The X Files Revisited: 6.01 The Beginning
The X Files ran for nine seasons and two movies, charting the efforts of Agents Mulder and Scully in their search for the unexplained. And then in 2016, it returned for six new episodes, a mix of mythology and case of the week stories that brought Mulder and Scully back the FBI. From the brilliant Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster to the frantic mythology cliff-hanger in My Struggle II, it was largely viewed as a success and there are hopes that season 10 is just the first of more. In the lead up to the revival, The Digital Fix reviewed the best and most significant episodes of the first 100 episodes in the season's run, from the pilot episode all the way through to the 100th episode Unusual Suspects. Now we're going to continue that run, picking key episodes from the second half of the show - and two movies – and we continue with The Beginning and a new era for The X Files as season six begins...
The opener to season six of The X Files is a curious beast. It marked the transition of the show's production from darker, gloomier Vancouver to the bright sunshine of LA. It's evident with the opening shot - a blazing sunshine over the desert - and indeed everything does look brighter and glossier. There is a marked change in tone this year with more humour in season six than ever before, but it still remains one of my favourite seasons and in my opinion the last great season.
The Beginning is also an episode that not only had to deal with the fallout of the season five finale The End, and the fate of Gibson Praise, Diana Fowley and the return of Jeffrey Spender, but also the huge ramifications of the movie that is placed chronologically between seasons five and six. Anyone who had not seen the movie would likely have been lost as the opening episode is indeed a bizarre hybrid of both stories.
The primary plot concerns a man connected to the shadowy consortium infected with the virus, who flees to his home in sunny Arizona and killed by the alien gestating within him. His colleague meets a brutal end when he walks into the house and finds the victim, a huge chasm from where the creature had burst out of him and is then attacked and slashed to death. From there Mulder and Scully pursue the monster in an effort to the evidence they need to be reinstated on the X Files while the Cigarette Smoking Man leads his own secret pursuit. It doesn't have the epic grandeur of the movie - particularly the climax in Antarctica - but at the same time the monster loose in suburbia is a theme we have seen in The X Files many times and works within the premise of the TV series.
Intertwined we have Jeffrey Spender and the surprisingly recovered Diana Fowley placed on the re-opened X Files in Mulder and Scully's place, with the show's lead agents instead facing yet another tribunal of senior FBI heads for their actions. With Mulder and Scully already facing a prosecutorial panel in the film, it seems like a bit of repetition storywise. And Scully's inability to back up her partner with an irrefutable proof feels like a downer after her triumphant presentation to the panel at the end of the film. I also struggled with Scully back to being too much of a skeptic; she acknowledges that she was infected with an unknown virus but her refusal to belief in could be alien is frustrating, though she does come round a little by the episode's end.
The Fowley of this episode is a little different to what we saw in The End and the signs of why audiences failed to warm to her are evident. The episode plays with the duplicity of her nature - is she betraying Mulder by taking his place on the X Files? Or is she there to protect his interests? There is still some good chemistry between Mimi Rogers and David Duchovny, particularly when she seems to be back on his side and helping him sneak into the power plant to locate the alien. I would have liked to have seen more Fowley and Mulder working together - it is an interesting glimpse of what might have been - and yet despite her significant role she virtually disappears after this episode for nearly half a season. With her 'betrayal' of Mulder in her final report, it is perhaps Scully who sees her for what she is.
Spender meanwhile seems more of a villain, or certainly an antagonist at this point in the show. He now has control of Mulder's beloved X Files and is consorting with his father, the Cigarette Smoking Man. Though he doesn't have much to play here, his presence shows an expanding cast as the show hits its sixth year and the arrival of James Pickens Jr. Dr as FBI Deputy Director Alvin Kersh, Mulder and Scully's new boss, marks the entrance of another key player who appeared on the show sporadically over the next four seasons.
And then there is poor Gibson Praise. After his abduction in The End we find him the subject of experimentation at the hands of the shadowy consortium, his brain exposed and operated on while he is still awake. The Cigarette Smoking Man forces him to help track the alien, giving him the opportunity to escape into Mulder and Scully's arms. But rather frustratingly the boy that represents Mulder's proof is snatched away before they can think and taken by one the consortium's henchmen into the paper plant to find the alien.
The scenes in the power plant are tense and well shot as one poor worker finds himself the victim of the creature and Mulder and Fowley discover the human skin. The henchman's bloody murder while Mulder watches in horror through the glass window is particularly brutal. And the episode's final shot, with the creature casting off his outer shell in the coolant water, revealing itself to be grey alien is a great twist. It is also the episode that marks the first suggestion that all humans are descendent of extraterrestrials through their DNA; it really is 'the beginning' of the show's second phase, particularly as the on-going story arc with the shadowy consortium and their alliance with an alien race would come to an end mid-season.
The Beginning does a good job of following both the season five finale and the movie, even if it sometimes struggles with the tone. It also keeps things fresh; despite the X Files being reopened the episodes doesn't end with Mulder and Scully back investigating the strange and supernatural. Far from it; the two agents lose their key ally in Skinner and Mulder loses his beloved X Files - it is an interesting approach to have someone else working on them. It would have been nice to have had a traditional episode with Spender and Fowley in the lead but at this point, perhaps as it is always been, it is about the relationship between Mulder and Scully. And the first half of season six would find new and interesting ways to keep The X Files fresh, even if there were no actual X Files to investigate...