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 sceptical 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. The good basic idea (the FBI, the supernatural, a DoD conspiracy and no wide acceptance = ample dramaturgical resources) gets a lot of lucky help from the two lead actors. They 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 Mobile Police Patlabor (1988), skillfully 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.
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, 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. 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 is a masterpiece of worldbuilding, 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.