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I (Still) Want to Believe: The X-Files, 21 Years Later

Manila folders. How quaint.
Manila folders. How quaint.

My wife and I have been slowly rewatching The X-Files on Netflix over the last couple months. We started with classics (well, to me) like "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space,'" "Humbug," and "War of the Coprophages," and have been working our way through the mythology episodes, hoping -- somewhat foolishly -- they'd end up making more sense the second time around.

The X-Files debuted in 1993, airing until 2002. I admit to allowing my viewership to lapse in the later, Doggett/Reyes seasons, but for those first years I was pretty obsessed, just like everyone else in the country. It was the Game of Thrones of the '90s, sans boobs.

Watching the series in the present day is also a pretty amusing anthropological exercise in its own right. Whether you want to critique fashion, technology, or social trends, Chris Carter's magnum opus is a veritable cornucopia of delights.

The Hair Up There Let me get this out of the way: I loved Dana Scully with an ardor only nerdy grad students whose sole connection to the outside world was their weekly alien fix were capable of. I loved her in spite of the fact she insisted on maintaining this skeptical façade when Mulder was proven right literally *every goddamn episode*. And I loved her in spite of the terrible, terrible "Aquanet meets Klute" 'do she sported for most of Season 1. Grow those bangs out, girl.

Knowing The Score Not since Twin Peaks had a TV program's music been both so identifiable and so integral a part of the overall atmosphere. Many episodes felt just like Mark Snow dicking around on a keyboard, but I'd be hard pressed to name any show that used music to such creepy effect ("Darkness Falls" in particularly). The theme song was released as a single, hitting #2 on the UK charts and #1 in France, where it's the 754th best selling single of all time.

Surely I wasn't the the only person to buy Songs in the Key of X?

The Internet! The X-Files benefited like no other show from the contemporaneous rise of the Internet during its run. The show's online communities remain nearly unrivaled in their ... enthusiasm, while the show's creators rewarded enthusiastic fans with mentions on the program itself, with one deceased fanfic author (Leyla Harrison) getting an agent named after her in the Season 8 episode "Alone."

Hilariously, we were all also witnesses to the dangers lurking in this new technology. Most point to "Kill Switch," which is really just The Lawnmower Man with sexy nurses. Me, I prefer the panicky "2Shy," which taught single women a valuable lesson: all online chat rooms are occupied by mutant serial killers. Having spent many nights on mIRC, I can tell you it wasn't far from the truth.

 

I (Still) Want to Believe: The X-Files, 21 Years Later

It's A Conspiracy The overarching mythos of The X-Files seems almost quaint to jaded, 21st century observers. Sinister government cabals working in concert with alien nemeses; alien bounty hunters; parasitic oil(?). The shit started getting out of hand circa Season 5, and never reached what could be described as a satisfactory conclusion, in spite of two uneven movies. I attribute my disillusionment to the fact Carter seemed like he was throwing anything he could at the Plot Development Wall to a) see what stuck, and b) make sure his show got renewed.

It's also a big reason why the show couldn't survive in a post-9/11 world: the truth that was really out there was more depressing and sinister than anything Carter and company could come up with.

The Samantha Mulder Cop-Out The disappearance of his little sister was the catalyst that set Fox Mulder on the path to his eventual career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And yet, so many red herrings were thrown out in the early seasons (see above) it was nigh impossible to generate much enthusiasm for the half-assed "What Ifs" resolution. In other words, I wasn't a fan.

A New Millennium When the show aired on Friday nights, we used to be all, "Woo hoo! The X-Files is on! Weekend's just getting started!" Then, for Season 4, they moved the show to Sundays and we were like, "Oh man, X-Files is on. Guess the weekend's over" (this was before Sunday night became the hip night for TV drama).

And its replacement in the Friday time slot -- Millennium -- was such an unrelenting downer it really didn't generate the same enthusiasm. Used to be you'd watch The X-Files, then head to the bar to discuss it with your friends. After watching Frank Black mope his way through another series of ritual murders, you just wanted to stay home and suck on an exhaust pipe.


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