“The truth is out there”. That was the slogan that ended most episodes’ opening credit sequence and in that lies the reason why so many of us kept watching the show in the middle of the 1990s and turned it into a sensational cult hit. We had to find out what that truth was. And creator Chris Carter was smart enough to give us a clue now and then. Why blow it all in the first season when you can spend nine years coming up with a wildly elaborate theory of how life began on Earth?
The show began with FBI agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) being ordered to supervise fellow agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) who was investigating the Bureau’s X-Files, cases that supposedly had a supernatural nature. The department was a laughing stock, but Mulder was a true believer; Scully, however, was appointed to the division precisely because of her lack of faith in ghosts, goblins and UFO’s. Every case they would take turned out to be very mysterious indeed, but regardless of what the agents had been going through the previous week, most episodes would have Scully still insisting that there must be scientific answers to each of their cases. It would also soon become clear that the department posed a threat against powerful men who had orchestrated a vast government conspiracy. Some of the X-Files led Mulder closer to learning about the existence of this plot.
Over the years, Scully became less sceptical (after all, she was abducted by aliens in the second season), a guy called the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) became a sophisticated but malevolent symbol of the conspiracy, and little by little we came to realize that the cover-up was connected to an alien invasion that had already taken place. Most episodes would feature paranormal cases of varying kinds, which the agents investigated and sort of closed, others would focus entirely on the conspiracy. Eventually, Duchovny decided to semi-retire from the show; FBI agent John Doggett (Robert Patrick) replaced him and worked with Scully. Now she was the believer and he was the sceptic! The duo was joined in 2001 by Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish). Mulder did return for several episodes, including the dramatic finale.
Attractive, low-key rapport
Some might be reluctant to call the two leads Hollywood’s most charismatic actors, at least at that time, but they grew on us and there was something very attractive about their low-key rapport. Duchovny in particular had a sly sense of humor and Carter made sure we kept wondering about what this alien hunter’s mysterious personal life looked like. The main emphasis was on horror and thrills, but a few of the episodes became amusing little Halloween stories. There were also three geeks called “The Lone Gunmen” who would provide Mulder with information about the conspiracy, as well as comic relief.
On the whole, the show was technically well made, even unsettling at times. Some of the writers went on to become lauded showrunners after The X-Files, but the quality deteriorated in its later years. Still, as we watched Mulder and Scully end the original run in 2002 with a very intimate moment, the emotional impact made us realize that we were grateful for all nine seasons.
The show made a comeback in 2016, honoring its past in a respectful and comfortable way… but it was also predictable and only reminded us that there’s a time and place for everything.
The X-Files 1993-2002, 2016-2018:U.S. Made for TV. 213 episodes. Color. Created by Chris Carter. Theme: Mark Snow. Cast: David Duchovny (Fox Mulder, 93-01, 16-18), Gillian Anderson (Dana Scully), Robert Patrick (John Doggett, 00-02), Mitch Pileggi (94-02, 16-18), Annabeth Gish (01-02, 16-18), William B. Davis (93-00, 16-18).
Trivia: Followed by two feature films, starting with The X Files (1998), as well as a spin-off series, The Lone Gunmen, (2001).
Emmys: Outstanding Writing 95-96; Actress (Anderson) 96-97; Guest Actor (Peter Boyle) 95-96. Golden Globes: Best Drama Series 95, 97, 98; Actor (Duchovny 97); Actress (Anderson) 97.
Quote: “One more anal-probing gyro-pyro levitating ectoplasm alien anti-matter story and I’m going to take out my gun and shoot somebody.” (Duchovny)
Last word: “We did an ‘X-Files’ charity day recently, and we had a lot of people there from all over the world. One of the things that someone said to me – and pointed out as a regular watcher of the show – she said: ‘people say the mytharc of the show is complicated. It’s not complicated. You just have to pay attention to it.’ I think one of the things that happened, certainly – and this is part of it being a nine year show – is people say that it got too complicated. I think that what it did – rather than becoming overly complicated – it became stretched-out. It took on a complexity given there were 202 episodes.” (Carter, John Kenneth Muir’s Reflections on Cult Movies and Classic Television)