The X-Files: The Truth Was In There
“The biggest problem with expectations when evaluating any film is that the viewer’s expectations going into the film are not the film’s responsibility. “ –Jason Coffman, “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: The Witch and Horror Fandom’s Gatekeepers,” Medium.com
I can hear some of you cheering in agreement and raising your fist as you read that previous quote. Now, let’s think about the recent six-episode run of The X-Files. I can hear a lot of you grumbling and putting those fists down, possibly even clenching them in anger.
It’s true, though. High expectations do not a shitty TV show make, even if that TV show is one that we all loved back in the day.
People of the Internet, what’s to be done with all of you? Why the anger over this TV show? Is it because Mulder and Scully are older now? Is it because they’re less earnest and naïve, and more seasoned or in Mulder’s case, downright grumpy? Is it because the same creative team behind those episodes we loved in the 1990s and beyond was still behind this Season 10 miniseries event (Chris Carter wrote some of the most popular episodes, y'all)? Remember The X-Files shut down for good in 2008 in cinematic form, with the TV series ending in 2002.
Could it maybe be that you’ve outgrown The X-Files?
I’ll admit it; I loved The X-Files when it was still in its initial run in the ‘90s. I wasn’t much younger than Mulder and Scully, so they were like the cool adults I wanted to be. I’ll also admit that the prospect of a Mulder-less version of The X-Files did not endear me to the show, so like a lot of people, I stopped watching in the late ‘90s. Like everyone else, though, I was ecstatic at the promise of six more episodes.
The anger and frustration about Season 10 started with the very first episode, then sharply divided audiences during episode 3, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” but seemed to reach its apex with the “Babylon” episode, during which cartoonish representations of right-wing xenophobes and clichéd portrayals of good Muslims evoked cries of the show being “irresponsible.” Yet, the dizzyingly epic finale, “My Struggle II,” infuriated people even further, with claims of plot holes and accusations that our beloved Dana Scully was an anti-vaxxer.
This last bit kills me. The smallpox vaccine is used by The Syndicate to make people susceptible to disease, but Scully is suddenly the new Jenny McCarthy because “people frequently think things they learn in entertainment are true”? The mind boggles.
Let’s back up a bit to the heady days of Seasons 1 through 9, or at least Seasons 1 through 6.
Like a lot of people, I tried to do a rewatch of all nine seasons before the premiere of this tenth one last month but I couldn’t make it work. I’m just at the end of Season Three now and you know what I’ve noticed? The mythology that everyone is complaining about as being over the top; the clumsy attempts at being socially conscious; the othering of people of color, LGBTQ folks, and ethnic groups… it was always part of the show.
Another thing I have noticed: the “new” mythology isn’t new at all. It has always been there! The smallpox vaccine plot was first brought up in Season 3 and even some of the dialogue used is similar. Season 10 had the following: alien mythology, government conspiracy, sexual tension, humorous banter, emotionally resonant drama, and goofy narratives… all of which were pretty much par for the course throughout the series’ run. So what’s changed?
“Understanding that Fox Mulder—the fiendishly handsome, winningly skeptical, extraordinarily loyal partner to the single greatest female television role model of the 1990s—is basically a disheveled, sweaty wackadoo who plausibly spends large parts of his day uploading YouTube videos regarding snake people and the melting point of steel was a trifle disappointing. But way worse was realizing that he had been these things all along.” –Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic.com
We have changed. Do I believe in the same crazy crap that Alex Jones and his ilk spew? Hell no. (And yes, when Tad O’Malley brought up chemtrails in the season finale, I almost did a spit take.) But it doesn’t matter what we believe; it’s what the characters on The X-Files believe. And clearly they believe in that sort of thing.
What would the preferred alternate outcome have been? A totally new mythology? No doubt there would have been complaints that Carter wasn’t finishing what he started. Transforming Mulder into a more reasoned person who was concerned about non-alien-related conspiracies like the disenfranchisement of black voters, the defunding of Planned Parenthood, or Citizens United? As compelling as that sounds, that’s not The X-Files and it never was.
So we are left hanging and for some of you out there, full of impotent fury, at that cliffhanger of a cliffhanger ending . Are you wondering if what you thought you wanted to believe was ever what you really wanted to believe after all? Forget it, Internet. It’s The X-Files.