The X Files Revisited: 9.19 The Truth
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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. We reach the original finale next, as The Truth brings an end to nine years of The X Files...
With the cancellation of The X Files in 2002, Chris Carter had the chance to wrap everything up; 200 episodes across nine seasons and a movie, alien mythology, monsters, conspiracies and the search for the truth, that was a lot of material to bring to a satisfying end. While The X Files was not the cultural zeitgeist it had become in the mid-nineties, it was still a show fans loved, even if they hadn't stuck with it until the end.
The opening five minutes suggest we may be getting something truly epic to wrap up The X Files. A whole season's worth of budget feels like it has been spent on the secret mountain facility as Mulder steps off a helicopter in his familiar suit and begins his pursuit of the truth. In this opening sequence, David Duchovny brings an energy I didn't know was missing, as he spies on secret military personnel and hacks his way into a secure computer. As the words 'end game' and 'date for mobilization' appear on the screen, the hopes are high that we're seeing the dramatic conclusion of the colonisation arc. At this point it has been twisted from its previous quasi-conclusion in season six's One Son to the current super solider conspiracy. The latter in fact feels relatively simple in the grand scheme of things, particularly as their weakness to magnetite was exposed in earlier season nine episode Trust No 1. The arrival of Adam Baldwin's Knowle Rohrer sets the stage for a dramatic pursuit an act that sees Mulder throw the super soldier over a balcony to his 'death'.
So far so good. Mulder is back in the game, secrets have been learned and the stage is set to vanquish the super soldiers and stop alien colonisation for good. Except The Truth does something totally unexpected. It puts Mulder on trial for the majority of the feature length final episode and worse still, it becomes a clip show of The X Files's greatest hits. In good old season nine fashion, the potential for something great is wasted. What could have been the show's final redemption becomes one of its biggest failures.
And yes, you read that right; the majority of the 90-minute finale is squandered by guest stars from years gone by mixed with new faces, all telling the audience what they already know (or at best, what they might have forgotten). Because apparently, when you're framed for murder of a high ranking military official (even though that official is a super solider and can't be killed) you a) don't get a real lawyer, you get your boss to defend you even though he has zero percent experience and b) you put 'the truth' on trial.
It's a weird concept, The X Files relieving its greatest hits rather than going out on one. But then the tone is off from the moment we pick after the credit sequence (which for the first and only time in the show's history has five main stars). Mulder is tortured for what he knows and when Scully and Skinner first reunite with him, he is oddly subdued. Like a weary Gillian Anderson who didn't want or need to be on the show for the last season, Duchovny doesn't quite carry his usual Mulder charm. In fact it takes a second scene for his usual quips to return (I loved him pulling in Skinner towards him with "come here you big, bald beautiful man!" after sharing a passionate kiss with Scully. But even then his Hannibal Lecter joke feels forced.
And as for Doggett and Reyes? Well you can forget that year's (or in Doggett's case two year's) worth of development. As soon as David Duchovny is back they are relegated to bit parts in their own show. Remove them from the episode and you would lose virtually nothing. The sad truth the same could be said for Scully, who continues her thankless season nine role of stressing about the one she loves (this time it's Mulder rather than her son).
Their final scene is great and I'll come to that, but there is a brief moment before the trial which stands out too as Scully visits Mulder in his cell. It's a stripped back scene, just Mulder and Scully sat in darkness and it's all about their chemistry. It's the culmination of nine years of work as she asks if he can forgive her for giving up William. This is an example of why the revival mostly worked - the chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson - and it is that reconnection between these two heroes that save The Truth from becoming a complete disaster.
Now I love a good courtroom drama (I'm a bit partial to a bit of The Good Wife), but the trial presented in the finale is not one of those, for many, many reasons. First, Walter Skinner, bless him, makes an utterly terrible lawyer. I've watched enough legal dramas to know you don't lead the witness; rather than asking a question, he goes with the approach of 'this is what happened and I want you to confirm that I am right'. Also, Mulder and Skinner put the truth on trial. Skinner is supposed to be trying to defend Mulder from a murder charge, but instead he attempts to prove nine years of of alien conspiracies; yes it ties back to the idea that the man Mulder supposed to have killed cannot be killed because he is an alien super soldier, but it is a long and convoluted path to get there.
Arguably the most interesting aspect of the trial is that one of Alvin Kersh's co-judges is JIM ROBINSON FROM NEIGHBOURS. Yes, I know he's popped up before, but post-Neighbours Jim Robinson (aka Alan Dale) is always evil in everything single show he appears in. (And yes, he's been in a lot of shows). Is it any surprise when Gibson Praise later calls him out for being a super soldier? ABSOLUTELY NOT!
Anyway, on to Skinner's first witness as I attempt to break down the trial of the century...
WITNESS 1: Dana Scully
Testimony: Brought in to spy on Mulder's work, came to believe in aliens and government conspiracy to hide their existence. Alien virus came to Earth on meteor millions of years ago, which can affect a person's DNA, turning them into an alien. Virus discovered during Roswell crash in 1947 and she was abducted by the military working with the government conspirators to develop a breed of human-alien hybrids that the aliens would use as a slave race.
Clip show: Alien embryo and Deep Throat's murder in The Erlenmeyer Flask, Deep Throat and Cigarette Smoking Man studying an alien from a crash site in E.B.E, the caveman infected in the movie Fight The Future, the black oil posessing Kryceck in Apocrypha and the oil rig workers in Vienen and Scully's abduction on the 'alien ship' in Ascension.
Proof: Scully "There are the mars rocks...". That's not much of a defence Scully...
Prosecution's response: "Agent Scully, isn't it true that you and Mulder were lovers, and you got pregnant and had his love child?" Skinner "Objection!" Prosecution wins...
WITNESS 2: Jeffrey Spender
Testimony: Father was part of government conspiracy, who gave up family members to alien collaborators to show allegiance. Grew up with Mulder's abducted sister Samantha and is Mulder's half brother after an affair Mulder's mother had with the Cigarette Smoking Man who shot Spender after he stood up to him and was then horribly experimented on. His father also had William Mulder killed by Alex Krycek.
Clip show: Samantha's abduction in Little Green Men, her 'death in Closure, the conspirator's families being taken by aliens and Spender being shot One Son, his experimentation shown in William, Bill Mulder's murder in Anasazi, Cigarette Smoking Man being killed in Requiem.
Proof / Prosecution's response: Prosecutor "Your father must be brought to justice", Spender "I believe my father is dead". Convenient, that?
WITNESS 3: Marita Covarrubias
Testimony: Paid by the syndicate for her work travelling across the world for the UN to help find a vaccine to the alien virus before the Russians. Turned against them to help Mulder but was betrayed and became an alien virus test subject. Also throws in shapeshifting alien bounty hunters and faceless alien rebels who are fighting back against planned colonisation.
Clip show: Working for the UN, the alien rebels burning abductees and her own experimentation in Patient X and The Red And The Black, Russian experimentation with the black oil in Terma and Tunguska, Brian Thompson's infamous bounty hunter in numerous episodes, including Colony and the death of the syndicate in One Son.
Proof: Skinner "Fox Mulder's on trial for murder here. The man he's accused of killing is one of these new conspirators. An alien replacement for a human being. What they're calling a super soldier. You can prove this, can't you?". Marita remains silent and Mulder blows his defence by telling Skinner to protect her (because ghost Krycek told him - I'll get onto the ghosts shortly...)
Prosecution's response: No need to. Mulder has done his job for him...
WITNESS 4: Gibson Praise - surprise witness chauffeured in by Doggett (because that's all he's good for now...)
Testimony: Mulder's his friend (slightly creepy), he can read minds (would be creepy if this wasn't The X Files and Jim Robinson's a super soldier!
Clip show: Gibson's introduction in The End and his experimentation in The Beginning.
Proof: He can read minds! But no, he doesn't bother do that, just call out one of the judges as a villain...oh well, what's the point anyway?
Prosecution's response: He doesn't have one. But it's not a real trial anyway? I mean, how do you defend 'the truth'? Wait...isn't he the prosecutor? Should he be prosecuting the truth? How do you prosecute the truth?
WITNESS 5: John Doggett - Hooray! He's got something to do.
Testimony: Bringing the audience up to date on the current super soldier threat for those who tuned out after David Duchovny left and are only here because it is the finale.
Clip Show: Unstoppable Billy Miles and his resurrection in Essence / Existence, Shannon McMahon and Knowle Rohrer in Nothing Important Happened Today and the death of ther super soldier by magnetite in Trust No 1.
Proof: Magnetite is the only way to kill a super soldier. Except of course he wasn't there when Scully witnessed this...
Prosecution's response: Doggett is a skeptic. "So an alien conspiracy which Mulder has built his defence on must be entirely unbelievable to you, too?" Doggett can't answer that...
WITNESS 6: Monica Reyes
Testimony: Let's say she's more of a character witness. She studied satanic ritual killings before joining the X Files and never proved any of them, so she won't rashly believe in aliens without proof. Oh and she gives a very passionate speech about everything Mulder has given up. "What is the point of all of this? To destroy a man who seeks the truth or to destroy the truth so no man can seek it? Either way, you lose." It's probably the best moment in the trial and a great moment for Reyes.
Clip Show:: More season eight and nine mythology in the same vein as Doggett; Essence / Existence, Nothing Important Happened Today and Trust No 1...
Proof:: We're not even bothering now...
Prosecution's response: The bizarrely named Agent Kallenbrunner is still there?
The other bizarre thing about the episode is the use of ghosts from Mulder's past to literally drive the plot forward. Krycek appears to Mulder when he tries to make his escape in the opening sequence and then literally intervenes to convince Mulder to save Marita. Mr X also returns, not just a memory of Mulder's dead informant, but with the seeming ability to give Mulder the address where Skinner can find Marita as a witness. Even the Lone Gunmen make an appearance towards the end, getting that final scene with Mulder that was denied them in Jump The Shark. Ghosts have been part of the show many times before but The Truth can't decide whether they are just visions in Mulder's head or something more tangible and unexplained.
Any resemblance of hope is quickly squashed after Doggett and Scully's attempts to study the body of Rohrer prove it is a fake and Mulder is still sentenced to death. Fortunately things pick up as Skinner, Doggett and Reyes break Mulder out of prison (did the military not consider this a possibility?) and Kersh proves his worth at the eleventh hour by helping them escape. The sudden arrival of Rohrer to kill Mulder adds some well needed momentum.
But with the last act a chance to wrap things up, Chris Carter decides instead to leave the story open for the possibilities of further movies, something that would never pan out as he had planned as The X Files: I Want To Believe would prove a long six years later. Mulder and Scully - after saying their goodbyes to Skinner, Doggett and Reyes head south to 'see a man about the truth'. But there is no resolution back in Washington DC. Gibson is left in the care of Doggett and Reyes but his involvement is alien threat is never wrapped up. The X Files office is packed up, closing them seemingly for good but we never get to find out what happened to the two 'replacement agents', despite their final sojourn to New Mexico with Mulder and Scully. Skinner meanwhile is called into evil Jim Robinson's office and never seen again. It's a long six years before he pops up again - and thankfully still alive and working in the FBI - but the way The Truth ends, you don't know if he's dead or alive.
The scenes in New Mexico, while blowing most of the season's budget, never feel as satisfying as they should be. It all hinges on that final confrontation in the Anasazi caves, where Mulder and Scully meet the man who gave him the key card to access the secret mountain facility. It's wonderful to have William B Davis back as the Cigarette Smoking Man, now trying the Native American look as he hides in the one place the aliens fear, mountains filled with magnetite. It's all a little hokey, after all this is the second time he has been resurrected, but it feels right to have The X Files' most iconic villain back for what was supposed to be the very end of the series.
But it doesn't actually amount to much. The most interesting thing is that Mulder has discovered the truth at the facility and like his 'father' is hiding that truth from everyone, including Scully. After so long crusading for answers, Mulder choosing to hide that the alien invasion will take place in December 2012 is a nice piece of tragic irony. But there's nothing more. No big conclusion. The Truth's big reveal is a date that never actually happened; the revival will try and use that with limited effect, but never in a satisfying way.
And that it all comes to an end. Doggett and Reyes arrive to warn Mulder and Scully that the military know they are there as Knowle Rohrer appears and is promptly destroyed by the magnetite in the mountains. Then they drive off in one direction, Mulder and Scully in another as military helicopters blow the Anasazi holdings to kingdom come. Knowing of his return in the revival, I watched to see if there was any way the Cigarette Smoking Man could have survived that explosion; his face melting off in the fire suggests he didn't.
And then we come to the final scene. Doggett's fate will forever be a mystery (unless Robert Patrick returns in a as of yet unconfirmed season 11) and Reyes's path will go down a mind boggling route when she returns in My Struggle II. But the final doesn't care about them; it's all about Mulder and Scully, and this is where The X Files ends, with them back in a motel room in Roswell, not dissimilar to the one where he told Scully about his sister's abduction way back in the pilot episode. It's a lovely scene between Mulder and Scully as they talk of hope even with the staggering knowledge they have uncovered and the fate of their own lives at risk. ""Maybe there's hope." Mulder says as he embraces Scully in that final shot and Mark Snow's iconic score plays out for what might be the last time.
The Truth is an incredibly frustrating finale that caps off a frustrating season nine. It cruelly abandons Doggett and Reyes, turning them into bit players in their own show and seems over eager to centre everything around Mulder to detriment of every character, including Scully. Yes, it began with his quest, and that might have been fine if there was a conclusion, but Chris Carter chose to give none, perhaps sacrificing a satisfying end for fear of upsetting plans for further movies. In parts, the episode is truly terrible, the clip show trial a parody of what made The X Files great. The fact that it seems more concerned with the past than wrapping up the present is a bizarre move, when frankly, ninety minutes was enough. It wasn't as if the super solider threat was as complex as the machinations of the Cigarette Smoking Man and his long-dead cohorts.
The opening and closing scenes might have an element of excitement but it is all flash and no substance, not with the bloated mess in between. The X Files has been one of the most creative, influencing shows of modern television, with its ability to mix genres and stories week after week but it's ending was a mess. It certainly ranks on any list of terrible finales and justifiably so. Fortunately - somewhat surprisingly - there would be more The X Files, but unfortunately for us fans, Chris Carter would continue to fail in his ability to wrap things up...
We won't be stopping there. Our The X Files Revisited has a few more steps to go as we look back at the second movie and revisit the 2016 'event series' one more time...