The X-Files

From the Mixed-Up X-Files of Fox W. Mulder

The much-anticipated (by me, anyway) new season of The X-Files has come and gone. I decided to reserve judgement about it until I’d seen all six episodes, but now I can conclusively say that the new series is…a very mixed bag. It’s kind of fitting, actually. In six episodes, the revival managed to capture the very best and the very worst sides of The X-Files, showing that even though Mulder and Scully have smartphones now, not a whole lot has changed for their show.

Here’s my ranking of the new episodes, from worst to best:

6. My Struggle (Episode 1)

Synopsis: After several years away from the X-Files, Mulder gets a tip from a wacky conservative YouTuber who has uncovered a new government conspiracy. He and Scully investigate, and end up back in their old basement office.

My thoughts: Man, this was a struggle to get through. It was nice to see Mulder, Scully, Skinner and the gang back in action, but they did waaaayyy too much monologuing, even for this show. And the new conspiracy makes, if possible, even less sense than the one the writers spent nine seasons building up. It’s like they tried to take every major news story of the last ten years and squeeze them into a connect-the-dots pattern. Mulder’s new habit of throwing out random references to current politics, just to show he’s still relevant, is also quite annoying–especially since The X-Files‘ time-honored tradition of paranoia fuel is really all it needs to stay relevant in today’s world.

5.  Babylon (Episode 5)

Synopsis: A pair of suicide bombers blow up a mall in Texas. One of them survives in a coma, and while the FBI races to stop a second bombing, Mulder tries an unconventional method of communicating with him.

My thoughts: I wanted to like this episode, because it reminded me of some of the better ones from the old series–wacky sci-fi hijinks set alongside thoughtful explorations of philosophical subjects. But although I think it was trying to have a serious discussion on faith, zealotry and the power of belief, it never quite made it beyond cliches and platitudes. This episode also introduced two new agents who are supposed to be Mulder and Scully’s younger doppelgangers, but are really just annoying twerps. Mulder’s “magic mushroom” trip was pretty funny, but it’s the episode’s only redeeming feature.

4. My Struggle II (Episode 6)

Synopsis: The new conspiracy’s end game is revealed–a plague designed to wipe out everyone on the planet who doesn’t have alien DNA! Also, the Cigarette Smoking Man has lost his nose.

My thoughts: My opinion of this episode is actually subject to change. If the show gets renewed for an eleventh season, I’ll say it was a pretty decent, though rushed, season finale on par with some of the ones from previous seasons. If it doesn’t get renewed, then this cliffhanger was a horrible way to end The X-Files. Even Firefly got more closure than that. Also, the two new twerpy agents disappointingly re-appear in this episode, which makes me worried that they’ll become recurring characters in potential future seasons. Ugh. All in all, a rather disappointing end to the new series.

3. Founder’s Mutation (Episode 2)

Synopsis: An employee at a genetics company commits suicide under suspicious circumstances, leading Mulder and Scully into an investigation involving mutant children.

My thoughts: This was a good, suspenseful monster-of-the-week episode. I wish the “monsters” themselves had been slightly more developed, but the displays of their superpowers were still cool (and sometimes gruesome). Best (or worst?) of all, the story delves into Mulder and Scully’s fears and regrets about giving their son up for adoption, and it shows us what Mulder would have been like as a dad. Which pretty much destroyed me emotionally. Whyyyy couldn’t they all just have been a happy family?? *sniff*

2. Home Again (Episode 4)

Synopsis: No, it’s not a sequel to “Home.” (Still can’t decide if I’m more relieved or disappointed about that.) While investigating a series of bizarre murders in Philadelphia, Scully finds out that her mom is in a coma.

My thoughts: This episode was a major tear-jerker, and it left me, once again, in awe of Gillian Anderson’s acting skills. The woman can convey so much emotion without ever raising her voice, and it’s almost as enjoyable as it is painful to watch. And her mom was always one of my favourite minor characters on the old show, so it was already sad to see her on her deathbed. As for the monster-of-the-week plot, it was creepy and memorable and rather thought-provoking: a giant, supernatural garbage man, created from an artist’s angry thoughts, out to avenge mistreatment of the homeless. Although it seems a little weird to stick Scully’s personal trauma alongside such a horror movie-type investigation, the episode’s two halves tied together surprisingly well.

1. Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster (Episode 3)

Analysis: Mulder is feeling discouraged because so many of the “unexplained phenomena” he used to investigate have now been explained by the Internet. But he reluctantly accompanies Scully on an investigation into some Florida murders that appear to have been committed by a lizard-man.

My thoughts: I honestly think the entire X-Files revival was worth it just for this episode. It’s beautiful. It’s glorious. It’s a nonstop, 45-minute celebration of all that is great about the show. There are lots of treats here for die-hard fans–from confirmation that Scully’s immortality is canon, to a moment when Mulder lays flowers on Kim Manners’ grave–but you don’t have to be an X-Phile to appreciate the hilarious reversal of typical “were-monster” lore, as Mulder meets a peaceful lizard-man who has been cursed to transform into a human. Not only is this episode laugh-out-loud funny, it also rekindles the sense of wonder and joy at the absurdity of life that has always been my favourite thing about The X-Files. Darin Morgan’s writing makes me so very happy.

Overall, the reboot could have been a lot worse. It’s still more interesting than seasons 8 and 9, in my opinion. But the next season (and there had better be a next season) has to be longer, and it has to give us some answers about William and the state of Mulder and Scully’s relationship and so forth. I couldn’t care less about the big, vague conspiracy (even Ol’ Smoky has lost a lot of his villain appeal) but I still care about the characters, and, like Scully, I just want the “little questions” about their lives to be resolved.

And I wouldn’t mind a few more comedies about were-monsters.


The X-Files

Mulder and Scully, Sitting in a Tree…

Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while know that I’m not a huge fan of romantic fiction. I despise romance novels, and I refuse to watch any movie or TV show where the plot revolves around who is shagging whom.

But once in a while, a fictional couple comes around that is capable of giving me some genuine warm and fuzzies. (Every couple ever written by Jane Austen, for example.) Most recently, it’s been the original OTP themselves, Mulder and Scully, who have broken down my cynical anti-romance mind blocks and made me care about their relationship.

So I thought I’d use them as an example of what I look for in a TV couple. Behold, my romance standards:

1) Both partners must be equally well-developed characters, and I must like them both equally.

From day one, Mulder and Scully each had their own character arcs to go with their day-and-night personalities. Some episodes focus more on Mulder and some on Scully, but the average episode gives them about the same amount of screen time. And I love both of them equally (well, okay, I’m a little bit partial to Scully, but that’s because I’m automatically biased towards female characters who are more than just “the girlfriend”). Both undergo the same amount of character development, and both their stories are exciting and poignant, though usually for different reasons. This is extremely rare on TV. I can’t think of another show that puts the same amount of effort into developing both halves of a romantic couple, or portrays both halves with the same amount of sympathy. Of course, it helps that the couple in question were the co-stars and co-protagonists of The X-Files from the beginning.

2) BUT – they must be even better together.

As much as I love Mulder and Scully’s separate character arcs, I tend not to like the (rare) episodes where one of them doesn’t show up at all. Mulder isn’t as fun to watch when he doesn’t constantly have to defend his ideas to Scully. Plus, when she’s not around he tends to do stupid things, like make out with vampire chicks and wave guns in people’s faces at the wrong times. And Scully isn’t nearly as fun when she doesn’t have Mulder’s crazy ideas to snark at, or his jokes to help her lighten up. They bring out the best in each other. This is a hard balance to strike, and its success in The X-Files has a lot to do with the actors’ amazing chemistry.

3) The relationship must be based on mutual respect.

Aliens, or science? Can’t figure it out if you don’t investigate both!

That’s what they tell you in all the dating articles online, right? Yet it’s funny how rarely it happens on screen (or in real life, sadly). Most fictional couples give me the impression that they’re only together because of mutual hotness. Not so with Mulder/Scully (although they’re both pretty attractive, too). The only reason they’re able to work together at all is because they respect each other in spite of their radically different opinions. No matter how much they disagree, they always listen to each other and never dismiss each other’s ideas out of hand. And if a particular goal is important to one of them, the other will make it their first priority, too.

4) Neither partner can be afraid to call out the other one’s mistakes.

As much as our agents respect each other, they’re also fully aware of each other’s shortcomings, and they really know how to bring the tough love. Scully, especially, excels in this (to the point where it sometimes becomes one of her shortcomings). But neither agent can get away with doing anything stupid, wrong, and/or embarrassing without the other pointing it out. And they sure can’t lie to each other for long.

5) The relationship must not be the most important thing in either character’s life.

Two guns pointed in the same direction. How romantic!

I know, I know, it sounds harsh. But I cannot stand those stories where one romantic partner acts like the entire universe revolves around the other (I’m looking at you, women of Doctor Who). This is my biggest beef with fictional relationships in general, and it’s a major reason why I’m more receptive to romance in the context of speculative fiction. Because sure, romance is important, but so are friendship, family, jobs and saving the world. If one fellow human being has become your whole world, then, frankly, your world is pretty small. And if you’re on TV, your story is pretty boring. But Mulder and Scully don’t fall into that trap. Quite the opposite–they didn’t even kiss or say the words “I love you” for, like, six whole seasons, because they were too busy trying to save people from aliens. It’s obvious that they love each other, first as friends and later as something more, but they don’t let their feelings get in the way of their search for The Truth. And their common devotion to that goal actually makes their relationship stronger. It is, to quote Scully, “Folie a deux: a madness shared by two.”

So yep, I ship Mulder and Scully pretty hard. I think all TV couples should aspire to be like them.