Lexicon Exclusive

"Belief and Skepticism 1"

The X-Files Lexicon’s exclusive interview with Author John Kenneth Muir, part 1

Conducted by Christopher Irish (11/5/2015)

Introduction By Matt Allair

Page Editor: A.M.D.

This is another example of new territory that The X-Files Lexicon is entering into as we get to introduce a new person into the features aspect of the site, Christopher Irish, who managed to have a very informal interview with another important figure. John Kenneth Muir, has become a major advocate for The X-Files Lexicon, and it’s something we don’t take lightly. Mr. Muir is a highly respected media critic. The writer of 27 books, and winner of a number of prestigious literary awards, the depth of Mr. Muir’s knowledge in the field of television genres and horror films is vast. His past works include Exploring Space:1999, A Critical History of Dr. Who on Television, The Films of John Carpenter, An Askew View – The Films of Kevin Smith, Best in Show – The Films of Christopher Guest & Company, The Rock N Roll Film Encyclopedia, and Horror Films of the 90s. John has written a new reference book, The X-Files FAQ, that highlights key episodes, and lays out an understanding of the mythology to the laymen.

Mr. Muir has been a major advocate for The X-Files and Millennium for a long time, and has supported the various letter writing petitions to bring both The X-Files and Millennium back to the screen. My personal experiences with John have always left me with the impression that he is unassuming and gracious, and it was to my great surprise when I discovered that the following interview ran for an hour once I was sent the transcript. I felt that the tone and flow of the interview was asking to be featured in two parts, which makes this another unique aspect of this piece. The Interview proceeded as follows… - Matt Allair

Chris Irish: In the dedication, you include your son Joel, mentioning that he likes The X-Files. Is he allowed to watch The X-Files yet?

John Kenneth Muir: My son Joel is nine, and he is not really allowed to watch The X-Files. He’s seen two of them. He’s seen the seventh-season episode “The Goldberg Variation”—that’s the one where they all have bad luck; there’s the guy who has good luck and creates bad luck for everybody else—because there’s really nothing horrific or violent in that one! And he watched sort of an abbreviated version of “Bad Blood,” which is one of my favorite episodes. We didn’t show him the scenes where Scully was doing the autopsy. Once we took those scenes and we just kind of fast-forwarded them, he didn’t see anything gory or upsetting. So he’s heard all the stories, he loves for me to tell him, but he’s only watched a couple since he’s still a little too young. But I did find, as your question indicates, that going back and telling him the story, it kind of clarified all the points in my mind as I’d tell him, especially the mytharc, and suddenly as I’m telling them to him, I’m like, “Oh, I understand something I didn’t before!”

Chris: Yeah, that would help, wouldn’t it? I think I watched my first one when I was about his age, and it scared the pants off me.

John: Yes, we’re very conscious of not wanting to scare him. You know he loves some of them, but you feel like he probably isn’t ready for some of the death scenes with the Flukeman or the Peacocks. He loves for me to tell him the one about the Peacocks. I sing that song to him when they approach, and there’s the song on the radio, “Wonderful.” I tell him if you hear that song, run! Some of them are really scary, and I think the show was so good because so many episodes were a lot scarier than a lot of the horror movies that were coming out in the 90s, which weren’t always good.

Chris: In the first chapter of your book you mention shows that inspired The X-Files. Were there any of those that you favor?

John: I really loved Kolchak the Night Stalker, and I know that was a big influence on Chris Carter. That was a fun show, you know, coming right out of Watergate and having these fearless journalists fighting monsters, so that was one I really liked, and I liked an older show—I actually wrote a book about one of them which was called One Step Beyond, and it goes back even before The Twilight Zone by like ten months. It was an anthology, kind of like The Twilight Zone, where every week it was scary, and it was all dedicated to paranormal stuff, like astral projection, hauntings, apparitions. So every week it was devoted to some aspect of paranormal activity, to coin the title! But so I loved that. So there were 96 episodes, and they were all in black and white. And that’s one that I just absolutely loved and discovered in high school when it was on at like 2 am. [It was] originally on in the 50s, and I watched in the 80s, catching reruns when I was a teenage insomniac for a couple years in high school and was like, “Wow, there’s this crazy old show at two in the morning, and it’s creepy as all get-out,” so I loved that. I thought it was a great show.

Chris: That’s cool. Actually, I found out about a lot of shows by reading that chapter.

John: Oh, good, good! Some of those shows are just classic and really great, and I love Twin Peaks too, of course that’s a fantastic show.

Chris: The series mytharc spreads through nine seasons. What would you like to be addressed in the new season, and what do you think requires more closure?

John: You know, it’s interesting, I don’t have a real strong opinion about where I want the mytharc to go. I mean, I guess they have to address the year 2012—that was supposed to be the year of the Alien Invasion, and we’re all still here. But you could mention that it was a throwaway line and say that was misinformation and they were trying, like we’ve seen before, where the powers that be push a conspiracy where they all are trying to send misinformation or disinformation to Mulder to confuse him so he finds the wrong thing or discovers something that isn’t true. So you could say the information he found out was deliberately planted to send him on the wrong track. So you could handle it any way you want, or say, “Hey, it was delayed a couple years.” But I think they need to somehow address that colonization was supposed to occur in 2012, but other than that I’m leaving myself in the hands of Chris Carter, and wherever he wants to take that, I’m along for the ride.

Chris: What “Monster of the Week” do you think was most terrifying or memorable?

John: Well, I loved the Flukeman in “The Host,” of course, and that was great. I love that that was Chris Carter’s tribute to the Creature from the Black Lagoon. What a great way to sort of bring him forward in time and have a character that was sort of a man-like monster swimming in this case in sewage—ugh, talk about “Black Lagoon”! And I love the Peacocks. I absolutely love the episode “Home,” and I think the Peacocks are the scariest, scariest monsters. And I guess they aren’t really “monsters,” but in some ways they are as they’re certainly ‘monstrous.” I also love “Detour” with the Mothman in Florida, coming into houses and terrorizing people. There are so many great monsters. I just love all the monsters of The X-Files.

Chris: Do you like one X-Files movie over the other, or are they different enough to not warrant direct comparison, aside from both being movies?

John: I think that was a great question. It’s funny, they are very different. The first one being a mytharc story and happening when the series was on was very big and spectacular, and we got to see new aspects of the mystery. We got to see an Alien flying saucer. We got to
see all these things, and I loved that, but I also really loved I Want to Believe because it was a much more intimate story. And I know that’s why some people don’t like it, but I loved the intimacy of it and that it was a smaller-scale story and was really about the characters dealing with human issues. But they’re so different, so different, and I think the reason I Want to Believe isn’t appreciated more is simply because it’s so different from Fight the Future and so different from the image people have of The X-Files. I think the image people have is aliens and conspiracy, and they forget there were so many episodes, especially in the early seasons involving serial killers and psychic phenomena with stories like “Grotesque” or “Beyond the Sea,” all those stories from the first three seasons or thereabout, or like them where they were small contained stories, so I loved it. I thought it was taking X-Files back to its roots, so I love them both, but it depends on what sort of mood I’m in. If I want something bigger, I’ll watch Fight the Future, but if I’m in the mood for a self-contained X-Files story, I’ll take I Want to Believe.

Chris: One series you mentioned, back to Twin Peaks: how do you think Agent Cooper and Agent Mulder would relate to each other if those series crossed over?

John: I don’t think they’d get anything done! I think if they worked together they’d both go off on these wild tangents. I think you really need Scully there to ground Mulder, and Cooper needs someone to ground him too. You get Cooper and Mulder together and you’d definitely need Scully riding shotgun so she can rein everyone back to reality.

Chris: That’d be an interesting spin-off.

John: It would, but heaven forbid it was just Mulder and Cooper, or it’d just be like, “What are they doing?”

Chris: Just one long monologue!

John: Exactly!

Chris: How did the opportunity present itself for you to write The X-Files FAQ?

John: Well, I had done an earlier book in the series, the FAQ series, and that was just about horror films in general, and that was a really good experience. I’ve worked with the publisher for a long time, and they wanted another book from me, but these books are very detailed and lengthy and hard to write, so it’s just a lot of work getting them together. There’s more than 30 chapters, and you have to demonstrate a complete knowledge, or a unique viewpoint on your subject matter, and I said if I’m going to devote all this time to doing this it’ll have to be something I really love, so let’s do The X-Files because I really love The X-Files. And additionally, Chris Carter had written the forward for the Horror Film FAQ, so I’m going to go back to him and ask him for another one on The X-Files. So that’s what we did.

Chris: Certain real-world events such as drone use or NSA spying have been rumored to be part of the new series. What world events would you like to see be addressed?

John: That’s another really good question. The X-Files has always linked to real-world events, and I understand just what Chris Carter said about looking at things like drone warfare and surveillance state and things like that. I love that. I think it’s a great idea to go with the conspiracy story. The things that fascinate me about The X-Files, and I don’t always know them until an X-File does it and I research—like, there’s the story about a flesh-eating virus in California, and this woman in the early 90s went into a hospital, and it might not have been a flesh-eating virus, but it sickened all the paramedics, or maybe did something to their flesh. But it was a real-life story, and he spun it off into the first season cliffhanger X-Files episode “The Erlenmeyer Flask,” where there was exposure to alien or hybrid blood. So I hope that—and I’m sure he is and everyone involved in The X-Files—but I hope they find some weird real-life stories like that somehow and sort of bring them to our attention and weave this crazy narrative around these bizarre facets of life. I don’t know how to exactly, and I’d have to look and see, but I’d love for them to do one about this road called “Clinton Road” that’s supposed to be the most haunted road in America. I’d love to see a story about Mulder and Scully breaking down on Clinton Road and having to spend 24 hours on the most haunted road in America, or something like that, where they pick out some story and run with it. But I think in terms of the mytharc, I think they’re going to go big into the security state after 9/11. I think that’s pretty fair game.

Chris: That’s a good point, actually. There’s a lot of real-world events in the series I’d find out about through The X-Files.

John: Right! Think about what they did in the 90s. They did their own version of the JonBenet Ramsey story. They find all these interesting things, even faux-life stuff, like how they picked up on the brain-sucking amoeba in a lake. It’s just amazing how they pick up on these details and weave a whole story out of it. Sometimes they’ll just draw parallels to it, and that was part of the fun writing this book, going back and saying, “Is this true?” and researching and saying, “Oh, yeah, yeah, this must have been what they were looking at,” and they came up with this story. That’s pretty awesome.

Chris: Season one almost has a naive feel to it as Mulder and Scully begin to work out each other’s personalities as they wade into the X-Files. As they go along in the series their interdependent nature grows and changes. How do you think the new series will convey their relationship now that they’ve been partners on The X-Files for decades?

John: I think that, from everything I can tell, they’re going to be working very hard to keep the relationship both fresh and real, that by this time Mulder and Scully know each other and they know each other’s faults and know each other’s strengths, but it’s not the first blush of meeting one another and falling in love. For instance, we know they’re not together when the revival starts, and you have to ask yourself the question, What got in the way? Was it just life? Was it the fact that I think Mulder is impossible to live with? You know, that kind of thing! Does he just sit in his room and throw pencils at the ceiling all day? After a while that can’t be particularly rewarding for her, right? So you know, I think that we’re going to see them in a new stage of their relationship where they know each other, but it’s not like you used the word “naive,” but in some ways it’s more grown up. There’s more knowledge about each other in their relationship, and that could add more humor to it.

Chris: I’ve watched the series a couple times through the years, and when I rewatch episodes, I notice new details that I missed before. Does this happen to you when you rewatch still?

John: Absolutely. I want to think that I like—one of the facts I like to quote when teaching a class on communications or just to tell people is when you watch a movie or a TV show for the first time your brain processes about 80 to 85 percent of what’s there, so it’s always a good idea to go back and watch something a second time, especially when you feel like you missed something or that you didn’t like something, but you go back to it. For me the reason to revisit The X-Files or Millennium or any Chris Carter show is you can go back a second, a third, a fourth time, and then you find these new things, these nuances that you didn’t see before and connections you missed. Like, now I’m a totally different person, obviously; I’m two decades older than the first time when I was in my early twenties when I watched it, so now I see different things. Hopefully I’m a better, more aware viewer in terms of how it relates to the world, how it’s made, things like that. And really any excuse I have to watch it again, I love that! I love that it’s kind of like an onion: you peel it open, and there’s more and more layers there to see every time you watch. I think that’s really true.

Chris: Yeah, even episodes I don’t think are that deep I’ll rewatch and say, “Oh, there’s this detail, or Mulder says this,” and they call back on other episodes too. It’s very interesting.

John: I totally agree with you, and that’s what makes it such a rich world, is they even throw back to the less successful episodes and say, “Hey, let’s bring that underappreciated brother or sister into the fold!” You know? They show you a piece of it, and it makes you want to go back and watch that one. You think, “I missed that one. Is there something there I didn’t pay attention to?” And usually there is! So yeah, I agree with you.

Chris: Characters in the series come and go, either by alien abduction or death. Is there a character exit in the series that you disliked more than others? Like Deep Throat or Mr. X?

John: You know, I thought all of the character exits were really good and usually played in moments of high tension or emotion as they should be, so there weren’t any. Like, I didn’t like how the Lone Gunmen died, but I didn’t have a problem with the story or how they died, but I didn’t want them to die. So the one that sticks out to me would be losing the Lone Gunmen, but that’s not because their send-off was poor in any way. It’s just that I didn’t want those characters to leave! I accepted that Deep Throat was going to die or that X, that we were going to lose X. I could absolutely accept that. It was just harder for me as a fan to lose the Lone Gunmen, I would say.

Chris: Yeah, that one was pretty rough. I actually have their series. I wish they made more of that.

John: Yes, I love the Lone Gunmen. That was such a fun show!

Chris: In the beginning of the chapter “Constant Change and Constant Challenge” in your book, as Chris Carter moved to working on Millennium more and Glen Morgan and James Wong helmed The X-Files, the episodes you highlighted pushed the limits of The X-Files and broadcast TV in general. Had the show aired now for the first time, do you think they would have pushed it even farther? Or would episodes like “Home” still manage to make the networks uncomfortable?

John: That is another really fine question because I think they would push, but the envelope has already been expanded so much, and part of that is because of The X-Files. It’ll be a lot harder to do these days, and I’ll be excited to see the monster shows, because I tell my son this all the time: I grew up in the 1980s, and that was the era of slashers like Freddy and Jason, and if you grew up in that time, the press, critics, moral watchguards [would say], “These movies are the end of civilization. They’re so violent. They have have no artistic value, and they’re just gory,” and everybody hated slasher movies. And I tell him now on regular TV pretty much anybody can see it on basic cable. You’ve got The Walking Dead, and it’s got more gore and violence in it per hour than any of those movies! The threshold has just changed. Game of Thrones is on HBO, so it’s not on basic cable, but premium, but still, the violence in Game of Thrones is way over the top, much more than most horror movies, so we’ve come to accept on television that we’re going to have this extreme violence, even in shows that aren’t horror. Even [in] shows that are fantasy, like Game of Thrones, we have extreme violence with the beheadings and stabbings and rape and, you know, massacres. Stuff like that, you know? Just extremely violent. And I tell my son Joel, these TV shows today make Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street movies in the 80s look like children’s fairy tales by comparison. So The X-Files is sort of that bridge in there, certainly, coming in the 90s, that had a lot more horror and scares and things like that. I just think that it’s going to be harder to push the edge because the edge has been pushed out so far! You know, what are you going to do to top some of the violence in Game of Thrones or Walking Dead? It’s going to be hard to do. But they’ll find a way. It’ll be great, I know.

Chris: Do you have a favorite overall season of The X-Files?

John: It’s really hard for me to pick. When I went back and watched all the shows, I was impressed with seasons for different reasons. I loved the first season for how well it set everything up and how it seems to separate Mulder and Scully from their older world, from their partners, families, and brought them together. I loved that aspect of season one. I think overall I really enjoyed season five. It was a shorter season but a really great season. It had “Bad Blood” and “Detour”—just seemed like everything was hitting it on all thrusters, but you can say that about so many seasons. Basically, I really love them all. I think season six with it’s out there science fiction concepts, with the time loop and the Bermuda Triangle and switching bodies—I love some of those high-concept episodes. The great thing about The X-Files is that it changed so much. I can go back and say, “I’m in the mood for a more sci-fi one” and pick one out from season six, or “I’m in the mood for one of these Morgan special ones” and go for the third one like “Jose Chung” or “Clive Bruckman,” and I can pick one of those. I love the third season with those installments and many others. It just changes so much over time, so in a way you can’t even compare them to one another. I guess it depends on what kind of show you like best. If you like more of a horror show, you’re going to pick a season like the fourth or fifth season. If you like more the sci-fi aspect, then you’ll like the sixth season. Or if you’re looking for a renewal of the show’s basic ideas, you can look at the eighth season and the introduction of John Doggett and see Scully trying to find her inner Mulder and grapple with all these crazy monsters, like bat-people and germs and Medusa and things like that, so even that season’s really great.

Chris: Actually I think season one is pretty under-appreciated.

John: I love that point, and I think you’re absolutely right. It is solid, and some of the stories there are really ahead of their time. I really think they are, and they not only set the groundwork for nine seasons and two feature films and now a revival, but they sort of looked ahead at a lot of issues and ideas that are only now coming to fruition in our culture.

Chris: Kind of brings up another thought, because I just watched “Clive Bruckman’s,” and he mentions how Mulder is going to die. I wonder if that’s going to play into the new season?

John: Yeah, how he’s going to die from autoerotic asphyxiation! The porn collection is going to do him in, I guess. That’s terrible, but Scully is going to live forever, right?

Chris: Yeah, you’re left wondering what that means!

John: Exactly, and in the sixth season there’s the episode “Tithonus,” where that whole thing is confirmed that she’s immortal and somehow she’s not going to die. Interesting.

Chris: They should make a Scully show after Mulder chokes to death. Anyway, in the chapter “Do You Remember the One Where,” how did you go about compiling the episodes you highlight?

John: That, interestingly enough, played more on my being a fan than as a writer because I watched The X-Files as it ran in the 90s with my wife. We started it, we watched it, saw the whole run of it, and so that was before I was a writer. I became a writer at some point in ’96 as it was on, but I started it as a fan, so I remember all the aspects of what the culture was talking about and what the fandom was talking about, with the first kiss and Scully has cancer, so I remember all those notes. And I wouldn’t call it a soap opera, but it’s these characters you care about, and it’s like I remember so vividly going from these big events to another big event in the show. So in that chapter was really me sort of remembering what it was like watching it week to week and the things that stood out to me that made me go, “Wow, I can’t believe this,” you know? So that’s sort of how I compiled that chapter. I just remembered what it was like watching the show in the 90s and what was exciting to me. So I hope it’s exciting to other X-Files fans too. I’m assuming those things are.

Chris: I actually got my younger brothers to watch it because they were too young when it first aired, so they’re watching.

John: That’s great. Hook as many people as you can!

Chris: There is a big difference though, because they can’t wait for the new season, but they just recently watched it for the first time, so for us old fans it’s kind of rough because we’ve been waiting for years!

John: Right, absolutely. Well, I’m always stunned and very happy—I teach classes, and a lot of my students are between 18 and 24, and when I mention X-Files—well, when I mention some shows like Star Trek, a lot of people don’t know it except for the movies, which hurts my heart because I’m a Star Trek fan. But they know The X-Files, and I’m like, “Really, how did you know that?” And they say, “We love The X-Files. We watched them all on Netflix!” So I’m like, “Wow, I didn’t realize!” I’m just an older generation, so I didn’t realize that was such an avenue where so many young people found the series, but apparently because all the episodes are on Netflix, a number of, or a lot of, young people have found it and watched the whole thing!

Chris: I think that helps a lot, because a lot of younger people I know and siblings, that’s how they all know it too. But it’s always funny to hear them talk about season one and how very 90s it is.

John: Right, right. Even though the ideas are so good and forward thinking, you still can’t escape the 90s fashions and cell phones and haircuts!

Please visit The X-Files Lexicon Blog for our extensive review of The X-Files FAQ book. Interview continued on part 2. Special thank you to the editors at Applause Books.

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