Articles and interviews

Reflections: The X-Files in view a decade later

By Ayala Shvarman

Recently I discovered this article from a web forum that is regularly visited. Ayala Shvarman's writing offers some interesting insights as well as historical perspective regarding this phenomenon known as The X-Files. - Matt Allair

It was a journey, if one can call it that; a very exciting one. I was taken ten years back to the 90's, when the show was aired in a conspiracy-laden atmosphere; a time when the internet took more and more of our lives, but still only few people knew how to use it; a time before 9/11 and the awareness of the US's weaknesses; this was before the topic of extra-terrestrial visitors sank into the background, to be replaced with more immediate real-world problems. This also caused me to fall in love once more with the characters of Fox and Dana, especially the latter, who always was and still is very special to me, the red-headed doctor without an office, joined to Mulder's side and quickly taking part in mission--a mission which becomes, perhaps against her will--her own.

Ah, to see once more the episodes of the first season: The Pilot, Deep Throat, Tooms, Ice, Squeeze, and more and more. And the second season with the abduction episodes and the oh-so-brilliant episode One Breath. And of course the third season which perfected the Mulder-Scully issue, the weekly monster, the acting and the suspense. And after that, the fourth season, in which each episode looks like more money was spent on it than the entire first season altogether. I am not going to summarize the plot of the first four seasons; others have done so, and done so well. After watching about 96 episodes, and carefully watching the DVD extras for each season, with Carter, Gillian, Goodman, Spotnitz and the others, and after trying to read as much as possible on the internet on fan forums and such, here are a few conclusions:

Dana Scully: What is the secret of her charm? Let's start with that a great coincidence took place. The X-Files was lucky to receive an actor of rare talent for a science-fiction show, which is what The X-Files is, whether we want to admit it or not.

Anderson, in time, even outgrew her role as agent Scully. Obviously, without the role of Scully, Anderson would never have seen the fame which she received; after all, there are prettier and better-connected women in the business. But there was a sort of poetic justice here; an actor of the type of Jodie Foster, Helen Miren and Meryl Streep--a type that is fairly rare in the appearance-oriented Hollywood, which prizes beauty and a hollowed-out personality--was given a chance. Given that this is the type of actor to which she belongs, I predict that she will continue on to other acting opportunities, since for actors of this type age, is not as devastating as for the typical eye-candy Hollywood actor.

With all due respect, in 2006 all of the conspiracy episodes look pale, and like the smoke of the cancer man, the excitement of the initial viewing has... dissipated. This was a period piece which bravely decided to take the risk of placing itself in the present of the end of the 2nd millennium. A present which is now long gone. But Gillian Anderson's acting still lights up the screen. She is 100% there.

Scully is a modern Jeanne d'Arc: asexual, beautiful, strong. It is rare that popular culture creates strongly sexual female role models; Scully is no exception to this rule. There is something artificial in her, one might say; she dons a mask in order to function in the extreme conditions of her job. Incidentally, it is interesting to compare Scully to the character of Elizabeth the first (another redhead). In the movie "Elizabeth" (starring Kate Blanchette), which tells the story of this English queen of the 16th century, she cuts off her hair. She then paints her face white and announces her marriage to the state.

In Carl Dryer's 1929 movie which tells the story of Jeanne d'Arc, the heroine cuts off her hair and wears a boy's clothing. She was a French girl in the middle ages who led the French army to unity under the governor of Paris.

It is not surprising that these women, when portrayed in cinema at the height of their power, cut off their hair. The womanhood of Elizabeth the first, or the cinematic version of Jeanne d'Arc, is seen as a barrier, as a contrast to the role they take on themselves to fulfill. Of course, we are now talking about a television series. But still. Popular culture is very influenced by and expresses cultural and societal norms. Scully's femininity is minor at best, almost nonexistent, even though her vulnerability is used by the writers to give depth to the series (in how many episodes was Scully abducted/nearly killed/assaulted, in comparison to the other characters? Plenty).

Fox Mulder: Like Scully, Mulder can be compared to a religious figure, a saint or a monk. His fanaticism is completely religious, and in the final episode of the 4th season he explicitly compares his search for aliens to Scully's religious faith (which is not necessarily still evident, given her response to the priest her mother invited to the family celebration).

Duchovny tried not to drag the character of Mulder into radicalism and to maintain a sense of humor. This is in fact nice, and gives us some breathing room during the generally gloominess of the series. On the other hand, I do not feel that he is 100% there. Perhaps this is the reason he didn't get an Emmy? We'll never know. Mulder never rests, his 'energy' springs from his fanaticism. Fanaticism is a great power; so powerful, that the Syndicate felt threatened by him.

Mulder isn't an outsider, he's an insider. His family, no coincidence, are deep inside. It is possible that part of his desire to play the rebellious martyr is a rebellion against his father (and mother) that were involved in the conspiracy from the beginning to the end--information which he had, albeit unconsciously (and which was revealed near the end of the fourth season). One can say that Mulder's portrayal as a hero is more significant than for the other characters. He is never really hurt. Scully is abducted and hurt acutely. Mulder remains relatively unharmed, protected. In the episode "Tunguska, Terma" (in my eyes one of the weaker episodes, full of plot holes - but I won't go into that now), Mulder is returned unharmed in some unrevealed manner from the plains of Russia. Also in the first season he is returned unharmed with the help of "Deep Throat," and in the third season he is brought back to life. Mulder is a supernatural hero, a comic-book one in a sense. He doesn't seem afraid, because he has no reason to be afraid. He carries on in a manner of someone in a position of power; he is aware of this, and continues on. He walks confidently in the world, even if that confidence derives from his fanaticism, like a crusader or a missionary. This grants him great power, but also makes him less of a multidimensional character.

The secret of his charm? The red Speedos, of course.

And in general: Mulder and Scully's individual prowess is deeply connected to their asceticism and to their lack of private lives. For a sci-fi show, this is obvious and acceptable. For a dramatic series, it is atypical. In my opinion, the writers could have transcended the genre and made them complete human characters, but they didn't. Because Carter and his team, skilled as they are as directors of popular unthreatening American sci-fi, are relatively weak at developing characters. It seemed that there was something significant behind things, because of a combination of excellent acting and circumstances. As I wrote before, this is a series that consciously decided to place itself at the end of the 2nd millennium, to deal with conspiracies at time when the western world was ripe for such matters. Under Democratic rule, with a relatively healthy and calm world, the interest in extra-terrestrial visitors found fertile ground. To set the characters against a nationalistic Republican administration, as things stand today, would not have worked. But then, it did. Ok, that is enough for politics of the hour.

As I re-watched the series, I also saw some episodes from Star Trek to see if there is anything similar between the two series ranked as the most significant 'cult' television shows. So, what is similar? Not much. Despite the fact that I like Star Trek, watching it shows how much The X-Files distanced itself from the sci-fi genre. The X-Files belongs to several genres, and this I think made things hard for the writers later on, and drew them towards a quick end (essentially the series was over after 5 seasons).

The crew of the Enterprise are comic book characters; good comic book characters. They do not presume to be anything more. Scully and Mulder demand from the very first episode, serious attention on the part of the writers, substance, inner world, family, circumstances and so forth. That is, a form of realism. But realism can't function in the X-Files shadow world for long. Therefore it would have been right to do no more than five seasons (in my opinion even four would have been enough), to leave us with open questions, wanting more. Not to keep dragging things on for another four unnecessary seasons. Greed, in all likelihood.

Every one of the first, second, third and fourth seasons is a masterpiece. Each is brilliant in its own way, stunning, dark and funny. Like four pictures, they are only different when placed next to each other and viewed from a distance; suddenly you see how they match each other and are part of the same set. Yes, the truth is not as far as the smoking man's cigarette, and the madness of the 90s (the golden age of TV) which gave the series its mythological standing, is no more. But it's still an amazing series, rare in its originality, and even if it doesn't have a deep and profound message, it is quality entertainment and has a exceptional cast. Chemistry of the sort had by Anderson and Duchovny is not often seen; they manage to form another pole besides that of the plot, which reveals things in a different light. And it's great. There aren't many characters that elicit such love and provoke such emotional reactions from viewers as Mulder and Scully. Without excellent acting, this would not have happened.

I know they returned the show for a sixth season after the unfulfilling movie. But watching the 1-5 seasons without stopping, and the amazing finale of the fifth season, Gethsemane... in all fairness, they should have stopped there. That was an amazing end to an amazing series. Burn out rather than fade away.

Ranking of the seasons, in my opinion:

Most emotional scene of Mulder's in my opinion: when he arrives at his apartment and collapses in tears, in the episode "One Breath".

Most emotional scene of Scully's in my opinion: unsurprisingly, in the episode "Memento Mori"--the hug at the end. By the way, the DVD extra was this scene, but with a kiss on the lips between Mulder and Scully, which was replaced in editing with a kiss on the forehead. It was good to see.

That's it for now.

Back to top