The X-Files

RyderFlynn

Active member
About three to four months ago, I started catching up with three '90s TV shows, namely The Simpsons, The X-Files, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I've been watching them in rotation, and just two weeks ago, I've finished season 5 of The X-Files. Here's my review:

The X-Files Season 5

Think back to the fall of ’97. The X-Files was at the top of its game. A serial that changed the face of television forever, bringing TV sci-fi drama to new heights. A movie was even coming up due to its success and most of its production was completed. Things couldn’t have been better for the peak of the series. Right?

Back in season 4, when the X-Files movie, “Fight the Future” was being written and filmed, there was a lot of scheduling conflicts that have occurred for both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. Furthermore, Chris Carter was torn between three different commitments: X-Files the series, Fight the Future, and his other baby, Millennium starring Lance Henriksen. This resulted in some drastic spikes in quality, with the season rising and falling in its inconsistency.

The production of season 5, by contrast, was a lot more relaxed.


“Fight the Future” had been written and filmed, and with the second season of Millennium handed over to Glen Morgan and James Wong, Chris was free to turn his focus back on the X-Files. But there was one little snag: “Fight the Future” had been written. The series couldn’t proceed with any plotlines that might disrupt the consistency of the canon in the upcoming movie.

The flip-side to this problem was that it allowed Chris and his writers the freedom to try out ambitious ideas for the series, leading season 5 to be quite possibly the most experimental season yet. While on the one hand, all “mythology” episodes would have to be self-contained and not have any significant impact for the rest of the season, on the other hand, you get fun episodes like “The Post-Modern Prometheus” (a tribute to James Whale filmmaking and Frankenstein) and “Kill Switch” (a William Gibson special, the father of cyberpunk and inventor of the term, “cyberspace”). It’s even host to a Stephen King script (“Chinga”), albeit leading to a somewhat disappointing and conventional monster-of-the-week storyline that didn’t meet the heightened expectations of “master of horror Stephen King writes The X-Files!”

Nevertheless, the fact that the TV series had reached the point where it’s successful enough to hire a talent like King speaks volumes about how far it had come. Alongside many other ’90s cult favorites like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “The Simpsons”, The X-Files was basking in its glory days as a sensational icon of television.


Of course, it’s not all fun and games down in paradise. There were times when the restraints of the movie lead to some very contrived writing in service of returning things to status quo. For example, Mulder’s newfound skepticism of his long-held belief in the supernatural proved to be not only short-lived, but arbitrary. In spite of harboring the belief that the existence of aliens was part of the government’s artifice, Mulder would constantly believe in other forms of the supernatural, be it invisible conquistadors (“Detour”) or even killer trees (“Schizogeny”). It could be argued that Mulder’s skepticism merely extended to aliens alone, but the portrayal of his new cynical attitude could also be inconsistent at times (Mulder complaining about being “monster boy” sent off to nonsensical assignments involving the supernatural during “Folie à Deux”).

There were a few other occurrences where the writers wanted to have their cake and eat it too, balancing the tightrope of keeping the lore intact for the movie while injecting potential character developments that would ultimately lead back to the status quo. The most evident of these developments was Scully’s supposed daughter, Emily, who had to disappear from the show because the movie wasn’t written with such a context in Scully’s character. It’s not just mean-spirited to Scully, but also led to one of the most lackluster and problematic portrayal of the character in the episode, “Emily”, where she stood around looking sad (in almost every single scene) as Mulder got to run around chasing the bad guy.


It really doesn’t help that since season 4, Scully had been written into a more traditional female role that was the opposite of what made her character so exciting in the first place: a smart, independent, no nonsense professional who could stand on equal grounds with Mulder. Instead, most of her character’s essence in season 5 boils down to her desires to be a mother, which is itself a clichéd stereotype of female roles in life. There’s nothing wrong with writing characters in appropriate gender roles like a muscle-bound male character such as Rambo, just as there’s nothing inherently wrong with a woman desiring children, especially after becoming infertile. But it’s the way that such a refreshing character was reduced to an archetype that feels like regression.

This cliché is aggravated by Mulder’s conspicuously masculine role as the action guy who gets most of the action-packed scenes full of gunfire and door-pounding. If Scully’s maternal portrayal hadn’t been accompanied by Mulder’s aggressive and dominant portrayal, her desires to be a mother wouldn’t have stood out as much. Furthermore, there were subtle hints in the episode, “Christmas Carol”, that Scully was to blame for choosing the path of a career woman, for associating with Mulder and all the nonsense that ultimately led to her infertility in the first place, as if her choices to stray away from being a traditional woman seeking motherhood was the wrong decision all along. It doesn’t help that Scully might have even been inspired by similar ’90s female characters like Clarice Starling, another intelligent and self-confident woman who wouldn’t let something so clichéd dictate her lot in life.

But like most of season 5’s faults, it’s still a relatively small problem compensated by the greatness and novelty of most episodes.


For one thing, we get a nice flashback episode to The Lone Gunmen in “Unusual Suspects”, which explores how the trio came together and how they met Mulder. As an example of how the writers creatively utilized the problematic nature of the movie schedule getting in the way, this episode only came about because of Gillian’s absence filming the movie.

For another, we get clever self-aware critique on the age of the show. “The Post-Modern Prometheus” isn’t just a great tribute to Frankenstein and James Whale monster movies, but also an allegory for Chris’ concerns about his creation (The X-Files) going beyond his control. As stated, Chris had planned to end the series at five seasons, but Fox wouldn’t consider the notion of killing off such a healthy cash cow, and so the series dragged on ‘till its zombified years. Similarly, “Kitsunegari”, an episode about the return of “Pusher” (Robert Patrick Modell) was a play on the uninspired horror movie sequels that don’t feel quite have the same impact as the original. It even invoked the classic horror trope of the villain’s family member being involved in the new killings.

Most episodes, however, seem content on playing around with the relationship dynamic between Mulder and Scully beyond just reversing the skeptic/believer role that’s most evident in “Patient X” and “The Red and the Black”. “Bad Blood”, for example, is a fun little episode with a nonlinear structure and two unreliable flashbacks from Mulder and Scully, exploring the various frustrations the two have towards one another and how they view their partner and themselves. Later on, “Folie à Deux” reconciled their differences by showing how devoted Scully can be towards her partner’s earnest search for the truth while at the same time become influenced by the madness that he sees.


But the one recurring theme that remained consistent throughout the season is the subject of children and parental relationships. “Christmas Carol”/”Emily” focus on the eponymous young girl who could very well be Scully’s daughter; “Schizogeny” is about a troubled teen accused of murdering his step-father; “Chinga” tells a tale of another young girl who might possess psychic powers; “All Souls” features four handicapped girls being hunted down by an incarnation of the Devil himself; “The End” has another kid who’s a psychic and a prodigy chess player; “Patient X” spends a good amount of time devoted to Agent Jeffrey Spender and his own frustrations with his supposedly delusional mother; “Travelers” is a flashback episode involving Mulder’s father, and so on and so forth. Such a consistent throughline might have to do with the fact that Chris had taken on an entirely new crew of writers for the series, but the fact that they knew what they were building up to (the movie) also helped keep everyone on the same page.

The theme of children-parent relationships would also remain consistent with the larger overarching theme of the series, the sins of the father passing down to the son. Aside from being a ’90s TV show dealing with the potential corruption of the American government in the ’70s passing down its crimes to the later generations in the ’90s, there’s also Mulder’s father whose involvement in the conspiracies against the American people would ultimately affect his own children, both Fox and Samantha. More than just a supernatural drama with spooky monsters and aliens, The X-Files was also about the more personal themes like these and how the government’s cover-ups and schemes, justified by the “greater good,” would affect the very lives of its people (as seen in “The Pine Bluff Variant” and the CIA testing bioweapons on fellow citizens). It’s the reason why the series has gained such a cult following and heated debates about government conspiracies like the eavesdropping of fellow Americans, something that’s been more fact than fiction since the days of MLK.


But with The X-Files coming to the midpoint of its entire run, it’s also where cracks started to show in Chris’ capability to hold the mythology of the series together at Fox’s behest, such as his introduction of the notorious Diana Fowley.

Fans of the show would come to loathe that name due to her interference with the Mulder and Scully relationship, but she’s also responsible for turning Scully into an uncharacteristic jealous lover, another character cliché even Gillian, for all her marvelous talents, had trouble keeping interesting for the following seasons. Diana’s existence served no grander purpose other than to give Mulder a partner who shares his belief of the supernatural, and yet her introduction felt like the heavy-handed forcefulness that would come to define the ridiculous contrivance present in the rest of the mytharc. She was introduced as a fellow FBI agent who supposedly worked together with Mulder during his early years working the X-Files. It’s the kind of dumb plot convenience that would come to ruin many TV series, such as the likes of “Once Upon A Time” and “Dexter”.

In fact, the very season finale itself, “The End”, was chock-full of plot conveniences to tie together the plot threads needed for the coming of the movie and the rest of the series, conveniently bringing back the Cigarette Smoking Man (from his hideout in Canada) for this episode’s assignment due to vague reasons unknown, conveniently inserting Diana the paranormal expert in an FBI meeting prior to the revelation that their assignment was related to the paranormal, conveniently having the CSM burning down the X-Files only at this point of the series just to serve the greater plot that’s the movie, where Mulder and Scully are split up (a plot that’s been played out in the season 1 finale, “The Erlenmeyer Flask”). That’s a whole lot of conveniences enough to fill a barrel. And that’s not even considering what ultimately happened to the CSM between season 9 and the X-Files revival!


Regardless of its flaws, season 5 of The X-Files is an interesting examination of a TV production that’s building up towards a movie. It shows us what kind of serialized storytelling the series was supposed to be, how it had more freedom to explore beyond such a restrictive format when given the opportunity, and the resulting rewards and consequences from such freedom.

Season 5 is an ambitious moment in the series’ lifespan. It would solidify its status as the peak of TV storytelling for years to come long before that spark is completely snuffed out in the later seasons.

Final Rating: 8/10
 

RyderFlynn

Active member
The X-Files: Fight the Future

(after showing a clip of Mulder urinating beneath a poster of 1996's Independence Day)

"Hahaha, hahahaha, oh my god! That is so funny! Hahahahaha! Absolutely brilliant pinpoint satire from Chris Carter. No wonder he went on to such a distinguished, varied career that in no way peaked and sputtered out in the '90s like the human equivalent of Pogs. I mean, just look at it. (shows the clip again, laughs again) Do you get it? Do ya?! The X-Files is a smart movie about space aliens, and Independence Day is a stupid movie about space aliens, and the best possible way to point out this obvious superiority was to have the paranoid conspiracy guy pee on something. Ha! Classic.

And in no way is it as lame and awkwardly dated as The X-Files overall, since that series definitely didn't ultimately reveal itself to be a rambling cluster-f with no idea where anything was going and absolutely doesn't not work at all now that we're all slightly more aware that smug, paranoid white guys who think the government is out to get them are in reality seldom sexy, interesting or particularly heroic. Ha-ha-ha! Nope. Fox Mulder doing a literal piss-take on the ID4 poster is THE height of sophisticated satire undertaken by an enduring classic film against a disreputable flash-in-the-pan. I mean, that's just one of the reasons why X-Files: Fight the Future is considered a modern classic audiences worldwide can quote from memory and that you can't help but rewatch every time it's on, while Independence Day is a forgotten '90s relic that feels like it never happened, right? Right?"
- Bob Chipman's meanspirited take on X-Files: Fight the Future in his "Independence Day: Really That Good" video


In my defense, I hesitated against posting the above quote (let alone posting the entirety of it) not just because it feels overtly meanspirited, but also out of fear that it might distract from the review. Buuut on the other hand, I grew up with Independence Day and it's a favorite movie of mine and I had to deal with that look from people whenever I said that it's one of my top 10 movies. Yeah. So that short scene in the X-Files movie, belonging to a franchise I didn't grow up with, making fun of my favorite movie in such a tasteless way for a quick fatuous joke, really deserves that overtly verbose and meanspirited quote in my humble opinion, especially when it turns out that the big-screen debut of the longrunning TV success wasn't even that big of a deal, feeling more like an extended TV episode that in no way dealt with the ongoing mythology arc of the series in any consistent or satisfying way.


In fact, Chris Carter and director Rob Bowman (who went on to such a successful film career with the likes of Reign of Fire and Elektra) had the challenge of appealing both hardcore X-Files fans and casual movie fans who might have just came across the franchise for the first time. Its clunky expositions and awkward handwaving of self-contained storylines that were of very little significance to X-Files season 6 show just how problematic this particular film adaptation of a successful TV series really is under the surface, and in no way did it mirror the much more satisfying and successful The Simpsons Movie (2007) that provided a far more satisfying closure than this movie ever could for their respective TV counterparts. And this is even more frustrating for an anime fan like myself, because movie extensions of TV series happen all, the, time in anime (particularly popular mainstream anime like One Piece and Detective Conan). I've seen at least a dozen of these and have been utterly disappointed by at least 60% of them, feeling like I just wasted myself an hour and a half of my life that I'll never get back.

But in all fairness, much like those anime movies, there is still some appeal in bringing a TV production to the big screen: bigger budget, a grander scale and a chance to reinvent the classic theme song to something more epic and orchestral. You get huge building-destruction explosions, you get intense helicopter chase sequences through a corn field, you get multiple guest stars like Martin Landau, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Glenne Headly and Blythe Danner, and you get an all-expenses-paid film expedition to Antarctica with Lord of the Rings/Peter Jackson-level of scale when setting location backdrops in the narrative. Everything is bigger and louder than the TV series.


However, let's face it, the real appeal of this movie is the Mulder/Scully relationship, the two important speeches in this movie that define the significance they provide to one another. And even if Fight the Future's silly little virus storyline magically cured by a vaccine (after the infection has taken place - that's not how vaccines work!) is insignificant and even counterproductive to the TV production, it does well enough in reflecting the overarching themes and the spirit of the series, and maybe that's sufficient and should be the realistic expectation one should have going into such a film.

Mulder: "How many times have we been here before, Scully? Right here? So close to the truth. And now, with what we've seen and what we know, to be right back at the beginning with nothing!"
Scully: "This is different, Mulder."
Mulder: "No, it isn't! You were right to want to quit. You're right to want to leave me. You should get as far away from me as you can. I'm not gonna watch you die, Scully, because of some hollow personal cause of mine! Go be a doctor. Go be a doctor while you still can."
Scully: "I can't. I won't."


Such a conversation might as well been Chris' own summary of the two characters, their motivations and how that motivation has affected one another, with Mulder's vengeance against the government for kidnapping his sister becoming an obstacle in Scully's medical ambitions, while Scully's own cynicism and pragmatism have been softened by her inspired admiration for Mulder's passion and faith for the unknown. The film's core appeal is its character study, even if it's not so much character development. It's a self-aware callback to the show's frustrating meandering in conspiracy-exposure that ultimately lead to fruitless effort, but nonetheless tightening the bond between the two agents' pursuit of justice in their own definition and context of the word.


It's a heartfelt commentary on the series, an endearing one that feels like a nice tribute to what the series stands for, two passionate souls trapped in a meandering journey to nowhere with each other's company their only comfort. Even if Scully is once again reduced to a damsel archetype, even if she's once again trapped in a forced impregnation narrative that also plagued so many older series like Angel and Star Trek: The Next Generation the same way it plagued The X-Files (it's practically a central narrative for Scully in the series' fourth and fifth season), these saving graces are perhaps enough to say, "it's good enough of an effort for their first movie," even if their follow-up film adaptation would ultimately end in disaster, disgrace, and on the audience's part, voluntary amnesia. It's good enough.

That'll do, Chris. That will do.

Final Rating: 6.5/10
 
Top