Yea or Nay: The X-Files: The Event Series
By Chris Chan (@GKCfan)
Today, the word “finale” doesn’t have the same meaning that it used to have. 24, Gilmore Girls and Full House were recently both revived years after the ends of their respective initial runs, and in the near future Twin Peaks and Prison Break will both return with new adventures. Early last year, The X-Files returned for a special six-episode run, and the reviews were mixed. It is my contention that the reception should have been far more positive.
The six episodes that make up The Event Series were not meant to tell a standalone story in the form of a miniseries. Only the first and sixth episodes are connected to the greater series mythos of aliens and government cover-ups that were the series’ trademarks.
But what many fans and critics failed to note was that these “conspiracy” episodes only made up a small fraction of the show’s total narratives. The tones of the episodes from the original nine-season run were remarkably uneven and varied, though this is more noticeable when you binge-watch the DVD’s, instead of watching one episode at a time on Sunday nights. Aside from the “conspiracy” episodes, there were “freak of the week” episodes, where Mulder and Scully investigated some sort of monster or possibly paranormal force, and often these episodes were met with inconclusive denouements, as the intrepid pair were left with more questions than answers. Other episodes were pure comedy– or at least humorous in a dark and twisted (but enjoyable way). Others eschewed monsters and mysteries for pure human drama and tragedy, usually with Gillian Anderson flexing her impressive acting chops as she delivered a beautifully poignant and emotional performance. Additionally, there were a great many episodes that just didn’t work, where the writers were trying too hard to be quirky or postmodern or artsy, or a great premise petered out disappointingly.
It’s a testament to the strength of the best episodes that the high points of the series far outshone the lesser efforts. After watching an entire twenty-four episode season, be it over the course of a September to May television season or a more rapid rush through a DVD set or streaming video, one tends to remember the most delightful, intense, disturbing, and suspenseful episodes, and the weaker episodes tend to fade in one’s memory.
At one-fourth the length of a standard season, The Event Series manages to include examples of almost every type of storyline (often in the same episode). The first and sixth episodes, “My Struggle” and “My Struggle II” are “conspiracy episodes” that expand the series’ mythology. “Founder’s Mutation” is a dark, ominous second episode that ends unsettlingly and inconclusively. Episode three, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” is an unapologetic comedy episode, mixed with “monster-of-the-week” and regular murder mystery aspects. The emotional high point of The Event Series, “Home Again,” has a “monster-of-the-week” subplot, along with an attempt to instill new reactions to the song “Downtown” (though nothing will ever match how “Home” forever changed how we respond to the song “Wonderful, Wonderful”), but the main plot, where Scully deals with the imminent death of her beloved mother, may be Anderson’s best performance yet in the entire series. “Babylon” is one of those “ambitious episodes that doesn’t quite work” thematically, though the introduction of new characters is an intriguing meta-trope.
The greatest and most enduring aspect of the series is the chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, who manage to bring back the old magic playing off each other, a delight that was sadly lacking in the last two seasons once Duchovny reduced his presence on the show, though Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish (the latter of whom appears in the sixth episode), did terrific jobs. The introduction of younger versions of Mulder and Scully are reasonably well played, but though Lauren Ambrose and Robbie Amell have talent, their introduction only underscores the point that onscreen chemistry, like that displayed by Duchovny and Anderson, is a rare and priceless commodity.
It’s true that some aspects of The Event Series, like a hallucinogenic drug trip taken by Mulder (all in the pursuit of solving the case), or the awkward reintroduction to the characters and the discovery that Mulder and Scully aren’t together romantically any more aren’t handled as elegantly as they ought to be. But what works really works, like Mitch Pileggi’s return as Skinner. The Lone Gunmen make a welcome cameo, though it’s wordless and not long enough. And William B. Davis remains one of the greatest screen villains in television history as the Cigarette Smoking Man, although the source so his power is less clear now that his connection to powerful forces within the government seems to have been diminished or severed.
Looking over the six new episodes, the most poignant and longest-lasting moments seem to come from “Home Again.” The “monster-of-the-week” plotline featuring a Band-Aid-based monster (it’s actually a lot more disturbing and way less campy than it sounds) is solid enough, but there’s no real emotional punch. Everybody know that these kinds of monsters aren’t real. In contrast, the storyline where Scully deals with the emotional fallout of her dying mother, and the realization that her family may have secrets that she never suspected is intense and weighty because it’s real. It’s not an imaginary monster, it’s something most of us will have to face at some point, and Anderson knocks it out of the park in this episode. Furthermore, returning to the nearly-abandoned storyline about Mulder and Scully’s son being given up for adoption gives the show another deep level of resonance, and I sincerely hope that future episodes, if they are created, focus on this plotline as well as the climax of the alien cover-ups and government conspiracies.
Strip away the corrupt forces within the government, the aliens, the monsters, and all of the conspiracies, and you are left with a couple of deeply likeable characters with an intense interest in finding the truth and making that truth known, and it’s that doggedness and integrity that made the series such a success. There were numerous shows that tried to rip off The X-Files, but none of them matched the thematic and moral issues that were the heart and soul of the series.
If they were included in the original run of The X-Files, sprinkled throughout a longer season or multiple seasons, I have a feeling that most of the new episodes might have been more warmly received. As I stated earlier, the flaws in the show were always apparent, but when taken in bulk, the good in the show far outweighed the bad. The world changed in many ways over the course of the quarter-century since The X-Files first aired, and one wonders how the show would have been shaped if it had started in the post-9/11 era or was set in a world surrounded by Wi-Fi (one of the show’s best lines is Scully telling Mulder on more than one occasion that “the Internet is not good for you”). As it stands, The X-Files remains a landmark television series, and I contend that The Event Series adds to and cements its legacy.
My verdict for The X-Files: The Event Series is a definite “Yea,” particularly for episodes three and four.
Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments politely and respectfully. If you have any ideas for future installments of “Yea or Nay,” please post your suggestions.