In this occasional series, we look back at our first pop culture loves.
I want to believe ... that the upcoming X-Files revival will be good. I want to believe so hard that I’m rewatching all the old episodes on Netflix before new ones begin to air Jan. 24.
I spent my Friday nights as a teenager watching FBI agents Mulder and Scully investigate both a far-reaching government conspiracy to cover up aliens and a host of paranormal phenomenon including but not limited to el chupacabra, robot alien cockroaches, clones, cannibals, an evil doll, a 100-year-old liver-eating mutant and of course, flukeman.
I’m one of those rare completist fans who watched it all, from the pilot to the finale. I started watching with my dad when I was 13. I loved Unsolved Mysteries and he loved Star Trek. When we stumbled onto The X-Files, it was the best of both weird worlds and unlike anything on television at the time.
I forgot how dark it was — literally. Scenes were often lit with nothing but flashlights, which made the show a visual anomaly at a time when most TV was bright and sterile. It also contradicted the feel-good political vibes of Clinton’s America. At a time when the president was everybody’s buddy, Mulder was being warned by shadowy men with names like Deep Throat and Mr. X to “trust no one.” The government, it was implied, was most definitely not on our side. Finally, it was refreshing that the character portrayed as the calm, rational doctor is a woman, while her male partner is the flake.
It wasn’t obvious to me at the time, but this show changed television. Today, showrunners and writers have profiles as large as the actors they work with. Chris Carter became a household name before Don Draper was even a handsome twinkle in Matthew Weiner’s eye. Without The X-Files, I suspect guys like Joss Whedon and Vince Gilligan could kiss their respective Buffy and Breaking Bad careers goodbye.
When I was a kid, I was in it purely for the cool paranormal junk. Aliens, maaaaaan! The truth is so out there! Looking at the show through adult eyes, it was obviously trying to do and be more than that.
Now I detect themes that went over my head as a teen, but that still resonate today. Globalization, access to information, the subversion of gender roles, the rational vs. the fantastic and the flimsy nature of the truth are all frequently examined.
But nothing gold can stay and the things that bugged me about the show still bug me now. The score is obtrusive and suffocating; I hated the way the series inevitably paired Mulder and Scully romantically; there’s a noticeable drop in quality of mythology episodes around Season 6 (though I was always more of a “monster-of-the-week” kind of gal) and the show’s gloomy character was lost when production moved from gritty Vancouver to sunny California.
Another sore spot: the lack of female representation behind the camera and in the writers’ room. The show could have used a woman’s perspective considering, you know, Scully. It could definitely use one in the revival. Because it’s 2015.
Much has changed since 2002 when the show ended. We now live in the world of Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. We’ve caught up to where The X-Files began when it comes to suspecting the government, the police and other authority figures of some shady behaviour. Suddenly, it seems we’re ready to trust no one all over again.
Get yourself ready for the return of The X-Files with these top five “monster of the week” episodes.
(Season 1, Episode 3) The first stand-alone “monster” episode not connected to the alien plot. When Eugene Victor Tooms (played so effectively by Doug Hutchison that they brought him back for a sequel later in the season) slithered onto the scene as a mutant serial killer who hibernated in a nest of newspaper and bile, I went to bed with all the lights on.
Also try: “Pusher” (S3, E17): Another great X-Files villain who got two episodes — this one and Season 4’s “Kitsunegari” — Pusher can control minds. Mulder and Pusher come together in a gripping faceoff that’s one of David Duchovny’s best moments on the show.
Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose
(Season 3, Episode 4) Easily one of the greatest episodes of The X-Files, this might be one of the best hours of television period. Written by Darin Morgan, it concerns a man with psychic abilities who helps Mulder and Scully catch a killer. It’s sad and elegant and slyly funny at the same time. Credit must go to the late Peter Boyle, who won a well-deserved Emmy for his portrayal of Bruckman. Gillian Anderson is also terrific.
Also try: “Humbug” (S2, E20): Another witty Darin Morgan episode that examines the notion of normal when Scully and Mulder are the weirdos investigating murders in a Florida town populated by circus freaks.
(Season 4, Episode 2) The discovery of a severely deformed baby in a shallow grave brings the agents to a small town in this controversial outing (it was the only episode of The X-Files to receive a mature rating). They suspect three reclusive brothers of rape, but the truth is an inbred horror story. It’s not just gore and taboo; the episode’s commentary on the inescapable creep of modernity into small towns, and a secondary examination into the nature of motherhood gives this episode a rich, layered feel.
Also try: The Post-Modern Prometheus (S5, E5): A beautifully shot black and white episode about a lonely, genetically engineered creature. Named the Great Mutato. Who is looking for love. And obsessed with Cher.
(Season 5, Episode 12) The agents need to get their stories straight when Mulder kills a kid he thinks is a vampire. In Scully’s version, Mulder’s a selfish, insensitive clod who doesn’t appreciate her rational approach. Mulder portrays Scully as a whiny, bossy buzzkill who won’t indulge his paranormal theories. Writer Vince Gilligan gives us a Rashomon-esque glimpse into how Mulder and Scully see themselves and each other.
Also try: Jose Chung’s From Outer Space (S3, E20) Another Rashomon-leaning funny tale with an author trying to get to the bottom of a supposed alien abduction. Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek appear as men in black.
(Season 9, Episode 13) This rare gem from Season 9 features a mysterious man who helps Agent Reyes (Annabeth Gish) as she tries to stop a serial killer who may be using numerology to choose his victims. Guest star Burt Reynolds clearly had a blast playing God as a guy who loves music (all kinds), a good game of checkers and prodding his creations to play the hand they’re dealt.
Also try: John Doe (S9, E7) One for Reyes, one for Doggett, who is the victim of a memory vampire when he wakes up in a Mexican jail with one shoe and no idea who he is. Flashbacks to a happy family life are shattered in an emotional scene that’s a stunning showcase for actor Robert Patrick.