A Look Back at The X-Files


By: David Carner (@davidcarner)

Spoilers to follow! (Although some of them are 24 years old)

In 1993, The X-Files premiered on Fox. It was placed on Friday night at 9, the latest primetime showing Fox had, and it did the strangest thing: it grew. It gathered a cult following and worked its way up the ratings chart, although it never cracked the top ten. The X-Files was very different than anything else on TV, as it mixed a little police procedural with supernatural/sci-fi. It also set the tone of how to create a season of some mythology episodes along with monsters of the week. (If one came before it, please let me know, because I’ve racked my brain trying to figure out another one.)

The X-Files’ main plot was an alien conspiracy (which we’ll get to it), but many weeks saw Mulder and Scully chasing things most self-respecting FBI agents wouldn’t touch. It also saw politics constantly being played out in the FBI, and in other offices in Washington, D.C. A shadow government conspiracy touched the agents, whether they were dealing with mythology episodes or the monster-of-of-the-week. The show was dark at many times, the perfect feel for what they were trying to accomplish, and something many shows fail to pull off. However, for all the darkness, there was another side to The X-Files: Mulder and Scully. When Mulder started off, he was far down the rabbit hole, and while there were times he did live there, Scully brought him back.

The premise of Mulder and Scully was very basic yet genius. A former medical doctor turned FBI agent, Dana Scully, who believed in science, was sent to The X-Files to discredit Fox Mulder’s work. Fox, a brilliant profiler, believes in the existence of UFOs, and believes that they kidnapped his sister years ago. A believer versus a skeptic, and it stayed that way for the most part. Even when Scully started to believe, everything was based on science.

For a second, let’s talk about Gillian Anderson’s performance, which still may not get enough credit. From day one, in my opinion, she was the co-star, but sometimes, David Duchovny was her co-star. As much as the show needed Fox, Scully was the glue, proven when Duchovny left the show in season eight and nine. Many say, me included, that the show was not as good for those two seasons. What we don’t say, and should, is the show would have been cancelled if it were not for her. Anderson’s performances shook you emotionally in so many episodes. Her crisis of faith, her kidnapping, her belief that she couldn’t conceive, to actually conceiving, to the giving up of her and Fox’s child, left me a sobbing mess many nights. I love Duchovny as Fox Mulder, but I do believe without Anderson as Dana Scully, this show would have never worked.

There are tons of things out there about the mythology of the show, but some of the best episodes were the monsters of the week. The third episode, “Squeeze,” set the tone for these episodes, and it is still one of the best. It has been lauded as the episode that appealed to the general fans. It also began the running theme that became crucial to the show, which was finding the truth while also finding a way to capture and convict criminals. Speaking of “Squeeze,” its sequel that season, “Tooms,” introduced a character that became an integral part of the show in Assistant Director Walter Skinner, played by Mitch Pileggi. Skinner was a complicated character that was forced many times to straddle the fence between doing what his bosses told him, and helping Fox and Dana finding the truth.

Speaking of bosses, you can’t talk about The X-Files without mentioning William B. Davis and his portrayal of what I believe is the biggest villain you love to hate, The Cigarette Smoking Man, or CSM, as many X-File fans call him. Here’s the brilliance of what Chris Carter, the creator of The X-Files, did. We have a show about aliens, set on Earth, with no way of going into space to deal with them, so how do you have any hope of combating that? You give them human villains that are responsible for these aliens coming to Earth. (You also have a second set of aliens, but that’s some ways in, and I don’t want to make your mind explode.) The human villains were a cabal of such, and although CSM was not the leader, he was the man who carried out the wishes, and in the end he’s still standing (kind of).

There are over 200 episodes and many of them are amazing. “Home” was only shown once on network TV over its content. There were 210 award nominations given to the show, and it won 94 of them. The show grew and added – and killed – many characters over the years, the most notable being The Lone Gunmen. The trio, who were conspiracy theorists that were even more over the top than Fox, became so popular they even had their own TV show.

The X-Files was the first show I had to watch. I didn’t get involved until season four, but I quickly found and watched every back episode (something not easy to do back then; syndication was my friend). Seasons five, six, and seven are probably my most favorite, but they were all good. Yes, even those without Fox. Shows like Haven have mentioned the show in passing, and even today’s sci-fi/fantasy/comic book shows are still influenced by it. There is a poster that hangs in Fox’s office: I Want to Believe. For nine seasons and a movie I did, and then The X-Files left. It returned in 2008 with a stand-alone movie titled I Want to Believe, and it wasn’t the greatest. However, in 2016, season ten came back to Fox, with its highest ratings ever, and season 11 has been announced to film this summer and premier next year. The first nine seasons are currently available to stream at Hulu if you’re interested in catching up.

And remember, the truth is out there.

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