How The X-Files Lost It’s Touch

Alternative title: I rant about why the new season was just so bad…

In January 2016, something occurred that many people believed impossible. The X-Files returned to our television screens after fourteen years off the air. It doesn’t sound like a miracle but truthfully, after the disaster that was I Want to Believe in 2008, I think many fans thought that the lid on The X-Files coffin was well and truly nailed shut.

The series ran for nine seasons originally, with series eight and nine lacking one half of the dynamic duo that is Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson). For “personal” reasons (though cited mostly as creative differences between David Duchovny and creator Chris Carter) Mulder did not return for season nine, and spent very little time onscreen in season eight. Then came arguably the worst film of all time (not just XF, legitimately the worst film ever made) in the form of I Want To Believe. It seemed that all of the humour, repertoire and chemistry that Mulder and Scully once possessed had disappeared down the sinkhole in Carter’s head. The narrative was dull, the acting was dry and the entire film bore no resemblance to anything remotely like The X Files of the mid 90s. So when Fox announced it was bringing back the famous special agents for one last hurrah in 2016, you can see why I was pretty skeptical.

When The X Files first came out, it pushed boundaries for television. Never before had a primetime series been rooted so heavily in science-fiction origins, nor relied on an audience having an interest in the niche subject of the paranormal. The X Files certainly had a cult appeal, yet it was received warmly and spent most of the 90s receiving high ratings for each episode. Arguably the strongest aspect of the show is the insatiable chemistry between Gillian Anderson’s Scully and David Duchovny’s Mulder. Though sometimes mistaken for a simple ‘will-they-won’t-they’, Mulder and Scully’s relationship transcended the boundaries of respectful platonic workmates as they discovered deep dark conspiracies concerning the very world we live in.

The X Files seemed headstrong in pushing conventions in this way. Mulder was a believer, illogical and emotional. He was plighted by the disappearance of his sister and followed his heart or gut (depending on the episode) when investigating cases. He has traditionally feminine traits, and is unafraid of voicing his fears or feelings about his sister’s disappearance. He is nicknamed ‘spooky’ at the FBI Academy, and is emasculated by his open desire to right the wrongs done to his family during his childhood. Scully, on the other hand, exhibits traditionally masculine traits. She is a scientist who believes in rational thinking, logic and cold hard scientific proof. Scully is not someone to be crossed, and wants to see evidence before she will believe anything. She is intelligent and determined. Scully is a complex character though. Despite her masculine characteristics, she is still stuck in the inescapable hole of a woman in a male dominated industry. When out investigating cases, Scully constantly reminds Mulder/another Agent/the audience that she is a medical doctor. Whilst this is said so regularly that it becomes akin to a joke, the reason why Scully consistently repeats her status is interesting to investigate. It’s obvious (due to the male dominated environment she is in and the semi-regular sexism she receives as a character), that Scully often feels that she her opinion is not respected because she is a woman. She continually reasserts herself as a professional in her field to try and combat the way in which manyof the characters see her – which is usually as Mulder’s inferior or wife. Whilst The X-Files showcases this dilemma well, the show itself falls into the same trap. At the end of almost every single one of it’s 208 episodes, Scully’s predictably scientific explanation is proved false and Mulder’s paranormal explanation is proved correct. There is often a lack of substantial evidence or some sort of sabotage attempt which means neither agent are able to substantiate Mulder’s theory completely, but the audience is completely aware about which one of the agents were correct. Its Mulder, it’s always Mulder.

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This dichotomy makes for incredibly enjoyable viewing, whilst also allowing for a lengthy critique of the show. It also routinely passed comment on the idea of conspiracy theorists, and eventually showed the reality of those conspiracies. The Syndicate, a group of ageing white men who control humanities every move and eventual fate. Sound familiar? It should because this revelation is eerily close to current world leaders. Of course The X Files has never outrightly said that any ruling leader has ever hidden from us the existence of aliens. Instead, it implores us to question why it is that such decisions should be made by so few, and be hidden from the very people that the decisions will affect.

Simply, The X Files was always concerned with the Zeitgeist; the here and now. Though the shots of ropey internet searches of the early 90s look old and dilapidated now, they were cutting edge when The X Files was filmed. The ideas of distrust, paranoia and injustice are still as prevalent, even if the brick phone isn’t anymore. It is these concepts that keep The X Files timeless, not the props.

Which is why it makes it so much worse that the new series has turned out to be such a disappointment. The general consensus of fans worldwide is that they have been thoroughly let down by pretty much every episode of the new series. Six episodes long, with a very vague mythology arc throughout, the new series doesn’t even resemble The X-Files let alone have any of the charm or intelligence of any of the previous seasons. The revival has a multitude of problems ranging from the fragmented relationship between the two lead characters, to transphobic dialogue, to blatant islamophobia. Where to begin?

Undoubtedly the worst episode of the season was a toss up between episode five (‘Babylon’) and the finale (‘My Struggle II’). For completely different reasons both episode can be described politely as a ‘mess’ or not so politely as a shit-storm of bad ideology and terrible dialogue. Again, for totally different reasons. ‘Babylon’s’ basic narrative is a paranormal investigation into communicating with the dead. The cold open shows us a young Muslim man praying and then meeting with three other Muslim men shortly before entering a shopping complex and all of four them detonating explosives. We later find out that this man is a suicide bomber, and has survived the detonation owing to the fact that he did not actually detonate his belt. Mulder decides that the only way to discover the location of the terrorist group this man was working for is to take a hallucinogenic drug which will allow Mulder some kind of access into the void between life and death; a place Mulder thinks the man is residing. Yeah, science.

Apparently due to the effects of the drug he has taken, Mulder begins a fantastical journey (or trip, as it’s commonly known) whereby he does some line dancing, meets the lone gunman again and fantasies about Agent Einstein in a skimpy outfit. Not only was this whole charade pretty embarrassing (I physically cringed whilst watching it), but it also came right in the middle of an episode where the main plot seemed to be trying to discuss global terrorism. ‘Babylon’ didn’t have time to lead a rich discussion about post-9/11 islamophobia, or the politics of terror or even about the systems in place that drive these young men to commit such acts. It did have time, however, to devote several minutes of screen-time to Mulder dad-dancing in a bar. What started as an episode which exploited some incredibly overused and offensive stereotypes of Muslims turned into an extravagant ‘comedy’ sketch. Essentially it was Chris Carter saying “wouldn’t it be so funny to see Mulder on drugs!” and no-one in the writers room saying no. The worst aspect of this is that, although we later discover that the young bomber didn’t actually detonate his vest, all Muslims are vilified in the episode and this is not rectified. In fact, it is Mulder (the white man) who discovers the hide-out of the rest of the big-bad-terrorists, reiterating that white people need to save ourselves from these horrible people like some sort of Donald Trump campaign speech. The X Files, whilst not always progressive, has never softened to the fantasies of right-wing America and it is pretty uncomfortable that it is doing so now.

Surprisingly, the only thing I didn’t find grating, irritating or ridiculous about this season was the introduction of pseudo-Mulder-&-Scully; Agents Einstein and Miller. In fact, maybe they should have their own new show. The next generation of basement agents. That way, I can go back to watching my boxset of season 1-7 (because let’s face it, 8 & 9 are terrible too) and forget that this ever happened.

 

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