I have a strange fetish for the ends of things - pop culture things, that is. I call it the "LA Woman Phenomenon."
For some reason it seems as if creative endeavors define themselves as they close up shop. There's something poignantly self-aware about Abbey Road- it's as if The Beatles finally realized who they had been and what they were going to become, which the Let it Be sessions utterly failed to do. Jack Kirby's 80s work is on no one's favorite Kirby list but mine - there was something definitive about all of the unbridled, psycho-delic insanity of books like Captain Victory. The Clash were never more The Clash than they were as they were falling apart (and certainly my favorite performances from both lineups are in the 11th hours). It goes on...
And so it is with The X-Files. I actually didn't watch most of the final season when it aired (truth be told, I never truly got over the show leaving Vancouver) but going back and watching it a few years later I realized it was much, much better than most people would have me believe.
But it seems that even if Chris Carter was ceding control to his partners, there was something definitive about how he chose to respond to the chilling effect on dissent in the wake of 9/11 by doubling down and making The X-Files even darker, even more subversive and even more confrontational.
The zeitgeist made the show a phenomenon and now it was sending it to the glue factory, but no one can say they didn't go down swinging.
Even though the show boasted an embarrassment of riches on both sides of the camera, there were five basic elements that made The X-Files the cultural phenomenon it became in the 90s. First was Chris Carter, whose 70's-vintage shattered idealism and skewed vision (Carter would always go left where others would go right, and vice versa) was fueled by a ferocious work ethic. What's more, Carter hated the airless look of most TV drama and wanted to bring cinematic aesthetics to the small screen.
Second was the charisma, wry wit and Ivy League intelligence of David Duchovny, who had been kicking around Hollywood for a while but didn't find his voice until he landed the part of Fox Mulder. Third was Gillian Anderson, who exuded the intelligence needed for the role of an FBI pathologist, but also exuded a slow-burning sexuality that drew both men and women into the flames.
Fourth was the city of Vancouver, the only city where any show looking to create an alternate view of consensus reality should ever film. The X-Files production team- especially Carter and co-executive producer Bob Goodwin- found that the variable weather and lighting - as well as the architectural anarchy - of the Canadian metropolis was an endless source of inspiration. In addition, Vancouver was a city in which the ancient, now-discarded Protestant work ethic still applied, and the city's crews and endlessly-versatile character actors were a key component in the show's success.
Lastly, it was the zeitgeist that fueled the show's popularity. In the wake of Ruby Ridge and Waco, the marauding SWAT teams and anonymous intelligence thugs that ran rampant through the first season of The X-Files struck a chord with sensitives everywhere. The rise of the Internet- then still a network of primitive dial-up bulletin boards - was letting the genies of the conspiracy and UFO undergrounds out of the bottle, all of which was manna from heaven for 70s conspiracy-movie junkie like Carter. Alien fever would rise and crest right along with the show's Vancouver glory years. Even Time devoted a cover story to the atmosphere of what I call the "alien expectation" in the mid-90s.
But as with most TV shows, behind-the-scenes drama began to take its toll. Fox ordered a feature film at the same time it ordered a new Ten Thirteen series (the apocalyptic crime drama, Millennium) stretching the already-overstretched staff to the bone. Carter - a self-confessed control freak - said the workload nearly literally killed him. Orders came down to resolve some of the show's sprawling "Mythology" in the flim, resulting in a feature loaded down with exposition. The film wasn't a blockbuster, which tarnished its mystique.
But the first mortal blow came when citing a clause in his original contract, Duchovny threatened to drastically curtail his involvement in the show if production wasn't moved to LA for Season Six. Carter ordered the writing staff to work up a string of high-concept novelty episodes for the first half of the sixth season, not only to get some buzz in the press (Carter's Wizard of Oz-Bermuda Triangle synthesis Triangle earned a feature slot on Entertainment Tonight), but also to keep his famously bored and increasingly rebellious star mollified. Fox's hiring of a Comedy Central executive to run the network may have had some influence on the string of "X-Files Lite" episodes frontloaded into the season.
But for me, the stunt casting of the novelty eps (Ed Asner, Bruce Campbell, Michael McKean, etx) shattered the documentary flavor that made the Vancouver era so compelling.
At the same time, UFO fever was waning. Lifelong Naval Intelligence asset Willam Cooper (who was "retired" in the old-school fashion in 2001) had come out and claimed that UFOs were all an intelligence scam (an meme Carter promptly exploited in the beginning of the fifth season with the deeply subversive Redux, which foisted the post-war catalog of mind control, human experimentation and military spending run amok on legions of innocent Mulder/Scully 'shippers).
The militia movement -- riddled with spooks as it was-- had no time for exopolitics. The corporate Evangelical multitudes were being conditioned to believe aliens were demons by fascist nutjobs within the Defense Department, and there was no landing on the White House lawn, and so Alien Fever faded once again.
In response, Carter and main writing partner Frank Spotnitz suddenly and unexpectedly ended the "Colonization" conspiracy at the heart of the Mythology with the epic two-parter, Two Fathers/One Son, the latter of which boasts a scorching parody of the Rapture mania that was rising among the Evangelical ascendency.
The reasons for this had nothing to do with the storyline itself but were dictated by outside pressures, not the least of which was the impatience of their star to leave and pursue a movie career. Costs had skyrocketed when the show moved to LA and the feature-film sprawl of the Vancouver Mytharc could simply no longer be afforded.
In its place was a Mytharc that was infinitely more subversive than the first. Starting with Biogenesis, Carter, along with Spotnitz and Duchovny, dove headfirst into a remarkably esoteric variant of Ancient Astronaut Theory (AAT had been a part of the Mythology all along) marrying it to Psychedelia (we meet "Dr. Sandoz" and his superpower-inducing alien tablets) and Spiritualism.
America's Sweethearts Mulder and Scully were now gleefully announcing that mankind was engineered by an alien race of godlike power and that all of mankind's beliefs (including Islam and Darwinism, in case you were wondering) were all a giant delusion, based on a childish, wishful misinterpretations of ancient alien encounters, concretized by a Godship that Scully encounters off the coast of Africa.
(Fans who wondered why the Biogenesis storyline was suddenly dropped should make note that it was picked up again as soon as Duchovny left the show. Gee, maybe there's a clue in there, you think?)
Not content with that chunk of subversion, the storyline of Mulder's sister's alien abduction was resolved in Sein Und Zeit/Closure. There it was revealed that Samantha was dead all along (something attentive viewers figured already, having been clued in with episodes like Paper Hearts) but that her soul had been transformed into pure energy by disembodied aliens known as "Walk-Ins" (whom Carter introduced us to in the pivotal, 2012-themed episode Red Museum) who travel the cosmos in starlight.
This was all straight out of the weirdest precincts of the UFO/New Age underground. The usual trolls whined (which they'd been doing for years at this point), but I thought the two-parter was the greatest thing I'd ever seen on TV - easily an equal to similarly themed movies like Jacob's Ladder. The X-Files was now goring everyone's ox- the Left and the Right, the religious and the secular.
And it would pay for its transgressions.
The next axe fell and it was wielded by Duchovny, yet again. His contract was finally up and he planned to pursue his movie career, which ultimately ended up leading him back to television (strangely, his first launch after leaving The X-Files was an X-Files parody, Evolution). With Scully now firmly in the believer camp after her initiation by the psychotronic Godship, her new partner had to be a skeptic; enter John Doggett.
Doggett was played by the actor's actor Robert Patrick, who was an inevitable pick given his roles in Terminator 2 and Fire in the Sky, both of which had heavily influenced The X-Files from the beginning. A compromise was worked out with Duchovny, which allowed the new male lead to be established.
After a strange first two seasons in LA, where the show veered drunkenly from light comedy to pitch black horror, the new X-Files team staunched the bleeding and announced the show would be brought back to basics, working the rich horror/sci-fi vein of the Vancouver years.
After losing over five million average viewers in less than two years (many showrunners today would kill for five million viewers total), The X-Files stabilized to a rather enviable rate of attrition for a show its age (never mind a genre show with heavy competition in its time slot) losing about a half-million average viewers year over year with Patrick as new lead.
By contrast, Star Trek: The Next Generation lost over a million viewers from its sixth to its final season, in an environment with a lot less competition than X-Files faced.
With Anderson's and Carter's contracts both up at the end of the season and Duchovny only back on a guest-star basis, a nine-episode arc was devised which would send Mulder and Scully off into the sunset (Sunset Blvd., hopefully) and allow Doggett and his new partner Monica Reyes (played by Annabeth Gish) to launch the next generation X-Files.
It was all wrapped up with a two-parter that mercilessly ransacked the Terminator mythos and ancient mythology from the Bible and other sources. The final scene in which Mulder and Scully smooch while cradling their newborn son was undoubtedly meant to be their farewell on the show. It was all meticulously orchestrated, something that no one had previously accused The X-Files of being. But then another axe fell, this time wielded by Anderson.
Anderson had felt she'd been underpaid for years, a legacy of the original contracts drawn up when Duchovny was an up-and-comer and Anderson was a total unknown. Fox suits were nervous that Patrick and Gish couldn't carry the show on their own, and were surely unhappy that Carter was presenting Monica as a lesbian New Ager in the eighth season's finale. Anderson reportedly got a huge raise to return for Season Nine.
But Scully without Mulder is like peanut butter without jelly. What made the Doggett-Scully dynamic work so well was the certainty that Duchovny would return to wrap up the story. Mulder and Scully should have fled with their son but only Mulder did, which made zero sense to anyone.
Worse, the writers were stung by criticism that Mulder was ignored entirely in the Season Eight standalones, and hence he was discussed ad nauseum in Season Nine. Which made less sense, since there was no reason to believe we'd ever see him again. And the believer-skeptic dynamic that undergirded the show now had to accommodate Scully, who fell between the cracks.
If the zeitgeist had bent against The X-Files in the late 90s, now it was kicking its head in. Dick Cheney and his cabal of neocons took control of the White House and as just as his frontman's approval ratings neared a terminal point, they shot through the roof after 9/11. Meanwhile, the already hobbled X-Files was up against the boutique cable drama The Sopranos and the pro-CIA Alias.
The only attention The X-Files was getting at that point is that the pilot episode of its short-lived spinoff The Lone Gunmen had foreshadowed 9/11, ascribing the attack not to Arab terrorists but a faction of money-hungry arms dealers and power-hungry spooks looking for a new enemy to exploit. Rupert Murdoch's secretary was probably very busy that following Monday morning.
Into all of this wandered The X-Files, whose chaotic two-part opener (Nothing Important Happened Today, parts I and II (X 1/2)-- an ill-advised title if ever there was one) briefly flirted with making the show a Law and Order-styled ensemble drama, an idea which seemed to be quickly scuppered once the two episodes were finished.
The Nothing Important Happened Today's are so overstuffed and frenetic that they play almost like an X-Files parody. You have a lot of interesting elements; a terrific teaser with a shocking climax, Lucy Lawless playing an interesting new villain (albeit one who was never seen again thanks to Lawless' pregnancy), British heartthrob Cary Elwes brought in as a new AD with uncertain loyalties, Reyes hitting on Scully during an autopsy (giving the SRR girls a thrill and the Fox suits a coronary, surely) and a twist in the alien conspiracy where a chemical is being put into drinking water in order to alter the DNA of pregnant women. A chilling, Vancouver-worthy sequence in which William's telekinesis comes to be made manifest. And production-wise there was a slicker, darker look and more sophisticated color palette.
But you also have a boatload of bad: New baby-daddy Mulder disappearing with no attempt at an explanation given other than that David Duchovny was no longer on the show. Reyes suddenly given a gender-preference reassignment via a particularly unconvincing backstory with the Elwes character, aforementioned Scully-flirtation notwithstanding. Doggett running an incomprehensible investigation of Deputy Director Kersh that goes absolutely nowhere. The recently-canceled Lone Gunmen and the recently-dead Knowle Rohrer appearing for no discernable reason than to give the XF bench airtime. A portentious and misleading subplot aboard a naval ship that unfolds like a particularly bad Tom Clancy novel.
And worst of all, the searing emotional violence the Mytharc perfected was replaced with over-rendered, whispery melodrama and way too many Scully crying scenes. I've tried several times to rewatch these episodes, thinking I didn't watch them in the proper frame of mind, and every time they just get worse and worse.
The weird, extremely un-X-Files use of salty language only serves to confirm my suspicion that the network was trying to impose its vision on Spotnitz and Gilligan (Carter didn't renew his contract until Season Nine was already in production), since it disappeared immediately afterward with Carter's return.
I can only assume that the exhaustion left in the wake of the epochal Season Eight and the behind-the-scenes confusion kicked loose the bearings for a while. It would get much better.
And of course all of this huffing and puffing about government conspiracies against the American people arrived at the worst possible time; exactly two months after 9/11 and in the midst of the anthrax letter crisis.
The first standalone was Demonicus (XXXX), dealing with a imprisoned psychopath orchestrating a series of ritual occult crimes from his cell. Following the NIHT debacle, Demonicus was a very good episode. However, it was a very good Millennium episode (complete with Ouroboros reference), and seemed somewhat out of place in the X-Files Universe, despite the Vancouverite flourishes rendere onto the LA locations.
Even so, you had the gruff, weathered Robert Patrick filling in nicely for the the gruff, weathered Lance Henriksen and Reyes filling the Lara Means role. But then there's Scully, who was ostensibly the star of the show but was no longer working in the X-Files office. I know from the book interviews that having to service the Scully character made everyone's job more difficult, and probably did more damage to the season than would have done if Gillian had left the show. This would be the last XF episode I would watch in first-run until Underneath (another Millennium wannabe) and then Sunshine Days after that.
I think I made the right decision, since I was able to go back and watch the reruns a few years later with a fresh eye, without dealing with the fractured zeitgeist.
9/11 happened while Demonicus was filming, and the motif of evil forces making a game of deceiving the innocent seems grimly appropriate in retrospect. But if the Mytharc was shaky before 9/11, the country would be in no mood for it afterward. As we'll see, this only seemed to encourage the producers -- Carter, especially -- to ramp up the paranoia, ripping things like warrantless wiretaps and secret trials straight from the headlines. I can't say it made for classic X-Files drama, but maybe that wasn't the goal.
Continuing in the Millennium vein was Hellbound (XXX), a particularly explicit episode about a killer who skins his victims alive. As with most of the season, it would have worked better as straight-up Doggett-Reyes. Seeing Scully flit in and out of the action during the season only served to be distracting, even if Gillian Anderson was particularly gorgeous in these episodes. We get more Dark Monica here as well, which flies in the face of her original concept as a source of light.
Now I know a lot of us here are big Fringe fans, and as such I think most of you will appreciate the first killer ep of Season Nine, 4-D (XXXXX). Like a lot of others that year it would have had a lot more impact had it been a Mulder/Scully and not Doggett/Reyes, but even so it's pretty brilliant. The plot deals with a psychopathic momma's boy (played brilliantly by Dylan Haggerty, another of the many Millennium alums Ten Thirteen hired on for The X-Files) who discovers an interdimensional portal outside his apartment and uses it to cross over to slit women's throats with a straight razor.
Alt-Reyes is killed and Alt-Doggett is shot while staking out his apartment and falls through the portal, displacing Our-Doggett. I can't say for certain that it inspired the Fringe alt-universe arc, but let's just say I wouldn't be surprised, knowing what a X-Files fanatic JJ Abrams is. Even though I found Monica's hetero-makeover annoying (and redundant), I do have to say that Annabeth and Robert Patrick definitely had their own chemistry, Shippers be damned. If you want to explore Season Nine, I'd definitely recommend you start with 4-D.
Regular readers of The Secret Sun are familiar with the X-Files habit of blending psychonautics and alien revelation, so the next standalone won't be too much of a surprise. Lord of the Flies (XXX) revisits a episode from Season Five (Travelers) dealing with the creation of the X-Files office during the McCarthy witch-hunts.
Travelers had the HUAC hearings as a smokescreen for a series of gruesome human experiments, grafting alien insects into human hosts. Lord takes that ball and runs with it, throwing in a Jackass parody and a Syd Barrett-worshipping human-insect hybrid into the mix. Like so much of Season Nine, we see shapes of boutique TV to come: Jane Lynch guest-stars, essentially playing the same character she plays today on Glee and Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul apparently caught Vince Gilligan's eye here as well (Entourage stunner Samaire Armstrong also appears).
A lot of fans hate this episode but I think it's good fun and high hilarity (Rocky Bronzino is especially resonant for this Jerseyite). Aside from the Pink Floyd connection, Lord also features an image regular readers are familiar with; Scully staring at a poster of Isis.
Speaking of Vince Gilligan, he wrote the next episode, John Doe (XXXXX). The ep takes big chunks of style from Soderbergh's remake of Traffic, but also adds in a fascinating subplot linking magick and the occult to Mexican drug-trafficking, a meme that's become even more of a story since, with the Santa Muerte cult and all of the rest of it. In it Doggett wakes up in a remote Mexican village with his memory erased and must reconstruct his identity piece by piece. His troubled past catches up to him in a crushing fashion...
It's a showcase for Robert Patrick's formidable acting chops and a showcase for TXF's cinematographer, Bill Roe. I always felt Roe had a tendency to over-render the show, preferring the subtler work of John Bartley and Joel Ransom. But there are shows where his Raphaelite approach worked like gangbusters and John Doe is one of them. Watch this one after 4-D.
The Mytharc is dragged out again for Trustno1 (XX1/2), which makes for mediocre entertainment but effective polemic. The jarring melodrama is back as well as the overly-Byzantine (if not incoherent) plotting and few dissonant bits of purple prose, but there is a definite point to be made here about the constant invasion of privacy and electronic surveillance taking place under the pretext of the "War on Terror." This ep shows us that not even FBI agents are immune to the intrusions of faceless bureaucrats who sit behind the monitors and coldly record everyone's most intimate details.
Televisually, Trustno1 offers up a nice goodie bag. If you can stomach the mush ("Dearest Dana?"), there is a lot to like. You get Terry O'Quinn as guest-star. O'Quinn was known as "Mr. Ten Thirteen" before he landed the gig in Lost, having co-starred in Millennium and the short-lived Harsh Realm and appeared in various X-Files stories. He doesn't have much to do here, alas.
The surveillance theme is chilling, there's a operatic shootout on a crowded commuter train platform, and in keeping with Season Nine's sapphic undercurrents (see Lawless, Lucy), there's some UST between Scully and a troubled young woman she meets in a coffee bar, climaxing in a L Word-worthy scene in which a blushing Scully -- realizing she won't be getting any from Mulder any time soon -- invites the damsel-in-distress into her apartment. Fans howled that Scully should have known better than inviting a stranger into her home, but - as usual - they weren't paying attention to the subtext (or the long, meaningful glances, deep breaths and bashful smiles).
Seriously, watch it -- you'll see what I mean.
Remember, what's not said in The X-Files is usually more important than what's said. And all of this makes archetypal sense- Scully is an Irish Catholic military brat/tomboy with daddy issues who pursued a career in law enforcement. Being a Bostonian born and raised, I can tell you that mix doesn't necessarily spell out "exclusive heterosexual" for me. Was this conscious on Ten Thirteen's part? Or simply a bone (as it were) thrown to Gillian Anderson's sizable Estrogen Brigade? I can't say and they never will, but there's a whole host of fascinating sexual (and especially procreative) subtexts at work throughout the show's run (we'll leave aside Skinner's issues for another post).
In any event, Trustno1 all ends up as being less than the sum of its parts, which happens when you have to go back and do over something you already finished. Like, oh, say Mulder and Scully's story arc.
Now, I'll let you all in on a secret- the aliens in The X-Files are largely metaphorical, symbolizing the threat posed by the ever-expanding national security behemoth. The Syndicate of the early years snuck around and tried to cover their tracks but their supersoldier stepchildren don't even bother with the pretense. Step out of line and you can be easily silenced (or replaced) and anyone watching better look the other way and go about their business.
A lot of fans hated the supersolider arc, but as a lot of you know, it's a real, ongoing program (and had been refenced in TXF since Season One). And since the supersoliders were all concentrated in the police and military, the motif acts as an effective critique of the dehumanizing nature of rampant militarization. The Syndicate had human weakness, the supersoliders are the more perfect instruments of the Globalist agenda.
As I said before, I watched Underneath (XXXX) in its first run and it's another excellent Millennium episode. It might have made a good Season Eight episode as well, as this time it's Reyes who plays the fifth wheel. I can't help but wonder what might have been if Gillian left with David and let the producers start fresh. Seeing that the worst episodes of the season are the ones in which the already-completed-in-Season-Eight Mytharc needs to be dragged out of mothballs again, I think it would have made for a much better show, my Scully-love be damned.
Still, the S9 Mytharc wasn't a total washout for me. Again, I know a lot of fans disagree, but I think the Provenance/Providence two-parter was a subversive classic, and right up there with my other favorite two-parters like Tempus Fugit/Max (which a lot of fans argue should have been the first feature film) and Sein Und Zeit/Closure.
With the Evangelical-friendly Bush Administration on the tear post 9/11, it probably wasn't the best time to shove some hardcore Ancient Astronaut Theory down America's throat, but with the show nearing its end there was nothing left to lose. As always, Chris Carter's response was to double down.
Scully's ova might have been destroyed when she was abducted by the military and experimented on by the old Unit 731/Paperclip butchers, but her exposure to the Godship in Sixth Extinction brought them back, resulting in the birth of her and Mulder's lovechild, William. With Mulder having been inoculated with the Black Oil and Scully's DNA having been altered by the Godship, their child's junk DNA was switched back on, making him a wildcard to the alien colonists.
Fans had complained that the Biogenesis/Sixth Extinction storyline had been dropped without explanation but its reappearance at this point in the show's history should give a pretty good idea why it disappeared and why it returned.
In Provenance (XXXX1/2), an attempt on William's life by a rogue FBI agent (who fears William is the alien Antichrist) drives a Raelian/Dominionist synthesis of a cult (led by a supersoldier-worshipping retired Army colonel) to abduct the baby and shelter him on their compound in Canada (where a new Godship has been discovered).
Despite some of the usual Season Nine whispery dramatics, this two-parter succeeds for me where all of the other S9 Myth eps failed because it's basically about one event (the kidnapping of William), not this, that and the other thing and the kitchen sink, besides. There are no confusing red herrings or triple-crosses.
Provenance offers up some Shootin' Scully (when she busts caps into her son's attempted murderer) and some Sapphic Scully (some breathless UST scenes in Monica's apartment which the SRR gals swooned over) and some Sassmouth Scully (when she sassmouths the FBI brass). In short, a much more aggressive and proactive Scully than we saw in most of the season.
Directed by Carter, Providence (XXX1/2) (episode 9x11) opens up with an somewhat prescient battle scene in Iraq and cannily depicts the rogue colonel as a man whose fanaticism keeps him in a narcotic - even erotic - state of bliss. It also piles up the mawkish religious cliche and sentiment, all the while deviously subverting it by having the characters ascribe the power of the alien Godship to Yahweh and his angels. Doggett isn't revived by prayer; he's revived by the alien radiation that Scully absorbed from a Godship fragment. He doesn't hear the voice of his guardian angel; the radiation temporarily instills the same psychic powers that Mulder possessed in The Sixth Extinction. Jesus doesn't save William, the baby's alien DNA does.
The two-parter has profound personal resonance with me, some of which I wrote about here. Bonus Sync: just the other day I discovered an outtake from Provenance, featuring an actor whose second-ever role was playing a guy named Tiger Knowles. The main shortcomings here are a bit too much Monica/not-Monica, a bit too much melodrama and too many inert hospital scenes, all of which is in keeping with the old XF two-parter tendency to shoot its load in the first half. Fantastic teaser, though.
One of the shortcomings of Season Nine is how it put Doggett and Reyes into comas and whatnot in a number of different episodes. As it was, we didn't really know these characters well enough for these situations to have the required impact. Again, all of this would have so much more impact had it been Mulder and Scully. But then again, those same episodes are all really good, so I can't really complain. Plus you very much get the feeling the writers were clearing the decks of favorite unused plot ideas as the show came to a close. Audrey Pauley (XXX1/2) is one of them and features Tracey Ellis (who was such a revelation in 'Oubliette') in the title role.
Here, Reyes is placed into a coma by an "angel of death" ER doctor and enters an imaginary hospital that is psychically created by Audrey, a disabled nurses aide. It's more of the Twilight Zone XF ep than canon, but it works beautifully as a mystic tone poem (despite the DRR stuff).
Now, a lot of people dump on Annabeth Gish and the Monica Reyes character for "ruining The X-Files" but the criticism is unfair (anyone who watched the New England-noir series Brotherhood knows she can act like hell). The culprit here is the zeitgeist, yet again. I thought the character was fantastic in Season Eight (her awkward introduction in This is Not Happening is one of my favorite scenes in the whole series).
She was created to bring light into the show, with her New Age ditziness and her sexual ambiguity, yet still function as a (reasonably) capable agent. She was to be the Mulder to Doggett's Scully, and an explicit reminder to Scully of the martyred Melissa.
No one at Ten Thirteen will ever admit to it, but I'm certain that Fox didn't want their new lead female character in their top-rated drama to be a breezy, crystal-clutching, whalesong-crooning lesbian, and her makeover in the S9 opener just screams network notes ("Chris- give Monica a boyfriend immediately").
But the show got a lot darker in S9 and Carter admitted that the character as originally conceived didn't work for either the tone or the zeigeist. Whereas a sunnier character would help add balance to the dark stories, Monica instead became a cipher, a character without an identity. She never seemed to do much that any lady-cop on any other TV show might not do, other than "sense the presence of evil" ever other episode.
All of which makes the return of the original Monica in Carter's Synchromystic manifesto, Improbable (XXXXX), such a treat. Aside from being a brilliant treatise on the mystical powers of symbology, numerology and pattern recognition (Carter's Neoplatonic vision of God - as opposed to his doctrinaire AstroGnostic vision of the Demiurge - uses number and pattern to guide us along, if only we'd learn His language), it's also incredibly funny and joyous. Which come to think of it, is another poke in the zeitgeist's eye.
Improbable has God (played by Burt Reynolds) intervening directly to prevent a serial killer from doing his dirty business. God tries to teach Wayne the joys of pattern and symbol as a way out of his rut, but the lessons don't take. Having failed in that, GodBurt then introduces himself to Scully and Reyes and uses an impromptu game of checkers to teach them game theory. If any Synchros out there haven't seen Improbable, you really owe to yourself. It makes Jake Kotze look like James Randi.
Even better is Carter's director's commentary in which he unleashes his Neoplatonic theurgy in breathless detail. Pound for pound, this is the best episode of the season, and one of Carter's best high-concept excursions (and a favorite vid source for the SRR coterie).
Seeing that inconsistency was Season Nine's bugaboo, the triumph of Improbable was followed by Scary Monsters (XXX), a classic X-File with a classic XF evil psychic child that's diminished by the incredibly annoying Leila Harrison, my least favorite character in the history of the series. But the episode makes good use of the Doggett-Reyes dynamic, and even the Scully fifth-wheel motif makes sense.
I've been all over the map with this episode but now I see it as another good, solid Season Nine standalone. The reason for my ambivalence is that this episode starts off feeling kind of annoying and goofy, but quickly gets into old school XF horror once the silliness is done away with. Seeing how experimental the writing staff was until the end, that may have been exactly the point.
Some strong editorializing about fan resistance to the new characters, most likely from Vince Gilligan, is peppered throughout. As I referenced in the book, Gilligan was absolutely furious over the criticism being aired on the Internet about the ninth season, and it took it all very badly. It was especially wounding to him since he was the de facto showrunner on the short-lived Lone Gunmen series and took its cancellation hard as well.
Then there's Jump the Shark (XXXX), which a lot of people hated and I love. Killing off the Lone Gunmen, who'd been around since the first season, was never going to be a popular decision. But with their underappreciated series canceled, Mulder long-gone and the Mothership sailing off into the sunset, the move was inevitable.
The episode brings back Area 51 MIB Morris Fletcher (played by Spinal Tap's Michael McKean), and the spinoff's token eye candy, Jimmy Bond and Yves Adele Harlow (an anagram of Lee Harvey Oswald). It's essentially a Lone Gunmen ep guest-starring Doggett and Reyes, but adds intentional discordant notes by repeated references to the then-current anthrax panic.
With the Gunmen sent off to the glue factory, it came time to wrap up business and resolve storylines, but the spirit seemed to go out of it all. The subplot of Doggett's son's murder is resolved in yet another Millennium stowaway, Release (XX). The story revolves around a young Frank Black wannabe who feeds Doggett clues about a generic mafiosi who moonlights as a serial killer.
It should work- Jared Poe is suitably Millenniumistic and carries off an improbable-bordering-on-impossible role. But that ordinary network TV vibe keeps creeping back in; that Law and Order network cop show feeling we started to see way back in Season 6 but thought we (mostly) lost by the Vancouverish Season 8, despite the fact that there's an obvious effort made to harken back to the look of eps like 'Grotesque'- as well as Millennium itself.
But there are fatal flaws that just sink it- Cary Elwes' character is totally rewritten for no good reason. Monica undergoes yet another personality transplant, this time as a Scullyesque skeptic. And Sal Landi as the mobster is just terrible- I mean, facepalm awful.
The whole thing is ostensibly well-produced but jarringly un-X-Files, and the Mafia angle almost seems like a egregious dig at The Sopranos, which was getting all of the attention in The X-Files' traditional timeslot. Only Robert Patrick's wonderful performance lifts it from the network TV doldrums.
The Season Eight eps that referenced the Luke subplot - Invocation (mostly Carter's) and Empedocles (mostly Spotnitz's)- were so stunningly revelatory (especially so for a brand new character) that the mundane resolution of Luke's death seems like nothing less than a betrayal. Robert Patrick did such a great job on the show that he really deserved a meatier resolution to his character's backstory. I don't know if anyone much cared at this point, which seems to have been the problem to begin with.
Chris Carter said he was depressed over the show's fate in the wake of 9/11 and with it limping to its death, these last handful of episodes can be understood as the work of a dispirited team.
As was William (XX), a Duchovny-directed episode in which Mulder and Scully's baby was simultaneously de-alienized and put out to pasture. I can see the rationale, in that the plan to launch a movie franchise would be bogged down if our heroes had to change diapers while fighting the Greys, and Duchovny openly scorned the William storyline (so it's appropriate he returned to do away with it). But if Scully's story was resolved with 'Existence' like it was meant to, the fans wouldn't have been so put out by William and he could have been dropped off with Momma Scully.
The episode brings back Jeffrey Spender, who left the show too soon (probably because he was very unpopular with fans, just like with poor William, or possibly because his character had no point with the Syndicate prematurely done away with) but Duchovny also brings in some very un-X-Files Lifetime-brand melodrama. The whole thing struck a sour note with me (being someone who believes that babies, along with dogs and cats, are the secret to happiness in life).
Luckily, Vince Gilligan's Sunshine Days (XXXX) came in as the penultimate episode. Here again the Lost connection- Days tells the story of Oliver Martin, the "Mozart of telepaths" who recreates the Brady Bunch house in his nondescript bungalow. Oliver is played by Michael Emerson, who became a major player on the island. As in all of the comedy eps this season, Monica is considerably more appealing than she was in the more serious stories. The Doggett-Reyes chemistry finally gels, only it's too late.
Then there's The Truth (XXX). I've been all over the place with this episode over the years - I absolutely loved it when it first aired. Be advised that my opinions and feelings on all of these shows is based on repeat viewings. In fact, aside from the Nothing Important Happened Today, Part One disaster, I found all of these episodes were at least watchable once. I rewatch very few shows, in point of fact. I've yet to rewatch an episode of Fringe, for example. In all fairness, a show should be judged on a single viewing and in that regard The Truth was a success.
The main problem with The Truth for most people is the trial sequence, which was more famously used on the Seinfeld finale. And the trial was not Carter's first choice- the original plan for the finale was an Amor Fati-type series of dream sequences, which I know I would have preferred. But there was always a feeling upstairs that the Mythology needed to be explained to the dimmer viewers, and I very much get the sense that the episode was a reunion party for the cast and crew, bringing back a lot of old friends, many of whom appear as ghosts.
Of course, the finales of Battlestar Galactica and Lost have since displaced 'The Truth' as famous disappointments for long-suffering fans. But I would argue that it's impossible to wrap up a series - as Chris Carter said, you don't want your characters to end. And in all fairness to the X-Files staff, 'The Truth' is a second finale- a coda, really. They did wrap up the Mulder-Scully story -- perfectly, in my opinion -- with the Essence/Existence two-parter.
The only reason 'The Truth' itself existed at all was that Gillian Anderson signed on for Season Nine to get a large bonus. I think in retrospect that was a major error, for all involved. A Doggett-Reyes X-Files would have stood or fallen, but the Mulder-Scully X-Files could have hit the big screen while it still mattered, not six years after the show faded after struggling against the zeitgeist.
Even so, 'The Truth' continued Chris Carter's war against the War on Terror, putting Mulder in a Guantanamo-like military prison and subject to psychological torture, sleep deprivation, and finally a kangaroo court in which a guilty verdict (and death penalty) was a forgone conclusion. This surely made him no friends in Rupert Murdoch's inner circle of arch-neocons, and one can't help but wonder if all of the legal harassment he dealt with after 'The Truth' - and then watching his underfunded and wildly underrated X-Files 2 thrown under The Dark Knight Working bus- might not have been coincidental.
And with the Bush-era zeitgeist at least beginning to fade I have to admit that I enjoyed a recent rewatch of 'The Truth'. The trial sequence seemed a lot shorter and less obtrusive than it did over the years and the drama before and after seemed a lot more momentous.
The silliness you see in the media about this catastrophic decline in The X-Files is just that- silly. And a lot of that seems to come from people who never actually watched the season but heard somewhere that The X-Files wasn't "hot" anymore. That will change, there's no question about it. I've seen it happen time and again. When you dominate the culture in one decade you have to take your licks in the next. The zeitgeist giveth and the zeitgeist taketh away. Just ask the Bee Gees.
Season Nine is not perfect by any means, it's pretty typical of an aging show nine years on. It's not nearly on the level of the Vancouver years (none of the LA seasons are), but it was certainly no worse than your typical hour-long network dramas (even though it felt as if the melodramatic riffs of mainstream television were beginning to invade).
But God help us all, it's still miles above The Event or V or Threshold or any of the innumerable shows that have tried to follow in The X-Files' wake. Even Fringe- the best of the lot by far (Supernatural is more a Millennium clone)- is about on par with Season Nine (and borrows liberally from it) and is nowhere near as compelling as XF Seasons One through Five.
All of this will come out in the wash eventually. In fact, Carter's great sin in I Want to Believe was that the film too accurately captured the miserable, hopeless zeitgeist of our times, as opposed to offering up a trip down Memory Lane to the carefree 1990s. Mulder and Scully were no longer the young, sexy heroes valiantly trying to stave off the New World Order, like all of us they got crushed beneath its wheels.
No one wanted to see a movie about people trying to hold on to scraps of hope in the face of official indifference, they preferred to be hypnotized by the neoconservative wishdream of The Dark Knight, even if no one actually seems to remember that film. Carter and Co. told us something we didn't really want to hear about catastrophic terrorism all those years ago, and The Dark Knight- as if channeling Dick Cheney and Pamela Geller's deformed lovechild- told us that terrorists are just a bunch of psychotic crossdressers who blow shit up because they don't know how to do anything else.
Never underestimate America's need to hear a comforting lie over an uncomfortable truth.
SECRET SUN TOP TEN
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