At long last, The Truth is Still Out There, back from the dead after 14 years.
The X-Files revival takes center (television) stage this Sunday (Jan. 24) on Fox as the science fiction horror drama that received multiple Emmys, Golden Globes, and a Peabody Award returns its main two cogs — special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) — for a six-episode miniseries.
The original incarnation of the show, which started in 1993, was unique in its ability to capture the imagination of the hardcore conspiracy theorist with your Monster of the Week science fiction fan. But it also did so by rolling together characters that one could easily relate to on a personal level, while juxtaposing the fantasy of how cool their actual jobs would be.
Over the course of its nine seasons, The X-Files attempted to blend scientific logic with the fantasy of old world horror stories — such as the “Shapes” or “The Jersey Devil” episodes — all while blending in an over-arching story of alien existence and the easy-to-fear idea of extra-terrestrials systematically taking over the world with the help of the government.
Basically, take a timeless conspiracy theory, tie it to an organization that most people view as shadowy and away you go. When it was announced that a six-episode “revival” of the series would occur, there was naturally excitement, but genuine curiosity had to set in shortly after for the ardent X-Files fan. Having watched the entirety of the series at least five times, hype lingers for me, but I also have worries.
The door was left open for more episodes, which seems almost a “must” to get this thing to work. After Duchovny left at the end of season seven following a reported contract dispute, the show probably was given its last rites without real consideration as to whether it could go on without him.
Long-time viewers formed an attachment with the Fox Mulder character. So his replacement, Robert Patrick’s John Doggett, had an uphill climb to make — on ice whilst wearing sandals, with a 40 mph wind in his face. The truth is, when you re-watch those final seasons without the lingering affection for Mulder, Doggett is created and developed quite well, and an attachment to him is easy.
Producer Chris Carter did a good job creating a different type of emotional pull to the Doggett character from Mulder’s. Mulder lost his sister, which was the focus of more than half of the alien-chasing episodes in the series, while Doggett lost his young son to a kidnapping in a much more disgusting and believable way, explained in season nine’s “Release” episode.
Wiping the slate clean, the show could have gone on if Doggett wasn’t inherently compared to Mulder, even with a very clunky half-replacement for Scully in Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish). Either because of the feeling of DOA post-Mulder or the constant appearance of Scully after she was taken off of the X-Files as her job function, Reyes never could strike a real chord with long-time fans, nor was the character really given the chance.
Reyes returns for the six-episode revival, yet Doggett does not. We assume that will be explained. Incredible theater is expected, but questions do remain until the cards are shown, beginning with the two episodes premiering back-to-back.
1. Can six episodes really be enough?
Part of The X-Files‘ allure is that the storyline and character development was always ongoing, very calculated, and to be blunt, spectacularly slow. There was always something new about the characters, probably most evident for Scully in season four’s “Never Again.” The series also did a great job with secondary character development, such as Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea) being a recurring antagonist from season two through the end of season eight, and Jeffrey Spender (Chris Owens), purported in the series to be Mulder’s half and then real brother.
It seems impossible to bring back the overall theme of the series — the alien invasion in coordination with the U.S. government — while still bringing in the audience more attached to the series for its Monster of the Week stories. There’s a lot of additional work needed to explain whatever separation and re-emerging relationship the characters of Mulder and Scully may have. Somehow, all of this has to lead to a clean ending that still leaves the door open for the series to re-emerge, leaving fans wanting more.
2. Where will the antagonists come from?
It’s clear that the central enemy throughout The X-Files — The Smoking Man, or C.G.B. Spender (William B. Davis) — will be back in some form. The last anyone saw of him, he was being blown out of a pueblo in the final episode. For a character who just got a bit role in the first season before becoming the primary antagonist throughout the series, who was seemingly killed off multiple times, the “shock” of him reappearing will be like drinking a glass of Bacardi 151 for fans. But eventually, there will need to be something to sustain the drunk. No one drinks 151 all night.
The Smoking Man showed the brilliance of Carter’s character development, going from a side piece in a few scenes during season one to being a mastermind villain throughout the overall story. But with characters like Krycek killed off, it will be difficult to have the same type of character development over six episodes that previously existed over multiple seasons. Viewers won’t have time to really dislike the “bad guy.” The show will either need to pull a bit character from the previous series and make him seem really evil quick, fast, and in a hurry, or run the risk of cobbling together a forced bad guy in hopes that people simply hate him.
3. What about William?
Scully gave birth to a son, William, at the end of season eight. But from then until the end of the original series, her son was a rather clunky storyline. William displayed the ability to control inanimate objects in season nine’s first episode, “Nothing Important Happened Today.” But late in the season, in the episode “William,” Scully simply gives her son up (and it appears that he’s lost his extraordinary abilities). While it fits well with the overall series arc and is sad and gripping, Scully never seemed like the type of person who would just give up a child, knowing he would be pursued by the government anyway.
William does, however, give the show a legitimate option to move on cleanly, and bring the old school X-Files fans together with new ones who may be looking to give the show a chance. The smart play would be to make William a central character of an undetermined age, pursuing his past only to find out everything Mulder discovered, while having the same but different passions. That would allow an extreme amount of borrowed time to connect a new character to an old one, while keeping Mulder and Scully as rare cameo options and still engage those interested in the eternally fresh wound of Scully giving up her son for adoption.
4. Will modern technology creep into some of these storylines?
Truth be told, The X-Files would have been a much easier show to write now rather than 23 years ago. While the characters are rarely seen even on cell phones (because they weren’t such a staple of our every-minute lives, as they are now), we’re inundated with 24/7 constant contact around a world that is increasingly smaller. Can anyone imagine The X-Files taking on the Edward Snowden and the NSA issue? Or people “tweeting” Fox Mulder alien tips? Or people going out to Roswell and YouTube-ing alien spacecraft and e-mailing it to the X-Files duo?
There’s enough sketchy conspiracy material out there and connectivity at this point to fill another 50 seasons, regardless of which characters are in the FBI roles. How will the revival take that on while remaining as realistic as the original series tried to be? Many shows have tried to play to the sci-fi horror template The X-Files created, all to zero success. There’s a reason for that — actually, probably many.
5. Will the show set up replacements for Mulder and Scully?
If the show is considering a longer-term vision for The X-Files, rather than just a six-episode reboot, and if it plans on doing so with any modicum of success, replacement characters for Mulder and Scully need to be developed. Doggett was done well, but he’s not walking through that door anytime soon. There’s still a market out there for this type of show if done well. The X-Files does a remarkable job preying on our realistic, fanatical, and completely fantasy-driven fears all in one series, in a way no other has really in the history of television.
Obviously, that has a lot to do with what the intended direction of all of this is. Is it merely a short-term revival meant to bring back something people loved for nostalgia’s sake? Or is this more of a long-term effort to see if such a series can work 14 years later? The key to success will be the same key that made The X-Files so must-see: a combination of realism, fantasy, fear, and genuine attachment to the characters. Without that, the show has no hope of continuing.
In the end, I Still Want To Believe it will be great. Realistically, considering all of the open-ended story lines and the ability to keep them going rather seamlessly, The X-Files should be.