Reviews of The X-Files (1993) and related work
- Interquel: The X Files (1998)
The X-Files (1993)
William Gibson (writer).
Review applies to the original run, excluding the continuation in 2016.
The FBI has a poorly regarded “unit” for cases deemed unsolvable by conventional means, marked with an X. Nowadays they’re handled by a psychological profiler with a manic streak and a large porn stash. He is joined in the first episode by a skeptical medical doctor. These two special agents travel the States, probing anything with a “supernatural bouquet”, usually finding considerable anomalies.
The profiler is especially interested in alien abductions. Known in some circles as a crusader, he may be a threat to a layered government conspiracy grappling with a horrifying threat from beyond. This plotline is largely resolved for all interesting purposes in early 1999, but the series slowly meanders into post-9/11 territory in three and a half final seasons, two of those with new main characters: a low-level psychic and an ex-Marine, alongside the doctor.
About 200 45-minute episodes of tabloid conspiracy and other horror. It is implied that the series is roughly exhaustive, in that few if any cases occur without being treated in the series, but the amount of supernatural premisses still poses a problem. A DoD conspiracy helps explain why the public is largely disinterested, but the show’s selling point is style, not plausible worldbuilding. The two lead actors worked well as smartly dressed icons of post-nuclear 1990s apocalypticism. In 2016, Daniel Holland convincingly face-swapped an image of the pair as a synth-pop band, illustrating their charm.
It was commercially savvy to pick a mixture of serial and episodic forms. It is the same mixture as Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987) and Mobile Police Patlabor (1988), alternating between rare “mytharc” and dominant “monster of the week” episodes. Some of the latter are very good. Rewatching them ten years after seeing their first Swedish airings during my time in junior high, I can tell they had an impact. I recognize moments from The X-Files that have influenced my own creative efforts and tastes. Unfortunately, the series still manages to shoot itself in the foot over that problem of worldbuilding.
As Adam Scott Glancy wrote, “If you loved the first three or four seasons and despised the way they loaded the ingots of suck onto that every season until the Bataan Death March of Suck was finally brought to an end, why in the world would you go back for another look?” Well, I did, and despite the mytharc ambition there is too little centralized planning. Self-parody, retcons (what happened to Samantha Mulder?), episodes written and directed by the lead actors, spin-offs and crossovers, silly urban legends, literal fairy tales, fucking “Chinga”: simply all kinds of bullshit with an increasing tendency for the universe to hinge on the leads, as in all bad American drama.
Ultimately, the writers don’t have an intelligent take on UFO mythology. In place of a sfnal backbone, there is only the fabulism of “Schisms” (1992). The two episodes co-written by William Gibson do nothing to improve the series as a whole. With cohesive thinking and euthanasia it could have been glorious, but it is at least special. For anyone interested in this show and tabletop RPGs, the slightly older Delta Green was a masterpiece of worldbuilding in its early years, because Glancy made it so, outdoing what he’d loved.
‣ The X Files (1998)
Aliens and stuff.
Bridge between seasons 5 and 6 of the TV series. Meh.