Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The X-Files: Chris Carter Strikes a Nerve...(UPDATED)

So after 14 years off the air, 11 months of waiting after the revival was announced and most excruciatingly, 20 minutes of contentless, post-game fluff and a mind-rotting avalanche of commercials, the new episode of The X-Files aired. 

The ratings were huge and most of the fans seem ecstatic. But at the same time there is quite clearly an organized campaign among critics and keyboard commandos against this reboot, against the first episode "My Struggle" in particular. And as I explained in my previous post it has less to do with what's being shown than what's being said.

Let me explain.

Some time ago I interviewed the author Jonathan Lethem about our mutual love of Jack Kirby and his chapter of Kirby's 70s work in Lethem's collection of memoirs entitled The Disappointment Artist. Kirby's 70s work is hugely influential now, in fact it can be argued that his ideas are essentially single-handedly keeping the entire movie business solvent, whether directly (through the Avengers Universe) or filtered (through the Star Wars Universe). 

But back then they were not well-received by fandom at all, and were seen as irrelevant and off-the-wall and generally uncool.

What was Kirby writing about back then? Oh, ancient astronauts, UFOs, conspiracies, hidden technologies, genetic engineering, interdimensional travel, and so on and so forth.

Sound familiar?

I asked Lethem why Kirby seemed to buck the tide so stubbornly, given his old-school commercial artist instincts.  And Lethem responded that after so long in the business, after making millions for others and having so little to show for it in return, Kirby lost the will to compromise, to meet the editors and audience halfway. He had a vision and was going to pursue it, regardless of the consequences.

After making billions for others and watching others grow rich stealing his ideas, Chris Carter seems to be in a similar place with The X-Files. 

Carter started out wanting to "tell scary stories".  He didn't know how yet, all he knew is that he loved old shows like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The Invaders and most especially, Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

After reading a news story about poll that a surprisingly large proportion of Americans claimed to have experienced alien abduction, Carter researched the topic and found it was a perfect hook for "scary stories". Having seen how many UFO-themed series ran out of gas early on (Jack Webb's Project UFO especially), he expanded the scope of the stories to tell more conventional scary stories, about monsters and ghosts and all the rest.

But as the series progressed Carter discovered a whole new trove of source material for "scary stories", the then-burgeoning conspiracy underground. 

Compared to the real life horrors that governments and corporations were capable of, liver-eating mutants and flukemen were pretty light fare. Which is why so many fans prefer the monsters and comedy episodes- they're actually not scary at all.

They're goofy, fun, escapist entertainment.

"Deep Throat", where pilots who fly secret aircraft are subjected to chemical brain damage to keep their missions secret, is scary. "Conduit", where a bureaucratic mistake brings a squad of goons to smash up your house and arrest you and your small child, is scary. "Blood", in which a combination of aerosolized drugs and subliminal messages drive people to wanton acts of murder, is scary. As is its companion piece, "Wetwired", where those messages are broadcast through cable TV channels.

Or how about "731", where the homeless and insane are experimented upon and then slaughtered by death squads and buried in mass graves? Or "Zero Sum", where schoolchildren are subjected to weaponized smallpox through killer bee attacks? 

Mind control, human experimentation, planned cullings, and secret warfare are scary. Vampires and werewolves simply are not; they're fun and silly.  

So Carter again sets out to scare his audience. And he does so by doing what he's always done- reach into the Jack-in-the-Box of America's Nightmare Cabinet and force the fringe into the mainstream.

That he seems to be taking so much flak shows that he is indeed striking some very sensitive nerves, which is why mainstream voices-of-record The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly were not content to attack "My Struggle" once, they actually did so twice.
Roswell, 9/11, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Kimmel, Faraday Cages, the military-industrial complex, kids without ears, the military-industrial complex, JFK, Henrietta Lacks, Saddam Hussein, “Mission Accomplished,” the Patriot Act, Edward Snowden, communism, terrorism, fascism, the Venus Syndrome, “They’ve reopened the X-Files.” 
There, I just spoiled “My Struggle,” the rebooted premiere of The X-Files and one of the single strangest episodes of anything ever. “My Struggle” is a chain-gun barrage of catchphrase paranoia and midlife-crisis crypto-Randian anti-philosophy. -Entertainment Weekly (first review)

What I know for sure is that despite my affection for Joel McHale, I couldn’t get past that 9/11 false flag stuff to really enjoy his character. In general, this episode forced me to re-think my interest in conspiracy theories and my openness to be entertained by them — something The X-Files taught me...
Back then it was the ’90s (my 20s), when I was drunk on the irony and irreverence of the era. Having lived through more than a few national and personal tragedies since then, I find it harder to be amused by the appropriation of catastrophe and the troubling ways we make sense of life’s horror. --Entertainment Weekly (second review)
The show was at its best when its heroes investigated something very creepy — a ship on the Norwegian Sea whose crew mysteriously ages, for instance — and came up with more questions than answers. The real pleasure of “The X-Files” wasn’t having your worst fears about the government confirmed; it was realizing that our world might still contain phenomena that are unexplained, and perhaps unexplainable. --New York Times (first review)
This time he’s propagating a theory, not about aliens, but about the cruelest of creatures: man. He reckons that the “alien abductions” he’s spent his life investigating were actually undertaken by men posing as aliens and testing alien DNA on humans. This evil plan will culminate in the “takeover of America.” I spit out my drink laughing at that line, which was bad because I was watching this episode on my computer. It sounded like something Sarah Palin would say. Along for this trite trip through Mulder’s troubled mind is a right-wing talk show host, because that is a believable alliance these days. --New York Times (second review)
Lest you think that's some editorial quirk, look at the bad review in Time, which not only completely misinterprets the mandate of the original series (fun?) but cites the authoritarian propaganda orgasmatron The Dark Knight as the example Carter should be following:
2016 may be the worst possible time to attempt a reboot of a series whose point of view was that conspiracy theories are, above all else, fun. As evidenced in political polling, the current national mood is something less joyful and more fearful, and a show in which a can-do attitude can barrel through any mystery feels out-of-step with the times. 
That doesn’t stop The X-Files from trying. The show, after all, has to live down an ending that resolved little and a stand-alone movie, in 2008, that underperformed at the box office (it was overshadowed by a film that spoke far more strongly to the national mood at that time—Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.)- Time review
So apparently it's not OK to write about this stuff anymore, not even as fiction. It was OK during the Bush era, it was OK to be suspicious of the Powers-That-Be then. Michael Moore made millions doing so. But not with the Anointed One in the Oval Office.
UPDATE: The bad reviews almost certainly caught Chris Carter and Fox by surprise. Why?

Because the new X-Files pilot was wildly received not only at NY Comic-Con but at MIPCOM, a television trade fair. Read this:

Cynical industry journalists turned into gawking fanboys at the MIPCOM television trade fair on Tuesday night when Fox screened — in its world premiere — the first episode of the hotly anticipated return of The X-Files. 
The audience packed into Cannes' Grand Auditorium broke out in spontaneous applause multiple times — including when Duchovny and Anderson first appeared — and the crowd whooped and cheered as the closing credits rolled. But perhaps the biggest applause came earlier, when the opening credits — with The X-Files' trademark intro music — hit the screen.
So ask yourself: what happened between October and January?
This is exactly why we see such dangerous polarization in this country, why news outlets like Time are dying, why people are drawn to fringe opinions in the first place. People see the hypocrisy and double-standards and don't like them.

Now here's the thing: I didn't learn about most of the issues Carter raises on Alex Jones or Glenn Beck, I first heard about them on WBAI and WFMU, two hard left/liberal radio stations, back in the 1980s and 1990s, and in underground publications like Covert Action Quarterly. How long ago that seems today.

Being liberal or progressive once meant "questioning authority." No longer.

So let's be clear what the Voice of the Establishment is saying here. It's not OK to make fiction about this stuff-- fiction, mind you-- because it's too scary.

When The New York Times decides to send that message twice, one can only conclude that Carter struck a nerve.

The irony here is that the conspiracy material won't have much effect on the Alex Jones/David Icke crowd either way; they'll just figure it's more predictive programming or disinfo or whatever. There's no pleasing them either.

But again, you get the feeling Chris Carter simply doesn't give a shit. He's going to do what he wants to do and let everyone else deal with it.

The people who write for geek sites and non-mainstream media don't like "scary" either. Nor do the floating, freelance trolls who you see on comment sites and message boards. Here's a typical sampling of geek opinion, (a demographic who never liked the serious side of The X-Files anyway) and their fixation on the McHale character's radical libertarianism :
Fox Mulder was always noble. We identified with his plight because what he was doing was born out of love, so it’s both confusing and unfortunate that the show portrays Glenn Beck types the same way. 
Call me crazy, but I like my conspiracies served up classy, not lumped in with “the guvernmint is gonna take yer gunz!-  The Workprint
Hilarious. And this from Geekwire
 A few moments into Mulder and O’Malley engaging in a bro-babble about enslaving humanity via agricultural manipulation, the Fifth Extinction, weather control and the building of prison camps for no unknown purpose, blaming every significant world power but the Kardashians, a person can’t be blamed for wondering whether we really needed more of this show.
There was going to be no pleasing these people anyway. They've had their knives out for Carter for a very, very long time, both for trivial, "nerd-rage" reasons (mostly because that Carter has never prostrated himself before them like other creators) and among a certain subset, more troubling reasons that have to do with certain issues Carter's taken on in his writing.

But even the X-Files fansite Eat the Corn
(which has signed onto some extremely questionable enterprises, like the recent X-Files comics) has trouble separating fiction from reality in an otherwise positive review when he doesn't like the politics:

While this is good news, the turn Mulder takes embracing O’Malley’s theories and Carter’s comments above could be cause for concern. Your mileage may vary, naturally, however I would not want to see The X-Files become an apology of libertarian, conservative, anti-liberal propaganda even if these theories are framed in a fictional narrative. 
That O'Malley's politics are essentially no different from Max Fenig's, or the Lone Gunmen's, Susanne Modeski's or Michael Kritschgau's (particularly) seems besides the point in this climate. Why? I can think of any number of fictional characters whose politics I disagreed with and that didn't change my experience with the work itself.

Something is seriously askew.

But it doesn't matter because Carter simply doesn't care what any of these people think anymore. And there's a good reason why.

Way back in the day, co-executive producer Glen Morgan noticed a funny thing about a certain breed of online X-Files fans. They'd go online and say the writers should do a more conventional monster like a werewolf. So they'd do one and the fans would then complain that they shouldn't do such cliched stories. 

The fans would then say they should do more emotional stories and when they would (Morgan cited 'The Field Where I Died' and 'Never Again') they'd complain they should stick to the sci-fi.


When the first feature film came was announced, fans clamored for answers about the Mytharc and after it came out fans complained they should have done a standalone story. They did a standalone story for the second feature and the fans all bitched it should have been about the alien conspiracy.

Get the picture?

The other issue is that the series left off with a prophecy about the alien invasion impending in 2012, leaving Carter and the other producers with a huge amount of retconning to do. In the tiny, shrinking time allowed for TV dramas (the commercials were brutal-- I did an immediate rewatch and found I enjoyed it tenfold) Carter had to reintroduce the characters and the Mythology and explain why the invasion never came without saying, "Gee guys, the alien invasion never came because a third movie was never greenlit."

Never mind not wanting to be associated with the avalanche of alien invasion crapfests we've seen in the past decade or so.

Despite some carping from a certain constituency of fans, the general consensus was (and is increasingly now) that after two seasons of narrative drift, The X-Files regained its mojo in the eighth season. David Duchovny- who for years never tired of telling everyone how badly he wanted off the show- was so energized by playing with Robert Patrick he was reportedly tempted for a time to stay on.

Then there was the strange interlude of The Lone Gunmen pilot, which has since been tagged as "predictive programming" by people who never actually watched it, but in fact plays exactly like how the dialogue reads.

As these things happen, the show followed on a fulfillment of this prophecy, at the worst possible time.  There was a lot of confusion behind the scenes with contracts unsigned and a planned major character having to be written off due to a difficult pregnancy (Lucy Lawless's Shannon McMahon), a seeming forced rewrite of a major new character and a lot of uncertainty in general.

The final season of The X-Files is a lot better than its reputation would have you believe, but the Mythology does suffer from sheer exhaustion (literal, physical exhaustion on Carter's part) and casting issues (the eighth season was meant to see Mulder and Scully off to the movies but Gillian Anderson stayed on, which the writers openly admitted to struggling with).

Serious competition from Alias and The Sopranos sunk the aging show and a protracted lawsuit over royalties sank the planned movie series. A second movie was made on the cheap and on the fly and sadly went over a lot of people's heads, despite being one of the most sophisticated exercises in mythic allegory I've ever seen.

Carter's fortunes (and to a certain extent that of his current co-exec, Glen Morgan) waned while everyone else went on to fame and fortune with series like Homeland, Breaking Bad, and The Man in the High Castle.  

Not well known for his willingness to compromise, Carter has not been a player in the new Hollywood. So seeing The X-Files revival as possibly his last chance to have his say before a mass audience, he seems to have pulled out all the stops, unleashing on all the issues that have been on his mind since 9/11.

Carter didn't come from the usual UCLA film school circuit, he was a journalism major. And when he has something to say and a short time to say it his characters are known to speechify, a common and legitimate criticism of his writing.  

'Redux I' is, in this writer's opinion, Carter's speechifying tendency at its most extreme. And to be honest, the reviews had me expecting the same thing. And this episode does owe a lot the Season Five opener in style and tone. But it's a lot more effective because what Carter has to say here is a lot more focused and the dialogue a lot cleaner than 'Redux'.

The role served in Redux by Michael Kritschgau here is played by Joel McHale (called Tad O'Malley for those keeping score), who reviewers are comparing to Alex Jones or Glenn Beck. But I say he seems more a Hollywood take on Richard Dolan, the author of UFOs and the National Security State, vols 1 + 2. McHale's exegesis and Cassandra-like prophesying more closely matches that of Dolan than that of Jones or Beck, who we just get a window dressing of, really.

McHale drops in to wake Mulder up and get the action moving along. He introduces Mulder to a multiple abductee, drives a wedge between Mulder and Scully and seems to convince Mulder that his belief in an alien conspiracy was in fact a manipulated stageshow, put on by an offstage set of players who were above even the old Syndicate.

I won't spoil too much for people who haven't seen the episode yet. Fox leaked so much footage I felt like I'd seen it all before it aired, but trust me, I didn't and you haven't either.

Joel McHale does a better job than David Duchovny at delivering the information since he sounds more engaged in his part. Duchovny seems a bit stuck between Mulder-mode and Hank Moody-mode and when he's talking about the New World Order it sounds more like Hank lamenting over his latest relationship fuckup. But that's his creative decision and in general his performance works. He's playing a defeated man who's obsessions are punchlines, whose lifelong love walked out on him and who's reduced to surfing the web for hoaxed UFO videos.

But if Carter's weakness is his tendency to speechify, his great strength is to shut up and punch you in the face repeatedly. And he does so at crucial points in "Struggle." And when you least expect it, expect it.

The problem is I don't know how I'm going to be able to watch simple standalones now. James Wong's episode tonight looks interesting and is seemingly tied into the overarching theme established in "Struggle". I love me a good Darin Morgan yukster but is it appropriate in a six-episode run? I know Chris Carter wanted to "put the band back together" and bring as many of the original players back as possible, but it may give me a case of narrative whiplash.

Now, the retconning of the Mytharc. I'll have to search my archives but I remember reading this post on USENET or something way back in the day that argued that what we saw last night (or something similar) was actually Carter's idea all along. I thought it was a mad rant at the time, but entertaining enough to stick in my memory. Now I wonder.

There's also an unofficial X-Files episode guide published after Fight the Future that goes into the whole Colonist/Rebel issue and argues that that is actually at the core of the lot of the mysteries in the series.

We'll have to see. Most fans have no idea how much external factors figured, and indeed, actively interfered with the telling of the arc, preferring to pin it all on Carter's mercurial nature.

The Mytharc arose as a reaction to Gillian Anderson's pregnancy and the Colonization arc was ended in Season Six for reasons that apparently had nothing to do with what Carter and Co. planned, but in fact in response to a mysterious external factor or influence that has never been adequately explained.

Its replacement (starting with "Biogenesis") didn't even survive its initial three-episode arc and, tellingly,  would only re-emerge in the ninth season. The lead-up to the movie had to deal with the "skeptic Mulder" storyline that no one in the writers' room wanted to deal with. The supersoldier arc strained against the national mood post-9/11.

I've always seen the Mytharc more as poetry than prose anyway, a kind of floating improvisation on fixed themes. But it makes a lot more sense if you watch them all together, something not a lot of fans have probably done. There are all kinds of layers and unspoken undercurrents that most fans have no interest in, certainly fewer critics.

But this retconning most definitely ties into my own suspicions raised by the 'Biogenesis'/'Provenance' storyline, that the aliens of the Godships were not the alien Colonists and that the two were in fact in opposition. That William was linked to the Godship aliens, which explains the baffled reaction of the supersoldiers in 'Existence' and the incineration of the supersoldier cultists in 'Providence'.

I don't know where it's going but unlike his critics I'm humble enough to admit that Chris Carter is smarter than I am. So I'll keep watching and see what happens next. In the meantime, 'Founder's Mutation' in two hours....

UPDATE: I'm going to have to give "Founder's Mutation" another viewing before I comment on it. It very much felt on the first go like Mulder and Scully wandering into an episode of Fringe. The change in tone from apocalyptic to near-whimsy was a bit jarring, it must be said. I did appreciate the thematic tie-ins as well as the William visions (which were beautifully conceived and shot) though, and hope that particular storyline is going to be resolved in this series.

UPDATE: HATE FAIL: The massive hate campaign against the X-Files premiere failed in the most spectacular fashion.
The return of “The X-Files” got off to an even better start than previously thought. The show adjusted to a 6.1 in adults 18-49 in Sunday’s final ratings, up from 5.1 for the partial number in the preliminary results.
Note how even TV by the Numbers buries the lede here by headlining only the smallest number. It got a 6.1 rating but a 19 share and a whopping 16.9 million viewers, even after the 22 minute overrun from the game. And that's just live TV. The numbers stayed big for the second night, nearing almost 10 million viewers on the overnights, a number that will probably be adjusted up as well.

NOTE: One major criticism I do have about the relaunch is the digital video. I totally understand the need for it but it simply doesn't have the depth and richness of film. One of the reasons I was so hypnotized by the criminally-underrated second film was Carter, Roe and Bartley's full exploitation of film as a canvas, particularly making use of all that beautiful Canadian tundra. Could video capture that poetry?


  1. i liked it they crammed alot into 40mins of tv epiode. and im sure i kmow why. to bad some cant see how it will evolve. yay xfiles i love it

    1. Well, I really wish it were 2 hrs long. There was a lot of story there. But the contracted nature of it sort of added to the rush- those last 5 minutes...

  2. I think the reason why things seem askew is that the rants of a Max Fenig, or Michael Kritschgau seemed remote when we lived in the placid climate of the 90s and Clinton era. But people around the world are all too aware with how things feel all wrong now, and so it feels blunt to put up the kind of mirror that Mr. Carter is putting up right now. It reminds me of how Stanley Kubrick would put a similar mirror to the public and get on peoples nerves.

    1. Made all the more so by the 2001 ref in Founder's Mutation. ;)

    2. Exactly. Everyone was fat and happy in the 90s and everyone is living in fear now. But there were a lot of people back then who were saying beware, this prosperity is an illusion and the rug is going to be pulled out from underneath you. Then the "conspiracy theorists" were on the left. There was no end of conspiracy theory in the Bush era either but on November 9, 2008 it was suddenly forbidden. Along with anti-war protesting and all kinds of other things. yet even though the face in the Oval Office changed the policies did not.

  3. Hey Chris,

    You read my mind, bro. But I shouldn't really be too surprised about that. For me TXF has always been a critique and meditation on the nature of power and power relations in our society. As you once said, it's about POV and how that POV can also be manipulated to create false realities, or 'conspiracies'.

    And for me this is exactly what the first ep of the reboot does. It's not just some warmed over rehash of right-wing claptrap, nor a simple take on post-millennial techno-paranoia. Yeah, it's about the Secret Space Program, yeah it's about the Breakaway Civilisation - but more than this I think it's about the true nature of power in the second decade of the 21st century. It's about the machinations and predilections of a Deep Private network of multinational predator-elites completely ungoverned and untethered by oversight or conscience. Utterly ruthless, unfathomably sadistic and completely unilateral in its modus operandi.

    Carter is discussing how power truly behaves in 2016. As you said, XF mythology is more poetry than prose...a floating improv on established themes. Because the world has changed, the sci-fi metaphors used to discuss delicate truths must also necessarily change. What's interesting to me is the fact that Carter called the ep 'My Struggle', the same title as Adolph Hitler's autobiography. And while the ep contains an ARV, linking it at least associatively to 'hidden Nazi tech' speculations found everywhere online, I'd wager it's more about critiquing the deviant psychology of crypto-fascist elites who operate completely outside the law.

    Having said that, many people in the alternative community believe that the SSP and the Breakaway Civilisation (whether real or imagined) has its true antecedents in Germany and Western Europe, but much further back than National Socialism...all the way back to the industrial revolution in the mid-nineteenth century. No doubt Carter is aware of this.

    Weirdly, this ep reminded me of the work of a wonderful British writer, Iain Sinclair; a friend of Alan Moore, who has in the past written very lucidly if indirectly about London's deep private Secret State. The psychogeography of the city, the interface between people and place. I feel like Carter is doing a similar thing in a tech-dominated postmodern context - creating a new map of the interface between human psychology and the extremely sinister web of 21st century power-relations we find ourselves enmeshed in. So while Carter is forcing the fringe into the mainstream as he's always done, he's also choosing who he addresses very carefully. Apart from a few shadowy interested parties he's not addressing the mainstream, he's addressing us. And folks like us. Folks with a level of liminal sophistication. Carter is a man at war, it's written all over him and his work. I think, in time, savvy folks will come to understand just how incendiary this episode was. There was a time you could discuss these things openly AND fictionally. Now you're not supposed to do either. But Carter's doing it anyway. He doesn't give a fuck anymore, I think. War will do that to you.


    1. So very well put, Raj. But one of the problems today is the divide and rule strategy. People say how can Chris Carter put this stuff on a major network, especially one like Fox. Because Fox doesn't care, it's just more money in their pockets and it's just 40 mins of content in an ocean of 24/7 crowd control. And people are so atomized now what difference does it make? This is really the idea behind all these zillions of channels hardly anyone watches and the micromarketing and the identity politics. It just slices the public up into tiny, easy to manage portions. There's no "revelation of the method" to network programmers, there's just content. The more controversy the more publicity. It's a kind of postmodern control that Orwell never dreamed of.

    2. "My Struggle" is also the title of those popular Knausgaard books. Just throwing another idea into the mix. https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/3020048.Karl_Ove_Knausg_rd

    3. Agreed, Chris. Still, Carter might not be able to mainline High Weirdness like he did in the nineties, but he can still strike a nerve. I'll take my artistic integrity wherever the hell I can find it.

    4. I recently watched a featurette on the new X-Files series ("The X-Files: Re-Opened") where Chris Carter said that the title "My Struggle" referred to the books from Knausgaard, as he recently read them (Knausgaard borrowed the title from Mein Kampf, Carter may have wanted this allusion to have been obvious?). Moreover, the "up close" perspective taken from those books was applied to first and sixth X-Files episodes apparently

    5. I think that may have been intentional because the whole secret space conspiracy that is at the basis of the new mythology is often based on is tied into what people like Joseph Farrell called the Nazi International or the Breakaway Civilization, based on ideas like the Bormann Flight Capital Group, that the Nazis simply went underground after World War II. I don't necessarily know that such a thing actually still exists but I know it has currency in secret space circles. So it has an ironic double meaning- both detailing their own struggles and their struggles against this worldwide conspiracy.

  4. I was extremely satisfied with the premiere. I'm intrigued by the retconning of the mytharc because it feels more insidious than even an alien colonization. It paints this picture of a world reducing everything to a series of ironic jokes while a very real, very dark threat has positioned itself for the kill. Wonderful.

    (*SPOILER*SPOILER*) The quickness and efficiency with which those military types in the humvees rushed into the facility with the secret craft, knocked the scientists to the ground, rigged the explosives and left was genuinely chilling TV. As was Sveta's car being targeted and the poor Roswell alien being coldly dispatched. A punch to the face.

    The establishment is acting incredibly dull. I wonder if they even realize how lame their hand-wringing looks? Though, as you point out, I assume the subtext to these reviews is much darker than some aging hipster unaware he's become the uptight, out-of-touch old man he undoubtedly scoffed at in the 90s.

    For someone who watched X-Files on Netflix long after the 90s zeitgeist, it was thrilling to see this episode play with the current landscape. Even little things felt electric. I imagine this is what it felt like to watch back in the early-mid 90s...god bless Chris Carter and his speechifying stubbornness (and god bless your Chris Knowles for getting me into X-Files with you 'I Want To Believe' blog posts).

    1. Right back atcha. But please- SPOILERS.

      But it's true, you really have to wonder. As I said to Raj it feels like the public is so atomized and pacified (as they talk about on the show) that this would have no effect at all. And yet there's been so much hysteria in response to the FICTIONAL discourse in the first episode in the establishment media that you have to wonder, wait- why do they even care? And did they completely ignore the entire first 9 years of the show? What is discussed is just a distillation of things other characters have said before. Unless- unless- things are changing in ways we don't realize yet and people are getting nervous. Keep an eye on the China situation and the global markets- that might be the clue.

  5. _Kolchak: The Night Stalker_ kept me awake on Friday nights back in the 70s, with its supernatural powers running amok in our allegedly advanced society. They seemed to say, "Screw your microwave ovens and color televisions, your radio waves and synthetic fabrics. Screw all your petty fantasies. We are older than you, older than your world and we will endure long after you are gone." The world of monsters was ours, and ours theirs, as close as the alleys at our sides and the sewers beneath our feet.

    Chris Carter understands the subtext, that these ancient monsters are all around, and some have human faces. Many see the Syndicate as a frightening cabal, but I always saw a group of frightened old men, frightened of the dark where Kolchak walked.

    1. Well, we knew the Syndicate all answered to Strughold. Who did he answer to? That was implied but never addressed. There was a lot of interference from outside the writers' room with the Mytharc. What fans complained about was really the producers scrambling to put out fires and salvage storylines when bombs were being dropped on them. There was NO PLAN to end Colonization in Season Six. None. In fact, the announced plans were the exact opposite. What changed? We may never know.

  6. Stirring up a barely contained hornets nest I say. Good episode, promising, and great piece Chris.

  7. The critical reaction to The X-Files reminds me a lot of discussions I would have with the Millennials that surround me where I work.

    While, on the one hand, they are commendably open-minded about sexual and social issues, they are, on the other, all uniformly "Skeptical" "Atheists" (I use scare quotes because I'm not sure they know what either of those terms really means, but whatever), and this translates into some really weird, not to mention scary, political positions.

    When, recently, I happened to mention my concerns about the TTIP - especially, but not exclusively, around the issue of GMOs - I was shocked by the vitriolic nature of the counter-argument: the science on GMOs is safe, I was told. Their widespread dissemination should be encouraged, even mandated, in the face of anti-science rhetoric. Also, to be against GMOs is to be, by definition, anti-science and you can't be anti-science because to be anti-science is to be a right-wing loon whose opinions are not worth considering; and anyway you're not allowed air those opinions lest by doing so you give more credence to the forces of anti-science, which are evil and heinous and must be defeated.

    (Along the way I also got lectured about being anti-vaccines and on on the side of climate change denial, which was news to me, given that I do actually accept the science on ACC, and got both my children vaccinated.)

    Frankly, I was left baffled by the extent of their credulity, not to say demoralised by this exchange.

    So I have to say I watched the first episode of the revival in something close to a state of rapture. I recall feeling something similar when I saw my first episode of the show back in 1994, I think it was; admittedly, that episode was "Space", which is now seen as one of the weaker episodes of Season One but, at the time, it was a revelation: I couldn't believe that all those freaky conspiracy ideas and alien abduction stories I was obsessed with were being presented so matter-of-factly, without irony, or ridicule, on mainstream television.

    Kind of what I felt again last night.

    1. Well, a generation raised to be utterly and totally dependent on the System is all well and good as long as the System is functional and there to take care of them. The minute it starts to falter, look out. I get a lot of "Comrade Napoleon is always right" from some -but certainly not all- of these kids. Raised in day care systems, heavy indoctrinated in schools, subject to perpetual peer pressure via social media. Rebellion or individuation is all thought crime to them. Their 'rebellion' is total submission to the Corporate State. Which is all fine and good unless the System they are beholden to no longer needs them or can no longer look after them. I have a feeling we're looking at a crisis the likes this country hasn't seen in a very long time if these kids grow up and realize they pledged allegiance to a System that doesn't care about them at all.

    2. Sean-to your point about the linking of "anti-science" with "anti-GMOs," that is in no small part the result of a well-funded, coordinated PR (propaganda) campaign organized by Monsanto, Syngenta, etc. The Genetic Literacy Project headed by PR flack Jon Entine is one particularly visible example of this propaganda machine, but its tentacles extend through MSM articles, “bloggers” like the Science Babe, and social media campaigns. But all they're doing is tapping into the naiveté of the young I-effing-Love-Science folks who are already primed to work to protect the System, as Chris has just articulated so clearly.

    3. Oh man... Don't get me started on the I-effing-love-science cuckolds. This Church of Scientism is beginning to get on me nerves.

      Synchronistically, I just listened to Dean Haglund on the Ground Zero podcast: Planted X: The Planting of Inoculation Intelligence. What a coincidence.

    4. "The idea that the empire, to advance its agendas, would sacrifice 3000 of its own sounds strange only to that vast majority of its subjects duped by imperial ritual. Whether consumed by poverty, labor, narcotics, mass entertainment and sports spectacles, or the Punch and Judy farce passing for national politics, the gross of empire subjects work, shop, root their favorite sports team on, ogle the celebrity couple de jour and smugly scan their preferred periodical for the opinions suitable to their own age group, racial, religious or cultural identity and/or sexual predilection, and assume the age in which they live is a secular one defined by market forces, technological advances and globalization, and that any truly major problems will be solved by science...... Meanwhile the terror state Pollyanna class—blushing moderate, fatuous conservative, meretricious liberal and the theory-fatted poseur who casually squawks “maybe they let it happen”—cower in their mutually-supporting antagonisms, sissy-slapping each other from their prescribed niches in a cultural circle-jerk necessarily excluding forensic analysis of 9/11. For that would confront each with something they simply don’t wish to imagine, an agency whose cold-bloodedness they are not intellectually, emotionally nor spiritually equipped to confront. Thus do our wan Narcissuses parade as skeptics, assuring the fallible conspiracies just don’t happen, that they can’t be covered up, that people aren’t that organized and the world is “more complicated,” that those who think “that way” are foolish really, a bit tardy mentally or not up to snuff…often lonely, perhaps deranged, even dangerous sometimes." - (None So Blind) - Tom Breidenbach


  8. I'm extremely confused.

    If both the "mainstream" and "alternative" are unified in their aversion to the notion that ETs and UFOs were and are used in a manner which aides a fascistic privatization of everything, then wouldn't that mean the original conspiracy theory version of UFOs and ETs is the reality?

    This doesn't make sense. It's either one scenario or the other. Do these whiny critics believe neither exists?

    1. @Whtlg - Indeed. The problem is, if you look at these critics as being reasonable people attempting textual criticism you are being far too generous.

      If instead, you realize that these "critics" are paid shills, Wordwhores whose activities are designed to promote a Corporate/Government mandated view of reality, then the stupidity of their stated position is easily understood.

    2. I could literally not have said it better myself!

    3. XD High praise from you, Chris.

      I like the "Hate Fail" update, too.

      Carter struck a nerve, or maybe even a vein.

  9. In a way you can take this episode as a social commentary. Mulder and Scully were both very unengaged and "asleep" in the beginning of this episode. Coming to agree with the mainstream POV that these conspiracies are falsehoods; they've "moved on for better or for worse" as they both slowly say in the limo scene. It's interesting to consider Mulder and Scully as a representation of the sleeping public when it comes to our current state of affairs. We’ve lost the care to drive toward truth and exchanged it for comfort and acceptance; baby strollers, NPR, whiskey, NFL and home furnishings.
    Mulder has the knowledge and experience, we assume he would still have interest in driving toward truth, but he just seems worn and unconvinced, not unlike the critics who blasted this very episode. As I go on through life, it appears that “sleeping” masses around me continue down the path of acceptance, absorbing information carefully spoon fed to them through their iPhone news apps and comedy news kingpins (i.e.- Maher) like a mother’s milk.
    It’s interesting to see how Carter carefully crafted the mentions of 9/11 conspiracy, never bringing it up as a “false flag” or covert op. We do see Skinner say that the country has gone downhill since 9/11, but steers clear of stating that 9/11 was carried out by TPTB. Even still, it is downright amazing that just the fact that 9/11 was even mentioned in the show (which the “sleeping” Duchovny lightly dismisses) the critics can’t even entertain it in a fictional setting.
    I hope that people will regain their skepticism and stop believing everything that they’re told. Not believing anything in particular so much as being critically aware and open in a continual fashion. There is never a time to hang up the hat and go to sleep.
    Maybe what we collectively need is to reawaken, just like Mulder and Scully did in the end of this episode. Did Carter intend that as a sort of hidden message to this show?

    1. It's very hard to say exactly what Carter intended, he's one of the most inscrutable people in show business. He's incredibly disciplined about delivering little more than sound bites to interviewers. That's one thing people don't understand- he really prefers mystery to revelation. He really chafed against having to do all the exposition in the first movie and in the ninth season finale and so on. I think if he had his way the first episode would probably be more plot and less talk so again what he really intends is very difficult. One thing I know for sure is that he's trying to separate the aliens from "the alien conspiracy". But we may find out that none of what the McHale character says is true at all. We'll have to wait and see.

    2. To your point and to expound on my ramblings, I don't believe Carter would reveal an obvious message or necessarily a singular or "correct" one. That's what I find appealing is the mystery cloaked meanings coming from we the viewers. Carter may flip things yet again, if he does its all with an aim to play with our perceptions on various levels. I'm liking the variety of commentary you and others are offering, which is a big part of it. That's what makes art more effective.

  10. On a tear my broth...the Bowie series was phenomenal ! !! !!!

    I think the energy tech was rediscovered by Tesla way before the 40's but love that they are talking about it...

    "The first " crop circle " on this planet was made by super genius Nikola Tesla at Tunguska."-AV



  11. Isn´t that the hidden gold of middle-age
    disappointment- getting to the end of actually caring what people might think?

    Like the man said:
    Love- don´t give a fuck- and do what you will.

    1. I finally hit that "Golden Age" in 2015 - I don't give a fuck what dummies think of me anymore. XD

      I think you're right that Chris Carter is there now too.

  12. The critical reaction to the X-Files premiere is baffling on two levels: 1. The original X-Files (as you've pointed out) is slow baked in the conspiracy lore of its time; 2. Have they never watched the X-Files before? X-Files is some of the finest sleight of hand and is a pile of misdirection ontop of another pile of misdirection. It's severely misguided to think you have the relaunch figured out based on the first episode. C'mon guys.

    I actually really liked that they aren't trying to stay huddled under the tree of the first 9 seasons and are embracing what's out there right now. I mean, the sources Mulder quotes in the first 9 seasons are often no more reputable than Alex Jones, and I can't stand Alex Jones, but why should this new season be different?

    My only complaint is that Mulder seemed VERY willing to throw 9 years of his life based on 2 interviews and a fancy airplane. That really threw me: how can he believe what's coming out of his mouth when he experienced and we saw ALL the things happen? And if he did, how can he do that on the basis of subpar evidence, all of which he's encountered before. My hope is that, in addition to whatever conspiracy's going on, they're maybe going to make Mulder an unreliable character, as if to say, "yes kids, there is a conspiracy, but at a certain point, certainty breaks down," or something like that.

    Also, you said, "I love me a good Darin Morgan yukster but is it appropriate in a six-episode run?" and while his episode, "Jose Chung's from Outerspace" isn't a mythology episode, it's one of my favorites as it seems to advance the mythology in some key ways without being tied into the center of its plot. That episode in particular shows that this whole giant thing very much effects people not directly related to it; this conspiracy is a slow leak poison contaminating the whole world, and no one's immune. If that makes sense. In fact, that episode dealt with a lot of themes in this first episode, namely government agents abducting people in the guise of aliens.

    1. Well, I think the whole situation with Mulder that people don't seem to get is that he's pretty desperate. People are still seeing him as an FBI agent but this is following on the Mulder of the second movie and now the Mulder who's a middle-aged washout with absolutely nothing going on in his life, even Scully dumped him. Someone shows up with money and influence and tells him he needs him, well, think about it- who wouldn't jump at that chance? Anyway, this series is my XF meal, it's my dessert. I'm just enjoying it for what it is. I'll take the Darin ep. I just would have preferred an actual 6 part story. But whatever.

    2. I feel the same way. Just gonna roll with it.

  13. It's kinda sad to me that you still even bother to try pushing these truths through the left/right paradigm like so much Play Doh through the Fun Factory.

  14. What I can't understand is how one goes from seeing all the tricks behind the curtain under one president, then believing with wonderment the same bullshit when the letter next to their name magically turns to a D, or they're black, or a woman.

  15. Oh come on, the only thing that would have made this a complete, in the spirit of the old, X-Files reboot would have David Duchovny demanding more money & walking out after the 3rd episode.

    That's what I loved about Duchovny's rhapsodic nostalgia over the original series. He seems to conveniently forget that he's one of the main reasons the series eventually tanked.

    Jeez, you pop cultists & your cult like addiction to finding deep meaning in how y'all kill time till death. Y'all are an amazingly humorless lot.

    So, who are these people who are "living in fear?"
    Maybe they exist in the same altered interdimension where those "flush with prosperity" shiny happy 90's people hung their hats.

    I never met any of them either.

    Look, I understand. The Interfart is flush with empty hyperbole. Conspiracy theorists, in particular, seem to find great pleasure in dressing up in their Chicken Little Halloween costumes and shrieking "the sky is falling" at every available opportunity, but it gets old.

    The effing "secret space program," huh?

    Well, having made the mistake of flushing $18.95 down my toilet by buying Olav Phillips latest...ummm...book, I'm a bit hostile to that particular plot point.
    Honestly, you should be able to sue writers who churn out such complete, typo-ridden, trash.

    And aliens? Who gives a shite pal?

    I'm 53 & an alien abduction looks a hell of lot more dramatically attractive than this slow slide into an old folk's home where I'll spend my days filling my diaper & staring at the wallpaper right up until that last urine stream runs down my leg & I keel over dead.

    With any luck I'll remain aware enough to get that pistol barrel in my mouth long before it gets too bad, but I'm not counting on it.

    1. Well, Just Another Dick, as amusing as this all is I think your final sentence there shows where it all leads. I'll choose another path if it's all the same to you.

    2. Dude, finally someone sees behind my carefully crafted persona and really gets me, and my kin. We truly are a humourless lot.

    3. @J_A_D ~ I think you are "protesting too much", and I get the feeling that you agree more with us than you let on.

      If you'd talk with us some more, not snark at but *chat*, you might find that you're among kindred spirits. I hope you will give it a try. :)

    4. Sorry Raj, it wouldn't surprise me if this was that old shill CLyons from the old IMDB boards, some people can never get over having work on a defunct website that has now vanished.

  16. That sleepiness of the 90's as afterbirth of the 80's fall into materialistic revolt against the post-hippy, established drug culture of the 70's which in turn crystallized the radical changes and delusions from that dream of a greater society emerging from the 60's is totally realized in Mulder and Sculley's POV of the post-9/11 world. I always thought that the XF worldview was just a metaphor of our own tendencies for mistrust and the curious compulsion to misdirect our true intentions when confronted with any level of exposure. What would the awakening of a consciousness more or less trapped in a stagnated reality based on a filtered and carefully constructed narrative of past history do when confronted with "the truth"? The XF becomes an elaborate tale of Man in the Maze with no way to solve the mystery while inside of it. The only solution is found outside, but who is to say what is outside of one of a thousand mysteries but more mysteries? From our POV beyond the Fourth Wall is to sit comfortably and enjoy the show.

    1. Well, it's very Gnostic in that regard. These characters search for truth but truth does not set them free, it just puts them in greater danger. Only a greater truth above earthly truths offers deliverance.

    2. Excellent summary, Chris. I think that is one of the most concise and thoughtful comments about that show.

  17. “You mean old books?"

    "Stories written before space travel but about space travel."

    "How could there have been stories about space travel before --"

    "The writers," Pris said, "made it up.”
    ― Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

  18. Thought-full comments here, as always!

    I feel as if I must comment here since I was mentioned in the review (EatTheCorn).

    I guess my comments about O'Malley were more revealing about me and my politics than anything else. I was juxtaposing Carter's comments that he was truly feeling close to explicitly conservative commentators, which I personally dislike, and O'Malley, not just a "conspiracy theorist" but explicitly defined as "conservative" in the dialogue. (And yes I know there is a difference between what is called right-wing conservative in the mainstream media and libertarian.) Also, while I enjoy following the show as it explores fringe science, there are certain "conspiracy theories" that are downright out of touch with any science (IMO, of course) and paranoia or not I would be disappointed for a show that has made a point out of keeping in touch with science to defend such theories.

    This was just the premiere, and the beginning of a journey: let's let Carter take us where he wants to lead us first.

    Also, the recent XF comics, you say "extremely questionable enterprises"? I haven't seen the Secret Sun commenting these comics yet, what is your take on them?

    1. Let's not talk about the comics. I think the O'Malley character is interesting because whereas Carter cites Alex Jones and Glenn Beck as models, neither of them ever talk about UFOs and both of them are bloviating buffoons where as the O'Malley character is quite measured and cogent. I think Carter is in fact basing O'Malley on Richard Dolan, whom he saw at the Secret Space Program seminar, which made a huge impression on him. In fact, a lot of what we hear in Mulder's opening monologue comes straight from Dolan's speeches as does, most tellingly, the 9/11- alien technology link. O'Malley even dresses like Dolan (and not like Beck or Jones). I've heard O'Malley described by one knowledgable observer on these issues as "Dolan to the hilt." Which will be interesting to see how his character develops. Some are claiming he'll be exposed as a disinfo agent, like a new Knowle Rohrer. But I wouldn't be surprised if Carter had long-term plans for the character.

  19. Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick a hoppin! And I thought they were wordy over at Merovee. I have no idea wtf ya'll are talking about, but I'm enamored regardless. Maybe I'll catchup someday.

    1. Well, I take praise where I can get it these days. Thanks, Apollyon. I know how busy you are with the apocalypse and such.

    2. It's not as easy as one might think. Especially when shit gets all ass backwards, and the one that is supposed to be the last one out is dropped on the table first. But I am truly trying to understand my place in this mess, other than the obvious. Still haven't ventured outside of the synchromysticism forums much, but I'm trying.

  20. Hilarious, Chris! That one made me laugh out loud, shattering the monastic order and rule of our cubical farm.

  21. We open on a scene with Kenneth Anger and Anton Lavey raping a small child. The camera pans to a Grey observing the situation. A superimposed title appears on the screen with a large question mark. Alienz? Credits cut to the X Files

  22. You've got me intrigued, I'm going to have to watch it. It's a fantastic review, thanks.

  23. 17 million? Somebody's paying attention.