of it; the question of who this man might be and how he could possibly have Mulder's DNA provide an intriguing narrative. But Chris Carter and David Duchovny's script lazily wipes away the William mytharc, treating him like some dirty secret they want to pretend never happened. Scully's decision to give William up is incredibly frustrating and is one of the worst acts The X Files ever committed. Coming on the back of the decision to kill the Lone Gunmen for no reason at all, it feels as if the show's desperation to wrap up all the loose threads are becoming a rushed, muddled haze of one bad decision after another.
Next up, The X Files would attempt to solve the mystery of Luke Doggett's murder. Would the third time be the charm after two residing failures?